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Ceisteanna–Questions. - Official Engagements.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 1. Mr. Quinn Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. [8926/02]

 2. Mr. Quinn Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the steps he intends to take to promote public awareness of the recent report of the Forum on Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8933/02]

 3. Mr. Quinn Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  his plans to bring the recent report of the Forum on Europe to the attention of other EU leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8934/02]

 4. Mr. Quinn Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the official visits abroad he plans to make during the months of April and May 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8973/02]

 5. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9567/02]

 6. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the type of declaration on neutrality the Government is seeking to attach to the Nice treaty; the progress made in this regard at the Barcelona Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9970/02]

[613]

 7. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the steps he is taking to publicise and act upon the findings of the report of the Forum on Europe; if the report's conclusions will be discussed with other EU leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9973/02]

 8. Mr. Noonan Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will report on his attendance at the recent European Council meeting in Barcelona; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9986/02]

 9. Mr. Noonan Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the outcome of his bilateral meetings during his attendance at the European Council in Barcelona; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9987/02]

 10. Mr. Noonan Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  his plans for foreign visits during the next three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9994/02]

 11. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the official visits he intends to undertake abroad during the remaining period of this Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10107/02]

 12. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the measures he intends to take to raise awareness of the recent report of the National Forum on Europe among the general public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10108/02]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.

I was delighted to receive Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg during his recent visit to Ireland – his second official visit to an EU member state since he succeeded his father.

During our meeting we reviewed the excellent bilateral relations between Ireland and Luxembourg. The Grand Duke expressed his admiration for Ireland's recent economic success and I thanked him for agreeing to lend the Riesen Bibel to Trinity College.

On my plans for forthcoming official visits, I have already informed the House that I have been invited to attend the EU-Latin America Caribbean Summit to be held in Madrid on 17-18 May. This summit affords an opportunity for EU member states and Latin American and Caribbean states to discuss a broad range of political, economic and cultural issues. In common with several EU partners, my attendance has not yet been confirmed. I am also scheduled to attend the Seville European Council on 21 and 22 June.

The Forum on Europe, an independent body, has taken extensive steps to promote public awareness of its work generally and, in particular, its recent report. I referred to the work of the Forum when updating other leaders at the Barcelona European Council on the position regarding the Nice treaty.

With regard to my attendance at the Barcelona European Council, I refer the Deputy to my statement to the House on Wednesday last, 20 [614] March. I did not have any formal bilateral meetings at the Council, although I did have informal discussions with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on the margins of the Council. As I informed the House last week, we discussed a number of current issues and the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I have no plans to meet the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in the immediate future.

In my Dáil statement on the Barcelona European Council, I indicated I had informed my EU colleagues that the Government would seek a Declaration from the Seville European Council confirming that Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality was not affected by the treaties. The Council welcomed this approach and reiterated its willingness to contribute in every way possible to supporting the Irish Government in this process and agreed to come back to this issue at its next meeting in Seville.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn A number of questions arise from the Taoiseach's reply. Why is the Taoiseach in a position to reply to questions regarding the Grand Duke of Luxembourg when he was unable to answer questions regarding his recent meeting with Prince Charles? Is there discrimination within the republican party between one kind of royalty and another? Perhaps it relates to the fact that the Taoiseach's photo opportunity with Prince Charles was better than the one he had with the Grand Duke.

Has the Taoiseach had time to reflect on the discussions which took place in this House in recent days regarding the content of the draft declaration, a copy of which he now admits he has seen? I am referring to the draft declaration that will emerge from Barcelona following consultation in Ireland. Can the Taoiseach confirm that a draft declaration exists, that it is available and that he intends publishing it so that those who failed to vote in the Nice referendum may come out on this occasion?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern My colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs are working on a draft declaration. It is merely a draft and is not yet ready for circulation. I am open to agreement on any form of communication decided upon by this House in that regard. I plan to consult widely on the issue. I hope to be in a position to do so soon although I have not worked out how best to do it. The matter is also being considered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am ready to listen to any suggestions on this matter.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The reality is that this Oireachtas may not return after Easter. If it does, it will be for a very short time. It is absolutely incumbent that the current Government, including the Taoiseach, initiates an immediate debate – the election is to take place during the second fortnight in May and negotiations on the formation of a Government will leave little time available for a debate before the Spanish Presidency – on the [615] terms of any declaration which may emerge from Seville so that such a declaration receives acceptance from the Irish people in terms of removing some of the reservations they have about Ireland's participation in European reaction force measures. It is important such a debate takes place now so that whoever is Taoiseach in the next Government will be in a position to go to Seville in the third week in June and say, authoritatively, to the other heads of Government that such a declaration will be acceptable if granted as part of and parcel of the conclusion of the Spanish Presidency. It is a matter of urgency that the Taoiseach publish a draft declaration, in the clear understanding that that is what it is, so that those who have reservations or who want to see progress made can respond in a way that will assist in the completion of this essential document so we can have the Nice treaty ratified and proceed to enlargement.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I agree with Deputy Quinn's remarks. The declaration, which is political, is crystal clear on the existing position – Ireland's military neutrality is not affected by membership of the European Union. Some people have suggested there should be a meeting of the Forum in this regard but that does not include everybody, others said we should consult with party leaders or that it should be a matter for the Joint Committee on European Affairs. I will await completion of the draft by the Department of Foreign Affairs at which time I will consult the relevant parties. I will then consider publishing it. I note, having watched the ritualistic games at the Forum last week, that people tend to move quickly from one point to another. I accept the point made by Deputy Quinn. I have made that point also. I accept that this matter must be cleared up within the next few weeks.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I am not sure if I would call the debate on the crisis on the future of Europe a game, it is still worth debating. Will the Taoiseach agree that Mr. Prodi has a more philosophical view of the matter based on the fact that enlargement can proceed – there is nothing legally preventing it from proceeding – regardless of whether we endorse the Nice treaty? With regard to improving and amending the treaty, when will the wording of the proposed neutrality declaration be available? Did the Taoiseach examine the wording of the Danish declaration given that similar considerations were occupying the minds of the Danish electorate? What is his view of the Danish wording? Could a great deal of trouble be saved if it were adopted? Why did the Taoiseach state in a newspaper article that a declaration to the Nice treaty would be legally binding given that my legal advice is that it would not? If the treaty is so badly desired by all the other member states, even though none of them held a referendum, could he convince them to agree a protocol?

[616]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Department of Foreign Affairs has been examining what happened in regard to the Danish decision for a considerable time. I believe a declaration is required. The important issue is not the legality of the declaration but that all member state colleagues agree a political declaration that makes clear the existing position, which is that Ireland's military neutrality is in no way affected by its membership of the European Union and is covered in the treaties.

A protocol to the treaty must be agreed and ratified by all member states and, as both myself and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have stated during Question Time previously, the treaty negotiations have concluded. A number of member states have completed the process of ratification, which varies from parliament to parliament, but it has been concluded. Others have chosen to finalise the process in a different way but most have ratified the treaty. In any event, my advice is that a protocol is unnecessary as the treaty recognises Irish military neutrality.

Following the defeat of the first referendum on the Maastricht treaty, Denmark sought to obtain clarification first at the Edinburgh European Council and this provided the basis for its second successful referendum. However, it took another four years before Denmark negotiated a protocol to the Amsterdam treaty, which is one of the sorrier things the Danes did.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I do not think so. I am not sure where the Taoiseach is coming from.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Does the Taoiseach believe if a declaration is fully negotiated along the lines he has mentioned it will be sufficient to ensure the passing of the Nice treaty in the next referendum or will he propose other measures to ensure the decision making process in Europe is seen by the electorate to be open and transparent?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern There are three or four issues when one examines the research that has been undertaken by different groups, including the Government research unit. The biggest issue was a lack of understanding of the treaty but the second one was neutrality and sovereignty. There is also the issue of how we conduct our business in the House, which all of us have identified, and we spoke about that yesterday in the context of the contents of the European Union Bill. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Séamus Brennan, made a statement to the forum recently on how we conduct our business. Then there is the communicating Europe issue, in which everybody has a role. The Government and I certainly have a role in trying to sell the bigger picture because the debate is not just on the Nice treaty but also on the greater European model, the benefits of membership of the Union and how it helps us socially, economically and regionally. All these issues are challenges.

Many smaller issues fed into the research but [617] enlargement is not one. Certain groups worry about enlargement. That is not a major issue. It has not been borne out by research or by the leadership of these groups. While it might be a concern to some people, it is not the big issue. The big issue is addressing sovereignty and neutrality. Due to the way issues were put across, mothers, in particular, were concerned that they overlapped with European security and defence issues in a way they did not understand.

We all know the treaty refers only in two instances to European security and defence and neither is earth shattering. The first mention deletes a reference to the Western European Union, which was welcomed in the House during the debate. The second reference is to a political and security committee made up of Brussels-based officials representing national governments, which replaces a committee served by officials travelling from capitals. There is nothing in the area of European security and defence about which we should be concerned but I was the first to accept that we lost on that one.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Government surely did.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern We did not convince the people that was the position. They believed that European armies and conscription were involved. No part of the Nice treaty could conceivably impact on or threaten our traditional policy of neutrality. All the claims about the treaty threatening our neutrality are empty scaremongering by those who do not want Ireland to have an involvement in Europe and that was quite clear from the transcripts of the last three or four sessions of the forum.

However, we have to put a crystal clear declaration before the Seville Council and get it passed. I would like to do that sooner rather than later.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Former commissioner Ray MacSharry is one of the people the Taoiseach has appointed to the European convention. Has he had a briefing from him about the early discussions at the convention? I reiterate a question which the Taoiseach was unable to answer on a previous occasion. Will the Government put forward specific Irish proposals on the future development of Europe at the convention?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern We will ultimately but the initial stage of the convention is a listening exercise. It will go through all the issues that have been thrown up. Mr. MacSharry was one of the first speakers at the first meeting and he put forward a number of issues. Other representatives, including Bobby McDonagh, Department of Foreign Affairs, are working closely with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and my Department on how we will handle the forum. It will not be until the session after the summer that we will get into detailed proposals following the German election. That is the political reality. The early discussions will be on all the four issues that have [618] been put forward and a number of other issues that people wish to raise, including a European constitution, subsidiarity and so on. We will not get down to a hard, factual position until the autumn.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Is there a possibility that discussions at the European convention in the autumn could raise issues which might make it even more difficult to ratify the Nice treaty at home? Has the Taoiseach thought about this and does he have a strategy in this regard?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I did think about that and that is why I wanted to deal with the Treaty of Nice earlier. In the last week of the campaign, a number of European leaders set out their ideas on issues unrelated to the treaty. Although everyone in the House understands, we must keep emphasising that the Treaty of Nice deals with enlargement and must be dealt with to allow the process to continue. The Forum for Europe deals with wider issues and some contributions go into broader concerns where it is unlikely there will ever be agreement. It is a system where people put forward their views about issues that concern not just the next five years but the long-term. We cannot do much about that. An appeal could be made to governments not to confuse issues but, with the forum consisting of 100 people, it is difficult to stop them from making presentations. The parties in favour of Nice must continue to tell people that the Treaty of Nice deals with European enlargement, regardless of what Deputy Sargent said President Prodi said in the past. It has been made clear at all levels that Nice is absolutely essential in order that enlargement can go ahead next year.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins Does the Taoiseach envisage the preparations for a declaration that might emerge from the Seville Council leading to a constitutional referendum that will make an appropriate reference to neutrality in the Constitution, in so far as that measure is within his control?

It is not clear from the Taoiseach's statement following the Barcelona meeting where he stands on liberalised labour markets. Many commentators asked if the Taoiseach has a vision of social Europe or if he follows a US model of the economy that demands liberalised labour markets. That development would seriously detract from support for the Nice treaty.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am on the side of a social Europe, as I always have been. I was on the Social Affairs Council, the ECOFIN Council and the European Council. At the Barcelona Council, I followed the Lisbon strategy – I was in the camp of Antonio Guterres on the social model. I see difficulties with the other models. I was fortunate enough to be president of the council in 1990 when the Social Charter was formulated and was around in 2001 when it ended. It took 11 years to pass it through the system. Compared to 15 years [619] ago, employers and unions at European level work far more closely together.

I have said what I want to see in the declaration. I do not accept all of the reasons why it is necessary but it is inevitable that we have it. The declaration the Government will agree at Seville will reassure the public that our traditional stance on neutrality is not in conflict with any EU treaties. Our policy of military neutrality is not a matter for the Constitution because, as has long been argued by various Ministers for Foreign Affairs, the Constitution invests responsibility for decisions in relation to the defence of the State in the Oireachtas and the Government. It would not be in the best interests of the defence of the State to put terms such as neutrality and alliance into the Constitution. It is unnecessary because in order for a troop contingent to be sent abroad, the law requires that it must be part of an operation endorsed by the UN and it must be approved by the Government and the Dáil. Those measures have worked well for 40 years. I cannot remember a contentious debate in the last 25 years about the involvement of troops. We need a declaration to allay public fears on an issue where they have considerable doubts.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins If there is a reference to war in the Constitution, why not neutrality?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern In any situation where war has to be dealt with, authority is vested in the Government of the day. I could not imagine a difficulty arising from that, even if someone declared war on us. Existing provisions have not been contentious since the foundation of the State and I see no need to include neutrality in the Constitution.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent It is fascinating to listen to the Taoiseach saying that he does not think neutrality should be in the Constitution when he was adamant about the need for a referendum on Partnership for Peace when in Opposition. It is interesting to reflect on the two positions coming from the same person. Does the Taoiseach accept that any re-running of the Nice treaty referendum will be defeated again if he believes the three points in his reply? Does he stand over those points?

The Taoiseach said the outcome of the last referendum was decided by a lack of understanding. Whatever about the people who did not vote having that position, those who did vote should be given credit for going to the trouble of deciding how to vote. I would not accuse them of a lack of understanding, even if the Taoiseach does not agree with that understanding.

Does the Taoiseach stand over his statement that the legality of the declaration is not important? That will ring hollow in the ears of people who feel an attempt is being made to address their well founded fears of Ireland's military involvement in the EU.

[620]Is the Taoiseach saying that article 1.2 of the Nice treaty, setting out integration of the Western European Union, sweeping away references to it, and integrating defence into the EU, is inconsequential? That is a major issue for many people, particularly because we were not members of the Western European Union although we have since become de facto members because of our EU membership.

Does the Taoiseach stand over those three points? Are they arguments for the endorsement of the Nice treaty or will it be defeated again? If those are his arguments, it will be defeated.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I do not believe it is an argument about the legal issue.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Others do.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The important thing is that Ireland's policy of military neutrality is in accordance with the treaties, including Nice. Nothing in the Nice treaty can affect our neutrality.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The declaration is not legally binding.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is a political declaration and it is not under threat. Under Article 17 of the treaty, any decision to move to a common defence has to be approved by each member state according to its own constitutional requirements. Our constitutional requirements would involve a referendum if we were to go down that road but we are not doing that.

If the Deputy is going to quote me, he should quote me correctly. What I said was that if there is a political or legal imperative, there should be a referendum.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Taoiseach believed there was one at the time.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The advice was that there should be a referendum. When we were in Government the advice from the Attorney General was that it was not necessary just as the advice on the Nice treaty was that there should be a referendum and we held one. Deputy Quinn stated at the time that we should do it anyway and as I agreed with him at the time, I will not disagree now.

Furthermore, Article 17 also specifies that the security and defence policy union shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. This includes Ireland and other neutral countries. These are both safeguards which are clearly confirmed in the Nice treaty.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Western European Union—

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern In the past five or six weeks I have listened to the arguments put forward by the Deputy. They are the arguments of Mr. Anthony [621] Coughlan and I watched them being absolutely buried last week and every week—

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Taoiseach's arguments were also buried.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern —so much so that by the end of it he said he was glad to get out of Dublin Castle because he could not stick his arguments being taken apart every week.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent He has better things to do.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern That is the truth and we should be fair about these matters.

On the question of the research, the results show that people were confused. They did not know all the details and many became confused when they examined the texts of the Nice treaty. This is what they said to three different research groups, only one of which was the Government. The people said they required more information, which is the reason many did not vote. They were either confused, did not have sufficient information or did not fully understand. Given that we look at and accept the findings of polls every day, we must accept the opinions expressed by the people in the research.

The declaration is a political declaration which makes crystal clear the existing position that Ireland's military neutrality is in no way affected by membership of the European Union. That has been the position for a long time – 30 years – and the declaration will spell that out and frame it in the best way we can put it.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Article 1.2 concerns the integration of the Western European Union.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I will get one issue off the table as a lawyer and politician. Any notion of putting neutrality into the Constitution would be utter madness. It would leave every decision taken by the Government in the years ahead open to referral to the Supreme Court and we have plenty of people prepared to go to the Supreme Court at the drop of a hat. That is not the answer to our difficulties.

I turn to the main issue which is the Treaty of Nice. My concern is that everything is being left to the last minute again. It is more than nine months since the failure of the referendum on the treaty and less than three months to the Seville European Council. In the next three months we will have the recess, the election and the period required to form a new Government. As of now, we have no new procedures in place in relation to the committees, including resources, no draft declaration and no domestic underpinning of the declaration.

Does the Taoiseach accept that because the time has not been used properly there is a huge danger we will leave ourselves exposed to a further defeat? Will he accept now that the draft declaration, which I proposed last October, should have been debated at the Committee on [622] European Affairs or in plenary session of the House and consideration should be given to underpinning it? I proposed as useful a White Paper on neutrality because I am totally against a constitutional change.

It would also be useful to have the Defence Act amended to make it clear that involvement in the Rapid Reaction Force would require Dáil approval. One could claim this is unnecessary but only in the same way one could describe the EU declaration as unnecessary. It would clarify the issues which obviously concerned people during the last referendum. Will the Taoiseach, even at this late stage, agree that before the fall of the Government the draft declaration should be debated here or in one of the committees? Will he not at least consider the possibility of underpinning the declaration with an amendment to the Defence Act? I will circulate a copy of the Bill tomorrow to make matters easier for him.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have already stated that the work on the declaration is proceeding. The document is in draft form and we are making as much progress on it as possible.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe A draft would be fine for a debate.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It should not take very long to deal with this aspect. While I welcome any points of a helpful nature made by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, I ask him not to pretend that nothing has happened. The forum has proved to be enormously useful. It was well attended and successful and has received much interest not only in Dublin, but also at the sessions in other parts of the country and from the regional newspapers. All the deputations which appeared before it put in a great deal of effort.

It is well known in the European Council and the applicant countries, many of whose ambassadors attended. The forum has been operating for six months. It has published and widely circulated its first report and the second is being prepared. It is not true, therefore, to claim nothing has happened. The European Movement and Institute of European Affairs spent the entire winter on this and invested an enormous amount of energy in it. I have seen some of the IEA's excellent booklets and papers on a range of issues for which I congratulate it.

The trade union movement also produced a paper on Europe, the employers, the chambers of commerce and the farmers spent time on it this winter and many of the spring conferences devoted a section to it. It is not, therefore, just an issue in the political system. People have woken up to the fact that there is a difficulty and are taking action, which is not to say that more could not be done in terms of the issues the Deputy raises. The Government is prepared to do this. We also examined the proposals made by Deputy Quinn last year and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, responded to them [623] through the parliamentary procedure. An enormous amount has been done and whatever else we do, we should not create confusion which would suggest that the political system, which is in favour of Europe, is not totally behind seeing through this matter.

While I do not wish to make this a contentious issue, Deputy O'Keeffe's view and that of his party was that we should go straight back to the people and not bother with the Forum for Europe or a delay. The Deputy now appears to acknowledge that we need to build up this process, which is what we are endeavouring to do.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I will leave that issue. The Taoiseach obviously did not read the major paper I produced last October.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I did.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I set out a six point plan, none of which was put into effect. I did not believe we should immediately return to the people.

Did the Taoiseach hold discussions at the Barcelona meeting with the British Prime Minister on Sellafield, a matter of great concern here? My concern in this context is that there has been considerable huff and puff and talk, yet there has been an expansion of the facilities in Sellafield in recent years. Did the Taoiseach make the issue a central part of his discussion with Prime Minister Blair at Barcelona and did he receive a commitment of any kind as to its future?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern This is not the subject of these questions. We did not have a summit in Barcelona on Sellafield, but we did have one a few weeks earlier in 10 Downing Street where we raised the subject. We raise the matter at all our official meetings. The legal process is taking its course, arbitration is under way, the law of the sea conference and many other activities are taking place. The Deputy will be aware that the British Government's position has not moved or changed.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe It has expanded the plant.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Yes, and it appears unlikely to change. That is why the Attorney General, his staff and outside advisers here and in the UK have taken on an expensive, time consuming legal case. I have not got responses on this question but I assure the Deputy that on every formal occasion we will bring it up and go through it at some length. The British Government is aware of our views as are those of the Nordic countries such as Iceland and Norway, which have taken a pro-active stance in the Law of the Sea Conference. We have also made those views clear to legal sections in Europe and we will continue with that.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn At the risk of being slightly repetitious, does the Taoiseach agree that a defeat [624] second time round for the Nice treaty in Ireland would create an enormous impediment to enlargement as we understand it? Enlargement in some shape or form would probably proceed anyway but as a consequence Ireland would find itself politically and diplomatically isolated within the EU, with all the negative consequences that would flow from that.

Accordingly, it is absolutely essential that the Irish people understand in a deep, comprehensive way the necessity to endorse the Nice treaty on the path to an enlarged and consolidated European Union. For any Government to achieve that objective – if it agrees with the objective – it is necessary to spell out in a comprehensive way the steps the Government will take to address the associated fears and worries; there are fears and worries as distinct from sustained political critiques. However, they are none the less real for all of that and manifest themselves as votes in ballot boxes, as we know.

Against that background, does the Taoiseach recognise that as the convention in Europe starts to debate the future end shape of the European Union in terms of shared sovereignty, greater pooling of sovereignty or the loss of further levels of national autonomy currently held by states under existing treaties, an additional set of fears may well be generated between now and the autumn, when a referendum takes place on Nice? If one accepts that scenario it is important that this Administration, in the last four or five weeks before polling day, sets out clearly the steps it intends to take in relation to publishing the draft declaration and a holding statement as to what it regards as the end position of the constitutional settlement that will be the European Union after the convention has concluded and the Intergovernmental Conference comes into play. Then people will know the position of the Government and will not be fearful of pronouncements from other European heads of state. The Taoiseach should clearly indicate what the draft declaration is and whether he wants to follow that declaration with a protocol to be attached to the subsequent treaty following the intergovernmental conference. He should indicate when he will publish the legislation to give statutory obligations to the House to have a form of accountability for Ministers making decisions at Council meetings rather than a set of Standing Orders, as is proposed at present by the Minister of State.

A fear is a fear whether or not it is rational. These fears are impediments to enabling people to endorse the Nice treaty and they must be recognised, respected and addressed in as far as they can be. Does the Taoiseach recognise he has a unique leadership responsibility now, in the next two to three weeks, to address this in a concrete way? He may not have the opportunity over the summer and it may be too late by the autumn.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I understood that last autumn after the failure to ratify the Nice treaty. It was [625] for that reason we put so much commitment and effort into the forum over the winter, as did Deputy Quinn's party. We put forward papers, we gave people time and we had speakers address a range of conferences, community organisations and other activist groups throughout the country to help sell that message. A good job has been done there.

In the period of reflection we called for, we looked at the issues that concerned people. As Deputy Quinn said, there was some scaremongering to arouse fears but those fears still have to be dealt with. Three or four such issues clearly showed how we do our business here and frankly, people on the outside will not worry whether we do this by legislation or in Standing Orders once it is done. We could spend a long time preparing legislation but we could put Standing Orders in place quickly and we have already started doing that. There is far more involvement now with the Committee on European Affairs, though the Minister had already been involved long before the Nice treaty referendum, attending the committee before and since. I am not sure if that affected the vote one way or the other but we have started that process and will continue it. Across Departments we have increased resources to communicate about Europe. All those measures are in place.

Deputy Quinn said we must put some effort into this and we should try to get agreement on the declaration. I have some reservations. As soon as I mention the declaration, to go back to Deputy Sargent's point, things immediately changed. People called for a declaration but as soon as I said we would have a declaration—

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent A protocol.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Yes, but as soon as we have a protocol then people say it is the Constitution. Then it is something else.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent No, no.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As we heard yesterday from the “No” side, it was not really about anything to do with Irish neutrality. It was the greater model of what would happen internationally.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Taoiseach has done the research. He knows what this is about.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have done my research. The biggest thing is not to let Deputy Sargent confuse people.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent The Taoiseach is the fudge man.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern These issues are being addressed. Issues put forward by Opposition parties who are in favour of the European Union will be looked at seriously by the Government.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon That concludes Taoiseach's Questions.

[626]Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I did not get a reply. Am I surprised?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon I took the Deputy's interjections as questions which were out of order. We move on now to questions for the Minister for Foreign Affairs.


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