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Written Answers. - National Forum on Europe.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 42. Proinsias De Rossa Information on Prionsias De Rossa Zoom on Prionsias De Rossa  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the Government's views on the publication of the interim report on the National Forum on Europe; the Government's plans for the future of the Forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10252/02]

 92. Mr. Callely Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the progress of the National Forum on Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10458/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I wish to take Questions Nos. 42 and 92 together.

The National Forum on Europe was established by the Government with a mandate to “facilitate a broad discussion of issues relevant to Ireland's membership of an enlarging Union and to consider the range of topics arising in the context of the debate on the future of Europe”.

Since its launch on 18 October last year, the forum has proved very effective in stimulating and providing a platform for a wide-ranging debate on the European Union and on Ireland's place in that Union. It has succeeded in its important goal of providing an inclusive debate. The series of “mini-fora” held around the country, as I saw clearly for myself, have been particularly successful in helping to bring the debate on Europe closer to our citizens.

A report by its chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, on the first phase of work of the forum was published on 25 February. I strongly welcomed the report and notably its conclusion that there is a broad national consensus in favour of enlargement and that there is a strong awareness of the continuing immense practical benefits of EU membership to Ireland.

Last week, the forum concluded the next phase of its work and I look forward to the report on that phase which, I understand, is expected after the general election.

Alongside the clear recognition of the benefits which Ireland derives from membership of the European Union and our continued strong commitment to that membership, there are a number of areas of concern to people which the Government is determined to address effectively and comprehensively. The forum has contributed greatly to identifying and teasing out those concerns.

A decision on the continuation of the forum after the general election will be one for the new Government. This Government established the forum for the reasons I have outlined, strongly supports its work and welcomes the important progress it has made in its important task. In the Government's view the mandate of the forum, to [782] facilitate broad discussion of Ireland's membership of an enlarging Union, will remain relevant over the coming period especially in the context of European Convention on the Future of Europe which was launched on 28 February.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Senator Hayes again on his balanced and open approach and to congratulate participants in the forum more generally for their constructive contributions to a debate which is of fundamental importance to the people of this country.


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