[Sinn Fein]

6 June 2001

Only a No vote can allow time for a true debate

The electorate should not be rushed to rubber-stamp Nice, a treaty with such far-reaching consequences, writes Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD of Sinn Fein

One of the most bizarre aspects of the Nice referendum campaign has been the assurance from those on the Yes side that we will have a full debate on the future of the EU - but after the referendum.

I believe that a key and critical reason we should vote No to Nice is precisely to allow for a comprehensive and realistic debate and not one made irrelevant by adoption of a treaty that changes fundamentally the governance of the EU.

There was no need to hold the Irish referendum on Nice so soon. The treaty does not have to be decided on by member states until the end of 2002. As a result of the Government's rush to ratify, the debate has been truncated with little time for citizens to be informed.

I know from my own experience of canvassing and that of my Sinn Feín colleagues in other constituencies that the parties on the Yes side have made no effort to explain their position on the doorsteps.

They hope that, while there will be a low turnout, the required majority of those who do vote will say Yes, trusting the Government to ``know best''. It is unacceptable for the electorate to be treated as a rubber stamp in this way. It is important to remember that this is a constitutional referendum and not a plebiscite.

The vote tomorrow is to change the Constitution to allow the State to be bound by the new rules governing the EU. We need plenty of time for a properly informed debate.

The ``get it over with'' attitude of the Government is inappropriate for a proposed constitutional change with profound consequences for Irish democracy and the future of the EU.

What are those consequences? The Nice Treaty moves the EU decisively from what is supposed to be a partnership of states, each with an equal voice regardless of population size, towards a federal state with a powerful and unelected central government dominated by the large states.

The extension of qualified majority voting to many new areas of policy and decisionmaking and the re-weighting of votes in favour of the larger states removes from member states the democratic safeguard of the power of veto. It continues the process of eroding the sovereignty of individual democracies within the EU.

As a result, citizens will have less control over the decisions and policies which affect them at local, national and international level.

Their elected representatives will be disempowered. Democracy was described well by Pádraig MacPiarais as ``the sovereignty of the people''. Sinn Fein believes popular sovereignty is best exercised at national, regional and local level.

The closer decision-making is to local communities the stronger the democracy. The EU is accelerating in the opposite direction under the Nice Treaty. It is precisely because of these proposed changes in the way the EU is governed and not because of enlargement that we are having this constitutional referendum.

The Referendum Commission has been unfairly criticised for this by Yes campaigners Alan Dukes and Proinsias De Rossa because its information booklet did not mention enlargement.

The Chairperson of the Commission, Justice Thomas Finlay, has rejected this criticism, pointing out that the 24th Amendment to the Constitution Bill ``makes no reference to the enlargement of the EU''.

It was the Amsterdam Treaty which provided for enlargement, but the Nice Treaty provides for further centralising or ``deepening'' of the EU before even one more state joins. To oppose Nice is not to oppose enlargement but to seek a better EU for ourselves and for those who will join.

Democracy, like charity, begins at home and true internationalists know that the work for real democracy globally must begin locally and nationally. It is up to the people of each of the applicant countries to decide if they will join the EU. It is up to people in this State to decide if we wish to be governed as proposed in Nice.

In the Nice Treaty, ``Enhanced Co-operation'' is the euphemism for the development of first-class and second-class membership of the EU. A core group of states will be able to advance ahead of the rest, using the EU institutions to further their perceived common interests.

What if the British and Irish governments end up in different tiers of this two-tier Europe? Even if the British join the euro zone, would there not be a real danger that the division of Ireland could be deepened? No one on the Yes side has attempted to address this vital question.

Article 1 of the Nice Treaty states that ``the common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy''. Article 1 also clearly states that ``the framing of a common defence policy'' will be supported ``as member-states consider appropriate, by co-operation between them in the field of armaments''.

The treaty makes the EU directly responsible for the new Rapid Reaction Force to which Irish troops are already pledged. This force can undertake military operations without a United Nations mandate.

The detailed report on ``defence'' adopted at the Nice Treaty negotiations includes elaborate structures for an EU military committee, an EU military staff and a political and security committee. Irish representatives, including military staff, are involved in all of these.

The Government has also committed us to a ``genuine strategic partnership between the EU and NATO in the management of crises with due regard for the two organisations' decision- making autonomy''.

How can the Government maintain that our neutrality is unaffected by this new EU partnership with NATO, a nuclear-armed military alliance? It was Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern who said membership of NATO's so-called Partnership for Peace would be ``a gratuitous signal that Ireland is moving away from its neutrality and towards gradual incorporation into NATO and the WEU in due course''.

Before the 1997 general election Fianna Fáil opposed PfP membership and promised a referendum if it should be proposed. Yet in government they went on to enter PfP without a referendum.

They cannot claim credibility now when they say Nice does not affect our neutrality and that they will only undertake operations with a UN mandate. A No vote tomorrow will allow a real debate on how we can achieve a democratic and demilitarised Europe.

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