[Sinn Fein]

18 October 2001

McLaughlin addresses National Forum on Europe

Address by Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at the opening of the Forum for Europe. Also on the Sinn Fein delegation are Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central) who will be the party's full-time representative to the Forum, Cllr. Seán Crowe (Dublin South West) and Assembly member Barry McElduff MLA West Tyrone.

Full text of address

Chairperson, forum members, we in Sinn Fein welcome this opportunity today and in the coming months to participate in the sharing and debating of views on the future of Ireland within the EU and the role of both in the wider Europe.

Our meeting today takes place against the backdrop of the September 11th atrocities in the United States and the ongoing bombardment of Afghanistan by the US and Britain The September 11th atrocities were crimes against humanity. Their perpetrators should be brought to justice. But justice and human rights have not been served by the rush to war. It is clear by now that the aerial bombardment of Afghanistan is causing loss of civilian lives on a large scale and is perpetrating a humanitarian disaster. The Irish government should not be supporting the war.

I want to put on record at the very outset our support for the call from the international aid agencies for an immediate halt to the attacks on Afghanistan so that vital food, medicine and other supplies can be brought to the impoverished population. If this is not done then millions of people will face starvation in the weeks and months ahead as winter sets in.

It seems inevitable now that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will fall. In these circumstances the United Nations should be empowered to assist in rebuilding a system of government in Afghanistan. This needs to be done openly and not simply imposed on a people in desperation. The Taliban itself, supported by Pakistan came to power in such a vacuum, after the 1992-96 civil war. Given the ethnic mix in Afghanistan the newly established Government needs to represent the ethnic mix of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and smaller communities. It needs to guarantee human rights and civil liberties and needs to draw its legitimacy from within Afghanistan.

Ensuring legitimacy is hugely pertinent to our work here at this forum. In this context it is very important that we put on record at the outset our view that the decision of the people here in the June Nice Treaty referendum must be respected and implemented. The Irish government has not formally requested the other EU governments to halt the process of ratification of the Nice Treaty. In our this defies the expressed will of the Irish electorate when they rejected Nice.

Sinn Fein is totally opposed to a replay of the referendum. We have posed the question, if the people of France or Germany or Spain refused to ratify the Nice Treaty would the outcome be regarded in the same way as the 26-County referendum result. If it were any of these countries the reaction would we believe be very different. The treaty would be back on the drawing board.

The fact that the Nice ratification process is still ongoing sends a clear message to the Irish people. It says that because we are small in numbers, our voice can be disregarded.

This cuts to the heart of Sinn Fein concerns and objection to the Nice Treaty. We wish to retain the EU as a partnership of equal democracies, regardless of population size. There is no doubt in our mind that Nice moves us another step closer to an EU dominated by the larger states and possibly, through the use of the "enhanced co-operation" clauses, to a two tier EU.

Sinn Fein made it very clear during the Nice referendum that we are not opposed to the enlargement of the EU. What we do oppose is the creation of a giant EU "superstate".

We value our sovereignty. The EU already has a huge democratic deficit, one which Nice did absolutely nothing to redress. Deeper integration as envisaged in Nice would make the EU even more undemocratic and move decision making further away from the individual citizen, from the local communities they live in and from the national governments they democratically elect.

Sinn Fein also values Irish neutrality and the right to formulate and implement an independent international policy. We believe that the referendum result imposes a clear obligation on the coalition to withdraw from the Rapid Reaction Force. We regard it as the core of a new EU army and we wish to see peacekeeping as the sole responsibility of the United Nations.

It is easy to fall into the cliches of describing the EU project as being "imperialist", or a "superpower". However, these are the realities. Commission president Romano Prodi is not alone in wanting to mould the EU into a "world power". We in Sinn Fein believe that the Irish people do not want to be part of such a world power. We have a special understanding of imperialism and how large states can trample the rights of smaller ones.

Sinn Fein believes that there must be real choices for EU citizens about the direction the EU is taking. There is a clear sense of disenchantment and disapproval throughout the member states of the EU that is being built supposedly on their behalf.

We welcome this forum and the debate it is facilitating, although we are under no illusions that the Fianna Fáil/ PD government wish to use this Forum as a tool to ensure that the Nice Treaty is passed at a later date. Sinn Fein is here to prevent this from happening.

We believe that the questions the forum should ask are what type of Europe do you want to live in and what role should Ireland play in that Europe? The establishment parties overlooked these important questions during the Nice referendum debate. In fact, they have been ignored through nearly 30 years of EU membership.

Instead the citizens of the 26 Counties have been at various times coerced, lectured about and pressurised into accepting a Europe other people think they should have. The citizens of the Six Counties have never even been lobbied about Europe. We have been presented with the EU as a finished product, and with no input allowed on our part into whether we supported the EU's political and economic integration process at all.

Given the nature and scope of the EU's integration project it is amazing that there is so little debate about the merits or drawbacks of such an ambitious programme.

We don't know the ideal Europe that Fianna Fail, Labour and the Progressive Democrats aspire to. Fine Gael will not even turn up to tell us. There has been a clear failure on their part to tell the Irish people what they think is the best possible Europe.

Sinn Fein does have that vision. We want to see a Europe defending our democratic rights not eroding them. We want a Europe that will act collectively to promote equality across the EU in terms of the rights of women, children, disadvantaged communities and the aged.

We want to see a Europe that will tackle racism and act decisively to protect and enhance our environment on an EU level, not one that subsidises nuclear power building programmes.

We want to be part of a Europe run democratically from the lowest possible level from the bottom to the top, not the reverse that is the case today.

We want to be part of an Ireland in Europe that does not have to lobby and cajole the EU into letting us decide how to spend our own money, as is the case with the Aer Lingus fiasco. It is outrageous that the Irish government has to go cap in hand to an unelected commission to seek the right to aid our own airline, something which highlights the lack of democracy at the heart of the EU.

We have an excellent opportunity to create a dynamic out of this forum, where we can discuss the issues and begin the job our making our voice heard internationally about the best Europe for us all.

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