5th September 2002
SPEECH TO REFERENDUM DEBATE ON TREATY OF NICE
Martin FERRIS, TD
There has been remarkably little debate on the implications, which the Treaty of Nice will have on Irish agriculture. All we have heard from the main parties are threats that all EU support for the sector will be lost if the proposal is defeated. Very little is said in regard to what will happen if this state has a reduced voice on the Commission and no relationship is made between the aims of the Treaty and current proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.
Farmers should examine closely effects of EU membership
If this state signs up to the Treaty of Nice it will become more difficult to have the concerns of Irish people heard and there will be less opportunity to defend vital economic interests. Indeed I would urge farmers here to examine closely the effects of EU membership, and realise that benefits which have accrued up to now were neither wholly positive, nor are they guaranteed to survive the changes proposed under Nice and the changes to the Common Agricultural Policy. Some of those changes may be positive, others will undoubtedly be negative. The main point, however, is that if the Treaty is passed then the ability to influence such decisions will be even further diminished.
Even in the midst of the current economic upturn Irish farmers have experienced falling incomes with many forced out of farming altogether. The IFA forecasts that farm incomes will fall by up to 20% in real terms in 2002 while Teagasc estimated that 30,000 farm households were living in poverty in 2000. That amounts to over one fifth of all farm households. That is a consequence of many factors including falls in the prices being paid for milk and other farm produce. But it must also be seen as the long term consequence of deliberate EU policy.
20% of 144,000 family farms will not survive
It has been estimated that 20% of the 144,000 family farms at present will not survive into the next decade. We are talking about tens of thousands of real people facing real hardship in communities where all too often there is nothing outside of farming to provide an alternative means to make a living. The fishing industry has also suffered. While this state claims jurisdiction over 16% of EU waters, Irish fishermen have 4% of the EU fishing quota. All of this is a consequence of diminished power to influence decisions, and that power will be further curtailed under the new voting arrangements proposed in the Treaty.
Not all the farming organisations, let alone individual farmers, unanimous in their support for Nice in June 2001. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association recommended that its members oppose the amendment to approve Nice. Many of the reasons they gave echoed those voiced by Sinn Fein. They included the level of bureaucracy; the lack of influence on the EU decision making process; and the erosion of national sovereignty which had proceeded to the extent where (and I quote) `` ? that national parliaments are rapidly becoming irrelevant''.
And of course these are concerns that are echoed by other sectors of the rural community and by many in working class communities who are experiencing a similar sense of disempowerment at the hands of a faceless bureaucracy that serves only to exacerbate the neglect already visited upon them by the Irish state.
Radical change is needed in decision making
To address the problems facing rural communities means that we must fully engage people in the decisions that fundamentally affect their day-to-day lives. Too often decisions are made in some distant place, generally in line with EU guidelines, and communities are expected to participate in them without having had any part in their formation. What is required is radical change in the way in which regional development plans, LEADER and CERT programmes and local partnerships are designed and operated. Those most affected by them must be part of the initial consultation process and the implementation of plans.
Such empowerment, however, is even less likely to take place as the EU becomes more centralized and bureaucratic. More and more what takes place is that directives are issued without any consultation with local communities and often with little regard for the democratically elected representatives of those communities. And that too is becoming more acceptable in certain quarters. It is surely a sad day for democracy when a member of a governing party of a state parliament can claim as Tom Parlon did in this house yesterday that we have no choice but to go along with decisions that have been made at EU level.
Economic co-operation in Europe is not going to come to a halt if Nice is rejected. In any event financial aid should never be an inducement to act against fundamental national interests. To argue otherwise is more reminiscent of the level of debate that took place at the time of the Act of Union with England than a modern democratic sovereign state.
The people were correct the first time
The instincts of the people in rejecting this proposal at the first time of asking were correct. Despite what some commentators might like to believe it was a decision made not from ignorance but from a real understanding of the implications. It was not a negative vote against European enlargement. It was a positive vote in support of Irish independence and sovereignty. It was a mandate to the leadership of the state to negotiate a deal that took account of those concerns, not to run off and apologise for the embarrassing decision of the electorate. For its part Sinn Fein will be campaigning as we did last year to ensure that the arguments against Nice are heard again, and that the same answer is given.
Many of `yes' arguments absurd
And finally before I finish I would just like to point to just one of the many absurd arguments being put by those on the Yes side in trying to coerce or fool the Irish people in to voting for this Treaty. In this house yesterday former Minister Michael Woods said it was ironic that the people of the Six Counties were ``into the Nice Treaty while Sinn Fein were not''. The fact of the matter is that the people of the Six Counties didn't have a choice they were forced into accepting this Treaty by the British government without having a referendum. There is something deeply ironic in the fact that a Deputy in the so-called republican party is willing to accept that the British government represents the views of over a million Irish people living in the six counties of the north eastern part of our country. Deputy Woods time would be better spent getting his government to secure voting rights for Irish people living in the Six Counties in this referendum and other elections so that we can have truly national representation in this house.
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