7th October 2002
Nice referendum `not about EU membership' - Ó Caoláin
Speaking in Cavan where he is to address a public meeting on the Treaty of Nice tonight (Monday) Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
``This is not a referendum about our continuing membership of the EU. Those on the `Yes' side persist in saying that if we vote `No' we will lose all the benefits of membership and will be in the doghouse with our EU partners. This is completely untrue.
``This referendum is about changing the governance of the EU before enlargement. Only voters in this State have the opportunity to influence that by their votes on 19 October. They should not be intimidated by the scare tactics of the Treaty's supporters.
``This may well be the last referendum in which the people of this State can really influence the shape of the EU of which we are members. Because if Nice is passed then so-called `enhanced co-operation' will allow eight or more states to proceed ahead of the rest regardless of the will of the people in any one State. Under Nice the two-tier EU will be a reality.''
Also on the platform at the Cavan meeting are Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath, trade unionist Mick O'Reilly and Fearghus MacAogáin of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. The meeting is in the Kilmore Hotel, Cavan town at 8.30pm.
Full text follows
The Case Against the Treaty of Nice
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
In the Constituency of Cavan/Monaghan in the first Treaty of Nice referendum last year over 15,000 voters, 52% of those who cast their ballots, rejected the Treaty. They formed part of the clear majority of `No' voters throughout the 26 Counties who decided democratically that this State should not ratify the Treaty of Nice.
It is a constitutional and democratic outrage that the Government deliberately defied this decision of the people. People who voted in good faith last year had every right to expect that their decision would be respected and fully implemented by the Government. It was not.
Article Six of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that all powers of government derive from the people whose right it is ``in final appeal'' to decide all questions of national policy. The final appeal on the Treaty of Nice was the referendum held last year.
For Sinn Fein, therefore, the key issue in this referendum campaign is Democracy. It is about the democratic accountability of a government which quite deliberately defied the decision of the electorate in last year's referendum on Nice. It is about the integrity of the referendum process itself.
A referendum can have no democratic value in this State if a government can defy its outcome and then return to the people seeking a reversal of their decision.
After the first vote on Nice the Taoiseach went to the Gothenburg EU Summit and told the other States to proceed with ratification. This was in defiance both of the decision of the Irish electorate and of a fundamental principle of the EU - that Treaties must be ratified by all member states. This State declined to ratify in the most decisive manner - by referendum of the people.
The government in effect told the other EU governments - ``We are only a small State, you don't have to wait for us, go ahead and we will get our people to change their minds.'' In others words we have no choice. I ask the Taoiseach once again a question he has failed to answer: If the people of Germany or France or Britain had rejected this Treaty would their governments have acted as ours has done? Would the other states have proceeded with ratification? Of course not.
The conduct of the Government is in line with the Treaty of Nice itself because our fundamental objection to the Treaty is that it brings to an end the EU as a partnership of equal sovereign states.
The constitutional amendment the Government is asking us to adopt refers specifically to those articles of the Treaty which provide for what is called `enhanced co-operation'. This will allow up to eight member states to use the EU institutions to advance their common interests, leaving the rest outside the loop. Taken together with the extension of qualified majority voting to 30 new areas and the loss of the permanent Irish presence on the EU Commission, this represents a major blow to both Irish sovereignty and equitable Irish participation in the EU.
The Taoiseach has referred to these as ``minor institutional arrangements'' and said he did not want to go into the complexities of the Treaty. Obviously the Yes side does not want to deal with the detail of the Treaty because the devil is in the detail.
I want to deal now with some of the arguments that have been raised by supporters of the Treaty of Nice.
First and foremost I want to emphasise most strongly that this is not a referendum about our continuing membership of the EU. Those on the `Yes' side persist in saying that if we vote `No' we will lose all the benefits of membership and will be in the doghouse with our EU partners. This is completely untrue.
Farmers have also been told that existing agricultural subsidies and our position in future negotiations on Common Agricultural Policy reform would be jeopardy if we vote `No'. Again this needs to be refuted in the strongest terms.
Therefore I want to welcome the statement yesterday from the European Union Agricultural Commissioner Dr. Franz Fischler who rejected the use of EU grants to convince farmers to vote Yes in the Nice referendum. Commissioner Fischler said it would be `nonsense' to threaten Irish farmers that they would be punished if they vote No.
Commissioner Fischler's statement must be seen as an implicit criticism of the manner in which the Government has sought to use EU funds to influence the way in which farmers will vote. Government and other pro-Nice spokesperson have claimed that EU funding will be under threat if Nice is rejected for the second time.
It is clear from Commissioner Fischler's comments that this will not be the case. A different approach may have to be adopted in relation to the proposed enlargement but that surely must be welcomed. That would mean that the concerns expressed by the people of this state would have to be seriously addressed. It will also mean that much greater consideration will be given to Irish concerns over the future of agriculture in the enlarged union.
When we vote on the Treaty of Nice on 19 October we will not be voting on the issue of enlargement. Those on the `No' side in this debate are unanimous in their support for enlargement ? if that is the will of the people, freely expressed in referenda in each of the applicant states. We in Sinn Fein welcome new states to the European Union and we want to create a Europe of Equals just as we wish to create an Ireland of Equals.
A `No' vote in this State cannot and will not stop the process of enlargement and it is acknowledged - albeit reluctantly - by the `Yes' side that ratification of Nice is not necessary for enlargement to proceed.
There have already been many attempts at moral blackmail in this campaign by those who quite falsely claim that a second rejection of the Treaty of Nice would plunge the enlargement process into chaos and deny the applicant states their chance to come in on an equal basis.
Our vote in this referendum is about the governance of the EU as it stands before enlargement. We have a say in the matter - the applicant countries do not. That need not be the case. It is possible to enlarge under existing EU treaties. Each applicant will have to conclude an accession treaty whether Nice is ratified or not. Accession without Nice would allow the new members to join in the negotiations about EU governance after they have come in. Surely that is the best way to promote the rights and interests of the applicant states.
Naturally the applicants see it from a totally different point of view. As applicants for membership they are in no position to say to the EU that it is unfair to change the rules before you let us join the club. They fear that that would jeopardize their chances of the speediest accession possible.
Speaking in the Dáil debate on EEC membership in 1972, Taoiseach Jack Lynch said:
``The negotiations were conducted on the basis that the applicant countries accepted the provisions of the Treaties establishing the Communities and the action taken for the implementation of these Treaties.''
The applicants today are in the same position but they will join a European Union where their voices and votes will carry much less weight and where their sovereignty will be much more diminished than was this State's in 1972. If we accept the Treaty of Nice, far from benefiting the applicant states we will ensure that they join not a partnership of equal states but a two-tier EU dominated by the larger states.
The point has been raised that a `No' vote here would delay enlargement. But who has brought about the delay?
The Irish people rejected Nice last year. Therefore the State - which is the people, not the Government nor the Oireachtas - declined to ratify the Treaty. EU Treaties can only be ratified if all Member States ratify. If the Irish Government had done its constitutional duty and formally notified the other EU Member States that this State had declined to ratify the Treaty of Nice then that Treaty would have fallen and arrangements for accession of applicants could have proceeded without waiting unnecessarily for Nice. They could have been well advanced at this stage if the Irish government had not embarked on this equally unnecessary referendum in order to overturn the decision of the people.
This may well be the last referendum in which the people of this State can really influence the shape of the EU of which we are members. Because if Nice is passed then so-called `enhanced co-operation' will allow eight or more states to proceed ahead of the rest regardless of the will of the people in any one State. Under Nice the two-tier EU will be a reality.
For the sake of democracy in Ireland and in the EU as a whole I urge the electorate of County Cavan once again to Vote NO to Nice on 19 October.
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