10th September 2002
Speech by Aengus Ó Snodaigh to 2nd Referendum debate on Treaty of Nice
I would like to begin by reading into the record a very impassioned response to the outcome of the last referendum on the Treaty of Nice. The sentiments expressed in it would be very close to my own. The conclusions drawn are well thought out and accurately reflect what many of us on the No side believed in the aftermath of the vote and to suggestions that the Irish people would have to vote again to `get it right'. And I quote:
``So far as the Nice Treaty is concerned, the Irish people have spoken and, like it or lump it, the Commission and its President have to accept it. They should do so with more good grace than they have shown in the recent past.
``The Nice Treaty, no matter what its good intentions, is a document that has been democratically tested in only one Member State, and that is Ireland. It failed to meet the democratic test in this nation. It is arrogance for any politician, either here or any Commissioner in Europe, to ignore the fundamental fact that the Irish people have spoken with some clarity on the matter. Yet last night the President of the Commission suggested that somehow or other the Irish people's will can be undone. If the Commission, its leaders or the Governments of other European states decide to sweep democracy aside, we must ask on what basis is the future of Europe to be built.
``There is something distinctly odd about democratic states attempting to take decisions that are out of line with the sentiment of their citizens. The gulf that exists between the citizens of Europe and the institutions, the commissioners and the bureaucrats who are now driving the Union is nowhere more visible than in the area of peace, security and defence. In the run up to the Nice Treaty the European Council decided, quite incredibly, that somehow the European Union could now take charge of peace, security and defence issues across the continent of Europe both within and outside the Union.
``The issues raised by the rejection of the Nice Treaty in the referendum are of a fundamental nature. I have listened with some dismay to today's debate and the debate that has taken place in the weeks since the referendum. Many in the political leadership of the nation are more focused on making a political point about the referendum than on truly addressing the core issues behind the judgment passed by the people.
``It is foolhardy to talk about another referendum at this stage unless something fundamental changes. To attempt to rerun a referendum as a means of reversing the democratic decision taken by the people would be rightly regarded as an affront. Something fundamental will have to be changed in the Nice treaty before we can even contemplate putting it before the people again.
``The Nice treaty is a complex document, which intends to achieve complex things. It was sold to the Irish people as a means of providing for the enlargement of the European Union....Mr. Prodi made it very clear that was not what the treaty is about. He did not, however, make clear precisely what it is about. He was saying, therefore, that the enlargement process could be achieved without the Nice treaty.''
In the immediate aftermath of the last referendum the author of these words was expressing views that very, very many people held. They were welcomed as a true and honest reflection of where the debate was at and on how people viewed the Treaty.
Treaty failed the democratic test
As you heard he pointed out that the Treaty had been ``democratically tested by the people'' and that it had ``failed the democratic test in this state''. He said it would be ``an arrogance for any politician here to ignore the fundamental fact that the Irish have spoken''. Before saying that ``something fundamental will have to be changed in the Nice Treaty before we can even contemplate putting it before the people again'' he said any ``attempt to rerun a referendum as a means of reversing the democratic decision would be rightly regarded as an affront.''
He was right. It is an affront that we are here engaging in a so-called debate on a Treaty that has already been rejected by the people. It is an arrogance on behalf of this government that they have ignored the fundamental fact that the Irish have spoken. Nothing has changed, either fundamentally or otherwise, in this Treaty to warrant it being put before the people again. When the Minister for Europe, Dick Roche, spoke these words in this house on June 21, 2001 he was a mere government backbencher, expressing his views honestly and openly. Now with his ministerial position he has dumped that honesty and openness in favour of the arrogance and effrontery, which he so berated then.
It is no wonder that so many people are turned off politics and that the turnout for referenda has been falling dramatically over the years. Where is the good grace Deputy Roche demanded of the EU Commission and its President?
Taoiseach's view of neutrality narrowly focused
The Taoiseach's view of neutrality is so narrowly focused in terms of not actively participating in the activities of a military alliance as to render it completely meaningless. Rather than being used as a positive element of an independent foreign policy we have a government that almost apologizes for that fact that we are supposed to be neutral. While the government may be embarrassed and ashamed of our neutrality the people are not. It is a core part of any country's sovereignty that it able to define its own international relations and to be able to react with honesty and integrity to specific or individual situations as they arise.
Judging by how this debate is being conducted and how the government reacted to the result of the last referendum honesty and integrity are in short supply.
Republicans and progressive people throughout Ireland view neutrality as something positive. Something to be proud of, something that can and should be used for good in the world. Now more than ever with the warmongers in the US Administration itching to attack Iraq with the active support of the British government the need to show leadership on this issue is crucial. I don't believe that there is anybody in this house or outside it that believes that an American attack on the Iraq is justified. Indeed it is obvious that most of the nations of the world are completely opposed to any such action. It begs the question then; Why are we allowing US armed forces to train on our territory? Why do we have low flying US military aircraft on training manoeuvres over the south west coast? Why are we allowing two US military support vessels, which will undoubtedly be part of any build up of US forces in the Middle East, docking facilities in Cobh Harbour?
If the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs are so sure about their position and what they believe the Irish people want - put it to a vote. Lets have a referendum on the issue of neutrality so as to avoid any future ambiguity. Let the people decide whether or not to enshrine it in the constitution. Let the people decide whether we want to support the armed forces of a nation that is determined to bring further devastation to the Middle East. I think they know what the answer would be.
The declaration at the EU summit in Seville in June stated that: ``Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment.'' This declaration was noted in a European Council declaration that stated the council's belief that Nice would not alter the security position of Ireland as outlined in the Government's declaration.
But it doesn't have any legal basis. Unlike Protocols that are annexed to the treaty by common accord of the member-states and form an integral part of the Treaty there is no such provision in European law relating to ``declarations''.
This distinction is crucial when it is borne in mind that it will not be the European Council who will have to interpret the declaration's legal significance, but the European Court of Justice. The court would be duty bound to consider the Treaty of Nice, as adopted by all the member-states and would be likely to ignore any declaration adopted by one state unilaterally.
So, even on the ground of neutrality, which the Government has identified as the primary reason for the rejection of the treaty, what the people of Ireland are being offered as an inducement to vote Yes is really a confidence trick.
The incorporation of a positive statement of neutrality in Bunreacht na hÉireann and a legally effective guarantee of that neutrality at the European level, are the minimum, which would be needed to sway minds on this issue.
Neutrality was only one of many issues that have led to the rejection of Nice. There has been little or no debate about the other issues - the democratic deficit in the EU, the unaccountability of the Commission and the European Council, or the failure of the EU to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is essential that these aspects of the debate are not overlooked or glossed over. For us and for the vast majority of those opposed to the Nice Treaty, enlargement is not the issue. We are not opposed to enlargement and it has already been acknowledged at the highest levels within the EU that it can proceed even if Nice is rejected. Only last week the French minister for European Affairs said that a No vote in Ireland will not stop enlargement.
And as if to highlight this fact Brian Cowen on September 4th in this house rejected arguments put forward by members of his own party that Nice was necessary for enlargement. He rightfully acknowledged that saying No to Nice would only disrupt the preferred timetable - not halt enlargement as has been suggested. It was also interesting to note that he put paid to some of the more mischievous arguments from some of those sharing his government's front bench. Again he was right to point out that the No side in this house had not made or used anti-immigration arguments. And while I am reluctant to raise the issue of immigration again I believe that Dick Roche needs to be challenged on his remarks and behaviour in this house last week.
For him to sit there waving the five fingers on his right hand last week while insinuating that Sinn Fein was ambivalent on the issue of immigration and racism was a bit rich. Our record against racism and bigotry stands second to none in this house. If Deputy Roche wants to start lecturing people and wagging his fingers at anybody in this house he need look no further than his own government front bench. His colleague, Michael McDowell, on one of the days that you attacked Sinn Fein over immigration initiated a round up of non-white people and eastern Europeans in the name of clamping down on illegal immigration. I would ask the Minister - how many of those people were found to be in breach of our immigration laws; out of the 100 plus arrested how many were charged; how many of them were actually Irish citizens? I think the Minister knows the embarrassing answers to these questions and that they stand as a shocking indictment of his government's policies towards asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. He should be ashamed of himself. His use of the immigration argument is undoubtedly as cynical as that of Justin Barrett.
The other scare tactic employed by those on the Yes side is the economic one. Again it is a dubious as the neutrality and enlargement arguments. Statements have been made here today and indeed the YES campaign never seems to tire of trying to scare us into believing that if Ireland does not ratify Nice, we face economic ruin. Rather that swallowing this assumption whole, let's examine it critically.
Brendan Walsh an economic professor at UCD reminded us at the MacGill Summer School this year that our economic fortunes since joining the EU have been varied. More than 10 years after our succession to the EU there was little evidence of catch-up. Indeed mass unemployment and mass emigration were at their highest just over one decade ago. That was over sixteen years into EU membership. Despite this membership, we have continued to be vulnerable to external shocks and domestic policy errors. EU membership has not protected us from these factors in the past. Ratifying Nice will not inoculate us against them in the future.
Walsh goes further, arguing that not all EU inflows have been beneficial. He maintains that membership has in fact reinforced the ``dependency syndrome''. So we cannot let ourselves be fooled by the YES campaign's hectoring about Ireland's economic performance depending on Nice ratification.
Finally, I was at primary school in 1972 when the debate on entry to the EEC was going on. But I listened with interest to the Taoiseach's speech and I have to say it sounded more like a speech that would have been made back then. It was a speech about whether or not we should be members of the EU. But, Taoiseach, the debate has moved on. Our continued membership of the EU is not in question if we vote No. This is yet another scare from the Yes side. They are trying to paint the picture of an isolated Ireland outside the EU. It is complete nonsense and the electorate should not allow themselves to bullied, brow-beaten or bribed into voting YES.
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