[Sinn Fein]

25th January 2002

Ó Caoláin - Decision of the people on Nice must be implemented

Sinn Fein TD for Cavan Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin will this evening be the keynote speaker at a public meeting organised by the Forum on Europe in the Hillgrove Hotel, Monaghan. Deputy Ó Caoláin is calling on the government to immediately implement the decision of the people and respect their democratically expressed will on the Nice Treaty.

Full Text

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur romhaibh uile chun an Cruinniú Poiblí seo atá eagraithe ag Foram na hEorpa. Tugann an cruinniú deis daoibhse, an pobal, labhairt amach agus do thuairimí a chur chun an Fóram. Tá na cruinnithe seo á eagrú timpeall na tíre agus is tábhachtach an rud é go bhfuilimíd anseo anocht i réigiún na teorann chun na ceisteanna tábhachtacha maidir leis an Eoraip a phlé.

I welcome everyone here to this Public Meeting which is organised by the National Forum on Europe. I extend a special fáilte to County Monaghan to those who have joined us from neighbouring counties and further afield.

The Forum on Europe was established last year in the wake of the Nice Treaty referendum. It has been holding plenary sessions in Dublin Castle and public meetings such as this around the country. The Forum was established to address this country's role in an enlarging European Union and the future direction of the EU.

As the introductory speaker this evening my first and most important task is to encourage you, the members of the general public here present, to have your say. This is your forum and your opportunity to let your voice be heard. When I conclude my remarks there will be a space of some 90 minutes for contributions and questions from the floor. The members of the panel will then make brief concluding remarks.

You are welcome to give your views on any aspect of Ireland's role in the European Union now and in the future, on the Nice Treaty, on the Border region and the EU, on how the EU impacts on agriculture, on the question of Irish neutrality, on enlargement, on how the EU relates to you as citizens, and indeed if it relates to you at all. It is a broad and open agenda and, I emphasise again, it is your meeting. I look forward to a mature and considered debate.

My second task is to set out the views of my party, Sinn Fein, on the key issues. At each venue spokespersons for the different parties represented in the Forum - with the exception of Fine Gael which is abstaining - have been outlining their positions in introductory contributions. It is appropriate that as the sole Sinn Fein TD I should do so here in the Border region

Last June the electorate in the 26 Counties rejected the Nice Treaty. When that democratic decision was made the government was under a clear obligation to implement it. The point I wish to make most strongly is that the government has not implemented the decision of the people and has not respected their democratically expressed will. The government has not requested the other EU states to halt the process of ratification of the Nice Treaty. EU Treaties legally require the approval of all member states and if one member state rejects then the Treaty falls. Yet the Irish government has made no such request and the other EU states are proceeding with ratification regardless of the decision of the Irish electorate - the only citizens in the EU who have actually voted on the Nice Treaty.

There is no way the population of Germany or France or Britain would be ignored in this way. If Nice had been rejected by referendum in any of those states then it would be declared dead and they would have to return to the negotiating table to work out a new treaty. Therefore the conduct of the Irish government, the EU Commission and the governments of the other EU member states proves the point made by those of us who opposed the Nice Treaty - that it is undemocratic and that, if Nice were adopted, the EU would no longer be a partnership of equals. The smaller states would be second-class members of the EU, dominated by the states with the larger populations. It appears that that is already the case where Ireland is concerned.

In a democracy the elected representatives of the people make laws and decide policies. If the people think they are doing a bad job they can turf them out at the next election. The problem with the way the European Union is run is that there is no such democratic process. Laws are made by the unelected EU Commission and the Council of Ministers from each of the member states. The Nice Treaty actually makes the EU even less democratic.

Instead of making the EU institutions more accountable to the citizens in each of the member states the Nice Treaty increases the power of these bodies. The power of individual member states, and of smaller member states in particular, is reduced, while more laws and policies can be imposed upon us by the EU without a vote in our own parliament.

Under the Nice Treaty the voting weight of each member state on the Council of Ministers is changed significantly. Small states like the Irish state double their voting weight but larger states like Germany and Britain treble their voting weight. In addition more decisions will be made by the Council of Ministers by Qualified Majority Voting. In other words the Irish government will not be able to block a decision by a majority of EU states and will have to implement that EU decision even if it is against the interests of the Irish people. Because of the weighting of votes according to population a smaller number of large states will be able to outvote a larger number of small states.

These changes will come about whether or not any new state joins the EU. The government claims that Nice is about enlargement - letting new members into the EU. But it is no such thing. It is about further centralising power in the EU and giving greater power to the bigger states. Under existing EU treaties more states can join and the NO vote to Nice in Ireland does not prevent them from doing so.

Crucially, the Nice Treaty creates a two-tier EU. It allows a group of states to co-operate and move ahead of the remainder of member states, using the institutions to form an inner core or advanced guard. This breaks up the EU as a partnership of equal states.

On 21 January the Financial Times reported that the British government is considering putting forward proposals to establish an EU body similar to the United Nations Security Council. This body would comprise Britain, France and Germany as the three dominant powers in the EU. On the same day the French and German EU Commissioners were putting forward the idea of a Franco-German confederation with a common army and a common diplomatic corps. These ideas may seem like pie in the sky but they give a clear indication of how the elite groups who run the affairs of the EU are thinking. And in the Nice Treaty they have the ability to carry out such projects.

I want to turn briefly to the issue of the EU and the Border. Since the time of Seán Lemass there have been claims that the European project would make the Border irrelevant. Here in this region we know different and we still suffer the adverse economic effects of Partition, despite the positive input of EU aid. There are those who argue that further EU integration will help to bring the two parts of Ireland together. Our view in Sinn Fein is that integration must begin at home. We cannot wait for the very doubtful project of EU integration to create an All-Ireland economy and society. We must do that ourselves. We need to integrate our health systems, for example, with cross-border co-operation in hospital provision. Such cross-border integration would provide a new lease of life to facilities such as our own Monaghan General Hospital.

One of the main concerns of those who voted against Nice is the question of Irish neutrality. The EU now has a military arm - the Rapid Reaction Force, the core of a new EU army - to which the Irish government has already committed troops. Under Nice the EU is tied closer to NATO, the nuclear-armed military alliance. Irish neutrality and independent foreign policy - what's left of them - are fatally undermined. I believe we should withdraw from the Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Partnership for Peace. We were told by the present Taoiseach before the last general election that he would not bring us into the PfP without a referendum, a promise he failed to keep. Neutrality should be written into the Constitution and last year I published a Bill in the Dáil to do just that. I urge the Government to adopt that Bill and provide the Constitutional guarantee of positive neutrality.

The project of further integration of the EU is driven by the vision of those like EU Commission President Romano Prodi who wants to create an EU which is, in his own words ``a world power''. Sinn Fein's vision, and I believe the vision of most Irish people, is different. We want to see the EU remaining as a partnership of equal states, co-operating economically and politically, with the wealthier regions and nations assisting the poorer. We welcome the enlargement of the EU to include new member states if that is the wish of their peoples. But we do not want to see further powers taken away from democratically elected parliaments in the member states and handed over to unelected bureaucrats. We want to be able to relate to the rest of the world on our own terms and not as part of a giant EU state.

Finally I wish to raise a very important and urgent matter. An EU Convention made up of representatives from all the member states is being established to consider the next EU Treaty and the constitutional future of the EU. It is due to begin work on 1 March and this State has to nominate two members from the Dáil and two alternates before next Friday, 1st February. I call on the government to ensure that the No side in the Nice referendum campaign is represented. It would be a mockery of the democratic process if the Irish delegation at the Convention consisted only of representatives of the parties who supported the Nice Treaty and lost the referendum. It would assist the Convention if the Irish delegation was representative of the views of the people as expressed in the referendum and in this Forum on Europe.

I thank you for your attention and I open the discussion to the floor.

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