[Sinn Fein]

25th June 2002

``Democracy is the issue in Nice referendum replay'' - Ó Caoláin

Sinn Fein Parliamentary Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD speaking in relation to the EU Council meeting at Seville said that:

``The primary issue in the replay of the Nice referendum is not neutrality nor enlargement nor the further integration of the EU. The primary issue is democracy.'' Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

When the referendum is held in the autumn the people will not be voting on the Declarations of Seville but on the Treaty of Nice. The Declarations produced at the Seville Summit offer nothing new and they have no legal or constitutional standing. They did not alter one syllable of the Treaty of Nice. The electorate rejected it last year. The government is asking them to reverse their decision this year.

We recently had a general election. I thought my party had a good result. We increased our seats by four. I thought Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the PDs got too many seats. I would like to have seen them get fewer. I'm sure the Taoiseach would like to have got more seats. I'm sure many of his party colleagues would like to have seen the PDs getting fewer seats. So perhaps the Taoiseach will call another general election to coincide with the referendum in the autumn. If the people can be asked to get it right the second time around on Nice why not ask them to have the general election again and get that right too?

While he is at it perhaps the Taoiseach can do a deal with FIFA to play the Ireland/Spain match again. We would all be in favour of that. And maybe he could speak to the meteorologists and ask them to rewind the summer back to May and see if we can get a bit more sun the second time around.

Let's make it very clear. The primary issue in the replay of the Nice referendum is not neutrality nor enlargement nor the further integration of the EU. The primary issue is democracy. Last year the electorate in this State was asked to alter the Constitution in order to accept the Treaty of Nice. They declined to do so by a majority vote. The ultimate sovereignty of this State is not the Dáil, nor the Government, nor the Taoiseach, but the people and the people voted No. The people are the State and this State declined to ratify the Treaty of Nice.

The law of the European Union is based on a series of Treaties which were agreed unanimously by member states. We have voted on a number of them including the Single European Act, Maastricht and Amsterdam. On each of those occasions we in Sinn Fein, with others, called for a No vote because we were and are opposed to the creation of an EU superstate and those Treaties are the building blocks for that superstate. The government makes much of our record on those Treaties as if we have something to be ashamed of but we stand over our record. We fought our campaigns and accepted the results as we had to do. Now imagine the ridicule we would have been subjected to if we and others who campaigned against those Treaties had, on each occasion, called for a replay because the people had got it wrong? Yet this is exactly what the government is doing now.

Changes to existing EU Treaties and new Treaties must be agreed unanimously by all member states. Nice was not so agreed because this State, by vote of the people, rejected it. Immediately after the referendum the Irish government was legally obliged to go to the EU Commission and the governments of the member states and formally request that they not proceed with ratification.

What did the Government do instead? Not only did they not implement the referendum result they openly defied it. They encouraged the governments of the other member states to proceed with ratification. They did so with the avowed purpose of pressurising the electorate here and presenting them with the scenario we now face. We are being told that all other member States have ratified and the whole of the EU and all the applicant states now await us and if we don't vote Yes then a few thousand ungrateful Irish whingers will destroy the whole European project.

With all due respect to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I don't think the people will buy it. I don't think they are so gullible.

I want to return to the issue of neutrality. I do not doubt the diligence of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in securing those declarations. But I believe that diligence was misdirected. The declarations are a smokescreen. They do not change Nice and Nice, like previous EU Treaties, commits us to greater co-operation on foreign policy and so-called security policy and to the progressive framing of a common defence policy. It commits us to the EU Rapid Reaction Force. This State is still a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace, in violation of the promise made by the Taoiseach.

The reality of what is happening to Irish neutrality was shown at the beginning of this month when the Government granted permission to the United States Air Force, operating from Shannon Airport, to carry out military exercises in our airspace. Two Hercules C130 military planes were allowed by the Department of Foreign Affairs to engage in training flights low in the skies over the south west of Ireland. This took place over a four-day period. It followed the opening of Shannon to the US military last year. The US Air Force presence there has now become routine. I believe what we are seeing is the transformation of Shannon into an important European base for the US Air Force in total violation of the government's supposed commitment to neutrality as expressed in the Seville declarations and elsewhere.

The Government has so far refused to put neutrality in the Constitution. I urge them to do so and I have tabled such a Bill - the 25th Amendment to the Constitution Bill. I call on them to adopt it.

In conclusion I pledge the opposition of Sinn Fein to the ratification of the Treaty of Nice and I look forward once again to seeing democracy triumph as the people reject this undemocratic Treaty.

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