Changed World needs new attitude to Treaty

4th December, 2008

The Irish Times published an article by Paschal about Ireland’s future relationship with Europe. Please read it below.


Article by Paschal in The Irish Times, 4 December 2008.

The opening words of the recent Oireachtas report on Ireland’s Future in the European Union set out clearly the foundation for future discussion on Ireland’s relationship with Europe. The report notes that “The challenge is to recognise, respect and act upon the wishes of the Irish people while keeping Ireland at the heart of Europe”.

However Mary Lou McDonald recently wrote, in relation to the Lisbon referendum of last June, that our work was playing a role in “trying to find a way to get around this democratic decision”. This is just plain wrong.

Ms McDonald’s contribution mostly focused on how the Oireachtas Sub Committee on Ireland’s future worked. I will address the incorrect claims that were made about how the work of this committee was conducted.

However the conclusions of our report and it’s recommendations are more important. That these conclusions were hardly acknowledged by Sinn Fein is telling. Those who voted ‘No’ in the Lisbon referendum did so because they were acting in the best interests of themselves, their communities and their country. We must now speak to those convictions and deliver a new argument and a changed relationship with Europe.

Firstly, our report clearly concluded that Ireland has prospered because of our position at the heart of Europe. When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 our national income per person was 58% of the European average. It now stands at 144% of the European average. We noted the many positive Irish policies the European Union has caused, such as increased parental leave and equal pay for men and women.

This position at the centre of Europe did not happen by chance. It happened because successive politicians from all parties and our best and most capable public servants worked to get Ireland to the centre of the European Union.

Secondly, this position is now threatened. Our national interest could be gravely damaged. This statement is not an attempt to bully or worry anyone. It is simply a fact. Some of the most important sections of the Oireachtas Report address and explain this fact in detail.

The sub-committee analysed how the world has changed. The global market economy is now facing it’s most serious challenge since the Great Depression. Russia’s actions in Georgia have utterly changed the environment for many Central and Eastern European countries.

Due to the prospect of these challenges the governments of the European Union decided they needed to find a way to work more efficiently together. The Lisbon Treaty represented their agreed way of doing this. However these changes in the world economy and the actions of other countries have now dramatically increased the political urgency to find better ways for European countries to work together.

This opens the prospect of other members of the European Union moving ahead with new ways of working together that exclude Ireland. Our report concludes that “Such a scenario would have a devastating effect on Ireland’s political influence, economic prospects and international standing”.

Again, this is not an attempt to bully or frighten any voter. It is simply to conclude that Ireland’s fate is not always in our own control. The actions of our country have consequences for others, and they may act on them. This is not scaremongering but a potential reality expressed to the Sub-Committee by respected and experienced experts. This included organisations like the ERSI, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.

These conclusions were reached in a transparent and open manner. In total the Sub-Committee met one hundred and fourteen people from over forty organisations over a period of seven weeks. This was probably the most intensive examination undertaken by any committee in the history of the Oireachtas.

Contrary to Ms McDonald’s claim all the Sub-Committees hearings were held in public. The only discussions that were held in private were in relation to the organisation of our public work, the drafting of our report and administrative matters.

We were also determined to engage directly with the public on an issue of such importance to the future of our country. Advertisements inviting submissions from the public were placed in all the major national newspapers. Ninety-four written submissions were received by the sub-committee, reflecting a broad range of opinion in Irish society.

Sinn Fein do state that our sub committee only met in Dublin. This is one of their few claims that is fully correct. The reason for this is that our sub committee had to deliver it’s report in less then eight weeks. It simply was not possible to organise a tour of the country and deliver a public report without breaching the deadline for our report. This deadline was originally agreed to by Sinn Fein.

The way in which our work was done was open, fair and efficient. In effort to engage the public with the work of the committee, its proceedings were broadcast live on the internet via the Oireachtas website. This is the one of the first times an Oireachtas Committee has been webcast in this fashion.

The challenges for Ireland are significant. Irish sovereignty has flourished in the European Union. Ireland’s role as a fully committed and engaged Member State has been vital to the advancement of the country’s national interests. A way must be found that acts on the ‘No’ vote last June and recognises the desire of the huge majority of our country to remain committed to Europe.

It is not the job of an Oireachtas sub committee to take the place of government and make specific recommendations about what should be done in relation to holding referendums. This is the job of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was the job of our sub committee to produce a relevant, robust and timely contribution to this debate. That some would attack how the report was produced, rather than engage in a debate on it’s conclusions shows that this job was well done.

Senator Paschal Donohoe was Chairman of the Oireachtas Sub Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union.