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Government can and must secure a better deal

18 June, 2008


Speaking during today's Dáil debate on the Lisbon Treaty Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD described Thursday June 12th 2008 as a day that "deserves to be remembered as a great day for democracy in Ireland and in Europe. It was a positive assertion by the Irish electorate of their power to decide vital national issues."

"This was a vote about what type of EU we want to be part of developing. Will it be an EU of political elites and bureaucrats? Or will it be a democratic Europe of the people?

"While some advocates of the Treaty have attempted to castigate the electorate for rejecting the Treaty, more reasonable voices have called it right. There is no crisis. We will not be thrown out of the European Union. When the French and Dutch rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, the ratification process was brought to an end. And so it should be with Lisbon.

"I call on An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD to not just declare his respect and acceptance but to act accordingly and to insist in the course of the Council of Ministers meeting on an end now to the ratification process across all of the European Union. The ball is at Brian Cowen's feet. The Lisbon Treaty is over and done with. Taoiseach Brian Cowen must so insist when he faces his counterparts over the coming days. Nothing less will suffice.

"I reject the Taoiseach's attempt to sully the Irish people's rejection of this Treaty by pretending that it has been welcomed only by the likes of the contemptuous Mr. Le Pen and his cohorts. Progressive people across Europe have welcomed the rejection of this much contested text. We are not alone our opinion of the Lisbon Treaty. This document has been put before the peoples of five countries and in three instances it has been overwhelmingly rejected. Sinn Fein will be hosting an event in Brussels tomorrow with senior political representatives from France and the Netherlands. We will be joined by Jean-Luc Melenchon French Socialist Senator and President of Lour la Republique Sociale (PRS), Francis Wertz President of GUE/NGL and Dutch parliamentarian Harry Van Bommel of the Socialist Party. These are respected sensible grounded parliamentarians who like Sinn Fein won the support of their people through calm measured informed debate.

"Throughout the campaign we in Sinn Féin argued that the Lisbon Treaty was a bad deal and that a better deal for Ireland and for Europe was possible.

"Specifically we focused on three sets of concerns.

"We argued that the Lisbon Treaty would deepen the democratic deficit, take the EU further down the road of developing common foreign and defence policies, these policies would promote militarisation and in turn undermine this state's neutrality. We were also deeply worried that the Lisbon Treaty was designed to further open up vital public services such as health and education to competition and in turn privatisation. This liberalising drive would have been complimented by the removal of key vetoes on the inclusion of health, education and social services in international trade agreements.

"Sinn Féin also expressed deep disappointment with the failure of the drafters of the Lisbon Treaty to address issues of workers' rights and the continuing trend towards social dumping aided and abetted by the European Court of Justice.

"The campaign is now over and the verdict is clear. I welcome both Fine Gael and Labour's commitment not to seek a second referendum on Lisbon. I call on the government to do likewise.

"However the most important task now is to ensure that the better deal that the people voted for is secured. While the primary responsibility in this effort lies with the government, there is a responsibility on those of us who argued against the treaty to outline in detail what we believe such a deal would consist of.

"Today Sinn Féin submitted to the Irish government a detailed position paper outlining proposed changes to the Lisbon Treaty. Of course the government will say that this list is too ambitious, too detailed and undeliverable. However already we are hearing from a range of voices across the EU, in governments, opposition parties and social movements, supporting some or all of the above. Politics is the art of the possible. When entering any negotiation one must be both ambitious and realistic.

"Sinn Féin is ready to play our part in a constructive manner. We believe that many others are willing to do likewise. Now all eyes are on the government. Will they listen to the will of the people and work to secure a better deal both for Ireland and the European Union? Or will they collude with those political forces across the European Union who seem unwilling to respect the outcome of referenda in Ireland, France and the Netherlands?

"The first option will strengthen Ireland, our place in the EU and the Union itself. The second option will deal yet another blow to the democratic credibility of an already faltering European Union." ENDS

SPEECH

Deputy O Caoláin Statements on Lisbon Treaty Referendum Result

Thursday 12 June 2008 deserves to be remembered as a great day for democracy in Ireland and in Europe. It was a positive assertion by the Irish electorate of their power to decide vital national issues. The people reached their verdict despite the hectoring of most of the political and media establishment. This was not a vote about whether or not we should remain in the EU. That question is not on the agenda. It was a vote about what type of EU we want to be part of developing. Will it be an EU of political elites and bureaucrats? Or will it be a democratic Europe of the people?

The votes were barely counted when the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barrosso, speaking out of both sides of his mouth, said he respected the Irish decision but also said the remaining states should continue with ratification. Immediately the Irish vote served a vital democratic purpose. It exposed the real choice that faces all the people of Europe. Is the EU to be a partnership of equal states with a voice at the top table for all states, regardless of size? If the EU is to continue as such then ratification of Lisbon cannot proceed because it requires the unanimous agreement of all states and that cannot now be achieved because the people in this State have said 'No'.

If this democratic decision is not to be respected then we are definitely heading for a federal EU, a centralized super-state. Many on the 'Yes' side carelessly trotted out the line that our small population should not presume to hold up hundreds of millions of people across Europe. Apart from the fact that this ignores the reality that those same hundreds of millions have been denied referendums in their own countries, it can lead to only one conclusion. That conclusion is that national democracies do not count, and that the only valid unit for decision-making is that of the elite at the helm of the EU as we now know it. That is a federal EU and a damn bad one at that. It would be much simpler if those who want such a super-state would come out and say so. But it is not what the Irish people want and, I believe, it is not what the majority of people across Europe want either.

While some advocates of the Treaty have attempted to castigate the electorate for rejecting the Treaty, more reasonable voices have called it right. There is no crisis. We will not be thrown out of the European Union.

When the French and Dutch rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, the ratification process was brought to an end. And so it should be with Lisbon.

It was the French and Dutch Governments who told their EU counterparts that the game was up on the Constitutional Treaty and that the ratification process should cease. The Irish Government needs now to send a clear message to the EU Commission and to this week's meeting of Taoisigh at their Council of Ministers meeting that, notwithstanding their own support for the treaty, they are now insisting on an end to the ratification process proceeding across those countries who have not, so far, completed their respective processes. The Irish electorate, who so overwhelmingly voted No last Thursday, deserve no less and expect no less.

As a citizen who voted 'No' to Lisbon, I respectfully, and I hope I can make this call on behalf of all my fellow citizens who voted 'No', for whatever reason or reasons, and on behalf of the many, many thousands who voted 'Yes' and who would hold strongly to the need for the Irish decision to be fully respected and acted upon, call on An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD to not just declare his respect and acceptance but to act accordingly and to insist in the course of the Council of Ministers meeting before him on an end now to the ratification process across all of the European Union. The ball is at Brian Cowen's feet. He must exercise his right, which is his duty, that the decision of the Irish people on last Thursday be both accepted and complied with. The Lisbon Treaty is over and done with. Taoiseach Brian Cowen must so insist when he faces his counterparts over the coming days. Nothing less will suffice.

Throughout the campaign we in Sinn Féin argued that the Lisbon Treaty was a bad deal and that a better deal for Ireland and for Europe was possible.
Specifically we focused on three sets of concerns.

We argued that the Lisbon Treaty would deepen the democratic deficit. It would do so by removing this State's permanent commissioner, reducing our voting strength at council, removing or weakening a number of key strategic vetoes, such as on taxation and international trade and by giving the European Council the power to amend the fundamental laws of the Union. That the Treaty was written and presented in an unintelligible form added an information deficit to the democratic deficit.

We argued that in addition to taking the EU further down the road of developing common foreign and defence policies, these policies would promote militarisation and in turn undermine this state's neutrality.

We were also deeply worried that the Lisbon Treaty was designed to further open up vital public services such as health and education to competition and in turn privatisation. This liberalising drive would have been complimented by the removal of key vetoes on the inclusion of health, education and social services in international trade agreements.

Sinn Féin also expressed deep disappointment with the failure of the drafters of the Lisbon Treaty to address issues of workers' rights and the continuing trend towards social dumping aided and abetted by the European Court of Justice.

In addition to these key areas we also highlighted issues such as the negative impact of the treaty on the developing world and Ireland's continued involvement in the European Atomic Energy Community.

The campaign is now over and the verdict is clear. I welcome both Fine Gael and Labour's commitment not to seek a second referendum on Lisbon. I call on the government to do likewise.

However the most important task now is to ensure that the better deal that the people voted for is secured. While the primary responsibility in this effort lies with the government, there is a responsibility on those of us who argued against the treaty to outline in detail what we believe such a deal would consist of. We must also support the government in achieving the best possible outcome of any future negotiations.

I would also encourage all sectors, whatever their position on the treaty, to grasp this opportunity and work with the rest of us.

Today Sinn Féin submitted to the Irish government a detailed position paper outlining proposed changes to the Lisbon Treaty. Among these changes we are arguing for:

· The retention of a permanent Commissioner for all member states
· The retention of the Nice Treaty formulae for qualified majority voting
· The removal of all 8 self-amending articles including the simplified revision procedure in Article 48
· The removal of Article 46a giving the EU a single legal personality
· A strengthened protocol on the role of member state parliaments
· A significantly expanded protocol on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality including the aims and values of the EU
· Substantial amendments to aspects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy
· Substantial amendments to the section of Common Defence and Security Policy
· A new protocol on neutrality
· A strengthened social clause
· A substantially revised protocol on vital public services
· Amendments to articles dealing with public services and state aid
· The inclusion of the European Trade Union Confederation Social Progress Clause to protect workers rights
· A protocol on Irish tax sovereignty
· Substantial amendments on Article 188 dealing with international trade agreements including a cast iron veto on mixed World Trade Organisation agreements
· A new protocol ending Ireland's participation in the European Atomic Energy Community
· A series of amendments to Articles 10 and 188 promoting the needs of the developing world in the context of international trade

Sinn Féin's agenda for the future of the EU is much broader and deeper than this list of demands. These are, in our opinion, modest and achievable. They represent both the detail of the better deal we argued for during the referendum campaign and what we believe to be the minimum changes required for any new treaty to be acceptable to the electorate.

Of course the government will say that this list is too ambitious, too detailed and undeliverable. However already we are hearing from a range of voices across the EU, in governments, opposition parties and social movements, supporting some or all of the above. Smaller member states are interested in our proposals on the Commission and Council. Trade unions and social movements are supportive of our position on workers rights and public services. And peace organisations and anti-war movements are ready to mobilise on those issues that resonate with them.

The question is whether the Irish government has the political will and courage to give voice to the concerns of the electorate as expressed in last week's referendum.

Politics is the art of the possible. When entering any negotiation one must be both ambitious and realistic. Crucially you must gather around you as much support as you can, both domestically and in other member states, to secure the most advantageous outcome.

Sinn Féin is ready to play our part in a constructive manner. We believe that many others are willing to do likewise. Now all eyes are on the government. Will they listen to the will of the people and work to secure a better deal both for Ireland and the European Union? Or will they collude with those political forces across the European Union who seem unwilling to respect the outcome of referenda in Ireland, France and the Netherlands?

The first option will strengthen Ireland, our place in the EU and the Union itself. The second option will deal yet another blow to the democratic credibility of an already faltering European Union.

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