Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Mary Lou McDonald MEP - Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty

29 January, 2008

Republicans know that cooperation and solidarity across Europe and internationally are essential to meet the challenges of today and the future. As Europeans we face a huge task in building a democratic Europe capable of meeting those challenges, capable of meeting the needs and aspirations of our people. This is what our debate on the Lisbon Treaty must focus on.


This debate is not a contest on who is the better European. It is not about whether or not Ireland should play its role in the EU. Let us be very clear, we are Europeans, our place in the EU is secure, as responsible European's must use that place wisely.


What this debate IS about is whether or not the Lisbon Treaty advances the EU in a positive direction, to meet the needs of Ireland, of Europe and of the wider world.


We in Sinn Féin oppose the Lisbon Treaty, not because we are 'Eurosceptics' but because we are ambitious for Europe, because we believe that collectively and democratically Europeans can achieve great things. We cannot support a Treaty that gives unaccountable and unelected officials greater powers, undercuts public services, commits Ireland to a common defence and reduces Ireland's voice on the EU stage.


This is the only state in the EU to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. When we go to the polls we will have an important decision to make. That decision must be informed, and the public debate must be respectful and inclusive.

Democratic Reform



The democratic deficit at the heart of the EU is long acknowledged, and widely accepted, even by the very leaders that signed the Lisbon Treaty last December.


Yet, by any measure the Lisbon Treaty fails the test of democratic reform.


The Treaty marks another step in the centralisation of political power in the EU. Over 100 additional powers are gained by the EU institutions. In over 60 areas national vetoes are lost continuing the trend away from consensus decision making to majority voting - a change that most disadvantages small member states. This treaty would see Ireland's voting strength at Council of Ministers halved. Not alone that but the European Council can decide to move yet more areas of decision from consensus to majority vote without reference to the people.


The Commission is THE agenda setter of EU legislation and policy. Those who populate the Commission are unelected and unaccountable. The Lisbon Treaty fails to reform this most undemocratic of all EU institutions, it simply makes a bad situation worse.


The automatic right to appoint a commissioner is lost. At a time when the EU is taking on a more extensive and ambitious political agenda, at a time when important issues like taxation are clearly in the Commission sights, to agree to our exclusion for long periods from that Commission table is reckless.

Important decisions on the future of Irish farming are the preserve of the Commission. To agree to our exclusion from that table is reckless.

And let no-one be fooled by the limited monitoring powers extended to domestic parliaments, or by the Citizens initiative, much lauded by the YES campaign. These gestures, no doubt included to take the bad look off the treaty, do not balance the democratic equation.

It would be irresponsible to undermine parliamentary democracy at home by ceding more powers to the Commission and Council. It would be irresponsible for Ireland, or any small member state, to place themselves in a weakened position within the EU institutions.

Yet this is exactly what the YES camp wants us to do.


Militarisation and the Erosion of Neutrality


The Lisbon treaty ties us to a single EU foreign security and defence policy. It creates an EU foreign minister and diplomatic corps. It will allow people, unelected and unaccountable, to speak on our behalf on the world stage.


Our position as a military neutral has been systematically undermined by this government. The use of Shannon airport by US troops on their way to sustain the brutal occupation of Iraq is just one example.


As with its predecessors, there is no mention of the military neutrals in the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish government did not even try to secure recognition of the rights and responsibilities of EU neutrals. But they did agree to compatibility with NATO.


The military ambitions of the EU loom large in the Lisbon Treaty. The range of tasks in which the EU can engage is substantially expanded and Lisbon contains a mutual defence clause.


The treaty allows for mini-alliances of states with greater military hardware to undertake more ambitious military missions. While we cannot be forced to participate in these missions, is anyone seriously suggesting that we could distance ourselves from actions by these alliances, operating as they will with EU authority and therefore in our name?


The Lisbon Treaty requires that states progressively increase spending on their military capabilities, and Irish contributions to the European Defence Agency are continued.


The government is telling us we must allow our taxes to be used in this way. This is the same government that presides over long hospital waiting lists, housing waiting lists, the same government that lectures about controlling public spending, and that pursues a six year old boy through the courts rather than fund his basic educational needs.

I want this evening to challenge Dick Roche to debate these issues with us. Fianna Fáil has presided over the collapse of Ireland's independent foreign policy. Fianna Fail is asking the people to accept a weakened position for Ireland in Europe. So I challenge Minister Roche to stop the name calling and the nonsense, and to come debate the facts of the Treaty with us.


Public Services

The Lisbon Treaty does nothing to protect public services or workers rights. We know how vulnerable our health service currently is to privatisation. We saw in Irish Ferries a stark example of the undermining of workers basic rights. We need domestic and European provisions that solve these problems. Such solutions are not contained in the Treaty.


The Treaty proposes that health and education be opened up to competitive markets and that member states be indirectly pressurised to reduce public spending. The Lisbon Treaty reasserts that the market is king. We acknowledge the need to create wealth, to support enterprise but, these legitimate goals must not be used as cover for running down public services and social provision. Our rights, not just as consumers, but also as workers must be explicitly underwritten.

Assertions that the Charter of Fundamental Rights attached to the treaty addresses these issues are simply wrong, and make claims for the Charter and its legal effect which are inaccurate.



The Environment and EURATOM


The government, including the Green party, makes much of a reference to climate change in the Treaty. The fact is that this Treaty does not represent any material advance in dealing with climate change.


In marked contrast, the Greens are silent on the fact that Lisbon breathes further life into EURATOM, which supports and promotes Nuclear energy. It seems that the Green Party now fully supports Ireland's financial contributions to the nuclear industry.




Supporters of Lisbon say that to challenge or to reject this Treaty is anti- European. They argue that rejection of Lisbon will bring economic devastation, political isolation and international ridicule.


All of these claims are false. They are the stuff of scaremongering and blackmail, which are the stock in trade of the YES campaign.


The threat to our economy is not in a rejection of Lisbon. It is in the ongoing failure of this government to invest our wealth and resources wisely. Their failure to invest in education, in research and development, in infrastructure, in broadband, this failure is our Achilles heel.

Our international standing does not require us to be the yes man - or woman- of Europe. Our place in the EU is secure.


It is my hope that come referendum day Ireland will reject the Lisbon treaty, and is so doing will vote for a democratic EU, that genuinely works for peace and a sustainable environment, an EU that underpins public services and an EU that helps and supports developing countries.


I believe the Lisbon treaty can be defeated and every person here today has their part to play. It will require every person to campaign with commitment and passion. So let the government name the date, we are ready for the debate.


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