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2 October 2003 Edition

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Bertie's Roman holiday - Sinn Féin calls for white paper and debate on IGC negotiations

BY ROBBIE SMYTH

Rome beckons this weekend for the coalition government and the beginning of one of the most important negotiation processes for forging the future role and relationships of Ireland within Europe. Yet for all we know, Bertie and his cabinet colleagues could be planning a weekend sightseeing, because there has been little or no information or debate on what the Dublin government position ahead of the negotiations will be.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has criticised the coalition government's failure to hold a full parliamentary debate on the weekend's Inter-Governmental Conference negotiations on the draft EU Constitutional Treaty.

Ó Snodaigh said: "Sinn Féin has been demanding a full public parliamentary debate in advance of the negotiations. While we were previously told there would be a debate in government time, it now seems that this request has been refused."

He told An Phoblacht that such a situation is "not acceptable" as "the document under negotiation is of monumental importance to the future of the EU and to Ireland's future".

Sinn Féin believes that the government has cherry-picked the issues on which it has made its position public while keeping silent on the more controversial issues. Even the British government has published a White Paper outlining its positions on the draft EU Constitutional Treaty.

Sinn Féin EU candidate in Dublin, Marylou McDondald, says that "there seems to be no recognition in government of the scale of the challenge they face in these negotiations seeking to agree a new draft constitution for what will be a 25-state EU.

"Do they understand that they will have to negotiate through the IGC on behalf of not just 26-Country citizens but ideally on behalf of all the citizens on the island?"

McDonald believes that "whatever form the draft EU constitution finally takes, it will play a huge role in the shaping of Ireland over the coming decades. As a party representing voters throughout Ireland and concerned about inequality and exploitation not just here but internationally, we have grave concerns about the implications of ratifying a new constitution."

EU draft constitution Coalition's unanswered questions

The constitution in its current form has unresolved tensions between its objectives and principles, between the powers of states and the role of the EU Commission, between the desire for subsidiarity and the increased use of qualified majority voting. Here we list some of the crucial questions government negotiators have to face up to.

  • Does the coalition support extended quality majority voting?
  • Where does the coalition believes sovereignty lies, with member states or within EU institutions
  • Does the government believe that the EU can facilitate a transnational market economy and still be a social economy with full employment as its core objective? Both of these goals are in the treaty.
  • What is government thinking on the charter of fundamental rights for the EU - should it be more than an appendix to the new constitution?
  • The draft constitution rightly commits itself to the eradication of poverty outside its borders but contains no such objective for the citizens inside. Will this omission be a priority for Ahern?
  • In terms of partition, the treaty allows for special provisions for state aid and spending for the costs of re-unifying Germany but not for Ireland, where the arguments for funding all-island infrastructure in energy, transport, telecommunications, health and education are compelling.
  • The draft constitution has been portrayed as a necessary consolidation and simplification of existing Treaties. But it is much more than that. The Draft Constitution: makes fundamental changes in the structures of the EU and gives those structures more powers. Does the coalition support these steps?
  • The draft proposes setting up an EU armaments agency and pulls Ireland further into a common EU defence policy. Do the coalition want to be part of an EU arms industry or an EU army?
  • What about the possible loss of an EU commissioner and more powers for the president of the EU commission?

Once again, we don't know in either Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats what their thinking is on these questions. Yet this weekend, they are starting months of negotiations on our behalf on these and other important issues.

British Labour should stay out of Ireland

Commenting on the decision of the British Labour Party to open its membership to those living in the Six Counties, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said:

"The decision to organise in Ireland on a limited basis flies in the face of the logic of post Good Friday Agreement politics.

"The dynamic and logic of the Good Friday Agreement is about shifting power, control and influence away from London and onto the island of Ireland. The result of this has been for partitionist parties in both the 6 and 26 Counties to explore the possibility of following Sinn Féin and organising on an all-Ireland basis.

"The reality is that we do not need British parties organising in Ireland. We already have Irish parties organised in Ireland. There is no logic, political or otherwise, for the British Labour Party organising in Ireland."

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