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21 April 2005 Edition

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A month in Europe

Mary Lou McDonald MEP

Mary Lou McDonald MEP

EU Constitution debate heats up

BY EOIN O'BROIN

Thirteen separate opinion polls have indicated that French voters are poised to reject the EU Constitution. While a majority of voters have yet to make up their minds, a clear margin has opened up in the campaign. So much so that the French and European political establishments are starting to look worried.

French President Jacques Chirac's much publicised televised debate with a selected group of young people seems to have backfired.

The latest opinion polls for Paris Match and Le Parisien show an increase for the No campaign of one per cent since the TV debate to 56%, with the yes supporters on 44%.

In response to the polls, pro-Constitution campaigners are saying that a French No would create an EU-wide institutional crisis. However, supporters of the No camp dismissed these claims as nonsense, arguing for the need to start the entire debate from scratch.

In response to developments in France, Irish Minister for Europe Noel Tracy has indicated that the Irish Government will await the French result before announcing the date for the 26-County referendum. In response, Mary Lou McDonald MEP said: "The date for the referendum in Ireland should not be determined by referenda in other countries. I am calling on the Taoiseach to put this referendum to the people this autumn, regardless of the impending French outcome. The fact that the Taoiseach is running scared is reflected in his refusal to name a date for the EU Constitution referendum.

McDonald also castigated the Taoiseach for his comments on the referendum. Bertie Ahern said that Ireland has "an obligation to pass the European Constitution". The Dublin MEP said in response that "people are under no obligation to do anything of the sort. They must be allowed to make their judgement on this treaty free from pressure or coercion. I would also challenge the Taoiseach to confirm that his government will not re-run the referendum if they do not get their desired outcome. The people of Ireland must have the final decision on this treaty."

Meanwhile, the Irish Times letters pages has become the most active centre of public debate on the Constitution, with Noel Tracy TD, Ruairí Quinn TD and Proinsias de Rossa MEP and Tony Browne from the Labour Party all making the case for the Constitution. In response, Mary Lou McDonald and Robert Ballagh have argued the No case. With six weeks of campaigning in the French referendum, everything is to play for. Clearly, the eyes of the entire European Union will be trained on France from now until 29 May.

GUE/NGL welcomes Gerry Adams' Initiative

BY FRANCIS WURTZ, President GUE/NGL

Strasbourg 14 April

On behalf of the GUE/NGL in the European Parliament, I would like to warmly welcome the statement made by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on Wednesday 6 April addressed to the IRA.

Mr Adams has taken an historic and very courageous initiative. This statement confirms Sinn Féin's commitment to resolving the causes of conflict in Ireland and replacing violence and exclusion with peace and democracy.

GUE/NGL has supported the Irish Peace Process since its inception and looks forward to the day when the Good Friday Agreement had been implemented in full and the people of Ireland live in peace and democracy.

I call on all supporters of the Irish Peace Process to welcome this important initiative by Gerry Adams, and to respond positively and imaginatively.

The GUE/NGL, which condemns all forms of violence from whatever source, supports dialogue and inclusion as the way forward in all conflict resolution processes.

I again commend Gerry Adams on his initiative and I believe that it will play an important part in breaking the current impasse in the Irish Peace process.

De Brún makes case for Peace III

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún met with EU Commissioner for Regional Development, Danuta Hubner, this week to make the case for a Peace III fund. The meeting, which was part of Sinn Féin's ongoing lobby for the peace programme, was described by the MEP as 'positive and constructive'. The meeting also dealt with the Commissioner's forthcoming visit to Ireland and the issues of cross border and transnational cooperation and the infrastructural deficit in the Northwest Region.

Speaking afterwards, de Brún said: "Today's meeting with Commissioner Hubner was positive and constructive. She has a clear grasp of the political and economic realities on the ground in the north of Ireland and a desire to assist in seeing the dividends of the peace process maximised. The Commissioner had indicated at the end of last year her intention to visit the North of Ireland in the course of 2005. She has now set a date for a visit to Ireland in early June. I have asked her to include a visit to the North in that schedule.

"I presented Commissioner Hubner with a revised dossier on the need for a Peace III programme, covering the 2007 to 2013 period. The documentoutlined the strengths and weaknesses of previous peace programmes, and made a series of suggestions of how to make the most of future PEACE and IFI programs."

The Sinn Féin MEP outlined the need for community based organisations to be fully involved in the design and implementation of the funding programmes. She explained the need for future funds to be directed to the twin goals of reconciliation and social inclusion, in order to combat the legacy of the conflict, particularly for those most marginalised in recent decades.

The Six-County MEP also stressed the need for any future funds to be allocated strictly on the basis of need.

The meeting also addressed the need to enhance crossborder integration and both crossborder and transnational cooperation. "EU funding provides member states with opportunities to develop crossborder projects," said de Brún. "A new Commission proposal to develop European Groupings for Crossborder Cooperation would provide added impetus for this.

"We also discussed the need for a greater focus of EU regional policy on the North West region, including Derry, Sligo, Cavan, Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Several decades of Irish and British government underinvestment have created a significant infrastructural deficit in this area that needs to be overcome. Again, under the new EU funds there will be opportunities for government and communities to come together and tackle these problems. Doing this in a crossborder context would create significant added value to existing projects and initiatives."

Bairbre de Brún said that the meeting was a constructive engagement on a number of very important issues. "Through my membership of the European Parliament's Regional Development Committee, I will continue to highlight and work on these issues. It is incumbent upon all Irish MEPs to work together to achieve positive outcomes for the people of the island and I will be more than happy to play my part in this."

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún met with EU Commissioner for Regional Development, Danuta Hubner, this week to make the case for a Peace III fund. The meeting, which was part of Sinn Féin's ongoing lobby for the peace programme, was described by the MEP as 'positive and constructive'. The meeting also dealt with the Commissioner's forthcoming visit to Ireland and the issues of cross border and transnational cooperation and the infrastructural deficit in the Northwest Region.

Speaking afterwards, de Brún said: "Today's meeting with Commissioner Hubner was positive and constructive. She has a clear grasp of the political and economic realities on the ground in the north of Ireland and a desire to assist in seeing the dividends of the peace process maximised. The Commissioner had indicated at the end of last year her intention to visit the North of Ireland in the course of 2005. She has now set a date for a visit to Ireland in early June. I have asked her to include a visit to the North in that schedule.

"I presented Commissioner Hubner with a revised dossier on the need for a Peace III programme, covering the 2007 to 2013 period. The document outlined the strengths and weaknesses of previous peace programmes, and made a series of suggestions of how to make the most of future PEACE and IFI programs."

The Sinn Féin MEP outlined the need for community based organisations to be fully involved in the design and implementation of the funding programmes. She explained the need for future funds to be directed to the twin goals of reconciliation and social inclusion, in order to combat the legacy of the conflict, particularly for those most marginalised in recent decades.

The Six-County MEP also stressed the need for any future funds to be allocated strictly on the basis of need.

The meeting also addressed the need to enhance cross-border integration and both cross-border and transnational cooperation. "EU funding provides member states with opportunities to develop cross-border projects," said de Brún. "A new Commission proposal to develop European Groupings for Cross-border Cooperation would provide added impetus for this.

"We also discussed the need for a greater focus of EU regional policy on the North West region, including Derry, Sligo, Cavan, Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Several decades of Irish and British government underinvestment have created a significant infrastructural deficit in this area that needs to be overcome. Again, under the new EU funds there will be opportunities for government and communities to come together and tackle these problems. Doing this in a cross-border context would create significant added value to existing projects and initiatives."

Bairbre de Brún said that the meeting was a constructive engagement on a number of very important issues. "Through my membership of the European Parliament's Regional Development Committee, I will continue to highlight and work on these issues. It is incumbent upon all Irish MEPs to work together to achieve positive outcomes for the people of the island and I will be more than happy to play my part in this."

MEP's Diary - Mary Lou McDonald

• 11 - 14 April

Monday 11 April

We had a busy week at the April session of the European Parliament. A large number of reports were debated and votes taken on various aspects of European policy. I publicly pledged my support for the Turkish employees of Gama Construction. Sinn Féin is utterly opposed to the disgraceful treatment of the workers by their current employers and I called for the immediate repayment of monies due to the workers. Ireland has its fair share of unscrupulous employers who are prepared to treat non-Irish workers as inferior — underpaid and under-protected. They know they can exploit non-Irish workers because many are so desperate for employment.

Tuesday 12 April

A report by Glenys Kinnock MEP on the Millennium Development Goals to halve world hunger by 2015 was debated. Both myself and Bairbre de Brún voted to approve the report. A number of EU member states have not met their commitments on Overseas Development, whilst others have begun a process of decreasing aid levels.

The EU's strong words on poverty reduction, reduction in child mortality, ensuring environmental sustainability and combating HIV and Aids must be matched with action. If there was a re-direction of a significant portion of the €160 billion budget spent annually by EU states on defence, then it has been estimated that €100 billion would halve world poverty by 2015.

In the afternoon, the European Commission released a statement regarding the global threat of a flu epidemic. Health Minister Harney had publicly stated that one million treatment packs for avian flu would be purchased for the 26 Counties. It is vitally important that the whole of Ireland is prepared for any possible outbreak of avian bird flu. This innocuous sounding disease has hit South East Asia particularly hard, with countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand affected. As of 16 March there had been 69 confirmed human cases, resulting in the deaths of 46 of those infected.

Wednesday 13 April

We voted to endorse changes to MEPs' expenses, which would lead to greater accountability and transparency. It was hugely disappointing that a majority of MEPs voted against this motion. People in Ireland and across Europe expect their elected representatives to be accountable to them. This decision will do nothing to instill confidence in a sceptical public. The European Parliament has a reputation for being a 'gravy train' and clearly, abuses take place.

As MEPs, we are committed to making the EU accountable to the people for its actions and in how it carries out its work. Fianna Fáil MEPs abstained, while all of the Fine Gael MEPs (bar one) voted to oppose this positive measure.

I also called for the date of the EU Constitution referendum in Ireland not to be determined by referenda in other countries. I called on the government to put this referendum to the people in the autumn, regardless of the impending French outcome. The fact that the Taoiseach is running scared is reflected in his refusal to name a date for the referendum.

We voted against a report on the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Sinn Féin delegation to GUE/NGL does not accept the need for an EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and therefore we would continue to oppose its implementation. The report by Elmar Brok MEP proposes the further militarisation of the European Union and an increase in military spending. Furthermore, the resolution proposes that aspects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy contained in the proposed EU Constitution are implemented in advance of the ratification of the treaty. This is wholly undemocratic and undermines the ratification process across the EU.

In the evening I meet with Anastasia Crickley from the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI). We had a good discussion and I pledged my support for the work against racism in Ireland.

Thursday 14 April

On Thursday morning we briefed our group in the European Parliament (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) on the latest developments in the peace process, and particularly the recent initiative by Party President Gerry Adams. Our briefing ended with a standing ovation from the assembled MEPs.

I also commented on the recent European Council meeting in Brussels. The meeting on 22 and 23 March was a useful barometer of the present priorities and direction of the European Council and European Commission. In re-launching the Lisbon strategy, the European Council chose to almost exclusively focus on 'competitiveness' as its sole objective, deepening liberalisation policies, increasing flexibility of labour markets, reducing workers' benefits and enlarging low-wage sectors.

Bairbre de Brun and I have said consistently that citizens are demanding a shift in emphasis to impact positively upon their lives. We are calling for all political actors in the European Union to publicly pledge their support for the 'Social Platform Tests for the Luxembourg Presidency' as the means to creating a Europe based upon equality.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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