12 September 2002 Edition
TDs walk out of Nice debate
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan was asked to leave the Dáil during the Nice Treaty Debate after he protested that he and his colleague Seán Crowe had not been afforded time to speak. All five Sinn Féin TDs then walked out in protest at what they described as the "totally undemocratic" nature of the debate.
Party whip and spokesperson on Europe, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, has angrily slammed the government's conduct of the four-day recall of the Dáil for a debate on the Treaty of Nice as "a mockery of democracy". Ó Snodaigh made his comments on the last day of the debate as it emerged that only 108 minutes out of a total 22 and half hours debate were allowed for those opposing the Treaty.
"There has been no real debate in Leinster House," he said. The parties supporting the Treaty have abused the current set up to ensure that the voices of those opposing this referendum would not be heard. Those representing 54% of the people who voted NO in the first Nice referendum received 8% of the speaking time. We have witnessed here over the four days of this debate, where people on the No side were given a minimal amount of time to speak, in slots that were constantly changed and moved to later in the night, an attempt by the government and the main opposition parties to subvert a democratic debate on the Treaty."
"Sinn Féin is not going to tolerate this situation any more. We are serving notice on the government that they must change Standing Orders to ensure that all parties and deputies are given adequate access to speaking time when the Dáil resumes."
In his speech on Nice, Ó Snodaigh made a forceful argument for the 'No' side. "As far as the Nice Treaty is concerned, the Irish people have spoken and, like it or lump it, the Commission and its President have to accept it," he said.
"It is arrogance for any politician, either here or any Commissioner in Europe, to ignore the fundamental fact that the Irish people have spoken with some clarity on the matter."
He added, "The gulf that exists between the citizens of Europe and the institutions is nowhere more visible than in the area of peace, security and defence."
"Rather than being used as a positive element of an independent foreign policy we have a government that almost apologises for that fact that we are supposed to be neutral."
Deputy O' Snodaigh stated "We view neutrality as something positive."
Speaking in relation to US aeroplanes being allowed to refuel at Shannon airport, O'Snodaigh called for the government to hold a referendum on Neutrality. "Let the people decide whether or not to enshrine it in the constitution. Let the people decide whether we want to support the armed forces of a nation that is determined to bring further devastation to the Middle East."
Ó Snodaigh also spoke about the Seville Treaty, pointing out that it has no legal standing and brought up other issues which led to Nice being rejected, such as the undemocratic nature of the EU and its unaccountability. "It is essential that these aspects of the debate are not overlooked or glossed over. For us and for the vast majority of those opposed to the Nice Treaty, enlargement is not the issue. It has
already been acknowledged at the highest levels within the EU that it can proceed even if Nice is rejected."
Ó Snodaigh also hit back at those in the government who accused Sinn Féin of being racist and spoke about the government's poor record in relation to immigration.
Ó Snodaigh finally criticised the scaremongering of the 'yes' camp with regard to our economic situation if we vote 'no', saying it wasn't under threat.
"Democracy and trust" were defined as the key issues in the Nice referendum by and Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, when he spoke in Leinster House last week.
Ó Caoláin said the government had already earned a well-deserved reputation as "a government of broken promises and broken mandates".
"The polls were hardly closed in June 2001 when the Taoiseach flew to the EU Summit in Gothenburg and told the other EU Heads of government that they could proceed with ratification of the Treaty. The Taoiseach belittled the people of this State and himself by promising the other EU states to put the Treaty to a second referendum and to "get it right" on the second attempt.
"They threw away the political leverage and the potential bargaining power given to them by the vote of the people. By now a new or amended Treaty might have been in place had the government acted according to their mandate from the people. Ó Caoláin asked the question: "If Germany or France had voted down this Treaty in a referendum would their governments have acted as ours has done? The answer to this question is a resounding 'No' and the government and the rest of the 'Yes' side in this debate know it only too well."
Martin Ferris also spoke at the debate, leading the way on the question of Agriculture and the Nice Treaty. Ferris asked what effect would be felt in the agricultural sector if the state had a reduced voice on the Commission, and voiced concern at this aspect being glossed over by the'yes' camp.
Nice II watch
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) have already advocated a Yes vote, but it still seems that it comes with a price. IFA president John Dillon has warned that failure to address the farm income crisis would lead to a negative reaction from farmers when it came to voting for Nice.
Do the Yes camp really believe the economic argument about the negative consequences voting No? Mary Harney, the minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment was in Washington last week trying to promote Ireland at the US-Ireland Business Summit. Yet she chose to campaign about Nice and tell the very people she is trying to canvass for business that they "will look elsewhere" if we vote No.
Counting on Bertie
Bertie Ahern was a busy man, speaking at the launch of an Institute for European Affairs (IEA) briefing pack on Nice and on RTE radio. A No vote would damage the 26 Counties "politically and socially" and we would be stabbing the applicant countries in the back, he claimed. Strangely, Ahern also claimed that his speech to the IEA was his first time to address the Nice issue. He must have forgotten his attack on the No campaign in July when he accused them of "deliberately misrepresenting" what was involved.
A poll commissioned by Citigroup showed 44% of votes still undecided about Nice. The poll also registered 29% in favour of Nice, 19% against and 9% undecided.
Equal in Europe
A new grouping called Equal in Europe launched its campaign against Nice this week. The group is pro-EU, pro enlargement but anti-Nice. The group has also rejected claims that a No vote will affect the economy. Must be time for Ahern to accuse them of scaremongering.
It seems that Ireland is not the only place where governments churn out EU propaganda under the pretence of being neutral information. In Malta, a row has broken out between the government and the opposition Labour Party over pro-EU TV ads. The Labour Party should have one third of the airtime and budget to campaign against EU membership and have gone to court to have their rights upheld. It would never happen in fair and free Ireland.