3 April 2008 Edition

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Forum on Europe debate in Monaghan hears...

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD (right) with Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon, Forum on Europe Chair Maurice Hayes, and Forum on Europe Director Charles Sheehan

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD (right) with Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon, Forum on Europe Chair Maurice Hayes, and Forum on Europe Director Charles Sheehan

The Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal for rural Ireland

By Sinéad Ní Bhroin

Sinn Féin TD and Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin this week put Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon through her paces at a National Forum on Europe debate on the Lisbon Treaty at the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan. Former senator and current chairperson of the Forum, Maurice Hayes, facilitated the discussion. The event was a lively dry-run for this week’s Dáil debate on the referendum bill.
Following the toss of a coin, Deputy Ó Caoláin spoke first, outlining to an audience of over a hundred people why the Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal for Ireland, Europe and the wider world.
Caoimhghín emphasised that Ireland’s place is in the European Union and that co-operation with European partners is essential to meet the challenges of a changing world.
Despite recent claims by Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Minister of State for Europe Dick Roche, Deputy Ó Caoláin told the packed room that Ireland’s place in the EU is secure and will not be affected by how people vote in the referendum. Ó Caoláin said:
“The fact is you can support the EU and be against the Lisbon Treaty.  You can support the EU and want democracy and accountability.  You can support the EU and still believe that this Fianna Fáil-led government should have negotiated a better deal for Ireland and the EU.”
The Lisbon Treaty gives the unelected EU Commission greater powers, undercuts public services, commits Ireland to a common defence, increases Ireland’s spend on European capabilities, and reduces our voice on the EU stage by half, the Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin TD said.
Ó Caoláin highlighted the fact that EU agricultural policy has been bad for family farms and has shattered Ireland’s fishing communities. EU policy led to the closure of Ireland’s sugar beet industry. In a recent editorial of the Irish Farmers’ Journal, the future of the Irish beef industry was likened to the fate of sugar beet following the EU Trade Commissioner’s recent World Trade Organisation negotiations. Ó Caoláin said:
“Article 2 (b) gives the EU exclusive competence over commercial policy, including the negotiating of international trade agreements. This will reduce the power of member state governments to influence the outcome of these negotiations while strengthening the hand of the Commissioner for Trade.
“Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland will not have a commissioner for five years out of every 15. This means that when important agricultural matters are being discussed, such as international trade agreements or reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Ireland may not have a voice at the Commission table. Why would any member state government sign up to such a deal unless of course its objective is to abdicate its responsibility to tough negotiations and political culpability to its citizens?”
Citizens of this state are being asked by proponents of the Treaty to give the EU additional powers across a range of issues involving international relations, security, trade and economic policy, he said. It will remove vetoes in 68 areas, preventing the Irish Government from blocking laws that are not in Ireland’s national interests.
“We are also being urged to vote for a 50 per cent reduction in our voting strength on the Council of Ministers.  While we lose power, Germany, France, Britain and Italy will each nearly double their voting strength.”
Ó Caoláin explained to an audience of whom the decided majority indicated their intention to vote against the treaty that Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the EU powers to amend its own treaties, without recourse to an inter-governmental conference or a new treaty. “This is something which would give the Commission and Council significant scope to acquire more powers in the future,” the Sinn Féin Dáil leader warned.
The audience was also reminded that, over the last decade, the 26-County state’s neutrality has been systematically eroded through the use of Irish taxpayers’ money to financially back the European Defence Agency, participation in EU Battle Groups and the use of Shannon Airport by US troops on their way to war in Iraq. The Lisbon Treaty goes even further.
The deputy noted that there is not one mention of the word neutrality in the Lisbon Treaty and no direct acknowledgement of the neutral member states, of which Ireland is one. The failure of the Irish Government to even seek a specific reference to neutrality is inexplicable and in marked contrast to the references to NATO obligations and NATO compatibility with which they apparently have no difficulty with, he argued.
There are three specific clauses in Article 28 of the Treaty which will result in more Irish taxpayers’ money being spent on Irish and EU military capabilities, he said. Unlike the Irish Government, the Danish Government secured an opt-out from the European Defence Agency.
Fianna Fáil argues that the Treaty will have no implication on Ireland’s right to determine its own tax regime. Ó Caoláin reminded Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Conlon that Article 48 also provides for a shift from unanimity to Qualified Majority Voting in a broad range of areas. “Claims that the Irish tax system will not be interfered with by the EU because of current requirements for unanimity must be squared with the fact that the Lisbon Treaty specifically allows for the removal of these same vetoes.”
The EU Commission has drafted proposals for introducing a Common EU tax base for company taxes but has postponed its publication until after the Irish referendum. In fact, Deputy Conlon’s own colleague, Dublin MEP Eoin Ryan, intervened recently at a co-ordinators’ meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs meeting requesting that a report on a ‘common consolidated corporate tax base’ (CCCBT) be postponed until after the referendum in Ireland.
Deputy Ó Caoláin concluded the debate with a rousing reminder of what the people of this state can achieve by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty:
“It is not just ourselves alone who are urging a rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Here at home people of different political opinions will be campaigning for a ‘No’ vote. Throughout the other 26 member states of the European Union, hopeful and wishful eyes will be watching and waiting for a ‘No’ result. Rejection of this treaty will help lock our political negotiators into a new process that must lead to real democratic accountability in a Europe of equal nations. By voting ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the citizens of this state can play their part in ensuring a better future for Ireland, Europe and the wider world.”

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