21 September 2000 Edition

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They all stand together, but for what?

``We have found that directives and regulations agreed in Brussels can often seriously impinge on our identity, culture and tradition. The bureaucracy of Brussels does not always respect the complexities and sensitivities of member-states.''

These were the words of Síle de Valera, Fianna Fáil minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, speaking in Boston this week. The minister's comments provoked outrage from the Leinster House opposition parties, who wanted the coalition government to clarify policy on de Valera's speech.

Fine Gael's Nora Owen described Bertie Ahern's failure to disown de Valera's remarks as ``a shocking dereliction of duty''. Ahern didn't disown the remarks. Instead, both he and Mary Harney have signalled general support for de Valera while welcoming the need for a political debate on our future role in an EU that will soon double its size.

Such comments must have come as a shock to the core of anti-EU campaigners who over the years have found successive Dublin Governments unwilling to debate any possible flaw in the EU's economic and political unification process. The concerns about political and economic sovereignty as well as those about neutrality were swept aside. Now, suddenly, we all have to stop and take stock.

Could these be the same politicians who in 1986 didn't even want a referendum on the Single European Act? In 1992 the only block they wanted to impose on the process of economic and political unification was stopping the dissemination of information about foreign abortion clinics and impeding the right of women to travel outside of the state.

Similarly, during the Amsterdam Treaty referendum, the Dublin government deliberately impeded the access of anti-Amsterdam campaigners to the broadcast media.

This year, proposals to reform the EU and insert a charter of human and civil rights in a new EU constitution have been undermined and watered down without any comment from the pro-EU political parties in Ireland.

Now, suddenly, we are to have a debate about the future of the EU. Who will be allowed participate in this debate? Will everyone have an equal chance of airing their views? Most importantly, are the coalition actually capable or willing to stand up and really tell us what sort of Europe they want to be a part of? Time will tell if de Valera's comments were anything more than a minister stealing headlines at the end of the silly season.

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