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A new and unexpected government takes shape in Serbia… ironic that. June 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’m sorry, my first response on reading the following was to laugh. For one reads in the Irish Times today (and for shame the Guardian that it didn’t carry the news despite having a “Serbia” section on its website) that…Serbian Socialists agree alliance with Democrats to form pro-EU coalition.

Serbia’s Socialist Party has agreed to join an alliance headed by the Democrats to form a pro-European coalition government, its leader, Ivica Dacic, announced yesterday.

Although details on the coalition deal and final division of posts and functions in the cabinet have yet to be agreed, the move signals the formation of a government that will aim to speed up Serbia’s European Union membership bid after years of halting progress.

Now let’s think this one through, because some may be aware that the Socialist Party was part of the opposition, yes, that’s right. And those with longer memories will recall that a certain person, agh, what’s his name? Milosevic, that’s it, Slobodan Milošević, founded it in 1990. And that the Democrats ousted the SSP in 2000 after Milošević was given his marching orders.

And, as Splintered Sunrise suggested this outcome, well, these unlikely allies were, in part, thrown together by the truism that power has its own inexorable logic.

What a deal too. As the BBC reported

Details have not yet been released but reports say the Socialists will get the post of parliamentary speaker and two top ministries – police and capital expenditure – despite having won only 12 seats in the 250-seat parliament in May.

I thought it was 20 seats, but perhaps not. Still, the Police? Hmmm…

Moreover, what of…

…the Socialists’ earlier agreement to join President Tadic’s rivals – the outgoing prime minister Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia and the ultra-nationalist Radical Party – in power in Belgrade city council.

President Tadic said on Sunday that his three-party coalition and the Socialists had buried past differences and were in talks for a new government which could be formed “very soon”.

And they’re some ‘past differences’…

But the Socialist Party, which is responsible for the country’s international isolation under Milosevic, has reinvented itself as an advocate of social justice and attracts many young, often poor or unemployed voters.

That might be an unfair characterisation as regards the SSP being ‘responsible for…’ but clearly it has a most interesting history. Which makes the response from Brussels, as reported by Reuters near-amusing.

The European Union on Tuesday hailed an agreement between Serbia’s Socialist and Democratic parties as a real chance to establish a pro-European government in the Balkan country.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was awaiting a formal announcement by President Boris Tadic but hoped a government could be formed this week.

“There is a real chance Serbia will now have a truly pro-European government and I am very much looking forward to working with that government,” Rehn told reporters during a conference on the Balkans in Brussels.

“Of course we have been for long looking forward to seeing a reform-orientated government in Serbia,” he said, adding that this was important for Serbia’s chances of joining the EU.

Irony piled upon irony. The European Union greets, with open arms, this ‘truly pro-European government’... That said, this probably isn’t the worst news that could come from Belgrade and there is no reason why the SSP shouldn’t work well within a coalition context. I suspect that however vestigial their left nationalism there’s no harm in them keeping an eye on the Tadić, the EU’s blue eyed boy. Does this seem an unfeasible alliance? Well, yes and no. For scratch any ‘democratic socialist’ or ‘left nationalist’ and you’ll more than likely find a pragmatist to some degree or another. And in fairness, the DP is nominally left-wing, whereas the SRP and the Democratic Party are more clearly populist centre/centre right. So perhaps a better fit for the SSP.

Still, it’s not all plain sailing from here…

While the Socialists have refused to recognise the legitimacy of the UN court, the Democrats have pledged to fulfil an EU demand to catch wartime Bosnian Serb leader Mr Karadzic, his military henchman Mr Mladic, and the former chief of a breakaway Croatian-Serb region, Goran Hadzic.

But these are, as the saying goes, mere details…

I know I’m always saying this but one feels for Kostunica, a much better man than he is painted in some quarters. He must wonder about the way events have turned out and at how yesterday’s pariah’s are now the new Europeans. Now there’s a fascinating example of how Europe works its particular magic. Mind you, not only him, for there was some sentiment abroad during the late 1990s that Serbia under Milošević and the SSP represented some sort of hold-out against the West. Which perhaps points to the dangers of investing too much in other peoples conflicts. And if that is true of those who took that particular line, what of those on the other side of the equation who must find this near to incomprehensible? Ethical certainties? No shades of gray? Not half. As for Milošević and what he might make of this, well whatever one thinks of him, and I’m clearly no fan, he at least understood the exigencies of power. None better.

That was then… this is now… The EU and sections of the Irish left. June 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics.
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I’m going to return to the Sunday Business Post piece on the Lisbon Treaty briefly, not least because I think that the failures of the Yes campaign, while certainly attributable as Wu Ming suggests to a certain B. Ahern and a broader societal disquiet at the political discourse, also include roots that grew in unexpected places.

Pat Leahy in his article tackles this from the angle of the ‘failure’ of the Yes campaign.

The failures of the Yes campaign are shown by other statistics, too. The political parties persuaded their voters to come out in favour of the treaty with only some success.

But, I think there is a more interesting issue hidden in the statistics. Consider the following.

About half of Fine Gael voters who came out on the day voted in favour of the treaty; Fianna Fáil persuaded nearly two thirds of its supporters who voted to support it. Among Labour supporters who voted, 65 per cent voted against it.

So, despite near 2 out of every 3 Labour voters voting agin, somehow Labour has managed to maintain its poll rating. Isn’t this quiet remarkable? It suggests that the position of their chosen political home simply doesn’t matter when it comes to views on Europe, something along the compartmentalisation argued by Leahy previously. There is no recoiling from Labour or flight towards other political homes. Sinn Féin sees only a marginal improvement in their poll rating. Clearly the issue hasn’t made much impact one way or the other even with their extremely articulate campaign.

Leahy points to some other interesting statistics.

Had Fine Gael and Labour managed to attain the same level of support for the treaty as Fianna Fáil, it would have passed; had one third of Fianna Fáil voters not come out against the treaty it would have passed. Green supporters voted in favour of the treaty by a margin of 57 per cent to 43 per cent.

The FG/FF figures are interesting. The great ‘pro-European’ Fine Gael on the day could only manage to persuade half of it’s electorate to vote Yes. There’s a lot of guff talked about disconnects in contemporary politics, and while granted some of it is true, a fair bit of it is self-serving nonsense on the part of people from all ends of the political spectrum. Having worked in contexts related to this it seems to me that the situation is not markedly worse than it was in the 1980s – indeed I’d argue that in some respects, particularly in terms of services and information available the situation is actually better. And whereas the argument often runs that somehow those closest to political activity have disconnected from the people, the opposite seems to me to be closer to the mark, that there is an indifference to political activity. A function of the Celtic Tiger? The result of an entertainment society? I don’t know and I’m certain that it’s not a good thing. But, putting that aside, what seems to be very clear is a significant disconnect between Fine Gael’s electorate and their representatives, certainly in a way we do not see with Labour. Because FG has seen their poll rating decline substantially.

Look again at the Green Party figure. That’s quite a result for a party which only just before Christmas came out for the first time unequivocally in favour of the EU (and that reminds me, I must post up a copy of their document to members on the issue which was forwarded to me recently). But here is the thing. The Green Party, as with their great leap forward into Government very astutely laid the ground for such a move through meetings, informing the membership and having an open vote on the matter. People may dispute the position they ultimately took, but, it allowed for clear differences that had emerged on the issue to be expressed.

The problem is that this education process stopped short, at least from the perspective of the Yes campaign, of going further and clearly educating the electorate as to why so many of those who had voted differently in the past were suddenly sanguine about the Lisbon Treaty. Granted, that was a political problem and the clear result of the differences that existed, but it speaks of a broader political conundrum. The Green Party, and Democratic Left and the Workers’ Party (at least those who left for DL) before them, made that near inevitable shift towards a pro-EU stance – to a greater or lesser degree – nearly without explanation to the public at large.

Those who held views near identical to those of leading No campaigners and organisation such as Sinn Féin, managed to change as the years progressed, some in the very recent past indeed. And that begs some questions. How did such a shift occur? What processes led to it? And why is it that we have no clear work-through as to how that came about, or at least not in such a way as to be persuasive to many who broadly agree with the political lines taken by those individuals on other issues? I’m certain that De Rossa has mentioned this out on the Lisbon campaign trail, but.. it does strike me that such changes require a clearer explanation. And the same is true of John Gormley.

Because, and my apologies for their length, consider some of the following contributions to Dáil debates over the years:

[On foot of the Danish No Vote to Maastricht on June 2nd 1992]

Dáil Éireann – Volume 420 – 03 June, 1992

European Union Treaty: Statements.

Proinsias De Rossa: I understand from the latest news bulletins that the Danish Government have decided to seek renegotiation of the Maastricht Treaty. They have indicated they are not sure how successful they will be, nevertheless they have made a decision to seek renegotiation. Much of the horror and surprise expressed by commentators, both journalistic and political, has been tinged with a certain degree of arrogance that the people of Denmark should attempt to refuse the good advice of their Government and all the various sister organisations of the farming community and the business community which supported the Treaty in Denmark, just as they do in Ireland. Obviously, the Danish people took a different view. It is improper for the Taoiseach to dismiss it as a margin of 50,000 votes. The number of people who voted in Denmark against Maastricht was in excess of two million, and it is a denial of their democratic right to reduce that to the point which has been made with regard to the Treaty being held up by 50,000 votes.

The arrogance I spoke of also seems, unfortunately, to be in the Commission of the European Communities, who have issued a statement to the effect that notwithstanding the democratic decision of the Danish people, the Treaty of the European Communities is still valid, etc. The whole tenor of this campaign to date in Ireland — and apparently in Denmark as well — has been to the effect that we have negotiated this deal for you, it is so good we think you should accept it but if you do not accept it, the world is likely [1383] to end tomorrow. I am sure there are many people in Ireland who are disappointed that the world was still on its axis this morning, following the rejection by Denmark of the Maastricht Treaty. It is not the end of the world, or the end of Maastricht, or the end of the European Community or the end of European Union. It is certainly a hiccup so far as Germany and France are concerned, who have declared they will go ahead in any event. That shows a certain degree of arrogance that they are prepared to move along regardless of what the people of the other member states may decide. That is echoed, to some extent, by the Taoiseach’s speech today in which he said:

Danish interests are not Irish interests; Irish concerns are not Danish concerns.

Perhaps he had some reason for making that statement. It certainly denies the European ideal which we have been treated to here today whereby the European Community was established to end wars, has prevented war and been of such great benefit to the people of Europe and so on. We either cling to the ideals of Europe or we do not. If the concerns of Denmark are not our concerns and our concerns are not the concerns of Denmark, then surely there is an end to the European ideal of the unity of the people of Europe. We have to be concerned about their concerns just as France and Germany have to be concerned about our concerns.

The outcome of the Danish referendum is that the Maastricht Treaty, in its existing form, is a dead letter. The Government now have no realistic or even common-sense alternative but to postpone the Irish referendum scheduled for 18 June. Deputy O’Malley sought to argue——

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Danish people. They have shown a welcome capacity to think for themselves and have taken a courageous decision in the face of fairly intensive browbeating by the leaders of some of the larger EC states. The threatening statements issued by Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand about the smaller countries being left behind if they did not agree to every detail of their grand design were more appropriate to some self-styled European [1388] emperors than the leaders of countries which are supposed to be our partners in the Community. The Taoiseach’s comments in this House two weeks ago echoing those threats by Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand, and which were widely reported in the Danish media, will have added to the level of resentment there and quite probably fuelled the “No” vote.

What the Danish poll has demonstrated is that there is a substantial body of opinion in mainland Europe which is greatly concerned at the shortcomings of the Maastrict Treaty. Only the Irish and Danish people have Constitutions which provide for direct consultation with the people through referenda, but I suspect that if other countries also went to the polls the Danish result would not be unique. It also shows that suggestions made by the Taoiseach that there was no opposition in other European countries was very wide of the mark. It is entirely possible to be a good European, to be positive about the concept of European Union, but opposed to the Maastricht Treaty.

While opinion polls have shown a substantial majority in Ireland in favour of the Maastricht Treaty, I believe that the picture would have changed as the debate progressed and I believe that the Danish result will encourage Irish people to be much more questioning and sceptical.

Under the Maastricht agreement the European Community is effectively subcontracting defence activities to the Western European Union pending a further consideration of defence policy in 1996. Although the Taoiseach has assured us that nothing will be done without a further referendum if the Maastricht Treaty goes ahead in its present form, we are then likely to be told in 1996 that we have no alternative, that if we do not agree to a specific defence policy we will become the outcasts of Europe and that the other member states will go ahead without us.

Our honourable tradition of non-membership of military alliances and our proud record of prompting the non-proliferation treaty should be the basis for Irish policy on European defence. We must now use the opportunity provided by the Danish referendum to insist on a re-think on European defence, instead of being carried along on the coat-tails of NATO, while pretending not to be involved.

After the subsequent Yes vote by the Danish in 1993.

Dáil Éireann – Volume 433 – 01 July, 1993

Adjournment Debate. – EC Structural Funds.

Proinsias De Rossa: Thank you, Sir, for the opportunity to raise this important matter here today. From the very beginning the performance of the successive Governments responsible for negotiating Ireland’s Structural Fund allocation under the Delors II package has been a tale of gullibility, ineptitude and downright dishonesty. It is worth briefly recapping.

The saga began in the lead-up to and at the Maastricht Summit where, allegedly to ovecome some Spanish opposition, the Taoiseach was taken aside with the other three so-called “cohesion” countries and given a peep at what Mr. Jacques Delors would be proposing in his second Community budgetary package. This was interpreted to mean that Ireland’s receipts from the Structural Funds would be doubled in 1997 compared to 1992, that is, £1.8 billion compared to £0.9 billion, and that over the five year period to 1997 Ireland would receive a total of 7.8 billion ECU, that is, £6.25 billion at today’s exchange rate. Thus was the £6 billion myth born, which in the following six months in the lead-up to the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty was hawked around Ireland by the four largest parties here in their campaign for a “yes” vote. At the appropriate moment the twin oracles, Delors and MacSharry, were invited over, each of whom confirmed that the £6 billion was in the pipeline, provided of course that we voted “yes” in sufficient numbers. Those of us who challenged this version were labelled unpatriotic, or worse. In the crude terms in which the “yes” campaign was conducted, a “yes” vote was worth two loaves where a “no” vote earned no bread at all.

With the referendum out of the way and a “yes” vote safely in the bag, the ground was gradually prepared for a climbdown. The Lisbon Summit failed to reach agreement on a drastically reduced version of Delors II, which left the initiative up to the UK Government, whose Edinburgh Summit was charged with reaching agreement. Here another myth was born and, apparently on the strength of a chat between two civil servants over a cup of coffee, the Taoiseach, Deputy [931] Reynolds, claimed that after a tough fight he had achieved a great victory by winning £8 billion over the seven year period 1993-1999. The political and news media establishment who had been so enthusiastic in promoting the “yes” vote in June conveniently chose not to make any unfavourable comparisons with the cast iron promises which were very much a crucial part of the “yes” campaign six months previously. Even now it is not too late to show up the difference. By the crucial year 1997 when receipts are supposed to have doubled, the Edinburgh £8 billion package will yield approximately £1.3 billion compared to £1.8 billion guaranteed during the referendum by MacSharry and Delors and 90 per cent of the Deputies in this House. It would seem that if the votes are in the bag, what is half a billion pounds per year between friends. Now even that balloon is beginning to lose air and given that it is difficult to cut the allocation to Portugal and Greece the implications for Ireland are obvious and serious.

During the debate on the Amsterdam Treaty in 1998

Dáil Éireann – Volume 488 – 04 March, 1998

An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú Déag ar an mBunreacht, 1998: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Mr. Gormley: The Green Party will be campaigning for a “no” vote in the upcoming referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty. This decision is based not on opportunism, as Deputy Lenihan implied, but on both the failure of the new treaty to live up to its own proclaimed goals and the inclusion in the treaty of provisions which the Green Party believes endanger democracy, human rights and international peace and security.

The Green Party is internationalist in outlook. We strongly support European and international co-operation. We also believe in strong democratic control of decision making and therefore support decentralisation and the taking of decisions at the lowest appropriate level. The Green Party welcomes European Union involvement in areas which are best dealt with at European level, such as environmental protection and the safeguarding of human rights, but is wary of the EU usurping the role of the United Nations in the area of international peace and security or the roles of local and national governments in the determination of economic policies.

I want to deal with areas of the Amsterdam Treaty with which we have problems. The Green Party will be opposing the treaty on a number of grounds including the democratic deficit, as it is known, the Employment Chapter and the Social Protocol, which we believe are too limited. We have major concerns about human rights and civil liberties and we believe the environmental issues in the treaty are inadequately tackled. An issue we feel strongly about is the fact that Ireland’s neutrality is weakened and the EU is further militarised.

On the question of the democratic deficit, despite the fact that the European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the European Union, it is unable to function as a real parliament. It cannot initiate legislation. The Amsterdam Treaty has increased the areas of co-decision between the Council and the Parliament but this increase is in no way commensurate with the extension of the areas of competence of the EU. For example, Parliament’s budgetary powers have been increased somewhat in the Second and Third Pillars’ operational expenditure but it has virtually no power in regard to EMU where the co-operation procedure applies. It is the unelected Commission, which has been strengthened under the Amsterdam Treaty, that proposes legislation, while the real power of legislating rests mainly with the Council which is infamous for its lack of openness. Even the Parliament has difficulty gaining access to Council’s deliberations, and the Council fails to adequately brief parliamentary committees.

The Amsterdam Treaty provides some improvement in transparency and Article 191 provides to any Union resident or citizen the right of access to Parliament, Council and Commission documents, but these rights are restricted at the discretion of the relevant institutions.

In terms of EU citizenship, the Amsterdam Treaty has not added much to the Maastricht Treaty. The Green Group wanted citizenship extended to non-EU citizens who are resident but this did not happen thereby excluding ten million residents from voting in local and European elections and denying them fundamental rights and petition rights. This will have serious implications for refugees and migrants across Europe.

The Green Party welcomes the inclusion for the first time of an explicit statement, Article F.1, on respect for fundamental human rights. We welcome the fact that respect for these rights is a criterion for EU membership and that violation of these rights can cause expulsion of an existing member. The European Court of Justice now has power explicitly to ensure EU respect for human rights in the First and Third Pillar areas of its competence, which is limited.

The anti-discrimination and social exclusion sections of the Amsterdam Treaty, while making some positive advances, fall short of what we had hoped. References to the elderly, who were mentioned originally in Article 118(2), have been deleted. There was also a request from a number of NGOs to initiate a civil dialogue in the EU involving a broader range of organisations than just the social partners. This, too, failed to happen.

Despite some advances, therefore, the Amsterdam Treaty has failed to remedy the anti-democratic nature of the European Union and has failed to make substantial gains for those living in the EU. This lack of democracy and accountability in the EU will be a point of criticism by the Green Party when considering a number of other areas of the Amsterdam Treaty.

The Green Party welcomes the fact that a new Chapter on Employment, Title 6a, has been added to the EC Treaty and that the Social Protocol has now been brought into the body of the treaty. However, gains in social policy in general have been deemed only as modest by a number of commentators and social policy has been seen as the poor relation in EU negotiations in the run up to the introduction of EMU. Considering the disruption EMU is seen to be causing in many EU states, as member states make economic adjustments to qualify for the first EMU wave, this relegation of the social dimension is a cause for concern. The Social Policy Chapter is positive in its defence of workers and employers in terms of working conditions, health and safety but does not apply to pay, rights of association and the right to collective action and bargaining. It also primarily refers to the rights of the employed and therefore has little impact on unemployment.

Given the high rates of unemployment in a number of EU states — Spain has nearly 20 per cent, France has 12.6 per cent, Ireland has 10 per cent, Germany has 12 per cent and rising — the inclusion of an employment chapter is a welcome development. Of the active population in the EU, 18 million, or approximately 11 per cent, are officially unemployed. Half of those have been unemployed for more than one year. More than one-fifth of all young people in the EU have no work and nearly 52 million people live below the poverty line.

An employment committee is to be established to monitor progress of the EU in co-ordinating employment policies in co-operation with the member states, and there will be annual reviews and reports from each state in an effort to assess [283] progress in achieving a high level of employment. The Green Party is disappointed, however, that there is no commitment to full employment in the treaty and that there is no injection of Green economics. The old ideology of fostering growth to overcome unemployment remains. Indeed, the word “unemployment” does not even appear in the treaty.

The Greens believe that full employment should be an EU objective. This would be assisted by policies involving the reduction of working time, the transition to production methods which are more resource effective and the production of goods and services which are more ecologically and socially sustainable. The Amsterdam Treaty has ignored calls from the European Parliament to shift the tax burden from employment to environment consumption and pollution in order to foster sustainable investment.

The Green Party is also concerned at the impact EMU will have on unemployment and believes it is a major failing of EU policy that EMU criteria concentrated on the achievement of low public debt and low inflation and ignored any inclusion of low unemployment.

The Amsterdam Treaty adds a new EU objective to Article B of Maastricht “to maintain and develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice, in which the free movement of persons is assured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime”. The Green Party welcomes the development of freedom of movement and advances in the combating of crime. We are concerned, however, that some of the provisions involving refugees, asylum and other operations of Schengen and Europol could have adverse effects on humans rights and democracy.

The Green Group in the European Parliament fears that nothing will change in the undemocratic and uncontrollable functioning of Schengen and calls for an enhanced role for the Parliament, both from the legislative and supervisory point of view, and for the European Court of Justice.

No citizen, NGO or even the European Parliament can bring an action before the European Court of Justice. For the first time the European Court of Justice has been given some very limited jurisdiction over provisions in the Third Pillar dealing with police and judicial co-operation on criminal matters, but the court has no jurisdiction over the behaviour of police or law enforcement bodies or the exercise of responsibilities incumbent on member states with regard to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security. One could argue that every measure or decision of the justice and home affairs sector deals with law and order and internal security.

There is very little judicial control over Europol, which will now have powers to deal with 18 policing roles, from illegal immigration to drugs. [284] Not once during the two year drafting was the European Parliament consulted. Article K.6 of the Maastricht Treaty calls for such consultation on principal developments in justice and home affairs and states that Parliament’s views must be duly taken into consideration. Parliament was not and will not be consulted. Article K.11 of the Amsterdam Treaty provides for the Parliament to be consulted on laws on police co-operation already agreed by the Council of Ministers, but Parliament’s powers extend only to delivering opinions, asking questions and holding annual debates. National parliaments also will have no power to exercise democratic control over Europol. The day to day activities of Europol will be the responsibility of a management report and national parliaments can only request their governments to instruct their representatives on that board. Decisions are by a two-thirds majority and individual states can be overruled.

Articles 7 and 10 of the Europol Convention give Europol powers of data collection which go far beyond what is needed to combat crime and which raise grave questions about civil liberties. Not only can Europol collect data on known and suspected criminals but also on those it is presumed may carry out a criminal offence and any potential victim or witness, which is a very wide net. Data can be collected on lifestyles, racial origin, religious or political beliefs, sexuality and health. The key question is: who is monitoring Europol?

The Green Party shares concerns expressed by Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Quakers and a number of NGOs about the provisions concerning asylum and refugees. While expressing its support for the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, the Amsterdam Treaty appears to ignore the Convention in several instances. For example, there is no reference to adhering to the Convention when dealing with temporary protection of refugees, responsibility-sharing, some immigration matters and incidents of sudden mass influx of refugees — they are dealt with in Articles 73. k.2 and 73.1.2. Both Amnesty International and the UNHCR have taken issue with the EU’s interpretation of the term “refugee” in the Geneva Convention, which sees the EU excluding those persecuted by non-state agents, for example, rebel groups. The UNHCR has attacked the EU’s narrow definition as one that erodes refugee principles and could leave large numbers of refugees without adequate protection.

The Amsterdam Treaty contains a protocol on asylum which has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations. The protocol suppresses the rights of EU nationals to seek asylum in another member state except in exceptional circumstances. The UNHCR similarly attacks the protocol, and in a press release following the Amsterdam summit in June 1997 the UNHCR expressed serious concern about the EU’s decision to restrict EU citizens’ right to asylum [285] and said the protocol weakened the Geneva Convention on Refugees. It stated:

If the EU applies limitations to the Convention, others can follow and could weaken the universality of the instrument for the international protection of refugees. We do not, therefore, share the position taken in the preamble [of Amsterdam] stating that the protocol respects the Convention.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy — CFSP — is dealt with under Title V of the Amsterdam Treaty. Contrary to some comment the changes brought in by Amsterdam constitute significant new powers. Under the Treaty the EU is given an enhanced role at the expense of member states in foreign and security policy. It is now the “Union”, not “the Union and its member states” as stated in the Maastricht Treaty, that shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy. A new Article J.2 allows the Union to define the principles and general guidelines for the CFSP, to decide common strategies and adopt joint actions and common positions. Article J.3 states that the European Council shall define the principles of general guidelines for the CFSP, including matters with defence implications. Article J.7 states that the CFSP will include the “progressive”, as opposed to “eventual” in the Maastricht Treaty, framing of a common defence policy and that this defence policy has to be in accordance with the involvement of the Western European Union.

The European Council is given power to decide whether an EU common defence should be established, with the proviso that this decision must be referred back to member states in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. More decisions in the CFSP will be taken by qualified majority voting. A new high representative, the present Secretary General of the Council, will be appointed and assisted by a new planning and early warning unit whose personnel will include individuals from the Western European Union. This can be viewed as an embryo Department of Foreign Affairs. The Western European Union, a military grouping based on nuclear weapons and inextricably linked with NATO, will be further integrated into the EU and a protocol has been attached to Article 7 promising the drawing up of arrangements for enhanced co-operation between the Western European Union and the EU within a year of the Amsterdam Treaty being ratified. Article J.7 states that the progressive framing of a common defence policy will be supported as member states consider appropriate, by co-operation between them in the field of armaments.

The Green Party disagreed strongly with the Maastricht Treaty for forming links with the Western European Union, a military grouping based on nuclear weapons and the European wing of NATO. The Maastricht Treaty recognised the Western European Union as an integral part of the development of the EU and charged it [286] with elaborating and implementing decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications. The Green Party is opposed to defence issues being brought into the EU. The fact that a nuclear grouping is seen as the vehicle for dealing with EU defence only serves to underline the reasons the EU should never be dragged into this area.

The Amsterdam Treaty does not incorporate the Western European Union completely into the EU, as a number of member states wanted, but it provides in a protocol for the possibility of such a development when it refers to arrangements for enhanced co-operation within a year of the Amsterdam Treaty being ratified. Article J.7 adds to the Maastricht Treaty by stating that the Western European Union provides the EU with access to an operational capability and that it supports the Union in framing the defence aspects of the CFSP.

The most significant development in terms of the Western European Union is the inclusion of its so-called Petersberg tasks as provided for in Article J.7.2, which include not only humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, as often claimed, but also tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. Peacemaking gives a very broad licence and could involve Irish troops in various military enforcement missions. This opens the way for endless possibilities for the EU to intervene militarily around the world. The adoption of the Petersberg tasks means that for the first time Irish troops may be sent abroad to peacekeep or peacemake for someone other than the UN and without a UN mandate. This is a major foreign and defence policy departure.

I wish to refer to the way the CFSP makes its decisions.

I refute the view expressed by previous speakers that the treaty is not a danger to Irish neutrality. It represents a significant erosion of our neutrality. Much has been made of the fact that three Opposition parties support the treaty. They negotiated it and therefore find themselves in a position where they have little choice but to support it. Diarmuid Ross Phelan, barrister and Jean Monnet lecturer in European Law at TCD, have written on this aspect and take the view that there is no requirement for a further referendum. The key element which the public will want to know about concerns our neutral stance. They support it. The Green Party also supports it and will oppose this referendum.

After the Nice No Vote in 2001.

John Gormley

12th June 2001

Mr. Gormley: I intend to share my time with Deputies Higgins (Dublin West) and Ó Caoláin. The decision of the people to reject the Treaty of Nice was an historic one. I am proud of the role played by the Green Party in that decision. The people have spoken, but are the politicians listening, particularly those in the establishment?

I do not see any signs of humility and it appears that no lessons have been learned. We have been informed that the Government and the establishment parties will interpret what the people have said. What appears to have been said is “We respect your decision, but now you will have to change it”. That is not respect, it is contempt. We saw an exhibition of that contempt yesterday in Luxembourg when we were informed by the Council of Ministers that we could like it or lump it. The Government campaign was characterised by a great deal of huffing and puffing, bluster and bluff, smear, innuendo, the politics of the gutter and, above all else, condescension and total arrogance. We dealt with the facts; we wanted a calm, rational debate. Unfortunately, it was not forthcoming.

I congratulate the Referendum Commission. Not a single previous speaker has had the courtesy to congratulate the commission on its role. [1115] The Referendum Commission was established by the Oireachtas – I voted with the Government in favour of its being set up – but no one has congratulated it on the role it played. The commission did an exceptional job under extremely difficult conditions and it was hamstrung in its efforts by the Government. I spoke to the staff of the commission and I am aware that they were in total chaos because they were not allowed to do their jobs. Let us learn lessons from that. The Referendum Commission must be allowed to do its job on the next occasion. It is clear there will be a further referendum and I want the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to admit that. They are shaping up to hold another referendum but they do not have the guts to say so.

We dealt with the facts in our campaign. The first was that the Attorney General stated that the referendum had to be held because of the enhanced co-operation procedures, which, clearly, would lead to the creation of a two-tier Europe. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, we had a veto on enhanced co-operation. However, that has been removed. Eight countries will now be able to proceed with enhanced co-operation projects under the procedures provided at Nice. We made it clear that this was not the type of Europe we desired.

The second fact was that we stated that the treaty was not concerned with enlargement but that it was about further integration and deepening. The people believed us. Deputy Quinn quoted Professor Conlan of the University of Limerick who confirmed our assertion that enlargement can continue. Günther Verheugen, the Commissioner for Enlargement, also stated that enlargement could continue. He has changed his tune, however, and has stated that he is not so sure about the position. It is clear there is confusion among European Commissioners at this stage, but the people believed the view we expressed. That view is valid and it has been confirmed by legal analysts.

We have informed our European colleagues that we favour enlargement. I know the Taoiseach has taken this fact on board, but I want the message to go out from this Chamber. Last weekend we met our colleagues from Poland and the Czech Republic in the Hague with the European Federation of Green Parties. They clearly understood our position and issued a statement to the effect that we must step back and reconsider the treaty. I appreciate that the Taoiseach is in a difficult position, but what would be the outcome if this treaty was put to the people of France or Germany? It would be defeated and the Taoiseach knows that.

What sort of Europe are we creating? It is a Europe with a democratic deficit where people do not matter, a Europe for the élite and for bureaucrats. We want a different type of Europe. If the proposed European forum can help create our vision of Europe, count us in. We will put [1116] forward our views in the same forceful manner in which we set them down during the referendum campaign. We won the head-to-head debates which took place during the campaign and that is why the people chose to vote “No”. We will win again unless there is a clear re-negotiation of the treaty. However, there will be no re-negotiation. The matter will simply be put before the people again.

I will now deal with the question of militarisation. Deputy Quinn put it to me that if we do not have a European Rapid Reaction Force, we will be faced with the involvement of NATO. However, I believe we demonstrated that there is a correlation between ESDP – European Security and Defence Policy – and ESDI – European Security and Defence Identity – as put forward by NATO. That is clearly spelt out in the annexes of the treaty. Those involved in the “Yes” campaign failed to convince people on this score. How could they do so because in this Chamber in 1996 the Taoiseach stated that the Western European Union is the European wing of NATO. It is obvious the Taoiseach made these comments when in Opposition and promptly forgot about them. However, we recalled them and we threw them back in his face. In this treaty, the Western European Union is being fully incorporated into the European Union. We will, therefore, be faced with militarisation.

It has been stated that some form of declaration will be made to convince people that everything is all right. If the Treaty of Nice has nothing to do with militarisation, why is it necessary to draw up a declaration? During the next referendum campaign, the Taoiseach will be obliged to explain to the people why he is contradicting himself.

We must be careful about protecting the vision of Europe. This has been outlined by Joschka Fischer, of the German Green Party, and Gerhard Schröder. Mr. Schröder has stated that the Council of Ministers should become a second Chamber. Let us consider the sort of second Chamber with which we will be faced in a federal Europe.

Mr. Gormley: My final point is that, at present, Ireland has three votes out of 87. In an enlarged Europe, we will have seven votes out of 237. It is clear there will be a shift, because the votes of larger states will be trebled. Contrast this to the United States where each state, regardless of its size, is entitled to equal representation in the Senate. We do not have that in Europe, we do not have equality. I want a Europe of justice and equality.

And here is an explanation of sorts from Eamon Gilmore, at that point a member of Democratic Left. Now, this is interesting, but it doesn’t quite bridge the gap between the past scepticism of DL, and I remember that well, and their then new found enthusiasm.

Mr. Gilmore: I support this Bill and my party will be asking for a “yes” vote in the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty. We do so because the treaty takes the European Union closer to the kind of Europe to which we aspire. It takes a small but significant step towards a more social and democratic Europe. Amsterdam seeks to put the people of Europe, and not just the market, at the heart of the European project. The Amsterdam Treaty places the European Union on democratic principles. It strengthens the rights of workers, consumers and citizens, helps protect the environment, makes it easier for Europe to tackle organised crime, anticipates the enlargement of the Union and protects our positive neutrality.

If the Amsterdam Treaty is open to criticism, it is that it does not go far enough and that it is tentative in areas of social policy. There is still a long way to go in bringing the market under control and the treaty postpones institutional reform. It is moving slowly but definitely in the direction of a people’s Europe. As such, it should be supported, especially by those who criticised earlier European treaties as being too preoccupied with economics and not enough with people.

The European Union is the product of 50 years of effort. It started out as a form of economic co-operation between previously warring states in [271] Europe with the hope that it would at least help prevent further war and lead in effect to a shared prosperity. It has succeeded in both these objectives but it has gone beyond that. Its development until the end of the Cold War was essentially based on economics. However, in recent years since the end of the Cold War, it has developed a more overt political dimension and has taken on a more urgent momentum, driven especially by EMU and all that goes with it. There is no doubt the European Union, with its single market, common currency, common political institutions, common foreign and security policy, its increasing body of common legislation and the European Court, is developing into a federal superstate, a United States of Europe, though not in precisely the same form as the more familiar USA.

We are now part of a regional, continental form of government to which many aspects of our State or national sovereignty have been subordinated. Many regret the loss of sovereignty and argue for its complete restoration. However, this is the end of the 20th century, not the 19th. One hundred years ago, it was possible and preferable for people to seek to exercise democratic control through the nation state. In the modern world, where economics, communications, transport, environment and other areas of life are global, it is almost impossible to exercise effective or adequate control through the nation state. How can the sovereign nation state exercise control or restraint on global economic markets where wage levels in Taiwan can result in redundancies in Tralee? How can the individual state exercise effective control or influence on behalf of its people on satellite television? How does it stop pornography or libel on the Internet? How can an individual state effectively protect its environment or the health of its people when nuclear radiation or global warming refuse to recognise national or state boundaries? The issue for politics today is how we make people sovereign in the new information age. How is the citizen or the individual to exercise any kind of control in the changing world? How do we collectively assert the common good in a world where capital and material power are transnational? Inevitably, it must be through the development of democratic, global and regional political institutions.

As a socialist, I believe the market cannot adequately address the issues which face humanity, such as disease, poverty and environmental degradation. The market produces great inequality. It makes some very rich while leaving others very poor. It ultimately produces a social and economic jungle, where strong animals like tigers, Celtic or otherwise, can thrive. However, who wants to live in a jungle? The market must be controlled and disciplined in the common good and in the interests of civilisation. Given that so much of the market is now global and regional, our political institutions must follow suit. The European Union may have begun and [272] may have been developed to serve the needs of capital, but it is also an institution which can and should be turned to the service of its people. It may have started life as a political aid to the market. It can and should now be harnessed as a means by which people in this continent and in this region of the globe exercise some democratic control on the market.

The Maastricht Treaty brought the European Union to its highest point as a servant of the market. It was a product of the neo-liberal thinking then in the ascendant in the post-Cold War Europe. It intended to create the perfect capitalist market which was both deregulated and liberalised. It intended the European Union to be the new world superpower. Maastricht was a victory for European toryism, although it is ironic that it was some of the British Tories who first spotted the red hand in the velvet glove. If the political will exists, the same European Union can be turned to serve the needs of its population in ways not initially envisaged by some of its earlier enthusiasts.

The Amsterdam Treaty has begun that process. It has begun to take the rough free market edge off Maastricht. First, it makes clear the European Union was founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It defines the human rights standard as that of the European Convention. It provides for enforcement of these principles through making them a condition of membership, through sanctions and through the European Court. The inclusion of these principles in the treaty is our guarantee that the European Union in which our children and grandchildren will live will be democratic and will respect human rights.

Second, the Amsterdam Treaty provides a range of new competencies for the union: to develop a common employment policy all member states will now subscribe to the social policy; there will be action on social exclusion; there will be new European standards for public health; better consumer protection; action to combat discrimination based on sex, race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation; the rights of churches and religious freedom will be guaranteed and environmental considerations are to be integrated into all areas of policy making. These are the areas which matter most to people. Previous treaties addressed the economy of Europe and freedom of capital, this treaty puts the emphasis on human freedoms and the rights of European citizens.

While moving forward the process of European integration, the treaty also protects and enhances cultural integrity and diversity. Under the treaty Irish citizens who wish to use the Irish language in official matters will have greater guaranteed language rights in the European institutions than in Ireland. The protocol on broadcasting guarantees the principle of public service broadcasting and will be critical in the promotion of our cultural identity in the rapidly changing world of television and telecommunications.

The principle of the free movement of people within the EU’s boundaries is being established in the treaty. I regret that because the UK will remain outside this arrangement, we must also remain outside to protect the common travel area with the UK. I hope it will not be long before the UK decides to opt in. If there is any delay in the UK opting in we should consider opting in independently as allowed by the treaty. Increasingly, our point of reference is with the European mainland not with the UK. If necessary we should go it alone into the Schengen arrangements, we should not wait for very long for the UK to do so.

The changes in policing and judicial areas which go hand in hand with Schengen will greatly increase the EU’s ability to deal with organised and transnational crime. All over Europe people want effective action to tackle the drugs menace, to defeat terrorism and combat crime and I welcome the provisions in the treaty. The treaty anticipates the enlargement of the union and postpones institutional reform until then. This is a pity. The citizens of Europe do not feel connected to the European political institutions. There is a low turnout in European Parliament elections, the council operates in private and remains a mystery to the public and the Commission continues to be regarded, unfairly, as a large Euro-bureaucracy. Even amending the treaties does not excite public passion. However, increasingly, it is in the European institutions that the critical decisions are being made which affect all our lives. The big weakness in the European project is that the people are not actively engaged in it — they do not even understand it. Institutional reform is not a numbers game which results from enlargement. The reform and the relevance of Europe’s political institutions is an imperative if the European project is to engage its citizens and be democratic.

Ireland has played a positive and highly respected role in the development of the European project. We should take the lead in promoting political and institutional reform within the EU. Our Government should not wait until the next Intergovernmental Conference to advance proposals for political reform. By advancing proposals for institutional reform now, we may place ourselves in the best position to ensure that the rights of small states are protected in any new arrangement.

The aspect of the Amsterdam Treaty which is likely to cause most debate during the referendum concerns the common foreign and security policy and specifically the provisions relating to defence. This is the area of the treaty which has produced most discussion within my party and there are understandable concerns about where the European Union is taking us on foreign, security and defence policy. Democratic Left is committed to positive neutrality. We oppose war, we support the peaceful resolution of conflict, we oppose the sale of arms and we demand disarmament. We are opposed to military blocs and to [274] Ireland becoming a member of a military bloc. Specifically, we are opposed to membership of NATO or the Western European Union. However, neutrality does not mean that we abstain or that we are indifferent to the security issues of our time. Who can be indifferent to the slaughter of innocents in Algeria or the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia? Neutrality does not mean that as a country we stand aside from decisions and policies on security. We have a role to play in Europe and the world which extends our neutrality and is active in the cause of peace, disarmament and solidarity. The Amsterdam Treaty will allow us play that active role, while at the same time exempting us from any involvement in military pacts.

The Maastricht Treaty committed the European Union to a common foreign and security policy and made it clear that security included defence. Maastricht made the Western European Union an integral part of the EU and it declared the Union’s intention to develop a common defence policy. It acknowledged Ireland’s neutrality but only in a way which permitted Ireland to stand aside while the rest of the Union made the decisions. Amsterdam changes this arrangement. It reaffirms the common foreign and security policy and the intention to proceed to a common defence. However, it provides a means whereby neutral countries like Ireland can fully participate in decision making while retaining our neutrality. The treaty considerably strengthens the scope for Irish and neutral influence on European foreign and security policy.

Common positions will have to be unanimously agreed. The implementation of decisions does not commit Ireland to participation. The ‘constructive abstention’ mechanism provides a more refined mechanism for opting out than was contained in the Maastricht Treaty. The ‘emergency brake’ provision effectively gives Ireland, or any other state, a veto on EU action in the common foreign, security and defence areas. In addition, the procedures for arriving at a common defence have been clarified. If the Union agrees on a common defence, that position remains purely a recommendation until agreed to by the member states. Ultimately, it is the people who will have to ratify any common defence arrangement in which we participate. Successive Governments and every party in this House have committed themselves to holding a referendum on the issue.

The biggest worry that most people have about a common defence is that Europe will develop into a superpower which behaves in a belligerent manner towards its neighbours and that European troops will be committed to the EU’s Vietnam. The architects of the Maastricht Treaty may have been wedded to the superpower idea. However, Europe’s foreign and security policy and its defence component does not have to follow that model. If Ireland and other neutral states play their role effectively, the EU can develop as a force for peace in the world. There are already strong indications that this is the direction which [275] the EU’s common security and foreign policy could take. The EU persuaded France to stop nuclear testing in the South Pacific and it was a powerful voice for a peaceful resolution of the recent Iraqi crisis. At the Kyoto conference it was the EU which led the way, showing that it can play a role in world affairs to the benefit of the people of the world.

The Maastricht Treaty set up the common foreign and security policy and directed the EU towards a common defence, leaving Ireland aside. On the other hand, the Amsterdam Treaty strengthens the position, influence and power of the neutral countries. On this basis alone, it is a considerable improvement on the Maastricht Treaty.

Democratic Left will support the Amsterdam Treaty but we have criticisms. The treaty redresses some of the imbalance between the strong legal and financial instruments which are available for economic policy and those which are available for dealing with poverty, unemployment and the labour market. We will have to wait and see how member states and the EU’s institutions respond in practice.

The practical effects must be in doubt given that the guiding principles are short on substance and specifics and, above all, extremely vague as regards details of the financial programmes to give effect to them.

The constant iteration that employment policy is the exclusive responsibility of member states flies against the clear wishes of European citizens who are inclined to ask what is the point of Europe if it does not take effective action on unemployment and poverty. Of the 350 million people living in the European Union, 50 million, or 15 per cent, remain too poor to consume the goods and services offered in the European market. The challenges for the future of Europe are how to address poverty and social exclusion within its boundaries, how to manage enlargement by bringing in countries and people who are currently poorer than the European mainstream and how to relate to the Third World.

The answers to these questions will be different for those who regard the market as supreme and those of us who believe it is necessary to keep it in check. For those of us who believe in controlling the market, who believe that people, not economics, should be at the heart of the European project, the Amsterdam Treaty represents an advance and a measure on which we can build. I am, therefore, happy to recommend its approval by the public.

Which is fine, much there that I would agree with (ironic too in it’s own way since I’d parted with DL years before) but no acknowledgement whatsoever that DL, and Gilmore, had held wildly variant opinons. No sense as to how their view changed.

Here’s the thing. There is no shame in changing ones mind on an issue – and in either direction on this issue. But it is no accident that we have a public and a left that over the years has become cynical and sceptical as regards the benefits of the European Union when we have those who have argued cogently against it for decades suddenly shift towards the opposite position – seemingly with little or no explanation. So it is that a better security policy, or social policy, seemingly impossible to attain are suddenly little more than a stroke of the pen away. And this is merely symptomatic of a broader political inability to engage positively – or even just honestly – on Europe. So rather than the absurd spoon feeding of carefully selected factoids about funding or whatever a better, but more complex, case for membership and engagement is made. And this has real political implications, because a project which was seen as very much a part of the liberal left in the 1980s has now come to assume to the mark of neo-liberalism. Which merely points up the fact that if one isn’t making the case for a left of centre EU at home, and why that is per definition a good thing one clearly won’t be making much effort in the European Parliament, or Council.

I’ve mentioned before how research I did for DL left me almost entirely cynical about the approach of elements of the left to Europe (and indeed to other issues). It still does. Benefits and dangers are blown out of all proportion. Threats to democracy, or our economy, are thrown around with little regard to their validity. And both sides of the argument are directly implicated in this. It’s not that there aren’t entirely valid reasons for taking political positions either for or against, it’s simply that they’re more often than not fuelled by hyperbole and wishful thinking of either dystopian or utopian hue.

And lest that seem to be a process that is over one merely need look at the uneasy mixture of realpolitic and tactical use of language by Sinn Féin in the very recent past on the issue of the European Union where they have moved from a profoundly hostile position to one which is more emollient. Consider the following quote from the contribution of Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin during the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty debate.

However, many in political life and other spheres are profoundly opposed to the erosion of our independence on the world stage and to our entanglement in a nuclear armed European superstate. This also applies to monetary union. I note that contrary to comments made by Gay Byrne this morning on radio, many elected public representatives have not joined the blind stampede to complete EU integration regardless of the damaging consequences for our economy. My party stands firmly for Irish national sovereignty. Vital elements of that sovereignty are military neutrality and an independent foreign policy. It is ironic that on the anniversary of 1798 the Government is seeking to dilute again the degree of sovereignty we have retained in the 26 counties. Wolfe Tone was the first to make the case for an independent Irish foreign policy, and that has been a principle of all progressive movements in our history. It is supported overwhelmingly by the people. That is why the Government and the other political parties that want the Amsterdam Treaty approved are so anxious to convince the people that our neutrality is not under threat.

No hint that the EU was anything other than a negative. And last week (and while I’m at it, a small thought experiment, I’d be interested in what people imagine would have been the SF line on this issue had they entered government with Fianna Fáil in May 2007) ?

Those who share my outlook on the Lisbon treaty believe that last Thursday, 12 June 2008, deserves to be remembered as a great day for democracy in Ireland and in Europe. It was a positive assertion by the Irish electorate of its power to decide on vital national issues. The people reached their verdict despite the hectoring of many people in the political and media establishment. This was not a vote about whether we should remain in the European Union – that question was not on the agenda – it was a vote about the type of EU we want to help to develop. Will it be an EU of political elites and bureaucrats or will it be a democratic Europe of the people?

While some advocates of the treaty have attempted to castigate the electorate for rejecting it, more reasonable voices have rightly pointed out that there is no crisis. Ireland will not be thrown out of the European Union. When the French and Dutch people rejected the proposed EU constitution in 2005, the ratification process was brought to an end. The same thing should happen in the case of the Lisbon treaty. The French and Dutch Governments told their EU counterparts that the game was up in the case of the constitutional treaty and that the ratification process should cease. The Irish Government needs to send a clear message to the European Commission at this week’s leaders’ summit that, notwithstanding its own support for the treaty, it is insisting on an end to the ratification process in countries which have not yet completed their respective processes. The Irish electorate, which overwhelmingly voted “No” last Thursday, deserves and expects no less.

The first option I mentioned will strengthen Ireland, our place in the EU and will strengthen the Union. People will see that the democratic voice of not alone the Irish people but of people across the European Union is sacrosanct and that it will be respected not alone within their respective democracies but right across the European Union. This is an important test.

The second option will deal yet another blow to the democratic credibility of an already faltering European Union and the disconnect that is deepening by the day between the peoples of the member states and those at the helm and the heart of its administration. Go raibh maith agat.

The tone changes. There is talk of engagement, and improvement. Suddenly the EU is presented as something that we are implicitly a part of and the discussion moves to ‘what type of EU’ rather than EU bad. And the logic of that is ultimately a recognition of the EU as it is, not as one wants it to be in some undefined future. Otherwise why argue for the status quo? Sure, it’s far from a ringing endorsement and I’m certain that there are those who will argue that the essential argument remains the same as it was in 1998 and will do into the future. The point will be made ‘but we’re different, we really mean it’. And I’m more than certain that that sentiment is entirely sincere. But if so why the shift in rhetoric, unless for purely cosmetic and tactical political reasons? Reasons which will in the context of a near overwhelmingly euro-friendly Irish electorate be recognised for what they are or are not sooner rather than later. And language is a funny thing as we know from Semiotics 101.

It’s the first step to change, even change that people don’t honestly want, or occasionally doesn’t seem to be happening at all.

Which to return to the central thrust is one reason why – perhaps – there is so little traction on this issue amongst sections of the left. Why should there be when the over-riding dynamic seems to be ‘change, but never explain’… a dynamic shared across the political spectrum, at least as regards ‘…never explain…’, which leaves me with the thought that those sections of the left are fortunate that the EU, for all the sturm und drang, is so marginal to general political endeavour. Otherwise we might, rightly, see some party poll ratings in free-fall.

Hey there Mr. Blue … Look around see what you do, Everybody smiles at you. – Sammy Wilson of the DUP, climate change and creationism. It’s a brave new world up North, and no mistake. June 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
21 comments

Runnin’ down the avenue,(Pant, Pant, Pant)
See how the sun shines brightly
In the city on the streets
Where once was pity,
Mr. Blue Sky is living here today.

Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why,
You had to hide away
For so long where did we go wrong.

Ah, ELO. Better than the critics gave them credit. Never quite as good as their staunchest fans would seem to believe. Still, if we were to look for an answer to the question in that chorus it might be that we’re apparently “bearded, sandal-wearing, Guardian-reading, muesli-eating environmentalists” for Sammy Wilson, new Stormont Minister for the Environment, as reported in the Irish Times today is under attack from Sinn Féin. And Sinn Féin have a point.

Bairbre de Brún, member of the European Parliament, warned that physical damage would result from more severe weather patterns, and the economy would be affected.

Speaking in advance of a meeting today with former mayor of London Ken Livingstone in Brussels to discuss traffic limiting and other policies, the Sinn Féin MEP warned: “We have seen some more extreme weather here in terms of flooding, and our own climate and our economy will suffer if we don’t take action.”

Sammy, so it seems, cleaves to his own path in such matters. As he noted when he was given the job…

“I’ve got a duty to make sure there is a good balance between the need to develop our economy, to provide homes, factories, roads and at the same time to protect the environment.

“I want to preserve the quality and standard of the environment. At the same time we must ensure that we do not allow the agenda to be dominated by people who sometimes can be described as Green fanatics,” he said.

That’s pretty much boilerplate stuff, as far as the environment goes, except, except for that troubling little reference to ‘Green fanatics’. What on earth does he mean?

Perhaps the next quote might be a clue:

I am not convinced and I don’t think that there is any firm evidence to show that all of that climate change is due to CO2 emmissions,” Mr Wilson said.

Hmmm… so that lack of conviction would be contrary to the overwhelming bulk of scientific and political opinion then. Interesting. And what’s that job of his again?

Pete Baker over at Slugger discussed this a couple of weeks back. Anyhow, while one may think this is troubling stuff, which it is, note how in this wonderful new dispensation of ours on this island some most peculiar noises are being made close to the centres of devolved power…and a hat tip to Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness for the information that the new chair of the Stormont Education Committee is apparently a young-Earth creationist.

Or as the BBC notes:

Two DUP MLAs, Mervyn Storey and David Simpson, have lobbied the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, to have creationism included in the science curriculum.

Mr Storey tells Rosy it is a matter of allowing children the information they need to come to a considered opinion.

“What we have to ensure is that children have all of the evidence and all the facilities at their disposal to make judgements”, he remarks.

The Minister has said there is a place for the discussion of alternative theories of the origin of the universe, but that place is not in the science class.

“The revised curriculum provides opportunities for alternative beliefs to evolutionary views to be explored. The obvious place for this is religious Education,” says Caitriona Ruane.

The unintended consequences of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. And with the potential for exciting times ahead. For after all, what else could be as fascinating than a debate about such matters led by the new Chair of the Education Committee, a certain Mervyn Storey?

And the interesting thing is how these – ahem – unusual viewpoints have largely been sidelined up until now. Sure, there were rumours about how amidst the margins there were along with ferociously populist thinking some odd notions. But as those margins have run helter skelter towards the centre, well, while much of the political rhetoric has been softened the essential oddness remains. And on that point, isn’t it a telling warning about the dangers of limited and self-referential discourses? Or to paraphrase the old saw, when you believe in nothing but the most uncompromising unionism, and then abandon that belief you’re liable to end up believing absolutely anything at all.

To briefly return to the good Mr. Wilson, Newton Emerson had a good piece in the Irish News last week (which ended on the entertaining line – “Alas, time will soon tell if Mr Wilson is still all mouth and no trousers” – poor Sammy, will he ever live that down?) where he noted:

Mr Wilson’s entertaining contempt for sandal-wearing tree huggers is a particularly redundant posture. Suspicion of the green lobby as a home for recycled leftists is entirely justified but it is also now entirely beside the point. With oil at $140 a barrel, every renewable technology short of mirrors in orbit suddenly makes cold, hard economic sense.

That’s a good argument and one which the supposedly hard headed DUP should not be averse to. Because this is where the saloon bar – or teetotal end of it – opinion runs smack bang into not merely a Northern Irish, or national reality, but one that has assumed a global credibility. Taking on the world and winning? That’s a big ask, Sammy. But after all, sometimes striking a contrarian stance is its own reward. Emerson continues…

Adopting renewable energy to any meaningful degree will require serious civil engineering, much of it in previously unspoilt areas. Power lines will have to be upgraded and new lines installed. Generating plants and associated facilities must be dotted across the countryside and some of the technology will be initially controversial.

Reforming the electricity market to encourage this investment falls to DUP enterprise minister Arlene Foster. However, once the incentives are in place it is Mr Wilson’s planning policy that will determine the speed of development. Objections must be heard but a minister who does not humour cranks, Luddites and alarmists could push Northern Ireland to the front of the green venture capital queue. Is Mr Wilson that minister? Is he really prepared to take on the sandal-wearers and take difficult decisions for our economic future? Or is he just a recreational controversialist?

Maybe. But that’s if he’s even thought about it that deeply. And as for Mr. Blue Sky, I always thought that there was something perhaps a tad sinister about that last verse…

Mr. Blue you did it right,
But soon comes Mr. Night,
Creepin’ over, now his
Hand is on your shoulder,
Never mind I’ll remember you this way.

The Left Archive: Presidential Address by Thomas Mac Giolla to the 63rd Sinn Féin Ard Fhéis, December 1968 June 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Sinn Féin.
5 comments

sf-1968

This week we have the Presidential Address of Thomas (sic) Mac Giolla to the 63rd Annual Ardfheis of Sinn Féin in December 1968. It was passed to me as a photocopy and unfortunately one or two lines of text are missing at the foot of some pages, while it may also be missing a cover.

It’s only 8 printed pages long and gives a good indication of the thinking of the pre-split Sinn Féin.

There is a telling even-handedness as regards ‘interference’ internationally…

‘… we equally condemn American interference in Vietnam and Russian interference in Czechoslovakia…’ A line that was missing from the United Irishman, some years later.

The impact of the Civil Rights Movement is strongly lauded… ‘… a slumbering and despairing Irish nation has suddenly awakened and showing amazing vigour and maturity has given a severe jolt to two powerful political machines who have controlled the destiny of this partitioned country for nearly half a century…’

But the tensions that the call for Civil Rights within Northern Ireland generated are not clearly teased out. And there is, in retrospect, a significant reference to the ‘… Ban on Republican Clubs… they have taken their full part in the Civil Rights Campaign together with other political organisations. It is only natural that they should since, in addition to denial of Civil Rights, they are denied the right of political existence…’.

That was a difficult road to take.

There is mention of ‘Direct Action’ and ‘extra-parliamentary democracy’ and somewhat optimistically it argues that ‘… gradually the system of political patronage is being broken down’… A reference to the voting referendum of that year in the Republic of Ireland, with a hint of paranoia as well… ‘and follow this up with new coercive legislation against the mass organisations of the people’.

The section on Republicanism and Socialism is brief. We are told that ‘… true Republicanism and True Socialism are identical as both are based on the Brotherhood of man…’ and that ‘Socialism has nothing to do with either Atheism or totalitarianism as is evident from even a superficial reading of Connolly’. Whatever about the latter, I’m not as certain as MacGiolla about the former.

So, already the tensions that would convulse the movement months later were evident, albeit in submerged form.

The Irish political landscape post-Lisbon. All changed, changed utterly? Apparently not… June 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Union, Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty.
33 comments

I was cycling past Liberty Hall last week and what should I see but a Socialist Party poster advertising a meeting to be held by Joe Higgins suggesting that after the rout of the establishment post-Lisbon it was time to throw the bums out… or words to that effect. While admiring the sentiment I doubted that our overall political structures, bases or institutions would be particularly touched by the vote. Indeed I mentioned as much over on the Irish Left Review. Not because of any special insight on my part but simply due to fighting the good fight across decades and seeing the remarkable ability of liberal capitalist democracy to appropriate pretty much everything that is thrown against it, whether militant or not.

And the results of the latest poll in the Sunday Business Post (which I hope to return to during the week) underscore this and provide a domestic backdrop to Wu Ming’s piece from this weekend.

The government?

the result of the Lisbon referendum seems to have had little impact on the level of satisfaction with the government.

Consider that party support in the wake of the Referendum is as follows, as noted by Pat Leahy in the SBP:

Fianna Fáil retains the support of 40 per cent of the electorate, reflecting no change from last month and demonstrating that the electorate appears to have compartmentalised its attitudes towards the treaty. This is almost the level of support Fianna Fáil secured when winning last year’s general election.

Isn’t this telling? Far from Lisbon reflecting a political earthquake, it is instead effectively a single issue. As Leahy suggests, the attitude to Lisbon was ‘compartmentalised’. And consequently, despite the clear problems for the political classes in this state in terms of credibility, particularly after the ludicrous Ahern machinations, on a broader level public satisfaction or disatisfaction is essentially static. This has some interesting outcomes…

Support for Sinn Féin, the only Dáil party to oppose the treaty, rises marginally to 10 per cent, but shows no big payoff for the party after its Lisbon victory.

That may indeed change as time moves on, but a possible interpretation is that just as the electorate could compartmentalise their attitudes to Lisbon and to the government/parties respectively, SF simply offered a sort of proxy to vocalise discontents. None of which is bad for SF, indeed Mary Lou McDonald must have improved her odds of retaining the European Parliament seat for the party next year substantially, even in a more competitive constituency.

But for others the news is far from good.

However, support for Fine Gael drops sharply, by three points to 25 per cent. This is t h e fourth consecutive monthly decline in support for Enda Kenny’s party and, though the first three drops were each only one point, the party’s standing with voters has now fallen substantially since the start of this year.

This is poor stuff. But hardly a surprise. I argued before that FG appeared in the campaign to be attempting to convey an all things to all voters message rather than being clearly in favour, without equivocation, of the Lisbon Treaty. And add to that the inevitable sense of fatigue at the prospect of another four year stint up to the next General Election and one might imagine that people are testy and keen to do something, anything, to shake things up. And here the problem becomes quite severe for Enda Kenny, because while an affable and decent individual who without question managed by dint of hard work and organisational skills to pull together the FG party prior to 2007, there are problems to his leadership, not least a desperately unschooled outing on Questions and Answers in the week of the vote, which as one Labour party member suggested to me might well lose whole swathes of the Yes side due to an inability to convey a clearly defined message.

And the rest?

There is a slight recovery for the Green Party, which recovers two points since last month and now stands at 7 per cent. The PDs (2 per cent), Labour (10 per cent) and independents (6 per cent) are al l unchanged from lastmonth.

I can’t help but think the Green Party will be happy. Perhaps a case of the issue being explained to the base, or perhaps a sign that they don’t much care either way about it… difficult to know which, but I hope to return to the former thought as well during the week. Labour may have been moving against their support base, but at least they remained essentially consistent throughout. And despite the coverage no great boon for the Independents.

Incidentally, the nonsense we hear today from one of the FG Young Turks about the SF campaign is quite a sight to behold. For, in the Sunday Business Post we read that:

Dublin West TD Leo Varadkar claimed that ‘‘a lot of leftwing campaigns stirred the immigration pot – some deliberately and some unwittingly. He said Sinn Fein used it deliberately.

‘‘If there is anything to be learned about this large working-class vote, it’ s that it’s a right-wing reaction – anti-immigration, protect my job – and not a left-wing vote as Sinn Fein pretends to believe.”

I disagreed with the SF stance during the Referendum, indeed still do on a number of issues, and think that their approach has been one that has sought to massage their vastly more euro-sceptic view of the EU than their literature proposed over the last number of months (indeed a look at their website and the press releases is instructive, not least due to a certain North/South split in terms of language from their MEPs about the EU… check it out). But… that is one thing, Vardkers allegations quite another. It is simply incorrect to say that they pushed any anti-immigration line in that literature or, from what I hear from those who met them, at doorsteps. But then Fine Gael has yet to determine a clear line after the Referendum, for Alan Shatter has said that:

…taking a bi-partisan approach did not do his party any favours.

Oh dear. More of the indecision. This sort of language is only going to feed into a sense that they don’t know where they’re going, and worse, that they’ll trim if it is to their advantage. Not a thought I’d want to slip out into the public arena just now, if I were them.

Where next after Lisbon? Redux June 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty.
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Can I just bump this post and thank all those who have contributed to it already. Any further thoughts gratefully accepted. In a weeks time I’ll post them up in a single post. It’s useful to have as wide a range of views as to where Ireland, and the EU, go from here – as distinct from where we may seem to be going.

Breathing space June 21, 2008

Posted by Wu Ming in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty.
20 comments

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.  If you were interested in finding a way to resolve the impasse created by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, or in convincing the Irish electorate of the Treaty’s merits and necessity, it might be wise to keep someone who is arguably the most divisive and tactless figures in European politics away from the country for at least the next little while.  Still, maybe he’ll bring his wife.

Joking aside, the outcome of the European Council which took place over the last two days in Brussels was far from the bear-baiting of Brian Cowen that some were predicting a week again.  At the time, it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the principle of solidarity or a recognition that the Irish ‘No’ represented a death knell for the Treaty that others might have preferred.  In all, it was broadly speaking precisely what one might expect from a Council meeting taking place so shortly after the referendum.  With no time to seriously analyse the motivation of the electorate, or to tease out the legal implications of the various proposed solutions, there’s not much else they could have done other than to issue a few platitudes about respect and understanding, saying nothing contentious (apart from a rather amusing scrap between Sarkozy and Mandelson)  and giving Ireland the breathing space it requested to report back to the Council in October with an analysis of the vote.

The ball is very firmly in the Irish court, however, and irrespective of any talk of finding solutions together, the pressure is certainly on the government to come up with a solution by the October Council (exactly a year after the text of the Lisbon Treaty was finally agreed under the Portuguese Presidency).  While the other Member States mightn’t have quite left Cowen alone in a room in the Justus Lipsius building with a revolver and bottle of whiskey to consider his position, if a resolution isn’t at least on the table in four months time, he may well be invited to do the honourable thing.

What such a resolution might involve is far from clear, although various proposals have been mooted, and it is probably unnecessary to go over them again here in laborious detail.  Certainly any solution must take as its starting point the reasons behind the Irish ‘No’ and, above all, the government will have to come up with a clear and comprehensive analysis of what went wrong – no mean feat, under the circumstances.

Another absolute in terms of any post-Lisbon arrangement is that wholescale renegotiation of the Treaty is off the table.  While the proposals by Sinn Féin discussed previously by WorldbyStorm certainly represent a relatively substantial vision for an alternative Treaty (even if they’re disconcertingly vague in parts), for the party to suggest that they’re either modest or achievable indicates that they’re either completely naive or putting them forward in bad faith.  There’s nothing wrong with fundamentally opposing the way the Union is currently constituted, but Sinn Féin is speaking out of both sides of its mouth in this regard – presenting themselves as reasonable and amenable to negotiation, reminding us of their great experience on the latter score in terms of the peace process discussions, while remaining as intransigent as the DUP at its worst when it comes to the actual detail.

Similarly, suggesting that the Treaty itself is dead and the Union should continue under the current arrangements is also a non-runner.   Barring a major shock emerging from the British High Court, it’s virtually certain that all other Member States will ratify the Treaty by the end of the year.  Of course, the Czech Republic is a possible exception, but the fact that they’re taking over the EU Presidency in January 2009 and will want to be seen as constructive European partners if they’re to get through their Presidency agenda will most likely override domestic arguments over ratification.

The Lisbon Treaty itself is a testament to the failure of the Member States to agree a final institutional framework during the Nice negotiations.  Particularly contentious issues were put on the back-burner to be resolved at a future date in order that the 2004 enlargement be allowed to take place and it’s for that reason – Lisbon as the final agreement on issues that have been dogging the Union for decades, with the Nice arrangement is simply a transitional quick-fix – that few will wish to reopen them. 

The make-up of the European Commission is a case in point.  The larger states agreed to a reduction in their Commission representation (from two to one) in 2004, but only on the understanding that the overall size of the Commission would be reduced following expansion of the Union to 27 members.  Even leaving aside the question of the effectiveness of the Commission, and of individual Commissioners, in an expanding Union It’s hard to see why they would willing to accept a situation where Malta would have the same right as Germany to nominate Commissioners on a permanent basis.  At the risk of – once again – giving hostages to fortune, I would guess that the reduction of the Commission is inevitable and the only remaining question is “If not Lisbon, how?”.

The question of the size of the Commission cannot be divorced from that other question which has emerged from the European Council meeting – future enlargement of the Union.  The position adopted by Sarkozy and Merkel – that no further enlargement can take place without the ratification of the Treaty – is quite revealing.  Both leaders are known sceptics of the entire enlargement agenda, and it will cause them no sleepless night if future enlargement is delayed.  However, the fact that they would use this issue as a lever with which to exert pressure on the Irish, points to how important enlargement is to many other Member States.  This is by no means simply about the Turkish question.  The country most immediately affected by any freezing of the process is Croatia, and the reaction of the Croatian President to the Irish result spoke volumes.  In the longer term, future enlargement encompassing the Western Balkan states is an inevitability.  Similarly, looking further afield, there is a strong push by many of the newer Member States to open up an accession perspective to Eastern European countries like Ukraine, Moldova and even Belarus (although in the latter case, an offer to even consider negotiations may well be a long time coming, given the situation in that country at present).  Whatever about accepting a 27-member Commission, it’s very difficult to see how all states could retain a Commissioner in a Union approaching forty members.

With that in mind, I’ll take another risk and hazard a guess that between the October and December European Councils, a number of institutional reforms envisaged by Lisbon will be introduced by the European Council – most likely the establishment of the semi-permanent President of the European Council and the amalgamation of the role of High Representative and External Relations Commissioner, along with the introduction of the required supporting bureaucracy (including the External Action Service), and perhaps the expansion of QMV to the areas included in the Treaty as well as the changes to the voting system itself.   While it might be best all round if these kinds of reforms were delayed until well into next year, it’s hard to imagine that Sarkozy would be happy for France’s term as EU Presidency to elapse without some legacy of significant institutional reform.  I’d also guess that the European Commission will be reduced in size in one form or another prior to any rerun of the Irish referendum, as there’s a real time pressure on that issue, given that the term of the present Commission expires mid-way through 2009. 

None of these ideas are going to strike as original anyone who’s been reading various opinion pieces over the past week.  One aspect which I haven’t seen dealt with in any depth, though (and I’m open to correction here) is how the various proposed solutions might be viewed domestically, particularly by the non-government parties who advocated a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum just past.  The institutional changes listed above would, most likely, not require a referendum under the terms of the Crotty judgement (although, that said, I don’t understand why the Attorney General’s office felt that anything in the Lisbon Treaty failed the Crotty test, so I may well be wrong on that point).  In certain cases, they might not even require parliamentary approval.   However, if the government was to push forward with those kinds of changes, would Fine Gael and Labour, in particular, be happy to go along with them in what might be termed a Tallaght Strategy for Europe.  Or, alternatively, would they see the political opportunity available to them in attacking the government for ignoring the will of the electorate, knowing full well that if they were in power they’d be doing exactly the same thing.  In the context of imminent local and European elections, the temptation might be too great.

And, finally, where would all this leave the Green Party in government?  The stance taken during the referendum was a reasonable one – no party position, individuals can campaign as they saw fit and let the people decide.  However, when it comes to agreeing to institutional changes to the European Union, a Government Decision of approval might well be required.  At that point, Gormley and Ryan would no longer be individual party members campaigning on a personal basis, but Cabinet Ministers with a responsibility to abide by Green Party policy.  What would Green policy be on circumventing the referendum result in this way?  Deirdre De Burca’s advocacy of an EU-wide referendum next year is not something likely to find favour around the European Council table and may well be the first small indication of serious differences within the coalition about the next steps.  Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting six months for EU hacks and nerds and someone’s going to be unhappy at the end of it.

Meanwhile… are Plaid the Clangers all grown up? June 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
4 comments

…In a good way, of course…

From one of Warp Records finest…

Coldplay and the Creaky Boards… a puzzle, and no mistake… June 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
10 comments

News reached the Lounge this week (hmmm… not sure I like that. Might have to think about it a bit before using the phrase again) of a disagreement between near to unknown alternative US band The Creaky Boards and musical – ahem – titans, Coldplay. Apparently the ‘Boards thought that the globally – ahem cubed – ‘popular’… Coldplay ‘hit’ Viva la Vida bore an uncanny resemblance to their own magnum opus The Songs I Didn’t Write.

Here is a piece on YouTube that compares and contrasts the two for your consideration…

Now there’s a thin line between similar and identical and I don’t think the song crosses it (and I’m no fan of Coldplay – Jesus, the bloody piano arpeggios… on and on and on). As it happens the Boards have since retracted the charge against the tediously middle of the road behemoth.

And I can understand their upset, that a melody so obvious, so over-used might potentially be ‘appropriated’ by of all people those masters of the bland and innocuous, Coldplay. But what I find puzzling is why the somewhat more than unknown, but probably not in a career changing way, ‘Boards would want to draw attention to it? 😉

A week… a full extra week! A grateful nation looks towards a (very slightly) longer Dáil session before the Summer. June 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
9 comments

After all this euro-excitement, and I have to be honest – politically this is a blast, at the risk of being a tad parochial it’s highly entertaining to see that the Dáil will now sit for one extra week this Summer. Cue despond in the Oireachtas. But it’s not all fun and games, because this entirely tokenistic gesture was not appreciated by the opposition. Not one bit.

Tuesday saw a debate commence on the issue and a bad-tempered, albeit hilarious, one it was. As the Irish Times reported:

In a private members’ motion, Eamon Gilmore called for the Dáil to sit towards the end of July and to return in early September, rather than to “up sticks in the second week of July and not do any public business until the end of September”… and angrily dismissed a Government plan for the Dáil to sit for one extra week, in response to his party’s insistence that it was “unthinkable” for the House to adjourn for three months over the summer.

We are told that Gilmore:

A persistent critic of the long Dáil adjournments in the summer and at Christmas, … said “the message we need going out from here is not that deputies are on holidays, but that the country faces serious problems and leave is cancelled”.

He said the economy was heading for recession and in the wake of the referendum rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland was “now probably facing the biggest diplomatic challenge since the second World War”.

He has a point. And not least when he provided the following data:

I know every year there is a discussion about the summer recess and, to a certain extent, the general arguments are well rehearsed. The Labour Party has consistently argued for a lengthening of the Dáil’s sitting year, one of the shortest in any parliament. The last year for which comparable figures are available is 2005 when Dáil Éireann sat for 92 days; the House of Commons for 133 days; the US Senate, 159 days; the US Houses of Representatives, 140 days, and the Chamber of Deputies in Italy, 159 days. Against this, the argument is made that no Deputy takes a holiday but works in his or her constituency while the work of the important Oireachtas committees continues until the end of July. I accept this is true. Any Deputy who takes a three-month holiday is unlikely to remain a Deputy for long, particularly in the highly competitive electoral environment in which we all must survive. However, the long summer recesses taken by the House invite a public odium on the way in which it does its business. Apart from the public odium it attracts, this year, more than any other, there is an unanswerable case for keeping the House in session and conducting the business of the Government in public. The message from the House must be that Deputies are not going on holiday because matters are serious and leave is cancelled.

This is the sovereign parliament that is at the heart of our state?

Still, the new realpolitic rules, as in the following:

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: I welcome the Labour Party’s motion in so far as it draws attention to some of the issues the country faces. There is a duty on the Opposition to propose as well as oppose.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: We are proposing.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: Reading through the motion, I see scant evidence of any clear direction for the country. I see concern about unemployment, the high price of diesel and inflation which is more or less the same as the kind of conversation one would have in the pub on a Friday night. There is, however, a need for the Labour Party to put forward its alternative vision of how this country should operate in difficult economic times.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: We are doing that.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: I do not see evidence of that in the motion.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The Deputy should read it.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: I read it several times.

I am glad to see the Green Party’s commitment to an increase in Dáil sitting times come through the House today. The Dáil will sit for an extra week in July to discuss the results of the Lisbon referendum and the prevailing economic situation. That is movement in the right direction. If we were to propose sitting for several more weeks into July, there would be discomfort on the Opposition benches.

Deputy Liz McManus: The Deputy should try us.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The Deputy should support our motion.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: In previous times there was chatter about a wish to sit longer but Deputies opposite should not go too far.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: That was among the Deputy’s own people.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe: The issues outlined in the motion are important and they require a strong hand on the tiller in a time of crisis. I am bewildered that Deputy Ó Caoláin believes the result of the Lisbon referendum has absolutely no bearing on a clear direction for the State of Ireland ship. If one reads any of the international press over the past few days, one will see that the indecision arising from the Irish result feeds into a significant difficulty for Ireland in Europe and on the world stage. What is needed is clear direction, particularly in times of economic difficulty.

The Opposition motion suggests nothing has changed and that there has been no response to some of the issues. …

The Government’s response to the Labour Party motion has been carefully considered. It is much more important to propose rather than oppose and wring one’s hands at the state of the economy.

Or as the Irish Times put it:

He added that “if we were to sit for several weeks further in July there would be discomfort on the Opposition benches”. There had always been a public call from the Opposition for the Dáil to sit longer, “but background whispers of ‘c’mon lads don’t go too far’.”

Which, while entirely correct, sort of misses the point. Surely if something is worth doing it is worth doing on its own terms, not because or in spite of a response from others. And a week doesn’t seem to really cut it as far as a serious effort at increasing sitting times. It is, admittedly some progress, just… it’s not very much and not near enough.

Oddly Leo Varadkar made a good point:

I support the Labour Party’s proposed sitting hours. We do not need to sit until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. each night. We could finish early. Most people finish work at a reasonable time like 6 p.m. We could do that. It is very difficult for women with families to participate in politics because they are unfairly expected to be here until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. – or 10 p.m., as it is tonight. Such sitting hours remain from the old days of gentlemen politicians or barristers who spent the day in the Law Library before coming here to talk about the grave issues of the day. Rather than having 12-hour and 15-hour sessions, why not have an eight-hour or nine-hour day, like most people? Such shorter sitting days should be spread more evenly throughout the year. We should have proper committee weeks in which committees sit but the House does not meet in plenary session. Members are aware of the rushed 90-minute committee meetings we have at present. If somebody calls a vote in the Dáil, committee meetings have to be suspended and everybody has to run to the Chamber to vote. That is no way to do business. We could have the same number of sitting weeks, as well as distinct committee weeks. We could also have party weeks. If Members do not want to be here for party political weeks, they will not have to be. Such weeks should be provided for. Political parties have very little time to meet and discuss strategies and policies. Today’s meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party took place at 5.30 p.m., at the same time as a debate in this Chamber. The meeting had to break up when a vote was called here. We do not get any credit for the crazy workaholic 13-hour days we work. The work of Parliament should be done in eight-hour days which are spread over a longer period of time. That is what is done in other countries.

It has to be said that the Oireachtas hours do seem to be hangover from a different more… well, patriarchal time, and there is a sense to me at least that the extended hours are in some quarters seen as a badge of honour rather than as an arguably dysfunctional means of running a democracy.

The debate dipped into some entertaining territory the following day. So it was we were treated to the unexpected sight of….

MJ Nolan (FF, Carlow- Kilkenny) [who] suggested there was a need to “change the way we do our business in this House”.

He said:

Many times Deputies on this side of the House stand up to vehemently oppose the Opposition motion but on this occasion I see merit in it. Since I was first elected to the Dáil in 1982 I have questioned the length of holidays which the House takes each year. It is difficult to explain ourselves to the public. However, it is important to put on the record of the House that when Members opposite are in Government they also take the same line and the House goes into recess for three months.

We are in changing times and it may be time for some Government to change the way we do our business. The result of last week’s referendum is a salutary lesson for us all. The three main political parties took a decision to go one way and the public, as is their right, decided it is time to teach us all a lesson.

But lest that example of nascent glasnost seem to be a straw in a slightly promising wind, think again:

…Minister of State for Finance Martin Mansergh said “we do have a lot of work to do all year round, bar short breaks which we like everybody else are entitled to and I don’t think we should apologise about the way we do our business”.

Some newspapers in order to boost their circulation would be trying to have some fun at the expense of members of the House. “We should stand up for ourselves and not cower before cartoons and cheap comments,” he said.

Which again, rather brilliantly – and note in passing the evident benefits of an Oxbridge education as an aid to debating tactics – evades the issue.

He rejected comparisons with the legislatures of much larger countries and administrations, which were of “limited validity”.

Why? Because they deal with matters of greater or lesser import? We are not told what yardstick he uses to arrive at that conclusion. But…

Yesterday, Deputy Gilmore referred to odium while another Opposition Deputy mentioned public relations. These are points one must take seriously in light of events last week. At the same time, if one analyses the word “odium”, it means that some newspapers, in order to boost their circulations, will try to have some fun, yet again, at the expense of Members of this House. We should stand up for ourselves and not cower before cartoons and cheap comments. If one applied the same criteria to some of the people who write these things, I dare say we would not have too much difficulty justifying our work rate. We have a lot of work to do all year round, bar short breaks to which we, like everybody else, are entitled. I do not think we should apologise for the way we do our business.

And…

The lengths of breaks have been significantly shortened compared to what they were in the 1980s. The practice of the rainbow Coalition was the same as its successors.

Hmmm… seems to me that pointing an accusing finger at the complicity of a ‘rainbow’ government now out of office for over a decade is bit weak… but great minds, etc, etc.

Seán Sherlock (Lab, Cork East) said when he was elected last year he expected that “one would be up to one’s oxters in legislation but the opposite was the case”.

Well, perhaps that’s the fault – or benefit – of the euro-legislation, or maybe it’s not. In either case he should be taking a closer look…

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore sharply criticised the Green Party who claimed credit for three additional sitting days, agreed by Government following the Labour motion.

He said: “It certainly falls well below what they promised in their manifesto. That contained a commitment to doubling the number of sitting days, which would have brought us to around 180 days. At this rate of progress – three extra days every year – the Green commitment will be met in or around 2038.”

Why yes. Which is sort of funny when one reads the following piece by Oisin Coghlan of Friends of the Earth from earlier in the year…

…the Government has committed itself to reducing overall [carbon] emissions by 3 per cent a year. Bear in mind that emissions from transport rose by 152 per cent between 1990 and 2005, and are projected to reach 265 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 unless we act now to cut them. This at a time when the EU is proposing that we cut our emissions by 20-30 per cent by 2020.

I’d hazard a guess that at this rate we might see those figures finally dip down to acceptable levels – oh, probably around 2038… Seems to be a trend…

*****

Meanwhile, two useful pieces on the Lisbon Treaty fall-out from a variety of perspectives… here and here … …

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