Statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, T.D. during the Seánad debate on Oireachtas Scrutiny
Speaking during today's debate, the Minister addressed the issue of the forthcoming referendum on the treaty of Nice:
“I would like to use the opportunity of this Debate to comment on the next three final days of the Nice Treaty Referendum campaign. The Government has set out the many positive reasons why we are asking for a resounding Yes Vote for this important EU Treaty of Enlargement.
All Europeans look expectantly to the Irish electorate in the hope that we will confirm for them the view that the Irish are a generous people prepared to now make room for the applicant States in the EU in the same way as room was made for us in 1973 to join the then EEC as equal partners with the other Member States.
I do not for a moment believe that we are a people who, having benefited so much from EU membership, are about to deny the same potential benefits of membership to others.
There is a coincidence of interests involved in Ireland voting Yes for the ratification of the Treaty. It is in our own interests to allow negotiations with the ten applicant States now deemed eligible by the EU to be ready to conclude their negotiations for full membership within the timescale envisaged, i.e. by the end of this year.
We have an internationalised, open and competitive economy which depends for its continued growth on access to markets where we can sell our goods and services. Our economic history confirms that restricted markets in the past meant a restricted number of jobs fuelled by the historical legacy of structural unemployment, underinvestment and mass immigration. Membership of the EU has provided for us the initial and necessary gateway to opportunity and national progress on an unprecedented scale. The EU has been the means by which we found a meaningful way to realise our ambitions as a people. It broadened our horizons not just economically. It also helped engender a sense of self-belief in our ability to manage our affairs with a real prospect of social as well as economic progress.
The real political context in which the arguments about the merits of this Treaty is that on the basis of the indisputable benefits that have accrued to Ireland from our engagement and participation in the EU as a full and active Member State, are we now going to deny to the ten applicant countries that same prospect of prosperity, stability and security which they are asking us to provide by voting Yes in this Referendum?
Are we going to now show a commitment to the Enlargement process by ratifying the only available agreed legal basis by which those countries can become full EU Members after successfully concluding their negotiations?
Are we ready now as people to take advantage of facilitating the successful conclusion of this historical political process in terms of our future relations with the Member States of the EU from which we can only derive further benefits?
Or are we going to set our face against the Enlargement Process and by voting No create a huge dilemma by creating a degree of political and legal uncertainty as to how the enlargement then proceeds with all the risks and downsides for Ireland that will be a consequence of a No vote? And do so in the sure knowledge that it will delay the enlargement for an indefinite period until an as still unknown solution is found with all the very negative and adverse political consequences that will undoubtedly flow in respect of how Ireland's commitment to Europe is viewed not only by the applicant States but by the existing members as well.
Making the wrong choice for all the wrong reasons would be a very serious national setback in my view. It would be at variance with the whole strategic direction our country must take in an increasingly interdependent and globalising world where our influence for good is best achieved by pursuing common policies for common objectives with like minded States committed to peaceful co-existence and mutual co-operation on a scale and covering a comprehensive agenda unparalleled, in terms of modern governance among a community of nation states, anywhere else in the world.
If we are serious, and I believe we are, in seeking to use our influence for good on the major issues in our world, all of the empirical evidence confirms that we can best do that with other democratic states in this EU of common values.
The reality is that the time has come for us to show that we are prepared to give something back. Without being asked to disregard any of our own essential interests, Ireland is being asked to allow the applicants, to seek to shape their political destiny in an EU of partnership, mutual respect and solidarity. That solidarity shown to us is further exemplified by the fact that the EU totally respects our position of military neutrality, a position that will be copper-fastened by a Yes Vote which would see it being inserted into our own Constitution for the first time.
And finally can I say what I think should motivate our people as they consider this decision next Saturday.
We have seen this week in Ireland the importance of maintaining the momentum behind our own peace process. The EU has provided consistent political as well as financial support totalling some 1.3 billion on cross-border PEACE and INTERREG Programmes as a measure of the practical help the EU provides for communities in need there, with all the employment spin-offs that such major resources signify.
We have rightly seen those committed to the Agreement stress the absolute importance of not unpicking the agreement. They recognise that this Agreement was hammered out between the parties and the two governments after full discussion and analysis of all the issues. Compromises were made to bring about the Agreement. It represents the finely-balanced agreed positions of all the parties and the principles that inform it are partnership, inclusivity, equality and a recognition that all pursue their own legitimate and differing ultimate objectives by working together to implement the agreement. The Agreement's supporters refute the rejectionist agenda.
And yet there are those of the ‘NO' campaign in this Referendum who take a totally different tack when it comes to the Nice Treaty - in effect Europe's Agreement on Enlargement.
While they solemnly declare that Ireland's Agreement - the Good Friday Agreement - must be implemented in full and not be selectively picked at - the very opposite argument is used by them in relation to Nice.
The Nice Treaty is the hard-won political compromise by 15 Member State Governments. It too comes as a package. The greater good is shared by its full implementation rather than concentrating on those individual aspects the people may have a reservation about. No concern outweighs the importance of facilitating enlargement as agreed by the existing EU and the applicant States. The Nice Treaty provides the only mechanism in political and legal terms to facilitate that now. Let us grasp the opportunity. And just as we disagree with rejectionists in relation to Ireland's Agreement, let us be consistent and also refuse to listen to the rejectionists of the Nice Treaty - Europe's Agreement on Enlargement.
If we favour enlargement - and we do - then let us logically vote for the only agreed basis by which it can happen - the Nice Treaty. There is absolutely no reason to believe that another Treaty would provide us with better terms.
Indeed, all predictions are to the contrary.
To those little Irelanders who regard the sovereignty as something to be stored away like a national treasure in a Museum or indeed for those thankfully in a tiny minority who think it resides in illegal arms dumps, let me say that I am proud to be a constitutionalist that has seen those of our tradition who under proper and democratic authority have used our sovereignty intelligently with others to bring about a situation where we are the first generation since independence with every prospect of being educated working and living in our own community without losing half our generation to foreign shores because of a proven lack of opportunity here.
Now, from this strong position with a proven ability to compete amongst the best the world can offer, are we going to recoil from the possibilities, shirk our responsibilities and allow ourselves to be mistakenly portrayed because of hesitation or doubt?
Let us enthusiastically embrace the historic moment this Referendum decision presents for us. Let us vote Yes to the consolidation of democracy in Europe, Yes to Ireland's full active and committed participation in the enlarged European Union. And Yes by Ireland in welcoming the ten applicants to a Union, committed to the right of all present and future Member States to pursue their nations's interests democratically, peacefully and co-operatively.