Treaty of Nice: Opening Statement by Minister Cowen in Seanad Debate, 3 May 2001 Extract 2
The claim that we are departing from our foreign policy tradition overlooks the fact that we have negotiated a position where we will participate on a case by case basis, subject to a sovereign decision of the Government in each case which will require the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas under the Defence Acts. Those Acts state that we will not get involved in such operations unless there is a prior UN mandate. Where is the beef in that argument? The people who pursue this line of argument in attacking and undermining our national interest by trying to get people to vote "No" to this treaty have sought at every stage since we became members of the European Union to opt out of the integration of the European economy and European institutions. However, we can do more in common than we can do by ourselves in the global world in which we live. Do we believe we will have a greater voice in the international arena by, ostrich-like, opting out of these obligations rather than shaping policy in a way which is consistent with our foreign policy traditions?
There is in all the European Union treaties, including Article 17 of this treaty, a recognition that the UN has a primary role in the maintenance of international peace and security. Those in the "No" campaign seem to be blissfully unaware or else they are mischievously omitting to mention that the UN peacekeeping operation is moving on. It is important in terms of the security of people who are working under the UN mandate that they have proper capability and professional preparation. We do not want to see the debacles which happened in West Timor and Liberia, for example, where UN troops were taken hostage by some of the factions involved because of the lack of preparation and logistical and up-to-date equipment required to do a job that is more dangerous and difficult than in the past. It is important to be part of this operation even from the point of view of protecting our soldiers. We must ensure we are knowledgeable and that our people are well equipped and trained under the auspices of the EU as it develops its defence and security policy into the future.
Are the people who say "No" also blissfully unaware that the UN is increasingly calling on regional organisations to take on these responsibilities on behalf of the UN with a mandate from the UN? That is another trend in global peacekeeping. They continue to trot out nonsense about a European army. Deputy Joe Higgins suggested that if it looks like an elephant, it is an elephant. However, it is not if one has bad eyesight. Is anyone seriously suggesting that Kofi Annan is in charge of a UN army of 147,500 soldiers from 88 countries? That is the standby system available if the UN requires to choose from those people who are available or qualified to take on any mission in the world. There is no such thing as a standing UN army.
By the same logic, without language losing its meaning, there is no European army. A capability is being determined by the European Union as to what is available in the event of a crisis or a humanitarian situation which must be addressed. We do not want to find ourselves in the position in which we found ourselves when, as people streamed out of Kosovo, some of the richest countries in the world did not have the capability or the preparations made to assist impoverished neighbours, such as Macedonia, Albania and others, to deal with that humanitarian crisis. The "No" people would want the television cameras to go there but they would not want anyone there who could help. They would want us to have bleeding hearts but not to help these people. They would want to take the high moral ground and talk about it, which they are good at. Deputy Gormley spoke for a half an hour on Committee Stage yesterday and I got three minutes to respond. That is what happens when one is a member of a big party. The smaller the party, the more time it gets.
I respect different voices and opinions on this matter. However, if we are to have a debate, it should be a real debate about real issues, not a manifestation of a doomsday scenario which has formed the basis of these arguments for long enough. I question the credibility of people who say we should listen to that line of argument. When a former esteemed Member of the other House, Mr. Garland, spoke on the Maastricht Treaty, he said emigration would return and there would be famine. It is hard to believe, but Members can read the record. These are the same people who say that if we accept this treaty we will have a European army. An MEP from the Green Party went unchallenged on a national radio programme two days ago when she said that if people vote "Yes", they will be voting to join an arrangement which will have a nuclear capability. The suggestion was made that we would use nuclear weapons in a humanitarian or crisis management situation. That is ludicrous.
I do not wish to be unduly dismissive or disrespectful, but if we are to have a debate we cannot trot out these lines of argument which do not have a basis in this treaty or in the plans for a European defence and security policy and which were not part of the treaty negotiations. It was suggested that neutrality means Ireland should be neutered and should not play a role in international peacekeeping. As members of the UN, that has not been the policy of any Government of which I am aware. The Governments of Frank Aiken, Eamon de Valera, Liam Cosgrave or John A. Costello did not suggest that we would not play a role in the maintenance of international peace and security.
Do people think nothing will happen or that we are not able to do anything? These are dangerous situations which require much planning and professionalism. The Army is ready and able. Its members have given their lives in the interests of maintaining international peace and security. We want to maintain that in Europe as we have done elsewhere.
I come now to the other element of the "No" lobby, Sinn Féin. I said yesterday when I was asked why I would not take on board a Private Members' Bill by Deputy Ó Caoláin which seeks to institutionalise neutrality in our Constitution that I was not inclined to take advice from that quarter about where the true Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Army, will serve in maintaining peace and security in the world. I also hear from that quarter that this involves the militarisation of the European Union. I would welcome very much anything that we can do to reduce militarisation in this country. Let us preach at home what we want others to practise abroad. We need to add reality to the argument.
There is an element of the "No" campaign which has what I would regard as a very skewed view of neutrality, but, at least, it is sincerely held. I also detect political opportunism in the "No" campaign. It is taking the opportunity afforded by the McKenna judgment to secure significant air time for minority views and trying to peddle a political line that will attract public attention and, perhaps, it hopes, support in future elections. I say that openly because it is what I believe; I call it political opportunism. I will not be dictated to from that quarter as to how a democratically elected Government should proceed to ensure our foreign policy traditions are maintained in the international security sphere and that we play our full role in the European Union given that it has opposed our membership from the beginning. I will demand consistency and a track record in this regard before calling on the people to buy into that argument.
We openly and enthusiastically go to the people to receive their mandate in the matter. I hope we will get them to realise how important it is that the generosity for which we are known is demonstrated in a practical way by using our hard won vote to allow others, who fought hard to win their vote, the same chance that was so generously and appropriately given to us 30 years ago. They will then be able to pursue their destiny as democratic societies emerging from totalitarian nightmares of the previous half century. When the matter is put to the people in this way, they will vote yes in great numbers. They will not be distracted by the issues being raised in an attempt to put a contrary view. These are proxy arguments for very skewed notions of our neutrality and anti-EU sentiment, the kind of political thinking which has been the consistent approach of some of the parties concerned for over 30 years.
If the treaty only required parliamentary approval, as is the case in the other 14 member states, the vast majority of Members of both Houses would be supporting it. It behoves us, as public representatives, to make sure that this is reflected in the vote of the people whose sovereign will will decide whether the Treaty of Nice will be part of our law and facilitate enlargement of the European Union.
The House will agree with me that it is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the issues with which we are concerned in the Bill. Nothing less than the future political configuration of the continent is at issue. In all previous referenda the people have reiterated their commitment to the European project and Ireland's place at the forefront of the European Union. On this occasion, as the only country in the European Union to decide by referendum, they will, in a sense, be voting not just for themselves, but also on behalf of our fellow Europeans who aspire to join the Union. I have no doubt that this discussion in the Seanad, a body rightly renowned for the quality of its discourse on issues of major national importance, will contribute to a constructive national debate on the real issues involved. On that basis I am confident that the House will facilitate, and the people endorse, a positive result in the forthcoming referendum.Top