Address by Minister Martin at a joint meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs (JCEA) and the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny (JCES)
I very much welcome the opportunity to meet today with members of the two Committees. I am conscious that both Committees engaged strongly and constructively on the Lisbon Treaty and during the referendum campaign. Your role, and the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas, will be even more important in the period that lies ahead of us.
I am here to listen to your impressions of the referendum campaign
and to discuss how we can all move forward together.
There is no doubt that the outcome of the referendum gives rise to very serious questions for us.
Looking back at the referendum, in which the main parties in the Oireachtas campaigned strongly for a Yes vote, our first and most fundamental conclusion is that the democratic verdict of the people must be respected.
This has been the guiding principle behind everything the Government has said and done since the result became known. There have been suggestions to the contrary from some of those who opposed the Treaty, particularly regarding our approach at the European Council and its outcome.
These suggestions are wrong.
Those who would want the Government to adopt a purely negative posture have no contribution to make to the essential task of finding a shared solution to the current situation.
It has never been our practice within the EU to adopt a stubbornly negative stance. We have always tried to be pragmatic, constructive and solution-driven.
There is no reason to depart from these positive principles in the
wake of our recent referendum. We should have trust in the
Union’s ability to find solutions and in our ability to contribute
actively and constructively to that effort.
At the European Council the Taoiseach gave his counterparts an honest and forthright appraisal of the situation.
This was appreciated by his colleagues. He underlined the fact that the will of the people is sovereign; that the Irish people have spoken at the ballot box; and that the Government accepts the verdict.
He explained that we now need to engage in serious and careful analysis of the outcome of the referendum and its implications. He also said that he believed it would be counterproductive to any potential way forward for the European Council to pre-determine a precise timeframe for such a process.
He indicated that he would be happy to brief his counterparts on the progress being made when they next meet at the European Council in October.
The collective view of the European Council was that this approach is a sensible one. This is reflected in the European Council Conclusions which are publicly available. It is an outcome which we believe is fair and with which we are very satisfied.
Just as we respect the ratification processes of other Member States, there is full recognition of the Irish position. Contrary to what some Treaty opponents here in Ireland would have us believe, there was no apology from Ireland – and none was requested.
There was no brow-beating or threats. To characterise it as such – as some here at home have done – does not serve our national interests as we strive to address the complex and challenging situation that exists in the aftermath of the referendum.
At the European Council, there was a recognition of the need to reconcile the concerns of the Irish people with the desire to advance a process of EU reform which has been in preparation for many years. This poses a genuine dilemma for the Member States.
The Lisbon Treaty is the result of a process to which the Member
States have devoted considerable energy and on which they have made
serious compromises and concessions in the search for a balanced
outcome for all.
Many made it clear that they have no wish to revisit the text of the Treaty, given that it contains such delicately balanced compromises.
Twenty Member States have completed their parliamentary processes and others intend to proceed with their own ratification processes over the coming months.
There was unanimous agreement that it is in the interests of Ireland and of Europe that we all find an acceptable way forward. We have already started this effort and I see our meeting here today to be very much part of it.
The reasons behind the No vote were many and varied, and it is clear that some of the fears stirred up by the No campaigners had absolutely no basis in the text of the Lisbon Treaty.
Issues that gave rise to difficulties during the campaign
o the complexity of the text which facilitated those who sought to misrepresent its contents;
o the perceived loss of Irish influence within the EU institutions;
o defence issues and
o social/moral questions;
Some of the polling analysis that was undertaken immediately after the referendum gave considerable food for thought, even if much of it also emerged directly into our view during the campaign.
The persistent sense that the EU does not resonate or connect with
citizens in the Member States was evident. Indeed, it is not
necessary to engage in scientific polling to be aware of
During the campaign, I personally encountered evidence of a disconnect that people feel about the EU. This disconnect exists here in spite of our highly positive appreciation of the Union and its benefits for Ireland.
Part of this problem derives from the excessive concentration on how the EU does things instead of the things it does. The Union needs to continue proving its worth by its deeds and by delivering, and being seen to deliver, appreciable added value.
There is a very clear need to engage young people on the principles, values and goals of the EU – and by extension to explain the positive role that the EU can and does play in their lives.
The results of the European Commission’s most recent Eurobarometer survey show that general Irish public support for the EU is amongst the highest - and in some cases is the highest – in the Union. The challenge we all face is to translate this general attitude into something more concrete.
We need to get to the bottom of this paradox and draw the necessary lessons from it.
In the wake of the referendum, our strategy is to conduct a thorough analysis of the result and to use this as a platform from which to devise a national way forward that can be accepted by all Member States.
We do not underestimate the difficulties this will pose, but we are determined to spare no effort in our search for a solution.
As we made clear at the European Council, we will need time to complete our reflection and to undertake the necessary consultations with other Member States.
It is far too early to draw any conclusions at this stage. However, we are adopting a solution-driven approach and are aware of the urgency surrounding the Treaty reform process.
We have no desire to delay the Union’s progress, but we need to take the time necessary to find the right solution for Ireland and for the Union as a whole.
As part of our analysis of the outcome of the referendum, the Government is commissioning a significant research project.
Its objective will be to clarify the reasons why people voted the way they did and to provide deeper insight into public attitudes towards the Union. This will represent an important initial step in identifying a way forward.
The survey should not be seen as an end in itself. It will be one part of the consultations we all need to undertake in the coming period. However, it should not be mistaken for the wider process that is needed.
The survey will be carried out completely independently by experts in the research and analysis field.
It is intended that the results of the project will be available by early Autumn.
I believe there is wide recognition across the Europe that there is an urgent need to make clearer the Union’s relevance to the citizen. The Union is both important and positive for Europe and for Ireland.
In an increasingly globalised world it provides small countries like Ireland with a range of opportunities which otherwise would not be open to us.
However, let’s face it, the positive message has not had the impact it deserves.
For example, there has been little attention paid to the 10th anniversary of Economic and Monetary Union, which has been a phenomenal achievement.
I hate to think what additional problems the current international financial turmoil might have created for us in the absence of the stability provided by our membership of the euro.
In some instances, positive EU angles have been overwhelmed by competing messages that engender fear or uncertainty.
On other occasions, the Union and the Member States simply have to
do better, both in terms of what we do together and how we
communicate our shared European
The best way to connect citizens with the Union is to continue to deliver concrete results in areas of genuine public concern.
Whether it be the reduction of mobile phone roaming charges; the creation of the single euro payments area, which allows companies to make and receive cross-border transfers on the same terms as domestic transactions; or financially underwriting mass campaigns against animal disease, the Union has shown that it can get things done that have real meaning for real people.
The launch on Tuesday of the European Commission’s Social Agenda
document gives all of us an opportunity to addresses a wide range
of social policy areas from the labour market to health, equality
and social cohesion.
It will, I hope, enable us to build on the huge social policy improvements – including gender equality, developing social dialogue or improving working conditions – for which the Union has been a catalyst.
I recall that in the Dáil on the fourth of June we held a debate on the special report by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny on the enhanced role for national parliaments provided for in the Lisbon Treaty.
There was wide and deserved recognition of the quality of the report for which Deputy Perry deserves particular thanks.
The report clearly identified the need to establish EU business as part of the regular routine of both Houses of the Oireachtas, something which I have already made clear has my full support.
As part of the detailed analysis of the outcome of the referendum and its implications I believe that the Houses of the Oireachtas must be fully engaged in the search for an agreed way forward.
What we need to arrive at is a solution which will consolidate Ireland’s position at the heart of an effective and dynamic European Union, one that can continue to serve the needs and interests of our people in the years ahead.
I have no doubt that the relevant Joint Committees will have an important role to play in exploring the issues that arose during the referendum campaign and their implications for the future.
I began today by speaking about the outcome of the recent European Council. In the difficult circumstances which we collectively faced when we met in Brussels the Union demonstrated its strengths to anyone who cared to listen.
The Member States and the Presidents of the European Parliament and the European Commission showed once again that the Union is determined to address problems through discussion and debate.
We should not underestimate the size and complexity of the challenge facing Ireland and the Union. This is not a one-way street. It is a 27-way street.
Slogans about better deals and easily achievable renegotiations are not credible. They never were.
The Government’s main task now is to manage the situation that has arisen as a consequence of the result of the referendum. This situation has domestic, national aspects. Equally, it involves the 26 Member States who have to be treated as partners.
I have no wish to see Ireland isolated and I know that our partners at one with us on this.
The EU will continue to provide an indispensable framework within which to pursue our national interests and to deal with the implications of a changing global economic and political environment. The EU’s success and stability will, therefore, continue to be a critical factor in Ireland’s economic and social development.
The Government’s commitment to Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe is not an abstract one. The Union has been a powerful force for good for Ireland and for our European neighbours. We want to see this continue and I believe that the Irish people share this ambition.
In order to do so, we will need to conduct a very careful and honest analysis of why the electorate voted the way they did on 12 June.
In charting a way forward, we will need to demonstrate attributes which are often associated with the Irish people: self-awareness; realism and enlightened self interest.
It is vital for our future that we strike the right balance and
find the best way forward for Ireland. We face a challenge of
major proportions in the period ahead. I am confident that
the collective political wisdom of the Oireachtas will enable us to
rise to this challenge with energy and imagination, and that this
will produce the desired result.
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