00:00 Saturday 20 October 2007  Written by Editor

Wrong decision on EU ?

IF the government's continued stonewalling on the need for a Dail debate on immigration, was criticised in our first editorial, there is another important subject where the same complaint applies and that is apropos its decision last week to accept an opt-out, along with the UK, from justice provisions of the new European Reform Treaty.

European Union constitutional issues are extremely complex but many decisions are taken over the heads of national populations who not only are not consulted or informed but individual parliaments also go ahead without conducting proper debates. This is true apropos last week's Irish government decision not to hold a Dail debate, the incongruity of which was highlighted by a direct clash on the issue between Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern and his own Minister of State for European Affairs Dick Roche.

Minister Roche publicly urged his Cabinet colleagues not to 'slavishly follow the British' and opt out of the justice and home affairs aspects but he was overruled and, then, on Saturday's 'Irish Times', Minister Ahern produced a rebuttal by contending that we are not, in fact, 'slavishly following the British.'

Both ministers, in a way, are correct. Ireland is 'slavishly following the British' in the sense that by opting out, it may serve, partially, to wrongfoot the 'No' campaign at next year's Treaty referendum and this merely assists to assuage the British guilt complex about itself not holding its promised referendum at all. The Irish opt out, however, is different from the British in that our government is not associated with a British protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights but, against that, our decision to opt out, on 'a case by case basis' on criminal law and police co-operation is heavily criticised because of its effect in undermining Irish influence in the developing EU mainstream.

So, does Ireland compromise itself by getting associated with the negative Eurosceptic British attitude and what advantage could possibly accrue ? The strongly expressed Fine Gael view is that we should not closely associate with the anti-EU British and, as regards terrorism and drug-trafficking, for example, it is clear that the more joint police co-operation that can be effected throughout the continent, the better for the safety and welfare of all EU citizens.

The Reform Treaty is also expected to introduce more majority voting on such issues and the view is that Ireland should participate in such processes to protect the interests of individual small nations. It is here that the British have raised a worrying objection in that, under what was called the 'double lock' of the majority voting system, no area of government could be transferred from the competence of individual member states to the competence of the Union without a formal amending Treaty.

The EU Constitutional Treaty, a British view claims, proposes to abolish this safeguard and thus, the so-called 'passarelle clause' is contained unaltered in the European Union Reform Treaty, now expected to be carried without a referendum in Britain. Nigel Lawson, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, has described this as a 'massive and irrevocable erosion of the authority of individual countries' and condemned the House of Commons' apparent willingness to approve it as 'spineless.'

Ireland could not certainly approve such a total abrogation of its authority but again, what is the point in a supposed majority voting safeguard if it were destroyed in this apparently covert and stealthy fashion. No Irish politician, seemingly, has raised the passarelle clause issue so if, for, example, the area of taxation were summarily removed from the competence of individual nations, what chaos would ensure ?

Minister Ahern, in his Irish Times article, contended that 'we have examined all such issues with great care' but if, apparently, not having heard of Nigel Lawson's reservations, what can one say about his Department of Foreign Affairs mandarins ? A bungling arrogance is nothing new apropos almost every area of Fianna Fail-led government administration and yet, ministers plough ahead in such important areas without even accepting the need for a Dail debate. Our Houses of the Oireachtas chambers are invariably empty anyway, even after extended four months' holidays, so does government proceed on the British Labour Party line that there are matters 'too dangerous for ordinary people to know'?

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