Changed world needs new attitude to treaty


OPINION:Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin are simply wrong in their claims about the Oireachtas committee on Europe, writes Paschal Donohoe

THE OPENING words of the recent Oireachtas report on Ireland's Future in the European Unionset out clearly the foundation for future discussion on Ireland's relationship with Europe. The report notes that "The challenge is to recognise, respect and act upon the wishes of the Irish people while keeping Ireland at the heart of Europe."

However, Mary Lou McDonald wrote on these pages ( Renegotiate Lisbon instead of rerunning it;Opinion and Analysis, December 2nd), that our work was playing a role in "trying to find a way to get around this democratic decision".

This is just plain wrong. McDonald's contribution mostly focused on how the Oireachtas subcommittee on Ireland's future worked. I will address the incorrect claims that were made about how the work of this committee was conducted.

However, the conclusions of our report and its recommendations are more important. That these conclusions were hardly acknowledged by Sinn Féin is telling.

Those who voted No in the Lisbon referendum did so because they considered it to be in the best interests of their communities and country.

We must now speak to those convictions and deliver a new argument and a changed relationship with Europe.

Firstly, our report clearly concluded that Ireland has prospered because of our position at the heart of Europe. This position at the centre of Europe did not happen by chance.

It happened because successive politicians from all parties and our best and most capable public servants worked to get Ireland to the centre of the European Union.

Secondly, this position is now threatened. Our national interest could be gravely damaged. This statement is not an attempt to bully or worry anyone. It is simply a fact. Some of the most important sections of the report address and explain this fact in detail.

The subcommittee analysed how the world has changed. The governments of the European Union have decided they need a way to work more efficiently together.

The Lisbon Treaty represented their agreed way of doing this. Recent changes in the world economy and the actions of other countries have dramatically increased the political urgency to find better ways for European countries to work together.

This opens the prospect of other members of the EU moving ahead with new ways of working together that exclude Ireland. Our report concludes that "Such a scenario would have a devastating effect on Ireland's political influence, economic prospects and international standing."

Again, this is not an attempt to bully or frighten any voter. It is simply to conclude that Ireland's fate is not always in our own control. The actions of our country have consequences for others, and they may act on them. This is not scaremongering, but a potential reality expressed to the subcommittee by experienced experts.

These conclusions were reached in a transparent and open manner. Contrary to McDonald's claim, all the subcommittee's hearings were held in public. The only discussions that were held in private were in relation to the organisation of our public work, the drafting of our report and administrative matters.

We were also determined to engage directly with the public on an issue of such importance to the future of our country. Advertisements inviting submissions from the public were placed in all the major national newspapers. Ninety-four written submissions were received by the subcommittee, reflecting a broad range of opinion in Irish society.

The way in which our work was done was open, fair and efficient. In an effort to engage the public with the work of the committee, its proceedings were broadcast live on the internet via the Oireachtas website.

The challenges for Ireland are significant. Irish sovereignty has flourished in the European Union.

Ireland's role as a fully committed and engaged member state has been vital to the advancement of the country's national interests. A way must be found that acts on the No vote last June and recognises the desire of the huge majority of our country to remain committed to Europe.

It is the job of Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to make specific recommendations about what should be done in relation to holding referendums.

It was the job of our subcommittee to produce a relevant, robust and timely contribution to this debate. That some would attack how the report was produced, rather than engage in a debate on its conclusions, shows that this job was well done.

• Senator Paschal Donohoe was chairman of the Oireachtas Subcommittee on Ireland's Future in the European Union