The Welcome Inn on Parnell Street seemed like the right place to retire to after a discussion last night on Lisbon in the Institute for International and European Affairs up on North Great Georges Street.
Sean O'Laoire, the President of the Institute of Architects had organised a colloquium to discuss the Lisbon Treaty. Eoin O Cofaigh author of "A Green Vitruvius Sustainable Architectural Design" kicked things off by talking about his work within the Architects Council of Europe and the European Forum for Architectural Policies. After that Ruairi Quinn, Frank McDonald and myself spoke for a few minutes each, followed by contributions from the floor.
Eoin pointed out the Secretary General of the European Commission is an Irish women, Catherine Day, and that her predecessor was Irish as well. I thought that neatly tackled the concern that Ireland will find it hard to have influence in Brussels.
I talked about the economic benefits of Lisbon. The case for greater involvement in the European project has never been stronger: the internal market of 500 million Europeans will be where we’ll export the goods and services that will help our economic recovery and our membership of the euro has provided crucial assistance in our banking crisis.
As an environmentalist, I think we need to remain engaged with Europe because of the lead it has taken on issues such as climate change and energy security. Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy is a new feature of the European Treaties, contained in Lisbon. There's a cheap shot doing the rounds at the moment that there's only five words ("and in particular combating climate change, At. 191.1) in the Treaty, but actually Lisbon goes much further than that. Article 3 specifies a "high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment", and Article 192 builds on Article 191 in specifying how the issues referred to in Art. 191 can be achieved. I like the references to town and country planning in that article; the management of water resources, and measures affecting land use. As John Gibbons points out the EU has been the only show in town on climate for practically the last eight years.
The Treaty also incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which sets out a range of civil, social and political rights and freedoms recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights and the constitutional traditions of Member States. I think the legally binding nature of it provisions, which will guarantee these rights, is a hugely positive aspect of the Treaty
I spoke about my concerns over Articles 42 and 43 that formalise the European Defence Agency, and particularly the obligation of Member States to offer "aid and assistance by all the means in their power" if an other "Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory." I am unhappy with these aspects of the Treaty, but ultimately I believe that the European Union has been the most successful political project on the Continent in the twentieth century. I remember going to France on a school exchange in the 1970s, and listening to children's parents talking about the horror of a war between French and German soldiers. Frank McDonald talked about how the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s had lasted longer than the siege of Leningrad, and about how ultimately it was the fighter jets from the United States rather than the European Union that stopped the violence.
Jim Roche of the Irish Anti War Movement spoke from the floor and echoed my concerns. He expressed concern at the presence of European troops in Afghanistan where recently a US CIA drone killed 147 civilians. He also asked why the Treaty didn't give the same emphasis to issues such as education. I pointed out that Article 165 and Art. 166 dealt in detail with education, and that the principle of subsidiarity (some things are better handled by the individual countries) limited the EU's scope in this area. Ruairi pointed out that the EU can't declare war, that a UN mandate is required, and he carefully differentiated the actions of individual member states from the actions of the EU.
The European Council also agreed on a Solemn Declaration on workers’ rights which confirms the high importance that the Union attaches to: social progress and the protection of workers' rights; public services; the responsibility of Member States for the delivery of education and health services; the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest.
I spoke about the advances in equality that had come from Europe, and I think European action has ensured and will continue to lead advances for women; people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, and improvements in the environment. The European Commission and the European Courts have been to the fore in protecting the vulnerable.
Time was running out and I wasn't able to talk about the legal guarantees which clarify that nothing in the Lisbon Treaty makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the Union’s competences in relation to taxation; the Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality – it confirms that there the Lisbon Treaty does not create a European army, nor does it provide for conscription; and nothing in the Lisbon Treaty or the Charter of Fundamental Rights affects in any way the scope and applicability of the provisions of the Irish Constitution relating to the protection of the right to life, family and education. |Some people have belittled these guarantees, but I feel if you're doing that you might as well make light of the Good Friday Agreement! I also think the guarantees the Government sought and got on abortion, taxation and neutrality will help clarify the decision in people’s minds. These are all matters for the Irish people to decide, not the EU. If we vote Yes, we’ll keep our Commissioner which will give the Government a direct line to the top table in Brussels.
After the debate we walked down the road to the Welcome Inn, a pub that hasn't changed since it was rebuilt after the Dublin Bombings in 1974. Being the day that was in it we continued the discussion over several pints of Arthur's finest, to celebrate Guinness's 250th anniversary
I believe the presence of the European Union has allowed us to get over the historical challenge of getting on with one neighbouring country with which we've had an uneasy relationship for 800 years. I'm amused that it took a referendum to get Sinn Féin to put a Union Jack on their posters, to illustrate their concerns about a loss of voting strength in Europe. To be honest, I'm happy about Ireland's voting strength in Europe post Lisbon. I believe that an elegant formula has been found to ensure that smaller nations are well represented, and I believe we're well capable of punching way above our weight. As we downed pints of a local brew that has become a global brand I felt proud to a Dubliner, proud to be Irish and proud to be part of a European Union that continues to change, adapt and progress to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
I'm voting yes on Friday October 2nd. I believe the people of Ireland should ratify the Lisbon Treaty.