Thursday, June 23, 2005

About EU shelved

I am about to leave Belfast soon and therefore the updates on "About EU" will be more sporadic. The blog will be updated properly again around the end of July when I'll be back in Europe. Many thanks for the great support that I have received and I wish you all an excellent month of July.

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Bairbre de Brun First Speech in Irish at the EP

A press release from SF reports that "Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún became the first person to address the European Parliament in Irish since the European Council agreed to give it the status of official working language of the EU. Ms de Brún spoke in Brussels yesterday evening. Commenting today Ms de Brún said: "I am very proud to be the first MEP to address the European Parliament in Irish since agreement on official working language status for the language. All of this has been made possible through the hard work of those who lobbied hard for this." However, Jim Nicholson, UUP MEP declared that: "the push to have Irish upgraded was a purely political campaign. It will only serve to overburden a linguistic regime, which is already struggling to cope with 20 official languages. Given that the estimated initial cost to the taxpayer is EUR3.5 million a year, I feel it is inappropriate for our Government to have backed the measure in Council." Read the two press release here


Here is the SF Communique

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún became the first person to address the European Parliament in Irish since the European Council agreed to give it the status of official working language of the EU. Ms de Brún spoke in Brussels yesterday evening.

Commenting today Ms de Brún said:

"I am very proud to be the first MEP to address the European Parliament in Irish since agreement on official working language status for the language. All of this has been made possible through the hard work of those who lobbied hard for this.

"I extend congratulations and heartfelt thanks to all involved in the STÁDAS campaign for achieving the status of official working language of the European Union for the Irish language.

"This international recognition will have a very great influence not only on the language but on those of us who speak the language and who wish to be on an equal footing with our fellow Europeans. I ask the President of the Parliament to convey to the Council our satisfaction in this matter and would ask also that everything possible be done to meet the needs that arise from this new status between now and 1 January 2007 to ensure that the appropriate services can be provided in Irish." ENDS

Full text of Speech:

Mar Gael agus mar gaeilgeoir failtím roimh chinneadh an Aontais Eorpaigh go dtabharfaí stádas oifigiúil agus oibre don Ghaeilge san Aontas Eorpach. Cuirfidh an t-aitheantas sin chan amháin le stádas na teanga ach beidh tionchar an-mhór ag aitheantas idirnáisiúnta ar stádas lucht labhartha na Gaeilge chomh maith.

Molaim go hard gach éinne atá bainte leis an fheachtas STÁDAS agus na heagraíochta ar fad atá ag obair ar son cothromaíochta do phobal na Gaeilge i gcomhar lenár gcomh Eorpaigh.

Iarraim ar Uachtarán na Pairliminte ár sásamh a chur in iúil don Chomhairle. Iarraim air chomh maith cinntiú go ndéanfaí gach ní is féidir le go mbeidh Pairlimint na hEorpa agus na hinistiúidí eorpacha eile in ann freastal ar na riachtanais a bhaineann leis an stádas nua idir seo agus Mí Eanáir 2007 agus go mbeifear in ann na seirbhísí cuí a sholáthar i nGaeilge.

As an Irish speaker I welcome the decision to accord the status of official working language of the European Union to the Irish language. This international recognition will have a very great influence not only on the language but on those of us who speak the language and who wish to be on an equal footing with our fellow Europeans.

I extend congratulations and heartfelt thanks to all involved in the STÁDAS campaign to achieve this status of official working language of the European Union for the Irish language.

I ask the President of the Parliament to convey to the Council our satisfaction in this matter and would ask also that everything possible be done to meet the needs that arise from this new status between now and 1 January 2007 to ensure that the appropriate services can be provided in Irish.

**************************

PUSH TO HAVE IRISH LANGUAGE UPGRADED WAS A PURELY POLITICAL CAMPAIGN -
NICHOLSON


Speaking from Brussels as Sinn Fein MEP, Barbara De Brun became the
first MEP to address the European Parliament in Irish since it became an
official language of the EU, UUP MEP Jim Nicholson has strongly
criticised the British Government's backing for the upgrade to official
language status in the European Union.

In a statement Mr Nicholson said,

"The push to have Irish upgraded was a purely political campaign. It
will only serve to overburden a linguistic regime, which is already
struggling to cope with 20 official languages. Given that the estimated
initial cost to the taxpayer is EUR3.5 million a year, I feel it is
inappropriate for our Government to have backed the measure in Council.

"Given that the UK Government's endorsement of the upgrade comes only
days after the Commission approved £12 million in state aid i.e. British
taxpayer aid to the Irish Language Broadcast fund in Northern Ireland,
we have got to question the Government's priorities in investing moral
and financial support in the promotion of the Irish language at a time
when budget constraints are being felt in essential public sector areas
such as health and education." Ends

Issued by UUP Press Office -


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Jim Allister hits out over DARD

The Belfast Telegraph reports that MEP DUP Jim Allister reacted negatively to the disclosure of CAP aids of Northern Irish Farmers on a DARD website: "European Union farm subsidy payments should not have been published on the Internet, MEP Jim Allister has said. "Individual CAP subsidies paid to farmers should not have been published on the Department of Agriculture website," he said. "I believe this move by DARD is an infringement of farmers' privacy within Northern Ireland. "No other sector within the Northern Ireland economy has details regarding the amount of grant aid that they receive published on a website. "If the DHSS published the amount of money individual people were getting from benefits I have no doubt that there would be a public outcry. "There are no more legitimate or stronger reasons for publishing the payments made by DARD to individuals compared to other Departments such as the DHSS." Widespread criticism within the local farming community has followed Agriculture Minister Lord Rooker's decision to release details of the subsidies - £417m - that individual farmers in Northern Ireland have received under the Common Agricultural Policy in the past two years."

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EU supports the International Fund for Ireland

The Irish Sun reports that "an international fund supported by the EU, US and Canada is set to embark on a new five-year campaign to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland, it emerged today. The International Fund for Ireland has supported more than 5,000 projects in Northern Ireland and in the border counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth since its foundation by the British and Irish governments almost 20 years ago...The EU is set to contribute €15m each year in 2005 and 2006."

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Trade Union Leader Attacks Blair in Belfast Meeting

John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, was speaking yesterday at the Waterfront in Belfast for the ICTU Congree, during his speech, he strongly attacked Tony Blair by saying: "it was more opportunism than principle which motivated the Blair Government at the summit - and in consequence, they inflicted further damage on the European project. New Labour sermons about the need for change and reform will neither get nor deserve a hearing while the UK plays to its own eurosceptic gallery." More here:

Introduction by John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation
Irish Congress of Trade Unions


To be checked against delivery

"President, delegates, fellow guests, Brendan, it is a real pleasure to be meeting in your home city - a city that has seen so much conflict, so much suffering yet also exhibits spirit and vitality, and invariably displays optimism about its future.

After recent events - the French and Dutch referendums and last week’s summit, working in the European Union today feels a bit like that. There is this cocktail of emotions, this mixture of hope tinged with worry and concern about the future. That’s what I want to address today. My speech will remind delegates of what the EU means to the working people of Ireland, the UK and elsewhere, and also make the case for a fight to establish the EU anew in the affections and loyalties of people in Europe and beyond.

This Congress has a long and honourable record in promoting peace in Ireland, and well beyond Ireland across the world. The European Union has been the world’s biggest and most successful peace process - healing the wounds of two world wars, and of the underlying conflicts which, in some cases, went back centuries - the conflicts which made Europe the world’s bloodiest continent in the 20th century.

Conflict was replaced by prosperity with Ireland, a particularly spectacular example of success; and within the context of this new co-operation project called Europe, resources are shovelled from the rich to the poor. The single market gives scale and dynamism to economic activity and ancient rivalries which afflict many parts of Europe have, at least in the West, been put, if not entirely to rest, then very firmly on one side.

And you can see the same healing process working now in the 10 new member states. There are complex ethnic mixtures all over Central and Eastern Europe - with different minorities scattered around. The EU has made it a strict condition of membership that there is full recognition of minority rights and absolutely no discrimination and that has helped anchor these new states as democracies.

Apart from spreading peace, the EU has promoted democracy. It was only 30 years ago that we had fascist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, 15 years ago since Eastern Europe was under the Warsaw Pact. The EU has quietly been helping the pro-democracy movements dig in and thrive.

And surely it is the EU historic mission to do the same in the Balkans where memories of bloody civil war have been only too recent.

Yet the ‘no’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums, and the British decision not to proceed with a referendum for the time being at least, have plunged the EU into crisis - a crisis which could be prolonged and paralysing without good co-operative leadership and collective action.

We saw the opposite of that in Brussels last week. After a major challenge to Europe’s future in the French and Dutch referendums, a challenge which needs skilled and creative leadership to overcome, we had a major contretemps about the EU budget.

When some statesmanship was needed, we saw nationalistic gallery-playing to divert attention from the problem about the EU Constitution. The British blame the French and vice versa. Others widen the blame, and ancient rivalries become faintly visible across the European Union.

And so to what was a constitutional crisis, and in many countries, a crisis in the economy too, we have to add a self-inflicted budgetary crisis too.

And while it pains me to say so, the UK Labour Government is at the heart of this crisis.

It was only 3 weeks ago that the UK linked the issue of its rebate to reform the Common Agricultural Policy; and only last year that the UK was among those blocking a proposal to limit the open-ended compensation paid to the largest farmers - the biggest scandal of the CAP.

So it was more opportunism than principle which motivated the Blair Government at the summit - and in consequence, they inflicted further damage on the European project. New Labour sermons about the need for change and reform will neither get nor deserve a hearing while the UK plays to its own eurosceptic gallery.

At the moment, we have an avowedly pro European Government blocking the budget, blocking key Social Europe issues like ending the opt-out from the working time directive and leading moves to put the Constitution in cold storage. It’s a good job that we do not have a Eurosceptic Government! But it is not just the UK. The ETUC Executive Committee met last week and recognised that while 10 countries have ratified the constitution, France and the Netherlands, two founder member states of the EU, have delivered a powerful blow, not just against the EU Constitutional Treaty but against the way the current European project is being managed.

They voted ‘no’ for many reasons, European and national, but fear of lower social standards and neo-liberal policies, of insecurity and precarious work, and of high unemployment played key parts.

The people of our continent rightly expect urgent action from Europe’s leaders. Not to act would encourage the opponents of the European project who are already seeking to weaken it. We supported the European Constitutional Treaty, stressing that the introduction of social values, social objectives, social dialogue and the charter of fundamental rights are important steps in the right direction. It is a compromise for sure but from a trade union point of view, the Constitution, brokered by the Irish Government, is a pretty good deal.

We also need a macro economic growth strategy.

The Member States have responsibilities now to find ways of proceeding both with the Constitutional Treaty and the development of Europe and not play to their own gallery.

But the French and Dutch votes were a wake-up call. The ETUC want a wide recognition that

* there will be no chance of gaining popular support in all countries for Europe without more successful economies and an effective social dimension, aiming to provide security in the process of change
* there is an overriding need to restore confidence in Europe by promoting Social Europe, more and better jobs, fundamental rights and growth-friendly macro-economic policies

* And we are calling for the EU and the social partners to draw up a new economic, employment and social pact reflecting a new measure of will to face the future together and make Europe fully ready to handle the globalisation process.

Moreover the European Council has to show that it is able

* firstly to come quickly to an agreement on the financial perspective with a substantial programme for growth, investment and research on the basis of a fair contribution and distribution for all Member States and a clear commitment to social and regional cohesion and solidarity.

* and secondly to regain the trust of the European citizens in integrating the social dimension in European politics (for example a Services directive - the so-called Bolkestein directive - which does not threaten a race to the bottom on labour standards; a working time directive which does not contain a British opt-out allowing workers to be pressured to work all hours; and protection for temporary agency workers). We had a demonstration on these matters in Brussels last March 19 in which 75,000 European workers voiced their support for Social Europe.

That met with one immediate success. The Bolkestein directive is being fundamentally revised in our direction. And while I cannot report similar progress on the Working Time directive, I believe that Social Europe is alive and well, that the French vote in particular put it centre stage, and that we should build on this.

So, today, President, at a time of European crisis, let us issue a call for European renewal, a call for the reconnection of Europe’s citizens to the project of building a stronger Europe committed to peace, justice and solidarity on our continent.

Let us initiate and participate in a frank debate about how big Europe should get; how it should spend its money, and how much its budget should be; how to strengthen Social Europe and make it dynamic in a world of rapidly emerging, new industrial powers. Let us build a new political manifesto for Europe - popular and realistic but also ambitious. Not to be America’s poodle but to stand as a powerful friend to democracy, peace and solidarity.

European countries, however venerable and significant, cannot do these things on their own. Old neighbours, who don’t get on together, squabble and achieve little. Working together, standing together, acting together achieves much.

Unity is strength in the trade union world. Unity is strength in Europe too.

To you all in Ireland, very best wishes for the future and thanks from the ETUC for all your support."

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Debating the future of CAP

RTE News reports that "the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said he is not seeking to scrap EU farm subsidies overnight but to reduce them gradually." Part of the plan of the British Government to attack the CAP has been the release of the benefits of Northern Irish farmers from the CAP (thanks to Slugger), which has outraged the Ulster Farmer Union. In the meantime, a communique from the DUP reports that MEP Jim Allister attacked Blair on this issue by saying: "Could I also urge you as PM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stand up unashamedly for the rightful interests of the UK, not least the wholly justified rebate, which you can properly defend on its own merits without cloaking that defence in agricultural issues, which, I remind you, are themselves important to my part of your country." More here


Here is the full press release from Jim Allister:

DUP MEP JIM ALLISTER was the only Northern Ireland MEP called to speak in the debate following Tony Blair's address to the European Parliament. In his speech Mr Allister urged the PM to pursue a radical agenda of reform, replacing political union with free trade as the cornerstone of Europe, whose present structures and policies had failed.

In his remarks Mr Allister said:-

"Mr Blair, following the referendum rejections of the Constitution, you rightly said that "profound questions" now arose about the future of Europe. From the example of last weekend, it is clear the present over-centralised EU is not working. Though Mr Juncker sought yesterday to make the UK a scapegoat, the reality is that it is the structures and policies of Europe which are fatally flawed.
Over the next 6 months you have a perfect opportunity to promote radical solutions. Sticky plaster politics won't work. "Ever closer union" has failed. Its time to embrace the primacy of the nation states over the stifling control of Brussels, its time to repatriate key powers to national parliaments and governments, its time to return to making free trade, not political union, the cornerstone of Europe.
Could I also urge you as PM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stand up unashamedly for the rightful interests of the UK, not least the wholly justified rebate, which you can properly defend on its own merits without cloaking that defence in agricultural issues, which, I remind you, are themselves important to my part of your country."


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Mary Lou McDonald supports proposals to stop inflated expenses for MEPs

A SF communique reports that SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald will support a report at the European Parliament to bring to an end the practice of MEPs being able to claim inflated expenses. Ms McDonald is reported to have said: "since the most recent enlargement of the European Union in May 2004, there has been a discrepancy between members' salaries. MEPs from the new member states are paid significantly less than many of their Western European counterparts. Sinn Féin believes that there should be a single remuneration for members of the European Parliament. In line with party policy, Sinn Féin MEPs receive an average industrial wage, with the remainder paid into the party for development and constituency services."

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Bairbre de Brun promotes e-learning accross Europe

A SF press release reports that SF MEP Bairbre de Brun "helped to launch a major e-learning initiative at the European Parliament in Brussels. Ms de Brún said that such projects "can reach out to some of the most excluded sectors of society and is testament to their contribution to the local community"."

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Allister Attacks Junker in the EP

In a speech at the European Parliament, MEP DUP Jim Allister frontly attacked President of the Council Jean Claude Junker: "For those who still cling to the European dream, your Presidency has been a stunning failure. Under it, the precious Constitution has shipwrecked on the rocks of rejection and the budget is an unmitigated shambles, with rancour - as in your speech today - being its currency.Out of this though, good could come. If the effect was to jolt European leaders into the same reality stream that many of their people already occupy, then a workable Europe could emerge. Root and branch changes are essential, in which the primacy of the Nation State should be re-established and Brussels' centralisation reversed, with wide-ranging powers repatriated to national governments and parliaments. A Europe built on sovereign states, training and co-operating for mutual benefit and not for the purpose of an unwanted and unworkable "ever-closer Union" has some hope of success. This present Europe - as your Presidency demonstrates - cannot work."

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Ahern Attacks British Rebate

The Independent reports that: "The Irish premier Bertie Ahern said plans by Mr Blair to link reform of the EU's CAP with its EU rebate was a dishonest and unfair argument. Mr Ahern said he totally disagreed with Mr Blair's position on the EU budget which caused a stalemate at last week's European Council summit."

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Irish Governement will publish a White Paper on the Constitutional Treaty in September

A Press release from the Irish Government reports that Bertie Ahern said that: "In September, we will publish the Government’s White Paper on the European Constitution. This will ensure that comprehensive, accurate and factual information is made available to the public." The Taoiseach was also reacting to last week' Council in saying that "The failure to reach agreement on the Financial Perspectives was a further setback for the European Union at a time when it is still coming to terms with the result of the French and Dutch votes on the European Constitution. While I do not want to exaggerate the implications of the breakdown in these negotiations, I believe that the EU is now facing one of the most challenging periods in its history."

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SF MEP Welcomes recommendations to protect children across the EU

SF MEP Bairbre de Brun is reported to have said: "I want to welcome the recommendations by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams. The protection of our children should be paramount and it is important that a consistent system is put in place to ensure that those who wish to work or volunteer to work with children and young people pose no threat."

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SF welcomes Irish Referendum on Constitutional Treaty

Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh said: "I welcome the opportunity for the Irish people to have our say by referendum, and to continue with the progressive campaign against this neoliberal superstate Constitution."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Eastern and Central European Immigration bad for Business": Tourist Chief

The Belfast Telegraph reports that: "Tourist Board chief executive Alan Clarke suggested that a surge in people coming from eastern and central Europe and the Far East to work in Northern Ireland's hospitality industry could harm the Irishness "brand". He said: "Irishness is a brand, if all the staff are from eastern Europe it dilutes the brand. That is something we are concerned about.""

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Irish Commissioner McGreevy acknowledges EU 'crisis'

RTE reports that: "The European Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, has acknowledged that the EU is in severe difficulty after the rejection of the Constitution in France and the Netherlands and the failure to agree a new budget. Speaking in Dublin, he said that sometimes greater progress comes from such reverses. Referring to the tone of Friday's meeting of EU leaders, Mr McCreevy said it sounded no worse than the exchanges at a Fianna Fáil Cumann meeting."

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Mary Lou McDonald Supports Trocaire Campaign

SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald supports Tropcaire Campaign by calling upon the Irish Government to "hold to its original promise of meeting 0.7% of GDP by 2007".

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

MEPs concerned over CAP funding

SF MEP Bairbre de Brun has recently expressed her concerns about the financing of the CAP. Last Saturday's Farming Life reports that DUP MEP Jim Allister, who argued that "there should be no surrender over the British rebate", has recently attacked Blair as it "is now disingenuous for the Prime Minister to link rebate changes to CAP changes. The rebate can properly be defended on its own merits. I believe the calls by Blair to reopen the CAP negotiations are merely a smoke screen and this is very unlikely to happen. It does, however, clearly demonstrate the current Government's attitude to the farming community." The Farming Life also reports that Ulster Farmers' Union has requested an urgent meeting with Farm Minister, Lord Rooker, to discuss the future of the CAP. Finally, in the same edition of this Farming Life, UUP MEP Jim Nicholson is reported to have urged Commissioner Fisher Boel to cut red tape over for farmers.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

UUP MEP supports Sir Reg Empey

The Belfast Telegraph reports that UUP MEP supports Sir Reg Empey in the race for the UUP leadership. Nicholson is reported to have said: "Reg is the only one capable of pulling it all together. He will take a no-nonsense approach to the task, lead from the front and be fair and equitable in all matters."

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SF answers DUP over EU Subsidies for Irish Films

A press release from SF reports that SF South Down Assembly Member Caitriona Ruane said "Mr Allister's comments are typical of a party that is fundamentally opposed to the promotion of anything Irish and it seems he is attempting to hinder the thousands of people, of all ages, who are learning their native language in ever increasing numbers."

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Jim Nicholson Urges Blair to defend the Rebate

A press release from the UUP reports that MEP Jim Nicholson said "Last week the Prime Minister made a series of statements, which seemed to send messages of compromise. He can say non, nej, nein or just plain no but he must make it explicitly clear that the rebate is non - negotiable." More here


NICHOLSON ISSUES STERN WARNING TO THE PRIME MINISTER OVER UK REBATE

Speaking as European leaders gather in Brussels for what is potentially
the most momentous European Council summit in the history of the EU,
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has issued a stern warning to the Prime
Minister 'to stick to his guns' on the UK's £3 billion rebate and 'to
protect it at all costs.'

In a statement the UUP MEP said,

"There is only one course of action available to the Prime Minister. He
must stand firm and protect the UK's rebate at all costs, even if that
means stalling negotiations on the EU's budget for 2007 - 2013.

"Last week the Prime Minister made a series of statements, which seemed
to send messages of compromise. He can say non, nej, nein or just plain
no but he must make it explicitly clear that the rebate is non -
negotiable.

"The UK's rebate is fully justified as without it Britain's net
contribution would have been 15 times that of France. He must resist Franco -
German pressure to abolish the rebate and not bow to the bully - boy
tactics adopted by the leaders of Old Europe.

"The other item on the agenda for discussion is of course the future of
the European Constitution after the NO votes in both France and
Holland. This issue has been conveniently brushed under the carpet in recent
days, kept from the headlines by the debate over the UK rebate.

"Let me make it clear to the Prime Minister. There must be no cherry
picking of the constitution and no ratification by stealth either.
Introducing the constitution by the back door would be a grave betrayal of
the British people. The Prime Minister must declare the constitution is
dead or hold a referendum to give the British People the opportunity to
consign it, once and for all, to the political dustbin.

"The NO votes in the Dutch and French referendums have provided us with
an historic opportunity to charter a new course for Europe, a Europe
closer to its citizens where the EU does less but does it better." Ends

Issued by UUP Press Office


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Bairbre de Brun defends the PAC

A press release from SF reports that MEP Bairbre de Brun said: "the British Prime Minister might not attach much value to the agricultural sector in Britain, but the economic importance of agriculture to rural communities and the nature of farming here in the North of Ireland make the British approach unsustainable."

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Referenda Postponed - Reactions

The decision to allow a period of "reflection" has been welcomed in different ways. Gerry Adams said: "it has become increasingly clear that European leaders, including the Irish Government are running scared of the electorate on this issue. Now is the time for real debate on the EU Constitution, not 'cold storage." Commenting on this period of extra time, Bernard Allen FG TD said "The extra time now available for ratification must be a period of active engagement with the public regarding the merits of the EU Constitution. Ireland has benefited hugely from membership of the EU, and the new EU Constitution will help to continue these positive benefits for our country." Bertie Ahern also said that "it is really up to individual governments to convince their people about the merits of the constitution." MEP UUP Jim Nicholson said: "There must be no cherry picking of the constitution and no ratification by stealth either. Introducing the constitution by the back door would be a grave betrayal of the British people. The Prime Minister must declare the constitution is dead or hold a referendum to give the British People the opportunity to consign it, once and for all, to the political dustbin." More reactions expected

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Allister attacks Dublin over Fisheries

It has been reported that "Jim Allister MEP has called, in the Fisheries Committee in Brussels, for the Republic of Ireland to desist from promise and move to meaningful action in ending the devastation being wrought to recreational salmon fishing by the continuance of drift nets on the West coast of Ireland." More here

Here is the press release from the Jim Allister:

ALLISTER DEMANDS ACTION BY DUBLIN ON DRIFT NETS

Jim Allister MEP has called, in the Fisheries Committee in Brussels, for the Republic of Ireland to desist from promise and move to meaningful action in ending the devastation being wrought to recreational salmon fishing by the continuance of drift nets on the West coast of Ireland.A presentation to the Committee by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund demonstrated that the Irish drift nets are radically reducing the numbers of mature salmon returning, not just to the rivers of Ireland and GB, but also to France and Spain. During the resulting debate, Mr Allister clashed with Fainna Fail member Sean O'Neachtain, over the inadequacy response of the Republic's response. Mr Allister pointed out that though Dublin had promised action for years, it had done nothing, whereas in Northern Ireland, we had successfully implemented a buy-out scheme, yet found out rivers, which were linked to the West coast, such as the Erne, were continuing to suffer a fall in salmon stocks because of their drift nets.Mr Allister has already raised this issue with the Fisheries Commissioner and has been promised a review of possible action following the conduct of a survey during this summer. It is hoped that the debate in the Fisheries Committee will add to the pressure on the Dublin Minister, Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher, to finally take effective action.


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Irish Referendum Postponed

RTE reports that the Irish Government chose to postpone the Referendum on the Constitutional Treaty. However, the Government declared that the ratification process will continue.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Watch the Council live

Click here

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Bairbre de Brun calls the Council commitment toward poorer nations

A press release from SF reports that Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brún today "called upon European leaders "to make firm commitments on supporting some of the world's poorest nations, by pledging to meet their obligations on Overseas Development Aid".

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Poland makes fun of the "Polish Plumber" Threat

After the drama around the arrival of massive number of Polish plumbers during the debate on the run up to the French referendum, the Polish Tourist Information website made this poster for the French:


 Posted by Hello

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"Polish farmers did not even know what a spud was" - Paisley

MP Ian Paisley asked Secretary of State Jack Straw at the House of Commons: "The Foreign Secretary will no doubt be aware that an announcement was recently made to the farmers that the CAP had been secured after a mid-term review. Is he suggesting that the process will be reopened and that the farmers will not know their future, bearing it in mind that agriculture is the mainstay of our economy in Northern Ireland?" He latter said: "Now, suddenly, the farming community is asking us what is going to happen. We are alarmed about that. The Government must keep faith with the farming community because farming is in difficulty. I hear a lot of talk about Poland and the fact that it will be a threat to the farmers of those states that were in the economic Union first. Not many people know that Poland leads the world in the production of strawberries, and is about to take over the raspberry business as well. Before we know it, Poland might take over the carrot business too, and maybe try the spud business, even though Polish farmers did not even know what a spud was. When such countries get their produce on to the market, our farmers will have many more difficulties. We need to face up to that."

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"Anti European Feeling in NI is Depressing" - Alasdair McDonnell

Alasdair McDonnell SDLP South Belfast MP in his maiden speech at the House of Commons said: "Northern Ireland returned three anti-European MEPs last June. That the EU remains one of our strongest supporters of the peace process and the move towards stability in Northern Ireland was established beyond doubt only one week ago, when, despite last June's verdict, the European Commission announced a further £97 million of Peace II funding. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party, along with my colleagues in this House, recognise and welcome that support, and we remain equally strong in our commitment to Europe." More here

Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South, SDLP) Link to this | Hansard source

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this my first opportunity to address the House as a Member of Parliament. I have been told that the long-held tradition is that a new MP should praise his predecessor, and I realise that this may be more difficult for some than for others. For me, it represents a particular challenge. My predecessor, the Reverend Martin Smyth, was MP for Belfast, South for some 23 years—since 1982. Given that Martin is a former grandmaster of the Orange Lodge and was an outspoken and constant critic of the Good Friday agreement, it would fair to say that he and I operated very much at opposite ends of the Northern Ireland political spectrum in almost every way. He is, however, an honest man and consistent in his views, and the efforts that he put into trying to frustrate the progress of the Good Friday agreement are worthy of note. His attempts to undo the agreement were in no small way instrumental in my victory on 5 May, and for that I am extremely grateful to him. Despite our many differences, I wish him well in his retirement.

I am pleased to contribute to this afternoon's debate on the future of the EU, and perhaps I will have a greater opportunity to do so on another occasion. Britain's attitude to Europe has long fascinated me, and that fascination remains after some of the events during today's Prime Minister's Question Time. As an Irishman and a member of a political party that fully embraces the ideal of European unity, I have looked at Britain's relationship with Europe with great frustration. It depresses me that a nation of many millions more people and with much greater financial power than most could not learn from the experiences of a simple country such as Ireland, whose financial power and political clout is much less, but which has benefited greatly from the social, political and economic opportunities offered by the EU.

For me, having listened to today's discussions, there is too much talk about putting Britain at the heart of Europe, and then facing the other way and starting to walk. At times in my despair, I am reminded of the apocryphal newspaper heading from early in the previous century, which stated, "Fog in channel—continent isolated." Given certain comments made in the House today, it is clear that some still consider the continent isolated. That remains one of the most depressing attitudes that we can experience in modern political life.

However, it is perhaps more depressing to consider what is happening to Northern Ireland in terms of attitudes to Europe. Despite unprecedented levels of EU investment in our region, totalling more than £3 billion, Northern Ireland returned three anti-European MEPs last June. That the EU remains one of our strongest supporters of the peace process and the move towards stability in Northern Ireland was established beyond doubt only one week ago, when, despite last June's verdict, the European Commission announced a further £97 million of Peace II funding. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party, along with my colleagues in this House, recognise and welcome that support, and we remain equally strong in our commitment to Europe.

In a maiden speech, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of my local interests. Although I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this august Chamber and to contribute to today's debate, the truth is that I would much prefer to be back on the ground in Belfast, working in the local devolved Assembly to bring peace and to strengthen the peace process that has been working there. I would prefer to be in Belfast, delivering real change for my constituents and making the Good Friday agreement work, but it is here that I must be, because of the intransigence, cynicism, lack of imagination and insecurities of other political movements in Northern Ireland. Because of the absolute absence of any democratic accountability in Northern Ireland, it is here that I must be. Because the Government have shirked from their commitments under the Good Friday agreement and have at times chosen the way of shady side-deals and secret promises, it is here that I must be.

I am here without apology as an Irish nationalist. Like many Irish leaders before us down the centuries, my party and I choose to stand here and to fight our corner honestly, and to argue an honourable case. With no other forum in which to hold the Government to account, and no other way to address the many serious issues facing my constituents, we stand up for them and fight for their needs. It saddens me deeply that five out of Northern Ireland's 18 MPs do not have the courage to do the same and to be here to argue their case.

I stand here and fight for a better deal for my constituents because all the people of Belfast, South—nationalists, Unionists and those of neither persuasion—deserve no less from me. In Belfast, South, I am privileged to serve a constituency that encapsulates much that is good, and which perhaps better than any other illustrates the many and varied issues that are holding Northern Ireland back. It is the home of some of the most successful business and professional people in the country, and it also includes some of the areas of greatest deprivation and social need. It contains some of the most fiercely loyalist, and some of the most staunchly provo, districts in Northern Ireland.

Some of my constituents have enjoyed the benefits of relative economic success, while many more live under the yoke of paramilitary crime syndicates and are brutalised daily by gangs of one hue or another. The malaise that hangs over much of Belfast, South is the same one that hangs over Northern Ireland. It is a malaise born of economic stagnation, cynicism about our politicians and a general disillusionment with the breakdowns and the stop-start methods of the peace process. It is a malaise that is exacting a terrible human toll. I give a simple example. A generation of young men has been cut down by one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. In my constituency alone, we can treat only one third of those presenting with mental illness, an issue which we discussed earlier today. The development of mental health services in Northern Ireland has fallen well behind the rest of the UK. This is particularly so in, for example, certain inner-city areas in my constituency that have levels of deprivation and poor social cohesion that are among the highest in Northern Ireland. Inner-city deprivation results in higher mental health needs, but community mental health services in Belfast, South are inadequately developed, and staffed far short of the levels required to meet the range of mental health needs.

The disillusionment with our political process to which I referred has been encouraged by—and, in turn, encourages—parties whose strength comes from fear and division. It is an attitude that has served those parties well, but it serves no one else. As the parties of division have succeeded, our shared public services—the bread-and-butter issues that reflect the needs of our ordinary people—have failed. Be it the health service, schools, the infrastructure or the economy, we are seeing the direct and devastating effects of political failure. While the extreme loyalists and provos play their political games, everybody else suffers.

It might not be entirely clear to the House what a failure direct rule can be for us at times, but I would like to give two simple examples of what happens when accountability slips and is removed—examples that should be close to the heart of this Government. In Northern Ireland we have good schools and excellent teachers who are struggling to educate a new generation of our children to practise reconciliation, to build a future, to break the cycle of underachievement, resentment and violence, and to dare, perhaps, to hope for a better future. I am aware that the Government were once elected on a platform of education, education, education, but I regret that in Northern Ireland our education budget has been cut.

At times we hear of difficulties across Britain, and criticism of the Government that I often do not accept: I support the Government and most of what they do, and I do not like some of the allegations that are made. Let me, however, give a second example. Our region struggles with planning policy perhaps more than any other. We have a city, Belfast, that needs a co-ordinated urban regeneration policy. Perhaps I could refer briefly to what Sherlock Holmes might historically have described as the Sprucefield John Lewis case. Developers sought permission for a massive 500,000 sq ft development 11 miles from the city. I was satisfied that it would never go through—that the application would be thrown out—as was the chief executive of our planning service. Unfortunately, our new local environment Minister had other plans. Barely a fortnight into the job he called a press conference and announced that the project would go ahead, devastating the heart of the city and Belfast, South in particular. My constituents are bewildered, to say the least.

Various factors have combined to bring the SDLP to this point. I have already mentioned the parties of division, but I am sad to say that at times another factor has been the attitude of Government. Last year, Government decided to sideline the SDLP in negotiations. Much time and energy was devoted to the parties of division. By sidelining the SDLP, Government sidelined the party of inclusivity and pluralism. It was never going to work, and when it failed the SDLP was expected to throw out the Good Friday agreement and cobble together a shady deal. We are not interested in a shady deal. We believe that there is a future in Northern Ireland. That is what we are working for here, and that is what we are prepared to fight for here.

We in the SDLP have shown, I think, that we will not be ignored. We stand up to militant thugs on the ground at home, and we will stand up politically everywhere else for what we believe in. For centuries Irish Members of Parliament have been returned to this House to make a case for justice, equality and peace in Ireland. The SDLP is proud to have three Members here, and to continue that honourable tradition.

Our party has played a major role in bringing the region to where it is today, bringing about the peace process, and bringing about the stability—or relative stability—that has been created. We stand closer today to achieving the goals that have been sought for centuries, the goals of justice, equality and peace, than at any other time in our history. I must warn the House, however, that Northern Ireland stands on the verge of something much less positive.

My colleague and great friend, the former Member of Parliament Seamus Mallon, has talked of the balkanisation of Northern Ireland. That is a nightmare for all of us. If the parties of division have their way, we will all live in single-community ghettos. I assure the House that the SDLP will stand up to those who would seek to establish such an apartheid society.

When we began our struggle 35 years ago, marching for civil rights—it continued until the time of the Good Friday agreement, as we sought justice, equality and fairness—we wanted to create a pluralist, tolerant society where every child would be cherished equally and our towns and cities would be shared places welcoming all. In that struggle, we will continue to fight for justice on behalf of families such as the family of Pat Finucane. We will continue to stand beside families such as the McCartney sisters as they resist mob rule and thuggery, and provide an example for all of us of decency, a high profile and courage.

Belfast, South reflects many of the problems of modern society in Northern Ireland, but it is a constituency from which I believe we can all draw some hope. It is one of the very few areas left in Northern Ireland where people from both main traditions can live genuinely in mixed communities and work together. It is a constituency where, despite some high-profile setbacks, we are welcoming in new immigrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds across the globe—from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. I look forward to working every day during this Parliament to encourage all that is good in my constituency, and to shine a light on that which might be rotten. I will stand up as best I can to those who would divide, instil a fear or hold back our potential.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for enabling me to make my first speech to this august Chamber.


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"Spain is the Culprit over Fisheries" - Allister

A press release from Jim Allister reports that MEP DUP Jim Allister said: "The report for the year 2003 has just been published and makes amazing reading. It shows a total of 9502 cases of serious infringement covering such matters as illegal fishing, tampering with records, obstructing fisheries inspectors, using prohibited fishing gear, breach of mesh sizes and fishing with falsified documents. Spain - who gains the most under the Common Fisheries Policy - is the prime culprit with one third of the total of serious infringements, followed by Italy and Portugal. The United Kingdom - ever zealous in implementing EU regulation - has a mere 91 infringements compared to Spain's 3158 and the Republic of Ireland's 103, even though its fleet is only one fifth the size of that of the UK." More Here


SPAIN MAKES MOCKERY OF FISHING REGULATIONS SAYS ALLISTER

Statement by DUP MEP Jim Allister:

The European Commission, by a Regulation introduced in 1999, requires Member States to make an annual return of infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy.

The report for the year 2003 has just been published and makes amazing reading. It shows a total of 9502 cases of serious infringement covering such matters as illegal fishing, tampering with records, obstructing fisheries inspectors, using prohibited fishing gear, breach of mesh sizes and fishing with falsified documents. Spain - who gains the most under the Common Fisheries Policy - is the prime culprit with one third of the total of serious infringements, followed by Italy and Portugal. The United Kingdom - ever zealous in implementing EU regulation - has a mere 91 infringements compared to Spain's 3158 and the Republic of Ireland's 103, even though its fleet is only one fifth the size of that of the UK.

The level of fines imposed for these breaches is equally enlightening. For example, the average fine for unauthorised fishing in Belgium was 375 EUR but in the UK it was 19,255 EUR. The average fine in Germany for falsifying data was 98 EUR but in the UK it was 132,056 EUR! Overall, the average fine for serious infringement in the UK was 77,922 EUR whereas in Finland it was 282 EUR.

The average fines imposed in the Republic of Ireland are unknown because, in breach of the Regulation, the Irish authorities have failed to make the information available.

These figures, in the fishing area as in so many other areas, demonstrate that the UK assiduously, even fanatically, implements EU regulations while other countries largely turn a blind eye and impose laughable penalties.

Being grossly dissatisfied with the disparity which these figures illustrate, I am writing to Commissioner Borg to establish what remedial steps he proposes to take against the offending countries, not least the Republic of Ireland and its contemptuous failure to even provide information on penalties.

The Common Fisheries Policy has not only been a disaster in its content for the United Kingdom but, as these figures illustrate, in its implementation it is permitted to be wholly partisan.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bairbre de Brun lobbies for PEACE III

In her Daily Ireland today's column, SF MEP Bairbre de Brun announced that "next Monday, Sinn Fein will host a major agri-rural and PEACE III breakfast briefing at Stormont. We will also use the event to urge those in attendance to lobby the Irish and British governments to support the call for a Peace III programme." A SF press release also reports that Armagh residents campaigners have been addressing the issue of British military presence in their County during an EU conference in Brussels.

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Ahern to meet Blair over future of the Treaty

RTE reports that "the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, will meet the British Prime MinisterTony Blair, at the House of Commons later today for talks on Northern Ireland and on the future of the EU Constitution. Mr Ahern will also have a separate meeting at the Irish Embassy in London with a DUP delegation led by Ian Paisley."

Link

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bairbre de Brun fights for EU rural budget

SF MEP Bairbre de Brun, speaking after a conference on rural development, is reported to have said that "it was very important that rural development is not sold short in any deal on the Financial Perspectives (EU Budget for 2007- 2013) and also that we get agreement now.One thing is very clear from all that has been said. If European heads of state are serious about creating jobs in rural areas as an alternative to falling incomes from farming it is short sighted to take money out of the rural development budget. Speaker after speaker today also emphasised the importance of the bottom up approach. Mrs Maura Walsh, speaking on behalf of ELARD (rural Network for the Mediterranean and Ireland) told how LEADER + in the North of Ireland had had a target to create 1,000 jobs yet had managed to create 800 jobs in the first year alone."

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NI will held first Ministerial Meeting of UK Presidency

John Simpson, in the Belfast Telegraph, reports that "on July 6 Northern Ireland goes centre stage in the European Union. The first ministerial meeting after July 1 is to be held in Northern Ireland. Ministers from all 25 EU governments who have responsibility for employment policies will hold an informal meeting of the EU Employment Council here."

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Irish Voters think referendum should go ahead - poll

A poll commissioned by the Irish Times suggests that a majority of Irish voters believes the Government should go ahead with a referendum on the EU Constitution. However, the poll also shows that "should the referendum proceed, 35 per cent would vote to reject the constitution, 30 per cent to accept it, while 35 per cent don't know or have no opinion." In his fight against the Treaty, DUP MEP Jim Allister today told the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels that "it was time to face up to the reality that foisting the rejected Constitution on the people of Europe was "mission impossible"". In the meantime, it has been reported that the Danes wonder if they are going to hold a referendum on the Treaty or not. More here



DUP MEP; JIM ALLISTER; today told the Constitutional Affairs Committee
of the European Parliament in Brussels that it was time to face up to the
reality that foisting the rejected Constitution on the people of Europe was
"mission impossible".With Constitution supporters divided over whether to press ahead with the ratification process or go for suspension and review, Jim Allister said
those who remained in blind denial epitomised the arrogance of the
European elite who had been so robustly rebuffed by the people of France and
Holland. Mr Allister urged the Committee to face the fact and consequences that
the Constitution had been rejected on its merits - because people don't
want more centralisation, they weren't enjoying the 'euroland' experience,
they believed national control was better and rejected superstatehood for
Europe. Thus, he argued, honest abandonment was the way to go."


Link

Monday, June 13, 2005

Carlingford Lough get £500.000 from EU funds

Daily Ireland reports that "Carlingford Lough, which separates counties Down and Louth, is to get significant funding under a new cross-border initiative. While the Erne-Shannon waterway has been developed into one of Ireland’s main tourist attractions for anglers and boating enthusiasts and Lough Neagh remains one of the country’s most prized nature reserves, Carlingford Lough has been overlooked repeatedly by both investors and government funding."

Link

Irish to Become 21st EU Official Language

RTE reports that "EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg today supported the proposal, which is now certain to be formally adopted this afternoon." Dermot Ahern said "This is a real psychological boost for the Irish language. People often said that we would be subsumed into the EU culture. This confirms the fact that there are multiple identities in the EU but each of us is no less nationalistic than prior to us joining." It has also been reported "that the Irish premier Bertie Ahern had to intervene a number of times to secure agreement by all member states." This decision will come into effect in 2007. SF MEP Bairbre de Brun declared that "today's announcement is a victory for campaigners from all over Ireland and further afield who continue to campaign for equality for the language." Fine Gael Dinny McGinley TD said that "this recognition of the status of the Irish language at EU level is welcome, not least as it will reverse that inexplicable decision made by Fianna Fáil in 1972 when they failed to seek official status for the language." ***UPDATE***: SF Dail leader Caoimhghín O Caoláin in an Irish and English press release said "it should be remembered that the Government was unwilling to put this issue forward until it was raised as a major issue during the EU election campaign last year, raised by Sinn Féin, among other parties and groups." ***UPDATE*** MEP DUP Jim Allister however, notes that "what we have here is the outworking of a Gaelic ego-trip by those who thrive on a pretence of being deprived". ***UPDATE*** UUP MEP Jim Nicholson reacted by saying that "given that the estimated initial cost to the taxpayer of EUR3.5 million a year, I feel it is inappropriate for our Government to have backed the measure in Council." More here ***Update*** Paisley said at the House of Commons: "I have just discovered that a translation into the Irish language is to be made available. I made some inquiries, which revealed that no Member of the European Parliament in this term or any other term has ever required an Irish translation to participate in the workings of the European Parliament. The translation will cost £3.5 million every year, and there will be 20 to 30 translators translating into Irish for Irish people who never even asked for it."

STATEMENT BY DUP MEP JIM ALLISTER

"Today's decision to elevate Irish as an official language of the EU is a gross waste of public money for the basest of political reasons. What we have here is the outworking of a Gaelic ego-trip by those who thrive on a pretence of being deprived.
It is also important to note the precedent which such a step will create for other secondary and regional languages. There are 3 regional languages from Spain campaigning for recognition and if Irish becomes an official working language then their case is unanswerable, for they are living, not dead languages. This matter is getting out of hand. All Irish MEPs have English as their first language and for 25 years have found it more than adequate. We already have 20 languages in the EU, all with immense translation costs, now, pressurised by Sinn Fein, the Irish Government has put pursuit of republican ideology above pragmatic common sense and fiscal responsibility."

****

Statement by UUP MEP Jim Nicholson:

"Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has criticised the Government's
backing for the Irish language being upgraded to official language status in
the European Union.

Speaking from Brussels, Mr Nicholson said, "The push to have Irish
upgraded was a purely political campaign. It will only serve to overburden
a linguistic régime which is already struggling to cope with 20
official languages. Given that the estimated initial cost to the taxpayer of
EUR3.5 million a year, I feel it is inappropriate for our Government to
have backed the measure in Council.

"Given that the UK Government's endorsement of the upgrade comes only
days after the Commission approved £12 million in state aid i.e. British
taxpayer aid to the Irish Language Broadcast fund in Northern Ireland,
we have got to question the priority of Government in investing moral
and financial support in the promotion of the Irish language at a time
when budget constraints are being felt in essential public sector areas
such as health and education.""


Link

Lisbon Strategy Event

The Irish Congress of Trade Union will held an event at the Waterfront Studio June 21 on the Listbon Strategy. A specialist panel will answer the questions: "What is the 'Lisbon strategy'? Did it sink the French and Dutch referendums?" More Here

"If so, how and why?
Do we want the European or US model for jobs and welfare - what could be
more central to the debate on Europe? Come and hear....

Lisbon: Failed Agenda or Future Strategy?

The Studio, Waterfront Hall, Belfast

21 June 2005

5.30-7.00pm

The Biennial Delegate Conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
is taking place in Belfast 21-24 June. Following the conference theme of
"Quality Work Quality Life" there will be a public meeting on the Lisbon
Strategy followed by a Q & A session and panel discussion.



The event will be chaired by Wendy Austin, presenter of Good Morning
Ulster BBC Radio Ulster



On the panel will be:



Mr John Doyle, EU Commission Task Force on Lisbon Objectives and
Sustainable Development

Ms Maria Helena Andre, Deputy General Secretary, European Trade Union
Confederation (ETUC)

Mr David Begg, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)

Sir Samuel Brittan, Financial Times columnist

Mr John Simpson, Belfast Telegraph columnist

Election 2005 - what just happened?

Follow Stratagem's election analysis, debriefing and listings on
www.stratagem-ni.com"

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

"No Surrender over the Rebate" - Allister

In a press release, DUP MEP Jim Allister said "it is imperative in the British national interest that there is no fudge or budge on the British rebate. As a nation the EU has cost us dear." More here
"The United Kingdom has always been a net contributor, that is, even with the UK rebate, we contribute more than we get back. The UK’s net contribution can vary considerably from year to year. The table below sets out the UK’s contribution, abatement and public sector receipts from the EU for the period 1998 – 2004, showing an estimated net contribution of over £4 B in 2004. Taken over all our years of membership it is clear that EU membership has been a massive drain on our financial resources.


(...)

While others spong off Europe the UK pays in far too much. The rebate must not be surrendered, nor can it be used as the scapegoat for Europe’s multiple ills. It is not the rebate which causes loss to EU resources but excessive waste and foolish projects. With the Court of Auditors refusing to sign off EU spending for each of the last 10 years, it is clear that the books are a shambles and fraudulent leaching of funds is rife.”

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Ulster Farmers defend the CAP

The Farming Life reports that "Ulster Farmer Union chief executive, Clarke Black, said suggestions that the CAP needed to be reformed were completely unacceptable to the agriculture industry. He said: "The CAP has already been successfully reformed. 2005 is the first year of this new approach to farm support and farmers were informed that the current Reform is supposed to run until 2013. The farming industry now needs a period of stability, not suggestions of further reform."" Read the full press release here

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Motion against Barroso: SF and DUP MEPs under pressure?

Interesting enough: although SF MEPs Bairbre de Brun and Mary Lou McDonald alongside DUP Jim Allister supported at first the motion against the EU Commmission presented by the UKIP Nigel Farage, they seemed to have all changed their minds: Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brun voted against the motion and Jim Allister chose the abstention. The Scotsman reports that "Some legislators who signed had been under pressure from their parties to remove their names, and British Conservative Roger Helmer had been expelled from the European People’s Party, the largest group in the parliament, after he publicly criticised the group’s leaders." Overall, only 35 MEPs voted in favour of the motion which was rejected.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Taoiseach rejects "confusion" over the ratification process

Breaking News reports that Bertie Ahern denied yesterday that there was some confusion over the ratification process and argued that "What people do not know is where would the Netherlands and France stand if everybody else ratified it. What would actually happen and what time frame is there now for ratification." However, Daily Ireland' today's editorial notes that "the continuing assertions by the Irish government that it will hold a referendum on the EU constitution must be regarded with suspicion. It is obvious that the treaty is dead, and that another one will be negotiated." More here Ahern: No confusion on EU Constitution
09/06/2005 - 15:53:03

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has denied that people are confused over the ratification of the EU Constitution.

The draft Treaty needs agreement from 25 member states but EU founder members France and the Netherlands have already rejected it.

However Mr Ahern pointed out that 10 countries have already ratified it and 13 have yet to decide, including Ireland.

“That’s where it’s at. I don’t think there’s any confusion,” he told reporters in Dublin today.

“What people do not know is where would the Netherlands and France stand if everybody else ratified it. What would actually happen and what time frame is there now for ratification.”

The Taoiseach said a European Council summit in Brussels next week will give EU leaders some guidance on the troubled issue.

“We have to wait until next week when we will get the collective view of everybody and to see what is the position moving forward.”

Mr Ahern, who helped broker EU agreement on the Treaty last year, also said it was unlikely there would be ratification in the UK in the shorter term.

“They hold an important position because they take over the EU presidency next month,” he added.

Last week, Progressive Democrat TD Mae Sexton said an Irish referendum would be a waste of money and urged the Government to have the document re-negotiated.

Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has said he will resign if Luxembourg rejects the Constitution in its July 10 referendum.

The tiny state, with an electorate of 200,000, is the next country to vote on the EU Constitution after it was rejected in France and the Netherlands.


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Thursday, June 09, 2005

"DUP should welcome EU Peace funding" - Bairbre de Brun

Although, MEP DUP Jim Allister said at first that the EU Peace funding were on 'probation', he finally encouraged Unionists to apply for the new scheme of grants. However, SF MEP Bairbre de Brun said :"The DUP welcome for the additional funding announced last week seems to fly in the face of their efforts since 1994 and before to scupper the development of the peace process and their continuing opposition to the Good Friday Agreement which it produced. They should draw the obvious conclusions from welcoming the PEACE II extension and embrace the peace process also."

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Allister opposes EU seat at the UN

A communique from the DUP reports that "MEP Jim Allister has today in the European Parliament in Strasbourg opposed a resolution calling for reform of the United Nations to embrace a seat for the EU. Mr Allister put his opposition on the record by declaring:- "Being utterly opposed to the acquisition of statehood by the EU and the compulsion of a single foreign policy for Europe, I voted against the Resolution urging that reform of the UN should embrace a seat for the EU. This is a resolution driven by those consumed by a fanatical desire to usurp national authority and status. In my view only nation states can and should represent their citizens in the United Nations, with each free to determine their own foreign policy. With the defeated EU Constitution there is now even less justification than ever for this foolish proposal.""

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Kirkhope on the IRA at the EP

Timothy Kirkhope,the British Conservative leader at the European Parliament gave a speech yesterday about the IRA during a debate on the fight against terrorism. He said– "The IRA is different from ETA, which is different from al-Qa’ida, but they are all evil and must be faced down and eliminated." More here

"Mr President, terrorism threatens all of us. The United Kingdom has had to deal with the Irish Republican terrorism of Sinn Féin/IRA for over three decades and as they say themselves, they have not gone away, you know. We need to be steadfast in the face of terrorism. Weakness and equivocation merely strengthen those who seek to undermine democracy. We also need clarity, however, on understanding the threat we face and the best measures to deal with that threat. For this reason we welcome the proposals to improve information-sharing between relevant authorities, which are foreseen under Mr Duquesne’s report. As we have seen, Member States cooperating on a bilateral basis, without being hamstrung by needlessly heavy institutional constraints, have produced results. Joint investigation teams, on which I had the honour of being rapporteur in the previous Parliament, have been working well in this area, as referred to in the Díez González report. Such flexible, targeted, measured and appropriate responses are good examples of what can be achieved. But we also need to be aware of the nature of the threat that we are dealing with. The IRA is different from ETA, which is different from al-Qa’ida, but they are all evil and must be faced down and eliminated. Being unclear helps no one and I simply do not understand why some in this House do not want the use of the term "fundamental Islamist organisations" to describe al-Qa’ida and their ilk. Similarly, we also welcome the call, in the Borghezio report, to look at the question of those charities which are little more than front organisations for fund-raising for terrorism. It is deplorable that the Council has not seen fit to designate Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation. But above all else, we need to work together, exchanging information, assisting each other to deal with these ongoing threats, the undoubted threats to our freedom and to our democracy."
(Applause)
2-053
P 25

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Controversies over the MEPs Ranking

Last week (June 1), I put a story on this blog on the ranking of Northern Irish MEPs. The post was based on the ranking established by europarliament.net, an unofficial website which ranks MEPs on their attendance at plenary sessions and votes. The results showed that Jim Allister arrived first, Jim Nicholson second and Bairbre de Brun third. That could have been the end of the story but Mick Fealty from Slugger caught it and post it on his website. On June 3, by total coincidence, The Irish News (sub) using the ranking of europarliament.net published an article entitled "De Brun attendance record worst of MEPs." In reaction to this article Eoin O Broin, the Director of European Affairs of Sinn Fein, wrote today an angry letter to the newspaper saying that "the story was inaccurate, misleading and smacked of political bias" (which was caught by peteb on slugger). However, Eoin got a straight answer from the editor who said that "although (Eoin O Broin) claims that our report was misleading, he could not suggest that it contained even a single factual error." More here

De Brun attendance record worst of MEPs 03/06/2005
Irish News
By Diana Rusk

Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun has the worst attendance re-cord of the Northern Ireland MEPs at EU plenary sessions, according to an online league table.

The DUP’s Jim Allister has attended every session since July last year, Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson was at 95 per cent of the meetings and Ms de Brun, above right, made it to 83 per cent.

The figures are from unofficial European website www.europarliament.net but are derived from the roll call at official plenary session minutes.

The table ranked the MEPs in order of attendance and votes. Ms de Brun was placed 524 out of 729 members, compared with Mr Allister, who was ranked 81st.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, Fianna Fail’s Eoin Ryan and Independent member Marian Harkin were the only MEPs from the island of Ireland to rank lower than Ms de Brun.

And official EU figures show that Ms de Brun has taken part in fewer debates than Mr Allister. She spoke on 10 occasions compared with Mr Allister, who has spoken 32 times.

But Sinn Fein’s director of European affairs, Eoin O Broin, said the party's poor record was due to work being carried out in Ireland.

“Too often MEPs disappear into the bureaucracy of the EU institutions after the elections. Sinn Fein MEPs focus both on their institutional work and on providing an effective constituency service and campaigning role at home,” he said.

“The attendance of both Sinn Fein MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg reflects this.”

Commenting on the figures, Mr Allister, whose attendance was also higher than any of the MEPs from the Republic, said that he was just doing the job he had been elected to do.

EU plenary sessions are held four to six times a month.


Here is the letter from Eoin O Broin
The Irish News should avoid ‘cheap shots’
08/06/2005
Letters
From EOIN O BROIN, Director of European Affairs, Sinn Fein, Belfast

THE story in The Irish News (June 3) was inaccurate, misleading and smacked of political bias.

Bairbre de Brun has an attendance rate at the sittings of the European Parliament of 83 per cent.

This relates to the formal parliamentary sessions which take place once a month in Strasbourg and in shorter form several times a year.

The figure does not include an MEP’s committee workload, their involvement in parliamentary political group work and lobby meetings, their constituency work at home and in Brussels and their campaign workload.

Bairbre plays an active part in all of these elements of her job as an MEP in addition to playing a leadership role in Sinn Fein.

To describe her 83 per cent attendance record at plenary sessions as ‘poor’ is deeply misleading.

John Hume during his time in the European Parliament from 1999-2004 had an attendance record of 53.9 per cent and a voting record of 35 per cent.

Ian Paisley had an attendance record of 34 per cent and a voting record of 17 per cent.

These figures show that Bairbre de Brun MEP provided a greater level of service than was the norm during the previous parliamentary period.

The figures were supplied to The Irish News who chose not to include them in their story.

The real issue however is not how often our MEPs are in Brussels and Strasbourg... but what they do there.

There are many MEPs who, post-election, disappear into the political institutions of the European Union never to be seen again.

They may indeed have an attendance record of 100 per cent but deliver little for their constituents.

Sinn Fein’s MEPs are committed to balancing their EU institutional and domestic political commitments in a way that maximises the benefits to people here.

The Irish News should pay more attention

to what Irish MEPs are actually doing.

Taking cheap shots on the basis of flimsy reporting is no substitute for informed journalism. ENDS

Reply from the EDITOR:

We stand over our coverage of June 3 which fairly and accurately reflected a comprehensive survey by the independent website www.europeanparliament.net

The figures related to the attendance record of present rather than past MEPs and placed Bairbre de Brun at 524th in a league table of 729 members.

Eoin O Broin was given more space than any other political representative to offer his response.

Although he claims that our report was misleading, he could not suggest that it contained even a single factual error.

– The Editor

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Bairbre de Brun attacks the Commission over the ratification process

After the reactions about the confusion on the ratification process from Jim Allister and Jim Nicholson, Bairbre de Brun said that: "It is clear that the Dutch and French votes must be accepted as the democratic will of the people. It seems that large sections of people within the EU, including the European Commission are still in denial about recent referendum results. Reaction has ranged from blaming the people to blaming national governments for their verdicts, without stopping to think that the institutions have become increasingly isolated from the citizens and vice versa for a number of years." In today's Daily Ireland, she also writes: "It was disappointing to hear Dermot Ahern ignore the results of the ballot box and talk of Dutch and French citizens being asked to vote again."

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EU Approves Irish Language Broadcast Funds for Northern Ireland

A communique from the Office of the EU Commission in Norther Ireland reports that "The European Commission has authorised public funding for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund in Northern Ireland under EC Treaty state aid rules. The overall amount will be £12 million (€17.7 million) for the period 2005 – 2009. The objective of the Fund is to support the production of television and film output in the Irish language. The Commission considers that since the aid aims to promote cultural products and the Irish Language, it can be authorised under EC Treaty rules that allow state aids for the promotion of culture." more here
EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “The Fund fosters broadcasts for Irish language speakers and I am happy to approve state aid which promotes cultural and regional identity.”
The newly established Fund’s objective is to promote, develop and support the Irish language in Northern Ireland through the production and broadcasting of television and film output. To qualify for funding, a minimum of 60% of the spoken word within the production must be in Irish and every production must be subtitled in English. The product must be of artistic quality and should be capable of being delivered by present and developing delivery platforms – including analogue, digital, online and interactive platforms. It further should reach a substantial audience in Northern Ireland. Aid beneficiaries will be independent, audiovisual production companies and, in exceptional cases, broadcasters.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 contains a commitment to “seek more effective ways to encourage and provide financial support for Irish language film and television production in Northern Ireland.” The Joint Declaration in April 2003 stated that the UK Government would establish an Irish language Film & Television Production Fund.
The Fund, administered by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission, meets the criteria for aid to be compatible under state aid rules set out in the Commission’s Communication on “certain legal aspects relating to cinematographic and other audiovisual works”. Aid to promote culture may be authorised where such aid does not unduly distort competition, according to EC Treaty state aid rules.

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"Time to bury the corpse that was the EU Constitution": Allister

After the reactions of Mary Lou McDonald and Jim Nicholson on the shelving plans of Jack Straw, Jim Allister speaking at European Parliament said:"Your attempts to resuscitate it are as distasteful as they are ill-fated." He also added "it is not the first time Holland has saved Europe from political tyranny.This very week, in the notable year of 1690, William Prince of Orange landed at Carrickfergus in my country and brought us the Glorious Revolution and Williamite Settlement which till this day is the basis of the freedoms which the British nation jealously guards against destruction, whether at the hands of an EU Constitution or otherwise." More here
Here is the full communique from Jim Allister:
"I congratulate the people of France and Holland on bringing deliverance to all in Europe who value democracy and national liberty.The situation which now exists challenges the democratic credentials of the EU leaders. You set the test for survival of the Constitution, namely ratification by all 25. You lost. It is time to face up to it and bury the corpse that was the EU Constitution. Your attempts to resuscitate it are as distasteful as they are ill-fated.Instead, however, of an honest acceptance, I detect, rather, that a fraudulent rewriting of the rules is underway. Your excuses don't wash.The question answered in France and Holland was unmistakeably clear - this Constitution is unacceptable.What part of 'No' do you not understand?!I must finally comment that it is not the first time Holland has saved Europe from political tyranny.This very week, in the notable year of 1690, William Prince of Orange landed at Carrickfergus in my country and brought us the Glorious Revolution and Williamite Settlement which till this day is the basis of the freedoms which the British nation jealously guards against destruction, whether at the hands of an EU Constitution or otherwise."

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Bairbre de Brun speaks about rural life in the EP

A SF communique reports that: "MEP Bairbre de Brún has delivered a speech in the European Parliament calling for measures to enhance the 'quality of life in rural areas and promote diversification of economic activities through measures targeting the farm sector and other rural actors'."

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Applications sought for £5m from Peace funding

4NI reports that :"European funding worth £5 million has been made available to generate new businesses and jobs in deprived areas of Northern Ireland. The funding is now available through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, (DETI), following last week’s announcement of the two-year extension and additional funding of €160 million of the Peace II Programme." More here

DETI is seeking applications from community development and social economy organisations looking to develop flexible workspace units.
Applications for the funding must be submitted to DETI by 4pm on Thursday 7 July through the website www.eugrants.org or by telephoning 028 9052 9587.
Projects must benefit areas defined as New Targeting Social Need, demonstrate partnership/consultation with the local community and complement other regeneration initiatives.The scheme is being funded through the European Union (EU) Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland (PEACE II).

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Reactions to Straw's "Shelving" of the Referendum

Jack Straw put yesterday on 'the shelves' the proposed bill paving the way to a referendum in Britain, this carefully craft speech at the House of Common managed to defuse fears by the other EU member states that the Treaty was effectively dead. As Robin Cook remarks: "Mr Straw had carefully avoided saying it was dead so as not to be blamed by the French and Germans for being "the obstacle that caused it to crash''. Indeed, the newly appointed French Foreign Minister, Phillipe Douste Blazy, said that it was "normal that to pursue the ratification process." Dermot Ahern, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, also confirmed this morning on BBC Radio 4 that Ireland will have a referendum on the Treaty. However, UUP MEP Jim Nicholson reacted to Jack Straw's speech in saying that "The Prime Minister has a simple choice, he must either announce that the EU Constitution is dead or allow the British people the opportunity, through a referendum, to kill it once and for all. No part of the Constitution must be introduced by stealth through the back door."
***UPDATE***
SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald said, in reaction to Dermot Ahern decision to go ahead with a referendum in Ireland, that his "belief that the people of (France and the Netherlands) should re-think their decision on the EU Constitution shows a blatant disregard for the democratic will of the French and Dutch people. He wants the people of the Netherlands and France to think, re-think and think again until they vote the way the European elites want them to. "

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Allister Congratulates PSNI over McCartney arrests

In a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEP Jim Allister said: "In this debate on terrorism I am pleased to welcome the fact that on Saturday morning last in Belfast IRA member, Terry Davidson, was charged in court with the murder of Robert McCartney and a second IRA person, Jim McCormick, was charged with the attempted murder of McCartney's friend, Brendan Devine. I congratulate the PSNI in overcoming an IRA orchestrated and on-going campaign of intimidation to begin the process of securing justice in this notorious case. I trust many more charges will follow." More here

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Allister attacks the new proposed regulation on Rural Development

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, DUP MEP Jim Allister, attacked aspects of the Commission's proposal on the new Rural Development Regulation.Mr Allister said: "At a time of unprecedented change in agriculture - still our single most significant industry in Northern Ireland - it is vital that the Rural Development Regulation aids, not aggravates, the situation. This funding must not be prioritised unfairly to the new Member states, with gross disadvantage to the EU 15. We pay, they spend, simply won't do." More here

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Barroso will visit the National Forum on Europe

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso,
is to address the National Forum on Europe at its plenary session on Thursday 30th June 2005. It will be held in the Mansion House, Dawson Street in Dublin at 10a.m. The theme of Mr Barroso's address will be "The EU Constitution - the Big Picture."This will be the Commission President's first visit to Ireland since taking up the position. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern TD, who was President of the European Council when Mr Barroso accepted the top job at the Commission, will also attend.The event will be open to the public. However, there will be a registration process.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Allister urges Unionists to apply for EU Peace Money

In a tribune in Saturday's Newsletter, MEP Jim Allister urged Unionists to apply for the extension of the EU Peace II. This tribune came after his criticisms on the programme, arguing that Peace II was on Probation: "The extension of the Peace programme is a welcome opportunity to attempt to redress the anti-unionist imbalance which has existed heretofore. But it is also a fleeting prospect that must not be missed. It is absolutely vital that unionists apply to gain access to these resources and get our fair slice of the peace cake."

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Nicholson hits at proposed Directive on animal welfare

In an article in the Farming life, it has been reported that MEP Jim Nicholson opposes a proposed Directive on animal welfare that he describes as 'red tape': "I totally support the highest standards of animal welfare but once again this is the type of Directive that we will implement in full while others will pay lip service to it. As a result it will do nothing for animal welfare."

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Mc Greevy warns against double speed Europe

In an interview in the Sunday Business Post Mc Greevy, the Irish Commissioner, warns against the prospect of a double speed Europe: "Voices might get louder for a dual-speed Europe, where some member states buy into some aspects of integration but not into others. I don't think this would be a good thing. But certainly, there is now a divide between those wedded to the old social Europe, and those who recognise that to underpin social protection and future pensions we need to face up to the realities of globalisation and generate faster economic growth through open, competitive, free markets. That, in my view, is now where the divide is."

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Onions and French Cry

I have been recently introduced to the EU version of the onion, the europeanonion, which has some first class spoof posters on EU related topics. To continue on fun EU bashing, the American website Cagle Slate has a good collection of cartoons on the French No (with lots of poodles.)

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Reactions to Dermot Ahern' declaration

Following the comments of Dermot Ahern, Mary Lou McDonald has been quick to remark that 'it is obvious that this government is in complete and utter disarray over the EU Constitution'. Bernard Allen, the foreign affair spokesperson for Fine Gael also ask for clarification saying that: "the governement must state whether the referendum will be held". In the meantime, Mae Sexton from the Progessive Democrats said that "she believes the ratification process is clearly in difficulty and the treaty needs to be renegotiated." Roger Cole, chairman of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) asked that: "How can you possible justify spending €5m asking people if they support a dead parrot ?"

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Peace II Extension: Update

An official communique from the EU Commission Office in Northern Ireland reports that the extension provides an additional EUR 144 million of funding to support the PEACE Programme for 2005 and 2006, bringing the total value of the Programme to EUR 852 million for the period 2000-2006.Danuta Hübner, the EU Commissioner for Regional Affairs said: “I am delighted to be in Belfast today to confirm the extension of EU support for PEACE which will allow the programme’s vital work to continue and to be consolidated. The European Union understands that economic and social development in support of peace and reconciliation at grassroots level is not a short term process. The Programme provides real added-value in bringing communities together to address shared economic and social problems and opportunities. In face of the current difficulties in the peace process, this decision demonstrates the continued solidarity and support of the European Union towards permanent peace in the region” (see the whole communique in the Comments section). Although Jim Allister said that the Peace Fundings were on probation, Jim Nicholson welcomed the extension 'which was agreed over 12 months ago. He said that "while the distribution of funds may have been imperfect, I will be placing pressure on both the government and the Commission to ensure the equal distribution of funding in the future. We are now in the process of negotiating further funding for 2006-2012. It will be difficult for Northern Ireland to achieve what it has in the past as 78% of the EU's Regional funds are earmarked to go to the 10 new Member States. I will however continue to fight for a fair and equal share of EU money for Northern Ireland." Baibre de Brun welcomed the extension of the funds and added that "Sinn Féin believes that the future success of any PEACE III programme will be in its ability to take on board the thoughts and concerns of grassroots organizations and community groups and I call for their full involvement in the design and implementation of funding programmes. Future funding should be directed to the twin goals of reconciliation and social inclusion, in order to combat the legacy of the conflict, particularly for those most marginalised in recent decades."

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Ireland has the best of both worlds - the Anglo-Saxon and Social Models ?

Michael Hennigan in an article in FinFacts Business News contradicts Anthony Coughlan and his constant opposition to the entry and participation of Ireland in the EU. Hennigan argues that Ireland has beneficiated from the EU construction and observes that "in the early years, Irish politicians spoke as one about the obligation of the "rich countries to help the poor countries on the Western periphery. That tune has changed with our recent rise to the top of the EU wealth league, even though we are still net beneficiaries of the European Union's budget."

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