21 April 1998
Bernard J. Durkan T.D.
Joint Committee on European Affairs
Dear Deputy Durkan,
Thank you for your letter of 9 April concerning the question of public information on the Treaty of Amsterdam in advance of the Referendum now scheduled for 22 May.
The Government has been and remains concerned to ensure that the public will be in a position to make an informed decision on the matter.
It will be recalled that concern for transparency was a hallmark of the InterGovermental Conference (IGC) which negotiated the Treaty from the commencement of its work in March 1996. Throughout the negotiations both the European Parliament and National Parliaments, including our own, were kept regularly informed of the state of play. The General Outline for a Draft Revision of the Treaties, which was drafted by the Irish Presidency and submitted to the European Council in December 1996, was clearly and succinctly written in a manner intended to be easily understood. At that time, it was widely disseminated and was available on request from the Department.
Subsequent to the conclusion of the Treaty and to its signature in October of last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs prepared a White Paper on the Treaty of Amsterdam which was published in January of this year. The White Paper is widely acknowledged to be a comprehensive, comprehensible and factual guide to the Treaty and was prepared with a view to making it understandable to a very wide audience. In addition, this Department published a Summary of the White Paper, in both Irish and English. The availability of this Summary from the Department, on request and free of charge, was widely advertised at the time of its publication.
The Treaty of Amsterdam was debated in October in Dail Eireann and the legislation providing for the required amendment of the Constitution was debated and passed through all stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas before the Easter recess. On all of these occasions the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other members of the Government have made the position of the Government on the Treaty of Amsterdam known in some detail.
You will also be aware that, under the Referendum Act 1998, a Referendum Commission was established with the task of providing information to the public and fostering debate on the Treaty of Amsterdam, and, in this connection, I note that you have written to the Secretary of the Commission.
As regards the pre-Referendum period, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has asked me to say that he, together with his colleagues in Government, will be active in advocating support for the Treaty of Amsterdam as the next and necessary step in the process of European integration. In doing so, the Minister will, of course, continue to provide Government views on the provisions of the Treaty and on the importance for Ireland in being at the forefront of the European integration process.