It is very important that we mark Europe Day on Saturday. The challenge for all of us will be whether we are willing to discuss Europe with those around us because we all have a responsibility and a role in that discussion. I thank the Leader, Senator Cummins, who has been very good at facilitating and encouraging us to get more involved and active on the issue of the EU and its importance in our lives and those of the people we represent. I thank him also for organising a recent briefing with the European Commission representation in Ireland, with Barbara Nolan and Jonathan Claridge. It was an excellent briefing and it is a pity more Senators did not turn up. I hope next time we can encourage more to come along.
It is good to see sentiment is rising, according to the latest Eurobarometer polls, in November 2014. Trust is rising, which is positive. The EU has taken some very positive measures to deal with youth unemployment. We have seen, across Europe but particularly in Ireland how young people are disproportionately impacted by a recession through losing jobs and having to emigrate. What statistics are available to demonstrate the success or failure of the youth employment initiative? We hail big flagship projects but how do we, as Senators and parliamentarians, demonstrate to the public that it is worth this investment, the initiatives are working and we are able to use the experience? I appreciate what the Commission Vice-President Timmermans is doing in trying to reduce the number of initiatives. It is very positive but part of me wonders what the Parliament will do with all the extra time it will have without the Commission producing initiatives. We may have to move to implementation. That will be very tough for member states because we will have to stop coming up with lots of new ideas and get down to the gritty work of implementing what is happening at an EU level.
In respect of the work that will happen to lighten the regulatory burden it is very important that we hear from small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs, and civil society organisations across the sector. We can all say how important it is to lighten the regulatory burden but how we do it is also important.
Ireland has to play a very active role in respect of the possible UK in-out referendum. I am very encouraged by the fact that the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all other players in the Government have taken on a role in that referendum. Ireland will not stay silent on an issue of such importance to the EU and to our closest neighbours, the UK. It most definitely will have ramifications for us, mostly negative.
The lack of an EU immigration policy is an issue. We can say what we want about the United States, US, but it has very clear immigration rules and one can apply to go there. The EU cannot get its head around it. In certain member states there is rising sentiment, stimulated by the lack of EU leadership on the issue. We think that if we just put up the borders people will not come. If I have a choice between certain death and probable death I will take probable death. That is why people are getting on boats. We have to wake up. Being part of the EU is part of our values. We sing about the respect for human dignity, liberty, equality or human rights but when it comes to people who are not EU citizens do we, all of a sudden, throw the values into the Mediterranean as well? Member states have to take this issue more seriously. We should not call them migrants, they are individuals just like any of us and if I was in their situation I would get on that boat. We all have to know we would do that if we were facing certain death in the situations they are fleeing. The EU has a responsibility and a role on the world stage.
The digital single market and the fact that we could create up to €340 billion of additional growth in Europe over the next ten years is very exciting. I hope Ireland will maximise its slice of that pie. It is well-placed in respect of that market. I am also very heartened to see that within the development of that policy the EU is considering child protection issues. An issue on which I wrote a report and had great support from Members on all sides of the House is child abuse material. I was heartened to read on the Commission’s website that it is considering having a system of filtering child abuse material in the absence of us not having an effective system to remove child abuse images. It will look at doing that at a European Union level. It is happening in the United Kingdom. In Ireland, UPC and the mobile phone operators have brought in such a system, but it is voluntary rather than us saying these images should be blocked. There are very good reasons we need to do that. Twenty-seven per cent of women in the EU, not in Africa or some other country, have experienced some form of physical violence before the age of 15. We must step up what we are doing on the issue of child protection and children’s rights.
We know that approximately 16% of the victims of trafficking registered by EU member states are children. We know that violence is still relatively hidden and under-reported, with 90% of all abuse undetected, according to the World Health Organisation. That ranges from issues such as child sexual abuse and exploitation to bullying and cyberbullying.
In terms of these statements, I know we look at the area from a business and jobs perspective but we must ensure that we also use the children’s rights lens when we are looking at those issues.
I refer to an excellent reflection paper the EU produced yesterday on the 9th European Forum on the Rights of the Child – co-ordination and co-operation in integrated child protection systems. I am disheartened to see that 25 EU member states are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland are the only three countries in the EU that have not signed up to that convention. It is something we need to examine. I believe the capacity legislation may be the blocking mechanism for us. We always say that Ireland plays our role in that regard but when we look at the implementation issues, we are not as good. We need to focus on that issue and consider how we are implementing and upholding our responsibilities as EU citizens, whether here in Ireland, within the European borders or on the world stage.