Tuesday, 12 April 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
4. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to the reported content of the St. Patrick's Day Message of Peace and Justice issued by 56 members of the American House of Representatives ad hoc Committee on Irish Affairs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
6. Mr. J. Bruton, Miss Harney and Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he will meet with the Opposition party leaders to discuss the steps that will be taken collectively to advance the peace process through constitutional action.
7. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he has received a response from Mr. Gerry Adams to his public request to him to spell out clearly what Sinn Féin were seeking when Mr. Adams spoke about moving beyond the issue of clarification of the Joint Declaration of 15 December 1993; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
8. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach his views on the 72 hour ceasefire announced by the provisional IRA; the impact of this on the prospects for acceptance of the Joint Declaration of 15 December 1993; the discussions, if any, he has had with the British Prime Minister on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Government welcomed the three-day ceasefire in terms of the limited respite from human suffering it offered. We regarded it as a small step in the right direction, which may have had some symbolic importance. We likewise shared the heartfelt hope of the overwhelming number of Irish people, North and South that a meaningful extension to the ceasefire would have ensued. I empathise with the widespread sense of disappointment, that what would have been seen as a gesture of real commitment to a durable peace did not as yet take place.
Since the Joint Declaration was agreed by the British Prime Minister and myself, there has existed a strong public expectation and fervent hope that the ensuing internal debate in the Republican movement would lead to a decision on a complete cessation of violence. Such a development would immediately open the way to the next stage of the peace process as set out in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Declaration, where all concerned  would participate solely on the basis of the respect accorded by the exclusively democratic nature of their electoral mandates.
The Government welcomes the support of the Opposition parties for the Joint Declaration, and hopes that they will continue a constructive approach towards the development of the peace process. In this regard, I am happy to meet with the party leaders and to consider carefully any points put forward in the context of sustaining the momentum for peace.
As I have indicated on previous occasions, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is intended to bring the peace process to the next step consequent on a permanent cessation of violence. This stage has not yet been reached.
I wish to make absolutely clear that, for both Governments, a permanent cessation of violence remains the goal, so that all parties can be present at the negotiating table. There is no justification whatsoever for continued violence. None of us can guarantee that the present relatively favourable conditions for peace will continue indefinitely. It seems that the process of deliberation must surely be all but complete at this stage. An early decision on peace is required so as to facilitate full participation by the Republican movement in the search for new agreed relationships between the two traditions in Ireland.
Regarding the St. Patrick's Day message issued by the US House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, their support for the Joint Declaration as a foundation for a lasting and equitable solution is welcome. The statement also refers to clarification and negotiation. I have just set out the policy position in these areas.
It is important to stress once again the single-minded determination of both Governments that no party or organisation will be allowed veto political progress. We will not permit the momentum towards this end to be slowed down. Work on a possible framework document for new talks is continuing, progress is being made and this work will proceed  with intensity. The Prime Minister and I remain in frequent contact to review and discuss developments in this and other areas. Our efforts are significantly augmented by the regular meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and by the workings of the Secretariat. There is understandable impatience and disappointment with the very limited and inadequate response of the Republican movement so far to this unprecedented opportunity for peace. I would like to assure the House that both Governments will continue in our efforts to develop the peace process, and are also pursuing, as a matter of urgency, the earliest possible resumption of the three-strand talks in the context of the Joint Declaration.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I agree that what we have had so far is a token ceasefire. Does the Taoiseach see any reasonable prospect in the foreseeable future that the virtually unanimous view of the people of the island of Ireland will be accepted and that the IRA killing and bombing will be ended? On the peace process, does the Taoiseach believe that Sinn Féin is capable of delivering a ceasefire? On the talks——
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I wish to raise two other points. We would all like to see the constitutional parties on this island talking. Does the Taoiseach see any prospect of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland engaging in such discussions in the run up to the European elections? On the discussions between the two Governments, in the absence of talks between the constitutional parties or parallel with them, can a case be made for the two Governments to engage in detailed discussions, not merely on a framework document, so that they will be in a position to present agreed options to the parties later in the year?
The Taoiseach: On the Deputy's latter question, the liaison committee is continuing to look at the prospects for institutional and other structures which might be put forward for discussion in the three stranded talks process so as to make co-operation between North and South a reality. The Deputy's question as to whether the IRA had the capacity to deliver on a peace process would have to be directed to the IRA — I do not have any additional knowledge which would enable me to comment on this issue. However, I believe a real opportunity for peace exists. Despite the setbacks, disappointments and the logjams which have been put in the way of peace, I still believe peace is attainable. What was the Deputy's first question?
The Taoiseach: I am sure that like me, the Deputy is a political realist who recognises that at the time of an election the possibility of some of the parties saying they would come back to the negotiating table after the elections is very limited. That is my assessment of the political realities up there and we will have to wait until after the elections. I hope I am wrong in this — and I would like to think that I am wrong — but I am merely expressing a realistic political view.
Mr. J. Bruton: Shortly before the Downing Street Declaration the Taoiseach expressed the judgment that there could be peace before Christmas, last year. Will the Taoiseach say what has changed to lead him to revise his judgment in that matter?
The Taoiseach: I have had to correct the record in this regard on numerous occasions. This was in response to the second question asked at the press conference in Downing Street on the day the Joint Declaration was issued. I want to again put it on record — if the Deputy looks at the record he will see I said  this on a number of occasions — that I believed the first steps towards peace would be achievable by Christmas, which they were. The signing of the Joint Declaration was the first step along the road towards the achievement of peace, and that is still the case.
Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach outline what he believes are the remaining steps on the road to peace? Will he say if any of those steps need to be taken by the Government or if they all have to be taken by the IRA? On the possible framework document for renewed talks referred to by him, will the Taoiseach say if this will be a joint document between both Governments or a document prepared and published by one Government? Will he take the initiative to get talks going between constitutional politicians, not on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed but on the more sensible basis that something must be agreed soon because not everything can be agreed?
The Taoiseach: I share Deputy Bruton's aspiration that something will be agreed as early as possible. However, I have no intention of moving away from the ground rules of the three stranded talks process when they resume, that is, no preconditions are to be laid down by anybody and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Those rules were agreed by the two Governments and I have no intention of deviating from them — they are a solid basis on which to go forward.
The two Governments are continuing to work together through the liaison committee. I think Deputy Bruton, and everyone else, would agree that a document produced by either Government which was not supported by the other would not go very far in the process. The two Governments are working together through the liaison committee on a framework document.
The Deputy asked the steps taken by the Government since the Joint Declaration. We have given very extensive  clarification and explanations of the text of the Downing Street Joint Declaration and what it means. We have also taken up every argument put forward by Sinn Féin against the declaration so as to ensure that no stone is left unturned. The British Government took a different view of the requests for clarification and explanations. We all have to recognise the deep and yawning gap of distrust which exists between Sinn Féin and the British Government about what either side says. This has arisen from past experiences and centuries' old conflict. This gap will have to be bridged at some stage. On a number of occasions I have asked the aspects of the declaration which require clarification — I have listened to the repeated requests for clarification, read the newspapers and heard the statements — but I have not been told what they are. If I knew the aspects which required clarification I might be in a position to make some objective judgment of the assistance we could give in this area. However, in the absence of this information I cannot go any further.
Miss Harney: I thank the Taoiseach for agreeing to meet with the Opposition leaders and for acknowledging that we have played a constructive role. I think I speak for my colleagues in all the Opposition parties when I say we intend to continue to play a constructive role in this matter. In response to my question the Taoiseach said that the work underway to advance the peace process involved work on the framework document for talks. He went on to acknowledge that there was little likelihood of inter-party talks in the immediate future. Will the Taoiseach agree that it would be better to proceed with the establishment of the forum in the short term? Has Sinn Féin expressed any reservations about paragraph 5 of the declaration in which the Irish Government acknowledges that there can be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority there?
The Taoiseach: So many statements  have been made on this matter that it would be foolish, without having all of them in front of me, to make a definitive comment on any of them. On the question of the talks process, I was expressing what I believe is a realistic political view about the forthcoming elections in Northern Ireland. If the talks process can be started before these elections we would certainly support and assist any such move. I am merely saying that we all know of the competition between the two Unionist parties in the North and it would be unrealistic to expect either one of them to expose their flanks in an election. I do not think they will do this but if they do so be it.
I recognise the constructive role played by the Opposition parties in supporting the Downing Street Declaration and their continued support for it. We all want to achieve the same result at the end of the day, that is, peace.
On the question of the institutional and other structures which might be appropriate for the talks process, much work is being, and will continue to be, done in this area. Consequently, I do not accept the view that nothing is happening behind the scenes or that we are waiting for somebody else to make decisions for us.
The Taoiseach: Much work is being done on the forum. As I previously said in the House, I will not establish the forum without full consultation with all party leaders. The structure of the forum can be the subject of our talks. My office will be in touch with the various party leaders to see how soon we can have that meeting.
Proinsias De Rossa: On the question of clarification for Sinn Féin and the IRA, will the Taoiseach agree that their demands for clarification are simply a euphemism for them wishing to have direct meetings with the British Government and the commencement of negotiations on the content of the Joint Declaration and that this would be entirely unacceptable to the British and Irish Governments? Equally it is an attempt to establish its right to use violence in pursuit of its aims in that it wants to do this before agreeing to end its campaign of violence.
The Taoiseach: To seek renegotiation of the Downing Street Joint Declaration is not acceptable to either Government. I said that on a number of occasions and the British Government have also said it. I recall a statement by Sinn Féin which said it was not looking for a meeting with the British Government for renegotiation but for clarification or explanation or whatever one may wish to call it. The question the Deputy asks on renegotiation of the document simply does not arise in the eyes of either Government and will not change our position on that.
Mr. J. Bruton: I too welcome the forthcoming talks with the Taoiseach who said in referring to them that he would consider carefully any points put forward by the Opposition. We will have points to put forward but can I take it that the Taoiseach will be putting forward proposals  or ideas also for discussion with us or will it be simply a one way street? I hope that will not be the case.
Do I discern from the Taoiseach's reply a sense of pessimism about the possibility of all-party talks starting before the European elections because of the reluctance of some parties? Also, looking ahead, the marching season follows immediately after that and, therefore, it is possible that little or nothing might happen in terms of talks before September or October? Will the Taoiseach agree that would be most undesirable? Will he agree also that some special initiative is needed quickly by himself and the British Prime Minister to engage people in constructive talks so that there will not be a political vacuum of a kind that could be extremely dangerous?
The Taoiseach: No political vacuum exists as far as I and the British Prime Minister are concerned. We are in close contact on a very frequent basis in relation to monitoring what is happening, keeping ourselves updated and, indeed, discussing the future positions of both Governments.
On the question of restarting the talks process, the Deputy should not take it that I am pessimistic; I am simply giving what I believe is a political assessment of the situation in the North regarding the resumption of talks. I do not accept that we cannot have talks during the marching season. There were talks during the marching season when the talks process last took place and they were carried on right up to the time that the parties agreed to break for the month of August. I do not regard that as an obstacle; I am simply saying that politically and realistically speaking when one considers the different parties in the North, I am quite certain the SDLP and the Alliance Party would be ready to join the talks process. There is the difficulty, however, of the two Unionist parties who have totally different positions in relation to the Downing Street joint Declaration and, indeed, to many other aspects. I am only expressing a realistic political view.  We will not be found wanting in our efforts to try to start the talks process and both Government have made it quite clear to all the parties that that is our position and that we are continuing to work with each other to produce a document that can be the subject matter of those talks when they are ready to resume.
Miss Harney: Will the Taoiseach accept that Sinn Féin's problem with the declaration seems to be that there can be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until the majority there wish it to happen? Given that this is accepted by the Irish Government in paragraph 5 of the declaration, has Sinn Féin expressed any reservations either directly to the Taoiseach in the correspondence or through intermediaries on that paragraph?
The Taoiseach: I never comment on any information given to me confidentially by anybody, by way of intermediary or otherwise, nor do I believe it would be helpful to the talks process. We have made advances, despite what people think, in relation to Sinn Féin's position now compared to what it has been, in that it has renounced coercion as an instrument to bring about its own political objectives in this regard. That is a major step forward.
The position in regard to any change without the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland is part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I have made it clear time and again that that is an international obligation on the Irish Government and there can be no going away from it. Nobody should be under any illusions as to the Government's position on this and what it has been from the very beginning, right through the whole process leading up to the peace declaration and since. Our lines are clearly defined for everyone to see and I am not being pessimistic in relation to this. I believe the three day ceasefire was a badly read situation, I believe it was a mistake. Those who thought that they would get a meaningful response to a 72  hour ceasefire were only fooling themselves and I believe the message has gone loud and clear back to the Republican movement that a serious assessment of the situation and a decision is now awaited by everyone concerned.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Taoiseach says that Sinn Féin-IRA will not be allowed to exercise a veto on political progress and, at the same time, that he does not believe it is possible to make progress unless Sinn Féin is around the table with the rest of the parties who have a role to play in finding a solution with regard to Northern Ireland. How then does he propose to overcome this problem of logic? Will he not accept that the four months' indulgence of Sinn Féin and the IRA should now come to an end, that we must see, having lifted every stone that we have been urged to lift, looked at it meticulously and having sought some glimmer of hope in relation to Sinn Féin and the IRA, that they are now incapable of bringing about a ceasefire on their own terms and that we must move on? Will he accept that the only way of proving to them that they cannot continue is for us to move on? In that context will the Taoiseach indicate to the House, when he talks about discussions between the Irish and British Governments on a possible framework document, what that document is and what it is intended to achieve? Is it a framework for talks, or a framework for the government of Northern Ireland? To what precise framework is he referring?
The Taoiseach: Every week here I have to make corrections to what Deputy De Rossa tries to say or interpret from what I have said. First, both Governments are determined that no political party will have a veto on political progress, and that includes every party. Second, I do not know what the Deputy means when he refers to turning logic on its head or that it is not logical to say this or that. Of course the two Governments can and will go ahead without Sinn Féin when we and all the other parties are ready to come to the table, let there be no doubt about  that. What I have said consistently, and I am not changing my view now, is that I believe there is a far better chance of progress and the attainment of an ultimate accommodation between the two traditions in this country if we can do it in a peaceful environment. If Deputy De Rossa is asking me to desist from the course of action in which I have been engaged, I have no intention of doing that.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I wish to raise two brief points, the first in relation to the discussions between the two Governments. I am glad that such discussions are taking place in regard to a framework document for future talks. I encourage the Taoiseach to bring that even further and try to get the British Government to agree that not only should there be a framework document but that there should be agreed options so that later in the year the two Governments might be in a position, as Seamus Mallon said recently, to “write the script” for presentation to the parties on this island. Will the Taoiseach clarify one other point in relation to Sinn Féin? What is the Government's basic requirement of Sinn Féin to make it acceptable to the democratic process and in the first instance to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation? Does it have to accept the Downing Street Joint Declaration in toto——
The Taoiseach: The condition for joining the talks process, the democratic process and the political process is the cessation of violence. It follows from that that Sinn Féin do not have to accept the  Downing Street Joint Declaration word for word. If there are some words, a phrase or a line in it with which they disagree, the prerequisite for joining the talks process remains a cessation of violence. The Downing Street Joint Declaration is a set of principles that will guide the talks process, hopefully leading to an ultimate settlement. If somebody does not agree with a line, a word or whatever, they can join that process on the basis of a cessation of violence and argue their position within the talks process. That is very clear. We need a cessation of violence not on one side only but on both sides. While we all appreciate that there has been a reduction in loss of life, in these circumstances there should not be the loss of even one more life. That is our view and we will continue to hold that view.
Mr. Currie: While I share the lingering hope that the IRA will see sense and call off their campaign of violence, would the Taoiseach agree that there is now required an emphasis on an alternative way forward? Will he agree that the basis on which we will move forward will be the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Downing Street Joint Declaration, and that the two Governments should make it clear that, while they will do everything in their power to make progress, with the co-operation of all of the Northern Ireland political parties, ultimately a time will come when the two Governments will have to consider going over the heads of those parties directly to the people, using the most democratic instrument available to them, the plebiscite or a referendum?
The Taoiseach: We may well arrive at that position, but it is more desirable that we get the parties around the table to join the talks process. We all know what was the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Agreement when the main Unionist party was left out of that process. It may well have been that that was the direction the then Government had to take at that time — I am not saying “yes” or “no” in  relation to it — but it would be more desirable that we move in the direction I have outlined.
Implicit in the overall talks between the two Governments about putting a document together, whatever shape or form that document may take ultimately, is the principle that there will be no change in the Anglo-Irish Agreement unless we reach an agreement that transcends it. There will be no renegotiation of the principles laid down in the Downing Street Joint Declaration. The way forward is quite clear. I am firmly of the view that, no matter what direction different parties take in relation to the problems in Northern Ireland, ultimately the set of principles laid down in the Downing Street Joint Declaration will form the basis of the talks process which hopefully will lead to an ultimate settlement and an accommodation between the two communities. That is what I genuinely believe.
When one looks at paragraph 4 of the Downing Street Joint Declaration one realises that it is becoming ever clearer to people on the ground that there is no need, not even the slightest justification, for the continuance of violence in pursuit of legitimate aims when one observes the declarations made by a British Government which have never been made before. It may take some time for that message finally to get through to people who have lived in a world of violence for 25 years, who perhaps have not the same appreciation of the outside world as we have. Whatever the period of time involved, I believe it will dawn on people that it is futile to continue violence to achieve their political aims when it can be done in a peaceful way.
Mr. J. Fox: Following the statement by the Leader of the SDLP last week, when he appeared to infer that this House was less than unified in its approach to and support of the Downing Street Joint Declaration, has the Taoiseach had meetings with the Leaders of the Opposition parties in this House? Has he conveyed to the Leader of the SDLP the total unanimity of the elected politicians on this part of the island to the peace process?
The Taoiseach: I have said already that this House was unanimous in its support of the Downing Street Joint Declaration, that I appreciated that and want to see that continue. I will be meeting the Leaders of the political parties in due course to ascertain what suggestions they may have to pursue that process. With regard to what the Leader of the SDLP says to individual Members, or what Members he may have in mind, that is a matter for him, the SDLP Leader. I will leave it at that.
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