Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Publication of Framework Document.

Thursday, 23 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 449 No. 6

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  1.  Mr. R. Burke  Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   if he will ensure that all democratic parties in Northern Ireland will be entitled to participate in talks on the Framework Document without precondition. [4128/95]

  2.  Mr. R. Burke  Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke   asked the   Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, in order to facilitate meaningful discussion on the Framework Document, if consequential constitutional proposals affecting our Constitution and the UK legislation will be published at the same time. [

  3.  Mr. O'Malley  Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   the steps, if any, he proposes to take in the aftermath of the publication of the Framework Document; in particular, the discussions, if any, he envisages taking place with parties in Northern Ireland; and the persons who will take part in those discussions. [4145/95]

[1545]

  24.  Mr. B. Ahern  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   his views on whether it is desirable that some way should be found to facilitate the participation of representatives of the Loyalist organisations in political talks following the publication of the Framework Document. [2032/95]

  28.  Mr. O'Malley  Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   when it is intended to publish the Framework Document; and the steps, if any, he will take to expedite its publication in view of the delay so far and the damage caused by selective leaking. [4146/95]

  30.  Miss Harney  Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   his views on North-South institutions with executive powers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1495/95]

  49.  Miss Harney  Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney   asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring   if he will report to Dáil Éireann on the investigation carried out into the source of the leak of extracts of a draft of the Framework Document in view of the fact that the London Times claim that the leak emanated from Dublin. [3046/95]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2, 3, 24, 28, 30 and 49 together.

As Deputies are aware, the Framework Document was published by the Irish and British Governments yesterday.

The landmark significance of this development has already been recognised in the statements made in Dáil Éireann yesterday by the Taoiseach and others, and in the public reactions to the document.

I will be making a fuller statement to the Dáil later today at the close of the series of statements on the issue. In the meantime, I am glad to have this opportunity to deal with a number of questions raised by Deputies in relation to the Framework Document and the follow-up to its publication.

As regards participation in talks on [1546] the Framework Document, the document itself reflects agreement by the two Governments that the issues set out in it “should be examined in the most comprehensive attainable negotiations with democratically mandated political parties in Northern Ireland which abide exclusively by peaceful means and wish to join in dialogue on the way ahead”.

I agree with Deputy Ray Burke that that should include all the relevant democratic parties in Northern Ireland, and that participation should be without preconditions, except of course as regards democratic commitment and mandate.

We believe also that representatives of Loyalists organisations should be facilitated in making their own contribution to the talks process, either directly to the extent of their democratic mandate, or in some appropriate form to be agreed with the other participants.

We are anxious to see comprehensive and inclusive talks underway as soon as possible. Round-table talks in the three stranded process would require the agreement of Unionist parties. I do not believe the interests of any party will be served by standing aloof from negotiations and I very much hope they will reconsider their position. It has been made clear their involvement in talks can be entirely without prejudice to their views on the Framework Document, and without preconditions.

In the first instance I would, however, envisage an intensive pattern of bilateral contacts at various levels between the parties and both Governments and, I hope also, between the parties themselves.The Government, for its part, will be seeking to engage in such dialague with all the parties willing to meet it.

The issue of constitutional balance in the Joint Framework Document has been dealt with by concentrating on the effects to be achieved on each side. It was not considered necessary or appropriate to publish with the Framework Document detailed proposals for the actual constitutional changes needed to honour those commitments. In the first [1547] place, these are a matter for the respective parliaments, and in our case, for the Oireachtas and people. It did not seem right to bind the Governments inflexibly to detailed wording on either side, before the parliaments had an opportunity to consider the matter. The constitutional proposals in the Framework Document are part of a balanced whole. It would not be helpful to have the proposals for constitutional change taken out of context of an overall agreement, or debated in isolation, as might have happened if actual wording had been published. Furthermore, given that British legislation would have to enshrine arrangements which still have to be negotiated, it would be particularly difficult, as of now, to prescribe how their commitments might be met in detail. I would not of course wish to see a situation where detailed proposals would be confined to the Irish side only.

For all these reasons, we concluded that the precise manner in which the commitments on constitutional balance in the Framework Document are to be implemented are best considered in detail by the respective parliaments, in the light of the discussion and negotiations we hope to see take place. I should emphasise that the only commitments by the Government are those on the face of the Framework Document. There are no secret understandings or side-agreements.

A North-South body with executive, harmonising and consultative functions is an important part of the accommodation envisaged in the Framework Document. I refer Deputies to paragraphs 24 to 38 of the document in particular, which set out the views of the two Governments. As has been made clear, the ultimate shape and competence of such a body depend on the outcome of negotiations.

As regards the recent leaking of material to The Times, the initial implication that the leak emanated from Dublin seems very questionable and the possibility that it might have come from any Irish governmental source is [1548] exceedingly remote. In the absence of serious indications to the contrary, we did not consider it necessary to pursue our preliminary investigations further. I have not been informed of the outcome of the internal inquiry instituted by the British Government in the wake of that leak.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs replied to a number of questions. He acknowledged that all parties should be involved in the discussion process but he did not refer specifically to Sinn Féin. Does he agree that it is high time British Government Ministers had direct discussions with Sinn Féin and the Loyalist parties and will he acknowledge that both have been more constructive in their response than some of the other Northern parties that have roundly denounced British Ministers?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I will deal first with the latter part of the question. Yes, the response has been very constructive and we welcome that. Obviously if we have a constructive response from all parties we would be far more confident of making progress.

I believe it is right to insist that Sinn Féin and all other parties should abide by the democratic rules and rely exclusively on their democratic mandates. The logical corollary of that is that their mandate should be fully respected and that parties which accept the constraints of the democratic process should also be given its benefits such as normal contact with Government at every level, including ministerial level. The Deputy will probably be aware that on recent occasions I have said publicly that I think it would be in everybody's interest if the British Government was able to facilitate meetings with Sinn Féin at ministerial level.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  Does he agree that the decommissioning of arms is an important question but that it should not be a bar to opening discussions?

[1549]Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I would be surprised if anybody in this House disagrees with the statement that the decommissioning of arms is a very important part of this whole process. I have said on many occasions that we accept that the war is over and that the cessation of violence is permanent. In that respect there is no further need for armaments or explosive materials. It is important that methods are found for the decommissioning of arms and it is also important that the priority of that concern should not be a road block to making progress in the matter. I would like to think that progress can be made, an essential part of that progress obviously at the earlier stage would be a meeting between a Sinn Féin delegation and the British Government representatives at ministerial level.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Can we take it from what the Tánaiste said that he has abandoned the position on which he expounded twice in this House on 1 June last, lest the House be in any doubt that there would be no discussion with any party that still maintained arms and explosives or was associated with those who did? In view of the long series of possible happenings as set out by the Minister in his reply, will he give some likely timescale for all these arrangements and when, for example, one might foresee the establishment of an assembly in Northern Ireland or any of the other concrete steps referred to in the Framework Document and in the accompanying document?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I think my position on Sinn Féin's meeting with the British Government at ministerial level is the same as the position taken by all parties at this time and that reflects what has happened since last year, the cessation of violence on both sides and the opportunity that presents to build on the peace. This is the best opportunity I can recall in my lifetime and perhaps for the rest of it. It is important to move with the process and I hope that can happen.

It is quite difficult to put an exact [1550] timetable on the situation as of now. The Framework Document was published yesterday. We have called for a period of calm reflection on the document.I hope not only political leaders but members of their parties and all citizens North and South will reflect on it. We are arranging for the dissemination of information and for the document to be made available on the widest possible basis. It is important that people understand the document after careful reflection. As a Government — this applies to the British Government — we are willing, ready and available to have bilateral or multilateral negotiations at the soonest possible time. Obviously the parties in Northern Ireland will want some time to facilitate their worked out responses to the document and they should be allowed a period of time for that. I imagine that the first couple of weeks will be a time for reflection by the parties before formal statements are made.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  Does the Tánaiste agree that the constitutional section of the Framework Document is totally satisfactory and that the formula underlying it should have been published, especially as the press seem to have been briefed on it by Government sources? When the Tánaiste was in Government with Fianna Fáil he endorsed and supported specific constitutional proposals put to the British Government. Has his commitment to the approach taken by the previous Government and his attitude to the bottom line in those discussions weakened in any way?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  As regards whether it would have been better to publish proposals for the wording of the proposed changes in the Constitution, the ultimate changes in the Constitution are a matter for the people. It must be presented by the Government for agreement by the parties. It would be in everyone's interest if we could get the House to agree on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. I do not [1551] believe it would be in the interests of any party in the House if there was division about the proposed wording of changes in the Constitution. It would not be in our interest — I say “ours” collectively — to have a divisive debate on proposed amendments to the Constitution.The broad lines of proposals for constitutional change were discussed by the previous Government. Neither side sought to press that discussion beyond what I would call an idicative stage. Various formulations were put forward and I have no reason to depart from them. We did not feel it would serve any purpose at this stage because one of the key aspects of the Framework Document is that it must be taken in its totality.It would not be beneficial to have a debate focusing solely on the proposed wording of changes to the Irish Constitution until we advance other stages such as the establishment of North-South bodies, the question of an Assembly in Northern Ireland and the EU dimension.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  The Tánaiste dealt with a number of questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  There is a time factor involved.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  I appreciate that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  These questions relate to the debate before the House.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  No one suggests that the constitutional question should be the sole issue discussed. The Tánaiste referred to the North-South bodies, the EU dimension and other aspects. We feel very strongly that it would have been preferable to have the wording as has been agreed as far as it had gone, to quote from——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  It is not in order to quote at Question Time.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  Does the Tánaiste [1552] share the views expressed by my Leader yesterday that he regretted the failure of the Government to tie up the clear understanding about exactly where they stood at the time of the change of Government in December?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  When I heard those remarks I intended to check the record of the various meetings. We had brought it to an indicative stage in relation to possible changes of Article 2 and 3. No formal agreement had been made by either side. I do not want to mislead the Deputy in any way and would like to check the record of one meeting, which I have not yet had an opportunity to do, and come back to him on it. It is necessary to have clarity and precision in this area. Neither Government felt since then that it was necessary to bring it to completion. The actual wording was never agreed between the Governments. In fairness to the British Government it has always accepted that it is a matter solely for the Irish Government to come up with a wording that will honour the commitment we have given to significantly change the Constitution, as all sides have spelled out in the House. That is a commitment I am confident we will deliver on and I would like to think it can be done with all party support.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  The Minister will not find us wanting.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Why did the Government agree to the section on personal rights contained in the Framework Document where it refers to their being declared by a charter or covenant in view of the fact that the arrangement is valueless? Personal rights should be underpinned by statute or preferably by a constitutional document, such as a written constitution for Northern Ireland, guaranteeing those rights and giving citizens a way to vindicate them where they feel they have been infringed.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  The Deputy will be [1553] aware of the complexities in this area. We want to ensure that rights are protected and developed. It is a complex area in terms of British constitutional law. There is a genuine worry that if a bill of rights or a constitutional format were established in Northern Ireland it would have carry over effects for England, Scotland and Wales. There is a commitment in the document to ensuring that we develop rights along the lines in the document. I am confident that the parties who come to negotiate will have an input into how that is done. One thing that is agreed between all the parties in Northern Ireland and in the South is that a bill of rights for people in the North would be a welcome development.


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