Tuesday, 25 May 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
2. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he has had with Mr. David Trimble following the meeting of the UUP on 18 May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13601/99]
3. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any meetings or discussions he has had with representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13602/99]
4. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed when he met the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, at Chequers on 22 May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13605/99]
5. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to meet with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in the run up to the 30 June deadline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13607/99]
6. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his views on whether the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation should meet in the run up to the 30 June deadline to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13609/99]
10. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent telephone discussions or meetings he has had since Wednesday, 19 May 1999 with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13613/99]
12. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the contact, if any, he has had with the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties in the past week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13632/99]
During my visit to London on Saturday, I took the opportunity to announce the allocation of £1.2 million in grants for projects involving North-South and east-west co-operation or relating to the island of Ireland. This funding came from money which became available under the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Act, 1988, and part of the funds provided for commemoration initiatives. Approximately 52 per cent of the money available has been allocated to projects involving east-west co-operation and projects involving the Irish community in Britain.
I was particularly pleased that substantial sums had been allocated to support a range of projects which would, in a very practical way, cater for the material and social needs of the weaker and less  fortunate members of the Irish community in Britain through such projects as housing for the elderly and homeless, support for parenting, development of community centres, advice and assistance for young Irish people going to Britain and support for individuals and families in particularly difficult circumstances.
I was also pleased that it had been possible to support a significant number of projects containing cross-community or cross-tradition elements which provide opportunities for the Government to demonstrate, in a practical way, the commitments entered into under the Good Friday Agreement to promote reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between the people of Ireland and Britain and to show respect for the diversity of traditions on the island. I am circulating a list of the projects supported with this reply.
At his invitation, I attended the FA Cup Final with the British Prime Minister and stayed at Chequers on Saturday night. On Saturday night, and again on Sunday morning, we had discussions relating to Northern Ireland. We agreed to continue to work to achieve the 30 June deadline for devolution of powers to the Assembly and the parallel establishment of the related institutions. To that end, I had a number of discussions with the leaders of the parties last week and the parties are continuing their discussions this week. I will keep in contact with the Prime Minister and party leaders, as appropriate, in the period ahead.
I met with representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents on 13 May. The residents raised a number of issues and briefed me on the situation in Portadown and their meetings with Mr. David Trimble, First Minister designate, and Mr. Frank Blair. In responding to the issues raised, I commended the residents on their continuing positive engagement in the mediation efforts that are taking place and I said any outcome should come about only with their agreement. On the issue of further meetings of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, this is not a matter for me, or the Government, but for the chairperson and all the participating parties. I refer the Deputy to my reply to previous questions on 8 December and 6 October last.
|Aberdeen – research inst of Ir & Scot studies||Irish-Scottish Forum||15,000.00|
|Action Group for Irish Youth||publish guide & put on web||25,000.00|
|An Teach Bán, Co. Donegal||install lift of reconciliation centre||15,000.00|
|Armagh Observatory||Climatology study – bearing on global warming||60,000.00|
|AVARI||all Irl. network of social researchers||3,000.00|
|Beyond '96 Youth Club||leadership project||5,000.00|
|Boomerang||youth theatre project||8,000.00|
|Bradford – Ir diaspora research unit||computers||10,000.00|
|Bray & North Wicklow Womens network||Tripartite seminar||2,000.00|
|British Irish Association||Ongoing work conferences & seminars||20,000.00|
|Br. Assn of Irish Studies||bursaries||15,000.00|
|Cambridge Group for Irish Studies||post in Irish studies||25,000.00|
|CARA||fund team (3yrs) to assist homeless||72,000.00|
|Centre for Peace and Development Studies||Publication of a Register of Cross Border Links in Ireland||4,000.00|
|Childrens Holiday Scheme||holiday exchanges||22,000.00|
|Copernicus project||youth exchanges between UK, North & South and Europe||10,000.00|
|Cork Lions Club||restoration of cenotaph||1,000.00|
|Corrymeela||rebuild residential unit for reconciliation work||25,000.00|
|Cost of the Troubles Study||research/ exhibition including 1974 bombings||20,000.00|
|Cystic Hygroma||website support to foster links in these islands||5,000.00|
|Family Welfare Association||Grant to needy Irish in South England||50,000.00|
|Federation for Ulster Local Studies||workshops, seminars xb exchanges Irl-Scot exchanges & publication||8,000.00|
|Glencree Centre for peace & Reconcil||Political workshops & some refurbishment||35,000.00|
|Huddersfield Irish Association||dev educ facility in HIA's new centre||10,990.00|
|Ir assn for Cultural Ecn & Soc relations||ongoing wk & publication seminar material||10,000.00|
|Ir Episcopal Commission for Emigrants||schools video on achievements of Irish in Britain||10,000.00|
|Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas||casework database||20,000.00|
|Irish Community Care Manchester||recruit youth dev co-ordinator youth/migrants||50,000.00|
|Irish Genealogical Research Soc.||correcting placenames on list of Irish soldiers & dissem research||3,000.00|
|Irish in Britain Representation Group||travel of old people's club||500.00|
|Irish Studies centre – Bath||6 bursaries, equipment , BIAS conference||9,000.00|
|Irish Youth Choir||Concerts N, S & Wales||10,000.00|
|Islington Women's Counselling Centre||parenting support||9,420.00|
|John Quinn study of military wrecks||publication on military air wrecks/ support ongoing work||3,000.00|
|Journey of Reconciliation Trust||to develop the Irish Peace Park in Flanders||50,000.00|
|Keele University – Dept. of Criminology||academic research links with Irish universities||10,000.00|
|Leicester Irish studies ctr.||Irish arts centre||20,000.00|
|London Irish Centre||refurbishment for London Irish Centre.||71,000.00|
|Military Heritage of Ireland Trust||acquisition material for military museum||10,000.00|
|Oxford Hertford College||fellowship in Irish History||25,000.00|
|Parents for choice||facilitate networking disability parents||4,125.00|
|R. Natnl. Inst. for Deaf & Nat. Assn. Deaf||all Irl initiative – voice to text||30,000.00|
|RehabCare Coventry||resource (welfare etc) centre project for Coventry Irish||38,000.00|
|RNLI||contribute to costs or part fund new boat||30,000.00|
|Royal Dublin Fusiliers||multimedia for exhibition||24,000.00|
|Royal Irish Academy||Indexing and digitising of OS archive & drawings – 32 County||25,000.00|
|R.E.A.C.H across the Diamond, Derry||youth contact camps||3,000.00|
|S Lond. Family Service Unit||towards Ir domestic violence outreach service||20,000.00|
|Safe Start Trust||recruit foyer development manager||23,000.00|
|Salmon of Knowledge – Shankill schools||clay installation & artist in residence||25,000.00|
|Scouting Ireland||towards cost x border x cultural activity centre||71,000.00|
|UCD Dept. of Folklore||Digitise photographic archive of folklore collection||50,000.00|
|Ulster Society||promote understanding of Ulster British culture – exhibits, seminars etc.||13,000.00|
|University of North London||develop “Irish in Britain Archive” at the UNL Irish Studies Centre||10,000.00|
|Univ. of Bradford||research project on the mental health of Irish migrants to Britain||25,000.00|
|Voluntary service international||promoting links between UK, NI & Ir branches||10,000.00|
|WIRE (Warrington)||youth exchanges – admin||20,000.00|
|Women on Ireland Network – Britain||design & set up website||2,000.00|
Mr. Sargent: As there are five questions in my name, I want to ask a number of supplementaries. On the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I appreciate the chairperson will have to make a decision if anything is to happen, but will the Taoiseach at least let his views on the matter be known which might help to get some guidance at this time of political sensitivity with the approach of the 30 June deadline? If there is not to be a resumption of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, will the Taoiseach consider further consultation with the Opposition parties, perhaps even a round table discussion, so that we might be able to deal in more detail with that question? Also, will the Taoiseach indicate whether, in  meetings with the British Prime Minister, the issue of a truth commission arose? I ask that question because of the sensitivity of inquiries taking place and threats by the UDA and the UFF in relation to the Pat Finucane inquiry. Should we grasp the nettle of a truth commission so we can begin to satisfy the need for truth which is fundamental if we are to have justice?
The Taoiseach: I will keep the parties or the spokespersons informed and will make any briefings they require. My own view is that, with the parties so deeply involved in bilateral and trilateral discussions with their own parties and the fact that they are electioneering, a meeting of the  forum at this stage would not be of much use. Perhaps there might be some case for that towards the end of next month, but that is my own view. It is difficult enough to arrange the normal meetings with the parties' schedules, but that is an everyday issue. They meet continuously with each other and a number of useful meetings are taking place, although without much progress.
The issue of a truth commission has come up from time to time. The South African format or any amended format has not got much support. The opposite can be said for the investigations. There is phenomenal interest from both sides of the community in the Nelson and Finucane inquiries and some of the lower profile cases. They continue to receive a great deal of attention. I will meet tomorrow with a number of the groups involved in those inquiries, including the justice and peace groups and some other party leaders. They will be in the House tomorrow.
Mr. J. Bruton: Why has the British Prime Minister changed his position on the obligation to put weapons beyond use from the formula used in the Hillsborough Declaration to the formulations mooted at the recent meeting in Downing Street? Will the Taoiseach comment on the article by Paul Bew in today's The Irish Times which describes this change from the Hillsborough Declaration to the Downing Street formulation as a “radical policy reversal, and that the possibility of any IRA decommissioning is fast receding”?
The Taoiseach: The Hillsborough initiative, which I supported and worked towards, clearly went outside the terms of the Agreement, but it was an effort we thought might gain some acceptance at the time. It did not. In more recent times, the initiative has been to try to bring the Agreement back into play and to follow its original terms, that the executive would be set up, if not fully – which is unlikely – in shadow form, and that the issue of arms would then be tackled. That was the original position which should have happened last autumn. I know Paul Bew well but I did not see his article today. I have continually emphasised to the republican movement that it is important that we arrive at a situation where private armies have disappeared and that the number of weapons in circulation is drastically reduced. To achieve that goal it is more important to start making the transition to full democracy in Northern Ireland than to try to hold up that process. If we attempt to hold up progress we are working outside the Agreement. That is where the emphasis is being placed but that does not mean that decommissioning will go off the agenda – it will not.
The Taoiseach: We tried a number of methods and I do not think any one of them is preferred. I thought the Hillsborough proposal of putting arms beyond use was a fair compromise in that it allowed everyone to play their part in decommissioning. We had worked out the detail to some degree, but unfortunately and regrettably it was a non-starter.
The key issue for many of the groups is confidence and the importance of sticking with what was agreed, signed, passed and voted on, what these organisations passed at their annual conferences and such matters. If an executive in transition was set up there was a firm commitment that the arms issue would have to be dealt with by Easter 2000, within the period of the Agreement. Those who argue that the terms of the Agreement have to be followed, in this case the republican movement, must be consistent. If one argues for one aspect of the Agreement one has to argue for the other. The difficulty is that so many aspects of the Agreement which were meant to be followed have been broken. A number of aspects which were passed and voted on and which were meant to be followed through have been broken. This gives people the leverage to disagree. That is one of the difficulties we are experiencing over these weeks.
Mr. Quinn: Can the Taoiseach assure the House that the British and Irish Governments are united and ad idem in the strategy they are pursuing to ensure that the 30 June deadline they set will be complied with? Are the party leaders in Northern Ireland hearing precisely the same message from the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister?
The Taoiseach: Yes, there is no doubt about that. I talked to most of the party leaders in the past few days. Some of the parties point out that 30 June is four days before Drumcree. This could be very difficult for them. Some account has to be taken of this fact. However, at this stage the 30 June deadline, as set down by the British Prime Minister and agreed by me, is the only thing they are hearing. They could move more quickly but that is not their intention for one reason or another. The UUP in particular is not in a position to agree a short-term date.
Mr. Quinn: For the benefit of those who have an interest in this matter but who are not following it in anything like the detail which some Members are doing, is it the position of the two Governments that a shadow shadow Executive would be identified, in other words, that the names of the ten participating members would be revealed? We have the names of the two people nominated at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis. We know the First and Deputy First Minister, but there have been no names from the other nominating parties, such as the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. Is it proposed to nominate the remaining eight  members of the shadow Executive to facilitate movement so that the 30 June deadline can be met?
The Taoiseach: There are two aspects to that. The shadow Executive, to which Deputy Quinn refers, may or may not meet. It probably will not. Were it to happen, it would be immediate and would be in place for a number of weeks.
The Taoiseach: Yes. We would then, between now and 30 June, try to ensure that shadow Executive would become the Executive by the clear understanding that parties close to paramilitary groups would come to some agreement on decommissioning with General John de Chastelain. That is a proposal, but it is one with which the UUP has great difficulty. There have been various reports on the capacity of the proposal to be sold. I would not be certain about it being sold, having spoken to a number of people in the UUP. They have difficulty with the proposal as a short-term one and, if they have difficulty with the short-term proposal, they will have difficulty with the long-term one.
Mr. Sargent: Has the Taoiseach broached the subject, which was mentioned before in briefings, of some type of symbolic monument comprising some of the arms which would be handed up? Given the statement from the First Minister, David Trimble, of “no guns, no government”, does the Taoiseach believe it would be worthwhile pursuing that proposal again and making the point to the paramilitaries that to be part of such a gesture would not mean surrender but an attempt to advance the peace process and make it work?
Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity, or does he believe there will be one, to stress to the Orange Order that, with the Prime Minister and David Trimble meeting the Garvaghy Road residents and Breandán MacCionnaith, it has left everyone wondering to whom it is loyal? Will there be an opportunity through intermediaries to work on the Drumcree situation to the point where we avoid the type of showdown which looks likely unless there is movement?
The Taoiseach: The first proposal is precisely what the Hillsborough Declaration sought to do, but it did not work in that form. There is still merit in examining it within the de Chastelain process which is what we tried to do originally. It did not work in that format for reasons which predated the declaration. It could be a possibility were some progress to be made with the shadow Executive. It would then be a matter for General de Chastelain and the parties, especially those with influence. I would pursue that if the first step were achieved because the latter would lead to some confidence.
 The problem is the difficulties facing the peace process. There needs to be more political will to overcome them and to find solutions which are mutually acceptable. If people believe they are in tight corners, it is very hard for them to move. In any successful negotiation, parties must reach out to each other to overcome obstacles.
However, the Agreement is still being interpreted in a far too rigid and inflexible manner by some of the parties on both sides and this has created difficulties. The only way progress can be made is through use of and close adherence to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. As I informed Deputy Bruton earlier, the British Government sees this as the most likely avenue to success.
We are entering the marching season and there is a danger that, in the event of continued delays and procrastination, the security situation will deteriorate further. Although they have received little publicity, nightly attacks are being made almost exclusively on Nationalist areas. At last count 158 such attacks had taken place, but I am sure events at the weekend have added to that figure. I welcome remarks made by Gary McMichael, Billy Hutchison and David Ervine in recent days, but a number of loyalist splinter groups are terrorising Nationalist areas by means of pipe bombs, nail bombs, fire bombs and gun attacks. This has led to a great deal of concern on the part of the RUC. Through the Secretariat, the British Prime Minister has been pressing the RUC to try to step up its actions. There is always the possibility that other groups will respond to this type of provocation, particularly as the marching season progresses.
A great deal of effort is being made to resolve the crisis at Drumcree, most recently in the form of Frank Blair's initiative. I welcome the dialogue which has taken place, particularly that involving Mr. Trimble. Again, the pace is slow. Last week we hoped that progress would have been more rapid. Newspaper reports regarding what happened last week in respect of Drumcree are correct. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, none of the meetings planned to progress that initiative took place. Frank Blair is continuing to make efforts to resolve the matter this week. We are encouraging and assisting those initiatives and doing everything possible to provide help to those on all sides, not only the residents of the Garvaghy Road but also Mr. Trimble. In my opinion, Mr. Trimble will endeavour to continue his initiatives next week and Seamus Mallon is prepared and anxious to work with him in that regard, which is helpful.
Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach of the opinion that the British Prime Minister has fully considered the action he will take in the event that the 30 June deadline is not met? Will he dissolve the Assembly or does he know exactly what he intends to do in the event that the deadline is not met? How is it possible to reconcile the 30 June deadline for an agreement with the 12 month  extension granted in respect of the constitutional change mechanism? What political calculations were made by the Taoiseach and his British counterpart in deciding to publicise the Hillsborough Declaration when they did, given that this invited the possibility of public rejection, rather than using it as a working document for private negotiation, which might have been more prudent?
The Taoiseach: The Prime Minister and I made an announcement about its basic contents. Details of the indepth discussions which had taken place were not announced. These were hinted at but not pursued and they remain, as Deputy Sargent stated, to be dealt with by General de Chastelain. Only the basic contents of the agreement were announced and these had already become available on the previous evening. The reason they were announced the previous night was that the indications were that it would be accepted, including by Sinn Féin, who strongly rejected it afterwards.
The British Prime Minister has been endeavouring to put as much pressure as possible on those concerned to ensure movement now. A fair amount of thought has been given to the 30 June deadline. At all times that has to be considered. I am conscious that the Garvaghy Road issue will arise three for four days later. We will have to see if we can achieve finality by 30 June. Clearly, that will be difficult because of the elections and the marching season. The British Prime Minister has told all the parties in strong terms that he believes that date is final. He emphasised the fact that he has set down only two dates – 10 April, when he supported Senator George Mitchell, and 30 June. There were many other dates in the process but they were not stipulated by him.
On the reason for the 12 month extension, I can envisage a position where we could still find ourselves in dialogue and facing some difficulties. Even if we were to get to the stage, which would be great, of finding a way to set up the Executive, we would still have all the other institutions to set up which will involve a great deal of work. We are unlikely to get all of those set up by 30 June, regardless of what happens. It would take an enormous effort and would be extremely difficult. There is no point in saying we are not achieving the first part of the institutional changes by 30 June. There is no possibility of getting all the institutional changes in place by that date. That is why another year is needed.
The Taoiseach: As I stated last week, if the parties do not agree by 30 June, Prime Minister Blair and I will have to assess the position and make a clear statement. We will not do that until 30 June.
Mr. Quinn: If progress has not been made by 1 July or if progress was made by 1 July but decommissioning was not complied with in accordance with the Agreement, as set out by the end of the second year, I presume all bets would be off and we would return to the post anti situation which was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, direct rule from London and the secretariat in Maryfield and all the institutional changes – the cross-Border bodies and the Assembly in Northern Ireland – would come to an end and some form of plan B, based on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, would have to be considered by the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. Is that a correct analysis?
The Taoiseach: If the Agreement fails anywhere along the way – that is not what we want to contemplate – none of the institutions would be set up, including the Assembly, which was widely talked about last week in the North. The Assembly and all the other institutional matters of the Agreement would bite the dust. That is not what any of the parties are thinking of. The bigger difficulty is the timescale. Almost all the parties work on the basis of viewing things into the future and going at a snail's pace, which is extremely dangerous. Somebody somewhere has to show leadership and take chances on moving. Sometimes one party makes a move and at another time that same party blocks a move. That is the difficulty. As I have continually said, it is pointless forcing people against their wishes. They all have to be brought together in an inclusive process. It will not work unless they work together because at the end of the day there has to be cross-community support in the Assembly, agreement between the parties that make up the Executive and agreement between the Deputy First Minister and the Ministers in the other institutions which involve North-South bodies. This also applies to the British-Irish associations. It will not work if there is no agreement. As was pointed out last week, there will be no achievements without cross-community support. This is why we must painstakingly try to win cross-community support and the support of the parties which will ultimately make up the assembly.
Mr. Quinn: In that regard, does the Taoiseach agree that the setting of deadlines has not been productive or felicitous? There has been the failed deadline of the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The Hillsborough agreement was apparently accepted but subsequently rejected. Two weeks ago in Downing Street, it appeared an agreement had been accepted by all  the participants, but it was subsequently rejected. We were told that the 11 June date of the European elections was a deadline which had to be overcome and another deadline of 30 June was set. The Taoiseach suggested today that Drumcree, which will be four days later, is another matter which is interfering with that deadline.
Does the Taoiseach agree recent experience informs us that deadlines do not concentrate minds? What is required is the reapplication of all the participants to the Good Friday Agreement and for them to demonstrate a willingness for movement. In that respect, movement from the IRA and Sinn Féin on the principles of decommissioning is required as much as participation in the shadow Executive is necessary from the Unionist side. Does the Taoiseach see merit in the view that Members of this House could meet with participants in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to reinforce that message? Such a meeting could concentrate on persuading Sinn Féin and its colleagues in the IRA that some further movement on their part is necessary.
Mr. Quinn: Some movement in addition to what they have already indicated is required. Members of the House who are party to the Good Friday Agreement are best placed to convey that directly to them in the forum in Dublin Castle.
The Taoiseach: That would be of value at some stage. However, the Deputy is correct that if we had stuck to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the shadow Executive should have been established last autumn and the North-South bodies should have been in operation by 31 October. Unfortunately, Mr. Trimble and the UUP could not meet those deadlines. This allowed the delay with regard to decommissioning. If progress had been made on the first two items, we would have made enormous progress by Christmas. There was an attempt to resolve the matter in Hillsborough, but we had moved away from the Agreement. This is the difficulty. Mr. Trimble did his best last week and Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness did their best at Easter. However, none of them succeeded in convincing their constituencies to make the progress they thought possible.
Our judgment is that the only way to move forward is to try to get everybody to focus on making progress and to sign off and give leadership on some of the issues as they stand. I understand their difficulties and I am aware of what happened at the UUP meetings in the past few weeks. I am also aware of what happened at the Sinn Féin meetings at Easter. They are not unconnected. These are the difficulties and  although it is painstaking and slow, we must continue to try to convince people to move forward.
If everybody wants to win on every issue, it will be difficult to find a solution. Somebody must compromise on some of these issues. One will never get a formula which is a victory for one side and a loss for the other, and get the latter to agree. This is impossible in negotiations. One must get people to move to the middle. However, even when one moves to the middle and the leaders and the negotiating teams agree, the larger groups reject the proposals. We must continue trying to find something which will be acceptable to the larger groups. We are in this position because everything is being interpreted in far too rigid and inflexible a manner. To correct Deputy Quinn, if he took this from what I said, 30 June remains the date and the parties should see there would be a great deal of benefit in making progress prior to Drumcree and the marching season. They have a difficulty with that, which was stated to me last night.
Mr. J. Bruton: What would the Taoiseach say to those who might observe a radical change in position with regard to the obligation to put arms beyond use from what was said at Hillsborough, which asserted that obligation, and what was said at Downing Street, which seemed to remove it from the realm of immediate practical politics? What would he say to people who suggest that the Governments did not have firm convictions on this issue and were simply trying to split the difference between the parties? Given that the Governments have a fundamental requirement to ensure there are no private armies in either jurisdiction, and that this is of interest to the parties also, what would the Taoiseach say to those who might advance a doubt about how the Governments could change their position so dramatically between Hillsborough and Downing Street?
Can he assure the House that he and the British Prime Minister have worked out a full scenario for what they will do and say on 1 July if the 30 June deadline is not met? Does he not agree that precedents elsewhere in Europe in recent times, involving the British Prime Minister and others, suggest that setting deadlines without a plan B can be quite imprudent?
Mr. Flanagan: Given that the lack of progress on the vexed and continuing question of decommissioning runs the risk of poisoning the entire Agreement, and that the Taoiseach has conceded that time is not on the side of those in the business of forging an agreement, does he accept that one man's role in this affair has been underplayed and that consideration should be given to enhancing or extending the role of General John de Chastelain? His is the one reputation which has been, if not enhanced, certainly maintained over the 12 months since the referendum. Did the Taoiseach discuss in his meetings with the British Prime Minister over the past week or more, the idea of inviting the IRA Army Council to meet  General de Chastelain directly, prior to a public statement by the general, which is somewhat overdue? Does the Taoiseach see merit in that idea? Given that the general will probably have only one bite at the cherry, his public utterance is highly important. Does the Taoiseach favour such an enhancement of the role of the independent chairman of the commission?
The Taoiseach: At Hillsborough an effort was made to break the impasse by moving outside the Agreement. If any criticism is to be made of the Prime Minister and I, it is that we tried to go away from the Agreement, having had six months of foot dragging and people not sticking to deadlines or doing what they were obliged to do. We knew the Hillsborough Declaration went outside the Agreement but we thought we could get the parties to agree to it and we almost did. As I said earlier, some of those matters might come back into play again but as I also said, this shows why we are better off sticking to the Agreement. The Governments can stick to it but it is more difficult to get the parties to meet the deadlines – they have continually broken them. A number of the deadlines last year were clearly broken on one side rather than the other. However, I have tried to maintain a balance.
On the decommissioning issue, I had a long discussion with the British Prime Minister on Sunday morning about how we would handle it in June. I foresee plenty of difficulties and I discussed those and how they could be managed. I also discussed them with some of the parties.
General John de Chastelain is ready and available to do as Deputy Flanagan outlined. He is anxious to move on these matters but he cannot do so under the Agreement until there is at least some progress on the Executive. Clearly, he can be of tremendous assistance if we reach that stage but we must wait and see if progress can be made before that happens.
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