Good Friday Agreement: Statements.

Wednesday, 1 December 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 512 No. 1

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Tomorrow I will lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas copies of the commencement orders for the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, and the British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Act, 1999; the notifications exchanged between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirming that each Government has completed the requirements under Article 4 of the British-Irish Agreement for entry into force of the Agreement and, by the exchange of notifications, bringing the Agreement into force; and the declaration by the Government under Article 29.7.3º of the Constitution that the State has become obliged to give effect to the amendment of the Constitution by substituting new texts for Articles 2 and 3 as approved by the people in a referendum on 22 May 1998.

Everyone in the House and every person is entitled to feel a great sense of pride today in what we have been able to achieve together to bring about peace in Northern Ireland. The coming into force of the Good Friday Agreement, which was given such strong support 18 months ago by the people of Ireland, North and South, is a source of great satisfaction to us all. The peace process, which began more than ten years ago, is now reaching its climax. With the full political settlement now about to be implemented, we have the strongest possible basis for permanent peace in the country such as has never before been experienced in our history.

[10] The peace process, although it has been slowed down at times, has been enormously successful because it has the momentum of the people behind it. Yesterday the President in Office of the European Council, Prime Minister Lipponen of Finland, conveyed his congratulations in person. All Europe wants peace in Northern Ireland to succeed. President Clinton, whom I met at the OSCE conference in Istanbul two weeks ago, has expressed his delight with the progress that has now been made. Irish people around the world, knowing how difficult it has been to resolve the conflict and seeing the problems that other peace processes have had to confront, will share in our pride and satisfaction.

The Government has been closely involved in every stage of the process. As Taoiseach, I pay tribute to my predecessors for their contribution to the development of the peace process, Deputies John Bruton and Albert Reynolds, and also Mr. Charles Haughey. I also thank the current Opposition leaders, including Deputy Quinn, for their steady, although not unquestioning, support. Throughout the recent review, I remained in close contact with party leaders as well as the British Government. Some of our senior officials, whom I thank warmly for their dedication, were constantly on hand in Stormont to assist the chairman and the parties, whenever required.

Our great thanks go to former Senator George Mitchell, who over the past five years has given so much of his time to the Northern Ireland peace process. Without his role at so many different crucial stages it is doubtful that we could have reached where we are today. I thanked President Clinton very warmly for allowing us to avail of George Mitchell's services and for his own strong support and commitment shown by many interventions over the past seven years. Yesterday, I conveyed my thanks to the Finnish Prime Minister for the contribution of his predecessor Harri Holkerri. I also had the opportunity to thank, in Istanbul, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien for the equally important contribution of General de Chastelain. He still has a central role in overseeing the implementation of the decommissioning process, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. Great credit belongs in the final review phase to the parties themselves, who resolved their differences in direct dialogue and negotiation with each other, with the help and support of Senator Mitchell and the two Governments. Some of the issues were very difficult ones for all sides but, at length, sufficient trust and confidence was established to enable them to agree on a basis on which to proceed, through a sequence of steps that did not do any violence to the spirit of their respective political commitments or of the Agreement which they had signed.

Direct rule, described by at least one Secretary of State as quasi-colonial, will end tonight. For the first time in 25 years, as part of a set of institutions that reflect the totality of relationships, we have a democratically elected devolved Govern[11] ment in Northern Ireland. This time, however, it is on a fully inclusive basis, something that has not happened before. Not every party took part in all stages of negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, but all the eligible parties are present in the new Administration from the DUP through to Sinn Féin.

I congratulate the new First Minister David Trimble, the new Deputy First Minister Séamus Mallon and all their colleagues on their appointment. We wish them the very best in their new responsibilities, and we look forward to working with the Ministers concerned in the North-South Ministerial Council.

Everyone involved has had to take their courage in both hands. The First Minister, David Trimble, faced a difficult and unenviable party situation, but with great skill he has secured majority support for this huge step forward. John Hume, Séamus Mallon and their colleagues in the SDLP can claim that the Good Friday Agreement embodies, above all, their vision for more than 25 years. In embracing the peace process and in trying to bring fully into the democratic arena movements that operated at least in part outside it, they took enormous political and personal risks.

John Hume recently received the Légion d'Honneur from the French Government, to add to the Nobel Prize for peace which he shared with David Trimble. It was in recognition of John Hume's unfailing democratic commitment, and those who strongly criticised or doubted him in the past should acknowledge his honourable contribution today.

Though some Deputies may find it strange to hear me saying it, I am glad the DUP have taken up their positions in the Executive, and it was a very human sight to see the new DUP Ministers being congratulated by their families and friends. Far be it from me to suggest a theme for a sermon to the leader who visited me in Government Buildings as head of the Free Presbyterian Church in Ulster a few weeks ago, but when we listen at Christmas to the prophet who foresees that “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb” and that “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain”, we will surely think of Northern Ireland.

At this juncture, it is right for me to say that I understand and appreciate the distance that Sinn Féin and the Republican movement have been prepared to travel, the bridges they have crossed. All of the larger parties in this House emerged at one time or another from a revolutionary past. That is also in its own way true of those who follow in the tradition of Carson and Craig. Regardless of strong conflicting views and convictions about the struggles of the past, we must all look to the future. Here in this State we have successfully built on and sustained a constitutional Republican tradition for more than 70 years. A parallel task has already been engaging for some time past the Sinn Féin party that, along with the [12] SDLP, has its own distinctive and constructive contribution to make to that tradition.

Great courage and vision has been shown by Sinn Féin and the republican movement as a whole, in embracing the Good Friday Agreement as the way forward and as the best alternative to conflict. Full and complete implementation of the Agreement is now under way. Devolution will be a reality tomorrow. Decommissioning has been acknowledged to be essential. It has been left to the last. Implementing this part of the Agreement cannot reasonably be interpreted by anyone as a verdict on the conflict of the last 30 years or as changing its outcome. As I have said, everyone will already have their own strongly held opinions on the Troubles that are unlikely to change. Decommissioning is a necessary contribution to the consolidation of peace and democracy and to the creation of trust. It will provide the conditions that will lead to a genuine all-round demilitarisation of Northern Ireland. It should also be clearly understood that just as decommissioning is a voluntary act so also is a willingness by any party to serve with others in Government. The work of General de Chastelain and the independent Commission remains central to resolving the whole problem satisfactorily. The de Chastelain Commission should now be allowed to get on with its work. That is why it was established, and that is what we should give it the space to do.

If there are still sinister forces waiting tactically for the most propitious moment to try to destroy by their actions the working of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, let me issue a warning. This Government and this House, representing the Irish people, will not tolerate any paramilitary attack by dissident organisations. We are determined that they will, for all practical purposes, be dissolved and disarmed, if they will not do that voluntarily themselves. There is no vestige of an excuse today for any organisation that would call itself Republican to repudiate or deny the living democracy that now exists in Ireland both North and South.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  In the good atmosphere created by recent developments, we should not ignore the importance of continued implementation of other parts of the Agreement, especially those relating to justice, security and human rights matters, which remain the responsibility of the two Governments. I attach particular importance to the full implementation without delay of the Patten Report, which arbitrates fairly between widely differing conceptions about the future of policing. It is of vital importance to the future that young people from the Nationalist community be encouraged by changes that are also symbolically reflected to join in a new beginning to policing, so that the change is felt as soon as possible on the ground. The past services of the RUC have been properly recognised, but they, as the parties in the Assembly have had to do, need [13] to accept their part in the radical changes in governance required by the Good Friday Agreement.

I also acknowledge the constructive role played by smaller parties, such as the Alliance Party, the Women's Coalition and the loyalists, who have been unswerving in their support for the Good Friday Agreement, and who have on many occasions been courageous in speaking the truth, when it was not always popular or safe for them to do so. On them now falls the role of being the guardians of an accountable democracy. I also look forward to the further development of social partnership in the North, under the auspices of the Civic Forum. I am confident that the loyalists will also contribute to the achievement of all the purposes of the Agreement, including decommissioning, and will not be found wanting.

The Agreement brings into force both constitutional and institutional changes. Tomorrow, the new Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution take effect, while in Britain the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, has already been repealed. I emphasise that Articles 2 and 3 are not disappearing, but are being inserted, as approved by the people, in their new form, in place of the previous text.

The new Articles 2 and 3 encapsulate our modern understanding of constitutional Republicanism. The last traces of irredentism are gone. The nation is defined in the most open, inclusive and pluralist manner possible, without coercion. Any North-South discrimination in obtaining passports will be abolished, under the new Nationality and Citizenship Bill. The whole tenor of the Articles will put a new emphasis on civic society, as one of the pillars underpinning the State, alongside the cultural nationalism expressed in Article 1 and at the end of Article 2 in relation to the Diaspora. Irish people and people of Irish descent living abroad have expressed appreciation of the recognition of their identity and affinity to this country afforded in the last sentence of Article 2.

The new Article 3 draws on the work of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution of 1967, of which Seán Lemass, as well as the present Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, the Minister of State, Deputy Bobby Molloy, and Deputy Michael O'Kennedy were members. It also incorporates the insights of some of the finest legal brains that have served successive Governments. It is a statement of peaceful intent, of a desire to unite Ireland in harmony and friendship, only by democratic means and with consent. The principle of concurrent self-determination first contained in the Downing Street Declaration is clearly expressed, and there is a recognition of both jurisdictions on the island. The second sentence of Article 3 together with new Articles 29.7 and 29.8 empower the State to establish institutions with executive powers and functions shared between the two jurisdictions to exercise powers and functions in all or any part of Ireland, thus providing constitutional authorisation and underpinning for North-South bodies. I also look [14] forward to British media organisations reflecting the fact that there is no longer any political disagreement about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, and that consequently each jurisdiction on this island should be accorded by them the name by which it is internationally recognised, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I have already stated that these Articles will now be irrevocable. They express the spirit of Ireland today and the conditionality of their implementation is now terminated. I could not envisage a situation, even where the functions of the Agreement had been interrupted for a considerable time, that the parties in this House or the people would wish to revert to the previous wording. The old Articles 2 and 3 were put in place as a form of protest against the legitimacy of partition, after all the safeguards of the 1920-1 settlement had been cast aside. They are being replaced, like the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, by a constructive and more explicitly democratic method of uniting the country should the conditions for this exist. All sides have had to take risks for peace. This is the risk that we are taking.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement also lapses tomorrow. While many of its functions will be replaced by the new institutions, the establishment as part of the Good Friday Agreement of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference with a secretariat that relates to non-devolved matters ensures that no vacuum is created.

The setting up of the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies is of particular importance to us. It is not only a reinstatement of an essential element missing from the implementation of the 1921 settlement, it is also the logical culmination of the initiative on North-South co-operation begun on our side by Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch. I have no doubt that on the basis of the functional policy areas agreed last December and last March much useful and practical work will be done of benefit to all. Its value will not just be symbolic but real. In the voluntary sector, North-South institutions such as professional, trade union, culture and sporting organisations as well as all the main churches, have for decades operated cross-Border, either on a provincial or all-island basis. Such institutions of course lead to closer and friendlier relations but they pose no threat because decisions on constitutional matters in the future remain entirely in the hands of the people, as set out in the Agreement and will be taken quite independently of the work of any North-South body.

I also look forward to the establishment of the British-Irish Council. We appointed consuls in Cardiff and Edinburgh last year and we are already developing our bilateral relations with Scotland and Wales in a productive and beneficial way without prejudice to, and indeed enhancing, our relations with the United Kingdom as a whole.

Many difficulties will inevitably arise in the future. There are also still some immediate diffi[15] cult hurdles to be overcome. I hope that a spirit of political co-operation will gradually gain the upper hand over the spirit of confrontation and that no one will be slow to carry out the actions that are necessary, if the work which we celebrate today is to endure.

I thank Deputy Bruton, Deputy Quinn and other Opposition spokespeople who have been extremely constructive at Question Time during the last two and a half years and have been involved in this process for a long time. I thank the Tánaiste, my Cabinet colleagues and all my parliamentary colleagues. We have made a major step forward. There is more work to be done but we can truly say that in 24 hours history will be made. It will never be the same again. We are now in a more constructive and positive position, many people have participated in that and I thank everyone who did so.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is right that the House should reflect on how long it has taken us to come to this day. On 1 February 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed. That was the beginning of the struggle for a more just and peaceful order on this island. On 20 June 1968, Austin Currie made a protest against housing policy in Northern Ireland when a single woman was allocated a house because of her religious belief, despite the fact that there was a large number of Catholics with far greater need of housing who had not been allocated houses because of their religious beliefs. Austin Currie occupied a house in Caledon, County Tyrone, in protest against that housing policy. To those two peaceful acts of passive resistance we can trace the success we have achieved today. That campaign advanced when the first civil rights march took place, again on the proposition of Austin Currie, from Coalisland to Dungannon. That was followed by other peaceful civil rights marches seeking justice and an approach which recognised the identities of both communities in Northern Ireland. It is important that we recognise the work that was done by those who agitated peacefully for constitutional change. It is quite possible that all we have achieved today could have been achieved ten years earlier if the peaceful path had been followed by all concerned. That is my conviction.

In the light of the discussions of the last few weeks when the issue has been whether Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin or David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party would make the first move and when those two men have been rightly praised for the courage they have shown, it is important that we not forget the role played by the Social Democratic and Labour Party. If we are looking for a seminal document which 25 years ago encompassed, predicted and proposed the model which we now see brought to fruition we can find it in “Towards a New Ireland”, proposed by the SDLP on 20 September 1972. The work of the SDLP with the Government, with the government and political leaders in the United [16] States, with the British Government, with the Unionist community and with Sinn Féin has led us to the situation we are in today.

We should also recognise the wisdom of the words spoken by the late Cardinal Conway when he asked in 1971, “Who, in their sane senses, wants to bomb a million Protestants into a united Ireland?”. Is it not a pity those words were not listened to then by more people? Thank God they are being listened to now and have been heard at last. After the grief and the loss of so many lives over such a long period, the words of Cardinal Conway are at last being answered. It is now the case that no attempt is being made to bomb anyone into anything anymore. That is a great day.

Great thought is given to the role being played by Sinn Féin. It is of immense importance. Sinn Féin is constitutionalising republicanism. It is bringing republicanism in its physical force form painfully but inexorably into the normal stream of democratic politics. It is important to analyse where the political success of Sinn Féin commenced. Was it due simply to good constituency work? Was it due to the campaign of the IRA and the social control it was able to exercise on criminal activity in suburbs whose residents are of a republican persuasion? I say no to those questions. That is not the source of the growth of support for Sinn Féin. The source of the growth of Sinn Féin's electoral support can be traced back to the hunger strikes because the first occasion on which a Sinn Féin person stood for election in Northern Ireland was when Bobby Sands was elected in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. What does that teach us? It teaches us that it is through sacrifice of oneself by oneself that political progress is made. Sinn Féin's success can be traced back to the hunger strikes, which we in this House would have opposed and condemned, and which principally hurt the people who are mounting the campaign themselves. It was because of a willingness to suffer pain rather than to inflict it that Sinn Féin gained electoral support. The support for Bobby Sands from people in Northern Ireland who voted for him was a recognition that he had suffered. The lesson of Sinn Féin electoral support is not that the pursuit of power by violent means will be rewarded, quite the contrary; the lesson is, just as is the lesson of passive resistance shown by Austin Currie, that it is only by a willingness to suffer oneself that one will persuade others of the depth of one's convictions, not by inflicting suffering on others. That is the profound message of this peace process. It is only by a willingness to suffer oneself, to demonstrate one's convictions, not by inflicting pain on others, that one makes progress. I pay tribute to all those who have suffered and sacrificed so much and who have undergone so much pain so that we can celebrate this day today. There has been an enormous amount of pain. There are people, families of the victims of loyalist killings, who suffer pain today; there are people who were wounded by loyalists and by the IRA who are still in pain today and who understand the meaning of [17] chronic pain daily and nightly. Those people's pain is at last securing some recompense in the fact that as much as they suffer, their children and their children's children will, hopefully, enjoy a better life.

The Taoiseach has praised many people in his speech. I acknowledge and appreciate that and I am sure all those who have been mentioned do likewise. I mention in particular the man who dealt over a longer period consistently with this problem than any other Member of this House, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Spring. Deputy Spring's patience, skill, tact and commitment deserve to be remembered on this day. He was a very good Minister and never sought the limelight himself. He was always willing to allow the Taoiseach of the day to take the credit for his work, and that was sometimes the case, and his contribution deserves to be remembered on this occasion. For personal reasons I wish to recall the work of the late Hugh Coveney, who was one of those closely involved in the talks process, as a Minister who won the affection of people on all sides of the debate.

We have before us work almost completed but work still in progress. The remaining issue that needs to be dealt with is the actual decommissioning of weapons. Decommissioning is part of the Good Friday Agreement. It is as much part of the Good Friday Agreement as the Executive or the North-South bodies. The Executive has been set up, the North-South bodies are being set up, decommissioning has not yet started. When the Irish people voted in the recent referendum they voted for decommissioning just as much as they voted for the North-South bodies or for the Executive. No party or movement should, particularly in the context of decommissioning, allow itself to get hung up on the issue of whether the steps it takes under the Good Friday Agreement are voluntary steps or steps taken under pressure. All steps taken under the Good Friday Agreement are essentially voluntary. No one was forced to sign the Good Friday Agreement. Equally all steps by all parties under the Good Friday Agreement are to some degree at least taken under pressure because each person taking a step knows that if he or his party does not play their part, others will not play theirs. All acts under the Good Friday Agreement, including decommissioning, are both voluntary and under pressure. An attempt should not be made to say that everybody else's steps should be taken under pressure and it is legitimate to look to the British Government to pressurise Unionists but that republicans should not take any steps under any pressure from anyone.

Everyone is under pressure but at the end of the day everyone is a volunteer. That distinction should cease to be made because in politics no one is completely free of taking account of the needs of others. The essence of politics is about reconciling the needs of differing people. Everyone is under pressure in politics but everyone [18] who is in politics is a volunteer. The futile argument about whether decommissioning will be a voluntary act or an act taken under pressure should be cast aside; it has no meaning. It does not matter. Face does not matter at this stage. Enough people have died. Enough people have suffered. A good enough future beckons for everybody to forget about face, to get on with the job and finish the work.

I conclude my remarks by paying tribute to the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach has shown tremendous skill and balance in dealing with this issue. He has shown a sensitivity to the Unionist community which may have been more difficult for a Leader of Fianna Fail to show than it might have been for a Leader of Fine Gael and for that I pay him tribute. I also think he has been able to keep the republican community and the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland moving forward as well and I pay tribute to him personally for that. It is a good day for the Taoiseach and he deserves to be pleased with what he has achieved. I know much remains to be done and that, perhaps, even in the next few months hard things will have to be said by the Taoiseach or by whoever holds his office but I have no doubt he will not flinch from saying them. We have come a long way and we still have a small distance to go. I have no doubt we will go the distance.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  There have been several false storms in Northern Ireland, several occasions since the Good Friday Agreement when hopes of a breakthrough were raised only to be dashed by last minute problems. However, 18 months on from the Good Friday Agreement, it does now seem that Northern Ireland stands poised to enter a new era that will see the creation of political structures that are capable of winning broad support among the people of Northern Ireland and making political violence a thing of the past.

We are not totally out of the woods yet. There are still many problems and difficulties to be overcome. There are still unscrupulous groups, both loyalist and republican, who will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to undermine what has been achieved and to push Northern Ireland back over the precipice into sectarian violence and conflict.

There are also democratic political parties in Northern Ireland who remain opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and to the structures that have now been agreed. It is clear that there is a significant body of Unionist opinion which is not happy with what has been agreed, and we should not lightly disregard views that are genuinely felt and which have been forged against the background of the terrible violence in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years. We must respect their right to hold and express these views but seek to convince them that they are wrong by ensuring that all of the institutions – those within Northern Ireland, the North-South bodies and the new East-West structures – act in a fair and [19] impartial manner and that they work to serve the interests of all of us who must share this island.

Probably never before in this century have we seen in a single week so many developments of an historic nature. Who, even a few weeks ago, could have believed with certainty that we would see members of the Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP, the SDLP and Sinn Féin come together to form a power sharing Executive? Who would have believed that members of the republican movement, who fought so long to destroy the Northern Ireland state would take their place on the Executive, which is about to resume responsibility for so much of life in Northern Ireland subject to the overall authority of the Westminster Parliament? Who would have believed that we would have ever seen the day when Martin McGuinness would take a pledge of office that included a commitment “to serve all of the people of Northern Ireland equally . to nonviolence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.” The developments are not over. Tomorrow we will see the formal devolution of power by Westminster to the new Executive. In one of the potentially most significant developments, the Government will give effect in the House to the decision of the people in the referendum of May 1998 to drastically amend Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. Within days we will see the first meeting of the North-South Bodies and within weeks the establishment of the Council of the Isles.

The potential for radical transformation of the complicated political relationships within this island and between the two neighbouring islands is without precedent in our history. Already it is clear that there has been a dramatic transformation in both the Unionist and republican mindset. Without this change the progress that has already been made would not have been possible. The challenge now is for politicians in Northern Ireland to rise above sectional interests and to commit themselves to serving the interests of the entire community there.

In fairness to all the political leaders in Northern Ireland who were involved in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and who have worked tirelessly to overcome all the difficulties that were subsequently encountered, they have shown a capacity for change that many observers of the Northern Ireland scene thought we would never see. The deal now on offer differs from previous attempts to find a formula to implement the provisions of the Agreement in that it has been brokered by the parties themselves under the chair of George Mitchell, with minimal input from London and Dublin. Figuratively speaking, this is a deal between the Falls Road and the Shankill Road rather than between Dublin and London and because of that it has a better chance of succeeding.

After 25 years of direct rule the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives have been handed back responsibility for [20] much of their own destiny. Trust is essential, but there must also be the potential for sanction if, following the establishment of an Executive, anyone defaults on their obligations. Republicans have been taken on their word on the issue of decommissioning and notwithstanding the difficult and emotive nature of this issue, there can be no backtracking from the commitment to decommissioning contained in the Good Friday Agreement. In this regard the Labour Party fully supports the position of the two Governments that they would have to step in and assume their responsibilities. This may include appropriate suspension arrangements if there is failure by any party to implement any significant part of the Agreement.

On an occasion like this when so much has been achieved and when there is so much hope and optimism, one does not want to focus on potential negatives. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the decommissioning problem or believe that it will go away. All of the arguments on decommissioning have been well rehearsed and there is little value in going over them again. Its resolution is central to the building of full trust between the two communities and between their political representatives. A willingness to confront and deal with the decommissioning issue on the part of all the paramilitary organisations will be full and final evidence that those who previously resorted to violence and terror are themselves now fully committed to the democratic road and that there will be no going back.

Last Saturday David Trimble achieved what many believed to be unachievable. He persuaded his party to share power in an Executive with Sinn Féin in advance of any decommissioning. It was a remarkable achievement and the opportunities it now opens must not be lost. It might have been preferable if he had not had to agree to reconvene the Ulster Unionist Council next February. It would also have been preferable if the IRA had commenced decommissioning as soon as the Good Friday Agreement had been concluded. However, these things did not happen and we must all work within the world of what is possible.

There are grounds for optimism that progress will be made. The expected appointment by the IRA of an interlocutor will be a huge step forward. Thankfully Northern Ireland is now enjoying the most peaceful period it has experienced since 1968. The number of punishment attacks has dramatically declined and there has been close to six months without a politically motivated murder. Vigilance and care continue to be required. It is an imperfect peace but can anyone honestly look at the situation in any of the 30 years that preceded the Good Friday Agreement and say it was better then than it is now?

While the focus of attention has primarily been on the changes taking place in Northern Ireland, we should not ignore the fact that change is taking place in this jurisdiction also and that more change will be required. In agreeing to the [21] creation of North-South bodies with real power the Oireachtas and the people of this State have also agreed to cede a degree of sovereignty. Some issues that would previously have been decided exclusively by the Oireachtas will now be decided by North-South bodies which will include among their membership, and among those making decisions, members of the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP.

Perhaps in both symbolic and legal terms, as has already been referred to by the Taoiseach, the most dramatic change by far will be the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which will come into effect tomorrow following the making by the Government of the appropriate order. I strongly believe that the changes to Articles 2 and 3 will be good, not just for the situation in Northern Ireland, but for the political culture of this State. Articles 2 and 3 have provoked strong feeling, for and against, but in recent years they have caused offence to Unionists in Northern Ireland, who saw them as providing some veneer of legitimacy to the activities of the Provisional IRA. They were also regarded by many democrats in this State as being totally inappropriate to the Constitution of a modern democratic state.

Many democratic nationalists in Northern Ireland, who found themselves discriminated against and excluded from Government over a long period, regarded Articles 2 and 3 as an important statement of their Irishness and an important link with this State. Now that the situation has changed so dramatically in Northern Ireland, and when new relationships are being developed within Northern Ireland and within this island, they can be changed with the minimum of controversy.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution were a product of their time. They were key elements of a Constitution that was drafted and put to the people more than 60 years ago, within 15 years of the end of the bitter and bloody civil war and when the memory of what many people regarded as the betrayal by the Boundary Commission was still fresh in the mind. It was also the decade of the economic war, when Britain still occupied a number of Irish ports and it was a time when most people believed that partition would be a temporary phenomenon which would not last for more than a few decades at most.

Those who drafted the Articles in good faith could not have foreseen the way in which partition would endure or events would evolve. Nevertheless, it is a valid criticism of our society that we did not move earlier in the period of the violence over the past 30 year to change them. There were those who ploughed a lonely furrow in trying to convince the public that change was required. My late colleague, Jim Kemmy, springs to mind, as does Mary Robinson. Gradually there was a consensus towards change. Nine years ago this month, the Dáil debated a Private Members' Bill, tabled by Deputy De Rossa, proposing a new form of wording for the two Articles. The Bill [22] was supported by Fine Gael and the Labour Party but was voted down by the parties that make up this Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

We have moved on to a situation where the proposal to amend Articles 2 and 3, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, could be passed without opposition in the Dáil and subsequently endorsed by more than 90 per cent of those who voted in the referendum. This was a clear statement of a desire on the part of the people of this State for a new relationship with the people of Northern Ireland.

Many people in this country retain an aspiration to a united Ireland – as recently as last weekend, the Taoiseach restated his own wish to see a united Ireland – and it is their right to do so, but the more progress we make in implementing the Good Friday Agreement, the more we move towards closer integration within the EU, the less relevant the Border and the traditional aspiration to a territorially united Ireland become. For me, the prospect of the people of this island living and working together in peace and harmony is far more important than the existence of any border. For me, a permanent, lasting peace in Northern Ireland is a far greater priority than the creation of a unitary state on the island.

There are other obligations under the Good Friday Agreement with which the Government has been tardy in dealing. For instance, under the Agreement both Governments were required to establish an independent human rights commission. The British Government acted promptly; the legislation was enacted by Westminster prior to last Christmas and a chief executive was appointed in March of this year, but it took the Government more than a year and prolonged prompting from the Labour Party to produce the legislation, and debate on the Second Stage of the Bill commenced only last week. It is not clear yet when it will be law. Because of the delay in this jurisdiction, it has not been possible to establish the joint committee of representatives of the two human rights commissions, North and South, as a forum for consideration of human rights issues on this island, which was provided for in the Agreement.

As a result of the Agreement, a nationality and citizenship Bill is required. It, too, was promised prior to the summer recess. We are still waiting for it, but earlier today it was promised that it would be published before Christmas.

Under the Agreement the Government is committed to taking “further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions on the island of Ireland”. What has been done to honour this commitment? There was a similar commitment in the Downing Street Declaration which led to the establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. The forum fulfilled a useful function, but its work was brought to a premature end by the termination of the original IRA ceasefire in February 1996. Much of the work started was not completed. For instance, a specific sub-[23] committee of the forum was examining obstacles to reconciliation in the South. It had prepared a draft report which, while not completed, would still provide a valuable contribution to the debate about the future direction of our society. It should be finalised and published. We have always been quick to demand change in Northern Ireland but slower to confront the need for change in our own society. If we are to build a genuinely new political relationship on this island, that change is also required in the Republic.

There have been many dark days in Northern Ireland over the past three decades – Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday, La Mons, the Droppin' Well, Enniskillen, Greysteel and Louginisland. We, too, have experienced terrible incidents, most notably the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974. The people of Britain suffered terribly too. Scores died in Birmingham and elsewhere. We can all now dare to hope for a better future. As I said at the outset, there are still many dangers but there are also many precedents from which we can draw comfort. There are many cases in the history of Ireland and elsewhere of people rejecting violence and taking the democratic road. There are many precedents for sworn political enemies putting aside enmity and working together. It was, I think, the murdered Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who said the real challenge is not making peace with your friends but making peace with your enemies.

This State was conceived in a violent war of independence and delivered in a bitter and bloody civil war. At the end of that civil war in 1923, the prospects for the peaceful development of this island must have looked grim, given that each side in that conflict had sought to outdo the other in cruelty. Yet we largely overcame that legacy of bitterness, the most crucial development perhaps being in 1932, when the Cumann na nGaedhael Government, in accordance with the democratic wishes of the electorate, handed over power to those who just a decade earlier had waged a vicious war against them. I have no doubt the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland can put conflict and bitterness behind them also.

I want to join the Leader of the Fine Gael Party in paying a particular tribute to the Taoiseach for the work he has carried out over the past two and half years. This is a great day for all of us but, in particular, it must be a wonderful day for the Taoiseach and he is entitled to take due pride in the contribution he has made.

I also wish to place on record the appreciation of the Labour Party for the enormous commitment shown by Senator George Mitchell in the search for peace. On many occasions during the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and in the tortuous days of the review process, he must have been tempted to walk away and say “a plague on all your houses”. Few would have criticised him had he done so but he stayed [24] with it, showing endless tact, diplomacy, skill and tenacity.

Joining with Deputy Bruton, I particularly pay tribute to the major role played by my predecessor, Deputy Spring, during his 15 years as Leader of the Labour Party and his two terms as Tánaiste. His vision, leadership, and absolute commitment to democratic principles were crucial, especially in the period leading up to the Downing Street Declaration and the IRA ceasefire.

The political leaders in Northern Ireland have grown in stature through the process. The First Minister, Mr. Trimble, whose election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was greeted with widespread apprehension, has shown himself to be a leader of great vision, courage and commitment. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness have surprised many with their skill and commitment and their ability to move the Republican movement along the democratic road. They are formidable, thoughtful leaders, who have the capacity to change and much to offer. The smaller parties, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the PUP, the UDP and the Women's Coalition, have all played their part.

It would be remiss not to recognise the architects of this success. While the SDLP may not have received the same public attention or publicity as some other parties in Northern Ireland in recent months, it remains very much a key player, the voice of the majority of nationalists and a party without whom the current process could not have been brought to this level. Without the courage and vision of Mr. Hume, Northern Ireland might still be snared in what at times seemed like the never-ending cycle of death and destruction. We all owe a debt of considerable gratitude to politicians like those in the SDLP who in the darkest days of the past 30 years, when Northern Ireland threatened to be overwhelmed by sectarianism and laid waste by terrorism and violence, stood firmly and fearlessly behind democratic standards and values which they espouse and which have been a beacon to us all.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  It is difficult for people living through particular events to assess how those happenings will come to be judged by history, but there can be little doubt that coming to the end of the millennium there is now real hope that the people of this island – indeed, these islands – can put behind them some of the most difficult problems which have bedevilled them, in one form or another, for hundreds of years. This is the result of the enormous effort on the part of many people who have worked relentlessly in a process which has been fraught with difficulty, which called for many sacrifices, and which involved for all of us a willingness to let go of mindsets which could have condemned future generations on this island to live in the shadow of violence.

While it would be foolish to pretend that all [25] the difficulties with this process are over, the fact that we all have come so far proves that with continued effort and determination the prize of lasting peace on this island, where people are treated equally and with respect, whatever their political traditions and allegiances, is in our grasp.

There is no doubt that in the past ten years or so we have seen enormous changes taking place in the world. The Cold War has ended, and perhaps the most potent symbol of that was the demolition of the wall that divided the people of Berlin. While we, on this island, cannot point to anything as graphic, what is happening on this island is no less dramatic for that because the people, both North and South, by their democratic will in accepting the Good Friday Agreement, have put in place arrangements that will allow us – while still cherishing our profound political beliefs – to make a new beginning in how we organise our affairs.

I can well understand how some people remain profoundly uneasy about the developments which are taking place. It is the case that too long a suffering can make a stone of the heart, and which of us could criticise those who have been subject to the most appalling suffering for being resentful at some of what is now taking place? Both I and my predecessors as Ministers for Justice have been called upon to take decisions which go against the traditional grain.

When I introduced to the House, in light of the Good Friday Agreement, the Release of Prisoners Bill, I made the point that I fully understood the reservations people had about that measure. This was equally the case when legislation establishing the Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains was debated. However, both measures were necessary as part of the process of achieving peace on this island. While people cannot be expected to forget the terrible wrongs that have been done, our aim has been to ensure that type of suffering can be put behind us at last.

It is only right to pay particular tribute to the work done by my immediate predecessors, Deputy Owen and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn – often, by necessity, privately and unacknowledged – as part of the peace process. Similarly, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the officials of my Department who have had a central role to play in this regard. It is only right to acknowledge also the role of all my predecessors as Ministers for Justice over the past 30 years or so, who were called upon to take difficult and vital decisions to protect the security and integrity of the State.

This afternoon I am travelling to Belfast with my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, for a shadow meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. This is just one of a number of bodies that has the potential to transform the way we go about our business on this island and, indeed, with neighbouring jurisdictions. The operation of these bodies will reinforce the fact that, irrespective of the political [26] traditions of the people of this island, we have far more in common than divides us. The measure of the success of these institutions will be the improvements which they can bring about in the quality of life for all the people of the island.

The House will be aware that, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have responsibility for measures relating to decommissioning. I do not propose to dwell at length on all the issues which surround decommissioning. The arguments have been rehearsed all too often. The position, however, is perfectly straightforward. The procedures are in place in our law for decommissioning to be achieved. Decommissioning falls to be dealt with by the decommissioning body, under General John de Chastelain, and we should give him the time and space to get on with his work.

I mentioned earlier that not everyone is happy with present developments and this is the case with people who come from either end of the political spectrum. That is as it should be in democratic societies. I want simply to say this to the small number of people who might be tempted to use violence to thwart the will of the vast majority of the people of this island: the full resources of the State will be used against them and they will not succeed.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  The people of this island have invested far too much in this new beginning to be deflected by those who have no regard for human rights or human life. I want to take this opportunity to pay particular tribute to the role being played by the Garda Síochána. While there is no room for complacency, the House will be aware of recent successes by the Garda Síochána in this regard. In a literal sense, the Garda Síochána are the guardians of the peace. This is in line with their long and proud tradition which, unfortunately, has seen a number of gardaí having to make the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the community.

After the events of the past few years, there is a realisation that it is not just in Yeats's poem “The Lake Isle of lnnisfree” that “peace comes dropping slow”. It is a prize worth the effort, however, and I believe that all Members of the House will regard it as the finest legacy we have been able to help bestow on future generations.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I wish to join with the comments of previous speakers in offering a word of appreciation to the Taoiseach and his Ministers for their contribution to the historic and momentous events of this week. The Mitchell review of the Good Friday Agreement has produced the result the vast majority of the people on this island have been awaiting since the Agreement was signed in April 1998. The huge leap of faith taken by Mr. David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party last Saturday has, more than any[27] thing else, resulted in the historic political advance of the last few days.

Over the past few months media buzz words, such as “jumping together”, “choreography” and “mood music”, were seen as essential components of progress in the Assembly and the formation of the Executive. However, the Ulster Unionist Party succeeded, which is a clear demonstration that it can place trust in the process. Others must now vindicate that trust, with particular reference to the republican movement and the question of decommissioning.

The fact that Mr. Trimble kept the decommissioning issue on the agenda throughout the past few difficult weeks was, in essence, the provision of a great service to all constitutional democrats. After all, it would be totally unthinkable in our Republic for a party so inextricably linked with a terrorist organisation, to gain participation in a coalition Government. I welcome, however, the imminent appointment of an IRA liaison officer to the Independent Commission on Decommissioning and I hope the Ulster Freedom Fighters will rethink its reservations about a similar appointment. The policy of the UDA, to wait until republicans make the first move, cannot be maintained. Senator Mitchell is right to demand that all paramilitary organisations should appoint their representatives to the decommissioning body on the same day as devolution is agreed. This day has now come.

While much of the debate on decommissioning has been conducted north of the Border, the important question of decommissioning terrorist weapons in the Republic must be dealt with. Recently, we have heard here, in Stormont and elsewhere that decommissioning is a voluntary act. It may be so, but a strict obligation on the matter of decommissioning is contained in the Good Friday Agreement. The decline in violent paramilitary style beatings in Northern Ireland over the weeks that coincided with the presence of Senator George Mitchell is proof that those responsible can turn violence on and off like a tap. Recent surveys in republican areas show clearly that there is widespread opposition to these paramilitary style attacks which must be stopped immediately. Such beatings have no place in Irish politics.

The setting in place of the North/South bodies tomorrow will herald a new chapter in the relationship between people and politicians North and South. The huge gamble taken by the Ulster Unionist Party will definitely pay off as a level of trust between the parties develops in an atmosphere of constructive political debate. This trust will render the issue of decommissioning all the less painful for republicans and loyalists alike.

As we can see, the pieces of the jigsaw are now coming together, including the prisoner release issue, the Patten report on the RUC, the Human Rights Commission, economic regeneration and Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. Great credit is due to the Taoiseach and all political leaders [28] on both sides of the water who have shown marvellous courage in the face of adversity. While politics and politicians will continue to play a central role in the building of a peaceful future for all the people of this island, it will require a determined effort by individuals and organisations North and South. We in the Republic have a particular responsibility in this regard. Despite some horrific incidents, by and large, we have been spared much of the violence and suffering of the last 30 years. In contrast, Northern Ireland society has been deeply wounded by the long campaign of violence, intimidation, murder and mayhem.

There is an urgent need for people in the Republic to contribute to the healing process which is now required throughout the whole island. In so doing we are also serving our own long-term interests. People in the Republic must now reach out to both communities in Northern Ireland with a new spirit of generosity. At the most basic level we should be prepared to make a significant annual contribution to supporting victims of violence, many of whom will carry physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives. We should think in terms of the development of a peace park, perhaps in a cross-Border location. We should think in terms of a physical memorial to the victims of violence. However, at the most basic level, we should commit ourselves to the provision of £10 million per year for the next few years to victim support organisations in Northern Ireland. Local authorities, chambers of commerce, business organisations and sports clubs in the South should actively seek out and develop cross-Border partnerships straight away.

The Department of Education and Science should provide ongoing funding for North-South inter-school activities. An additional post of responsibility could be established in each second level school to further such an initiative. We also need an active North-South staff and student exchange programme among third level colleges and universities in both jurisdictions.

Networks on this island in the areas of transport, telecommunications, energy and media need a radical overhaul to encourage ease of access, more competition and a more consumer friendly environment which will benefit all the people on the island.

Over the past 30 years, violence was a huge inhibiting factor which encouraged an attitude of withdrawal and disengagement by people in the Republic. As the political institutions in Northern Ireland begin to work and a peaceful society becomes firmly established, this attitude should change. The year 2000 should mark a new start. Every citizen and organisation in the Republic should take an initiative during the coming year towards reaching out to people in Northern Ireland. At a minimum, every adult in this jurisdiction should make a conscious decision to visit Northern Ireland, if only for a day trip.

In the years ahead, if we work together, North and South, we can have the kind of Ireland which [29] John Hume talks about, an Ireland free from political violence for the first time in its history. That Ireland is one to which we can all aspire and make a solid contribution.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  I wish to share my time with Deputy Brendan Smith.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe): Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  I am pleased to contribute to these statements and I welcome the historic events of this week. That much overused word is most appropriate on this occasion. In the euphoria of the Good Friday Agreement, words were written and ideals were espoused, yet it is hard to take in the reality of naming Ministers and the devolution of powers tomorrow.

I compliment those who brought this day to pass – the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and their officials, Prime Minister Blair, Mo Mowlam, Peter Mandelson and their officials, President Clinton, and that most patient of all men, George Mitchell, alongside John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, the members of the SDLP, Sinn Féin and UUP and the positive influence of the many smaller parties, such as the Women's Coalition. Without the leaps of faith on all sides in the talks, a solution would not have been reached. While the challenge ahead is great, I wish the new Ministers and chairs on all sides every success in their ministries.

As someone who was born in 1968 in Derry, lived in Donegal, studied for seven years in Belfast and had a brief spell teaching in Coleraine and Derry, I have always been on the fringes of what has been termed the “Troubles”. For as long as I remember, there were searches on entering shops and crossing the Border, a constant feeling that something was about to happen. It is only in the past four years or so that what I considered “normal” was altered, thankfully, to a real sense of normality. With the beginning of a peace process, the searches decreased and the Border presence reduced to a point, particularly in my immediate region, where one truly has the sense of an easing of tension and foreboding and the breaking through of a sense of ordinariness. What the people of our island want most is an ordinary existence – nothing extraordinary – as the new, much talked about, millennium approaches. They just want a sense of being able to go about their day-to-day business in a safe, positive and progressive environment, free from threats.

I do not speak as an expert on life in Derry, Belfast or any other town or village and I do not pretend that everything in these areas is satisfactory. Serious and important issues remain to be resolved and a true sense of safety and security – that sense of ordinariness – is still as far away. That challenge still remains and the legacy of many past actions will take time to heal so people can move on.

[30] I speak as someone who has been involved in cross-Border co-operation and who, while living in the most northerly region and hearing so much about the east, south and west, still awaits some recognition for the North. We have found over the many years of working together as local public representatives from various political backgrounds – whether Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Unionist, Nationalist, republican or independent – that we have more in common than that which divides us, although I worry about the solution to the evolving punt-pound-euro situation.

We have a geographical regional disparity that crosses the fields of, for example, employment and infrastructure. We have a common difficulty with waste management and attracting tourists that could be resolved by joint projects and joint marketing. We have common issues within agriculture that could be assisted by combining our voice in Europe. We have a potential that could be realised with the implementation of the all-Ireland bodies that we in the north-west have awaited for years. I trust we will have implementation bodies located in Donegal. Together we have a future, which can only be the brighter for the fact that local elected representatives will have a direct say in how their area is developed. True regional support should be given and Ministers or Assembly members will be truly accountable to their immediate electorate.

This is a very exciting time. I look forward to the co-operation that will deliver the development of the infrastructure from Dublin to Derry – the A5/N2 road, the Dublin-Derry train service and the Dublin-Derry air link. I look forward to the continued development, at local authority level, of the regional co-operation that already exists, and will soon be seen in the provision of a car ferry service from Magilligan to Greencastle. I also trust that co-operation will be furthered by a local knowledge of the value of the projects that we intend to pursue.

There is much for all to gain and little to lose from co-operation on an island the size of Ireland. I wish every success to those involved in what is one of the most exciting challenges that a person is liable to face in any lifetime. Go n'eirí an bóthar libh.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  I am glad to make a contribution to this very important debate. I congratulate the Taoiseach and Government on negotiating the Good Friday Agreement and making possible its implementation. The establishment of a devolved, all-inclusive government in Northern Ireland is truly historic. All the people of Ireland, regardless of where they live, their religious beliefs or their political orientation, can say it is great to witness these historic changes.

Many doubted that such progress could come. The people of Northern Ireland and their political representatives realised, as the end of this millennium approached, that whatever might have divided them in the past was nothing in comparison to what would unite them in the future, that [31] is, the prospect of a shared peace and prosperity in which no one need live in fear.

No one is under any illusions that it will be easy, but then government never is. It is about taking decisions that are tough because they impact on the lives of thousands of people. The Good Friday Agreement was made possible by people of vision, political leaders, and people who could see further than the rest of us. The establishment of devolved government is not to be downplayed. However, of almost equal significance is the creation of the various cross-Border bodies to address areas of common interest and importance for all who live on this island.

The amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution, which come in the wake of devolved government in Northern Ireland, will bring the day of reunification of the two parts of our land closer than ever. Before this, we could only dream of unity. It was, for all intents and purposes, unrealisable as a result of generations of hostility and mistrust. In 1922, when Ireland was divided, the shock felt by people on both sides of the new Border was immense. The end of streets, bridges and hedgerows, were turned into a frontier. Sometimes these were guarded by checkpoints, at other times they were closed completely. The permanence of this Border etched itself on the minds of generations. Friends were no longer able to meet and exchange views or seek advice. They grew apart and, worse still, became strangers as time went on, failing to recognise that, whatever their differences, they also had many matters in common.

Areas on either side of the Border, such as my county of Cavan and County Fermanagh, share many similar problems. However, it is only now that people will be able to talk to one another and work together. Common approaches to common problems signify real unity. The advent of devolved Government comes in the middle of winter when everything seems dormant. However, it also comes in the last month of the millennium – a millennium often marred by war and violence. The people of Ireland, North and South, can look forward with hope and confidence to the new millennium as never before as, without doubt, it has the potential of being the dawn of a new era.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  The House rejoices in the historic events of the past week and those to come in the next few days. However, one would hardly realise the historic nature of the occasion given the sparsity of Members, when there are only two people in the Public Gallery and no one in the Press Gallery. We can predict with confidence that tomorrow's newspaper headlines will be about the budget and not about this historic event. In a way that is appropriate and fitting. I look forward to the day when the Northern Assembly will not debate the divisive historic and constitutional issues but will concentrate, as this House will do later today, on the bread and butter issues which [32] are the concern of all people, North and South, and of both traditions in the North. I join with others, particularly with Deputy John Bruton, in paying tribute to the Taoiseach and his Ministers for the commitment, tenacity and skill they have shown. I would not allow anyone to take anything from them in this regard.

I have waited a long time for this day and I never doubted it would come. I wish to quote from the official report of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 28 May 1974. Within the last few minutes of the existence of that Assembly and the power sharing Executive, in which I was Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning, I stated:

Irrespective of what happens and how this community may go in the future, somebody at the end of the day is going to have to come in and pick up the pieces, no matter how shattered those pieces are. When he does that someone will remember – and I should like to think a lot of people will remember – and say there was an idea about once; the idea was partnership in the North between Catholic and Protestant and partnership in this island between Irishmen.

I did not think it was going to take 25 and a half years but I rejoice that it has happened. Above all else on this occasion, we should remember the victims – the dead of the past 30 years, the maimed, the grieving relatives, and the disappeared and their relatives who still do not have a focus for their grieving.

I was a member of the last power sharing Executive which was brought to an end by the Ulster Workers Council strike. However, the UWC did not bring it down on its own. It was also brought down by a weak and vacillating Labour Government without sufficient commitment and an escalation of the IRA's campaign. Brian Faulkner tried to sell the Sunningdale Agreement as something which would bring peace, but the response was an escalation of the IRA's campaign in places like Bangor and Larne which had never experienced bombs before.

The Executive also failed because its time had not yet come. We were told it was the Council of Ireland which brought it down but for many it was the idea of Catholics in Government. Unfortunately there are still some who do not want a Taig about the place but, I am glad to say, they number far fewer than they did 25 years ago. I am confident that this power sharing Executive involving partnership arrangements in the North, and between North and South, will last. I have long believed that the involvement of all traditions in Government in the North and tackling the political, social, economic and cultural problems would bring about reconciliation which is the only lasting solution to the problems.

Major problems will arise not too far down the road, but they can be successfully tackled. These include decommissioning, acceptable policing, Orange Order marches and the DUP taking the [33] role of Opposition within Government. Growing confidence and trust in each other will create the conditions whereby the larger problems can be tackled. For example, the DUP will come to terms with the new arrangements. To a large extent there has traditionally been similarities between the DUP and militant republicans, including, on occasions, support for violence. The DUP, and Dr. Paisley in particular, have been anti the Protestant and Unionist establishment in the North and have felt treated as second class Protestants. They too now come in from the political cold. People such as Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds have never been content to see their political futures on the bankbenches at Westminster or Stormont. They too are now tasting power and will never willingly return to the backbenches.

A tremendous responsibility now rests on this House and on this and future Governments. In the past we have been able to blame the British and intransigent unionism for lack of progress on a whole range of political, economic and social matters. For generations we have looked forward to the day when changes in the North, and between North and South, would give us the opportunity to overcome those problems. That day has arrived and the challenge of past commitments, promises and half promises stare us in the face. Prescribed reading for all of us should be the New Ireland Forum report and its sectional studies.

In particular, we face the challenge of North-South co-operation, an essential element of the Good Friday Agreement, and an area where, economically, much is to be gained to mutual advantage and to the betterment of the lives of people North and South. However, it is not all gain – there will also be pain. At the time of the Sunningdale Executive there was a marked reluctance among some civil servants to give meaningful powers to proposed North-South bodies – the tradition of empire building runs deep. There will be occasions when a gain for the North, such as in attracting a new, much sought after industry, will not automatically be seen as an achievement for the whole island and vice versa. Firm and determined political leadership will be required. In order that the wide field of North-South co-operation can be maximised, the Taoiseach should appoint a Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating efforts in this area.

Acceptable policing is a crucial element in a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland. Policing has always been a potential Achilles heel and so it remains. Even if the Patten report is implemented in full there will still be a major problem. Policing remains a function under the control of the British Government. The new Northern Ireland Executive has the power to make laws but it will rely on a police force outside its control to enforce those laws. Any Government without the power to enforce its own laws is a eunuch. The argument has been used that [34] policing is too sensitive an issue to be in the hands of local politicians. The opposite is now the case in the new context – policing is too sensitive an issue not to be under the control of the new Executive.

An effort is already being made to rewrite the history of the past 30 years. The truth is the past 30 years represent one of the clearest examples in history of the futility of violence in achieving political objectives. In comparison with the Good Friday Agreement, I believe that from the point of view of Nationalist Ireland, Sunningdale was a better deal. It not only had power sharing but a Council of Ireland which had an elected tier so politicians from the Dáil and Stormont would meet in regular session. Articles 2 and 3 also remained in the Constitution. All of that is arguable. However, what is not arguable is that the difference between Sunningdale and the Good Friday Agreement does not justify the loss of a single life, never mind the 2,000 people and more who perished between 1974 and 1999. As efforts are made to rewrite history, the futility of violence should remain central.

In conclusion, there has been too much talk of unity in recent days. The future is not inevitable in terms of Irish unity, certainly as regards the traditional meaning of the word. The difference now is the acceptance that we will proceed by consent, agreement and peaceful means. Cardinal Conway was quoted with approval earlier. When he was asked on a radio programme in the aftermath of Sunningdale whether the new arrangements, because of the equality they would bring, would make Catholics content with their position within the United Kingdom, or if they would encourage their efforts towards a united Ireland, the wise Cardinal replied: “I am prepared to leave the answer to that question to history”. I agree with him and I recommend that the House and everyone else do likewise.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ms O'Donnell): Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  This is, beyond doubt, a historic day and week not only for the peace process but also in the history of this island. Today, we are less than one day from the entry into force of the British-Irish Agreement, the devolution of powers from Westminster and the coming into being of arrangements that will, for the first time, bring representatives from administrations in both parts of this island into structured co-operation with each other. These are momentous events that will have a profound effect on political life not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the country.

When power is devolved at midnight this evening we will, for the first time, see an Executive created on which all political traditions in Northern Ireland are represented. There were those who said that the process through which Ministers were nominated on Monday was low key – perhaps it was, just as this debate is low key. However, it is surely remarkable, and reflective of the extraordinary changes taking place this [35] week, that we have reached a stage where representatives of Sinn Féin and of the DUP could take their seats on the same Executive in a low key way.

The Ministers who will serve on the Executive will have many demanding tasks and heavy responsibilities ahead of them but I know from my contact with all of the political parties in Northern Ireland throughout the process, that those are demands and responsibilities they have long wished to have placed on their shoulders. They have been longing to assume the mantle of responsibility and power. People have spoken of the advent of real politics in the North and hopefully we are witnessing the start of that process this week.

Tomorrow morning will also see the British-Irish Agreement enter into force when the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland exchange the necessary notifications. The supplementary agreements bringing the North-South Ministerial Council, the Implementation Bodies, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference into being will also enter into force at the same time. Through these agreements, we will see new structures unique for co-operation between the two parts of this island come into being. On my departure from the House I shall be travelling to Belfast where, together with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I shall be representing the Government at a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in shadow form. David Trimble and Séamus Mallon, as First Minister-designate and Deputy First Minister-designate, will be representing the Shadow Executive.

The meeting is expected to be technical and low key and is necessary for procedural and legal reasons. However, its significance will lie in its symbolic importance as the first meeting of an institution which we are determined will become hugely important. The inaugural plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council is expected to take place, probably in Armagh, later this month, and our ministerial team will be led by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

The Council will oversee and direct the work of the six implementation bodies which are to be formally established tomorrow. They will deal with waterways, food safety, trade and business development, EU programmes, aquaculture and marine matters, and language issues. These will be effective and meaningful executive agencies, with an all-island or cross-Border remit. Inevitably, it will take a little time for them to become fully operational but considerable preparatory work has been done, interim chief executives are in place and I look forward to them making their mark very quickly.

However, the North-South Ministerial Council's brief will be much wider. It will provide a framework for the consideration of all matters of mutual interest within our joint competence. Six areas have been selected for priority co-operation [36]– transport, agriculture, environment, health, education and tourism. These are richly promising. They have been identified by economists and representative groups such as the CBI-IBEC Joint Council as being specially significant. There is obvious scope for us to exploit economies of scale, to share our common experiences, and to face future challenges together. The Council can also choose to look at other areas, for example, energy, training and combating poverty and social exclusion on the island. In our view, no issue of potential interest should be omitted or overlooked.

None of this is in any way threatening. Analysis and consultation must, by definition, proceed on a joint basis. Over the months of strand two negotiations we had earlier this year, with the UUP in particular, on North-South issues, this message has got through loud and clear. Unionists, following the lead of the Northern Ireland business, trade union and voluntary communities, realise that enhanced interaction with the South can be strongly to their benefit.

We too, in this jurisdiction, have things to learn from the North. It will be a challenge for our Departments and State agencies to examine their own activities and practices in this new light, and to adjust to the changed situation. In truth, however, there has during this decade been substantial progress in this direction. Once upon a time our public service was accused of a kind of closet partitionism. If this was ever true, it no longer is – the co-operation offered by all Departments has been, and continues to be, remarkable. The new British-Irish institutions will allow us to deepen and widen the already close ties between the peoples of these islands, to our mutual benefit.

Alongside these remarkable new institutional arrangements, tomorrow significant constitutional change will also take place. It has long been my view that the majority of people on this island wish to see their Constitution place more emphasis on the unity of people rather than territory. In the new wording of Article 3 we will express our desire to unite all of the people of Ireland in all of the diversity of our identities and of our traditions. We will state firmly that we recognise that a united Ireland shall only be brought about through peaceful means and with the consent of the people of Ireland, North and South.

Yes, it is true that were the institutions under the Agreement to fail, the changes to the Constitution would stand. However, first, I do not believe the institutions will fail. I am fully convinced there is a will on the part of all who will operate them to see them succeed for the benefit of all of our people. Second, and more importantly, I believe that the changes we are making will bring the Constitution more closely into line with the will of the people of Ireland, who voted in such large numbers in May 1998. As we watch events unfold this week, we should remember the extraordinary work, courage and [37] commitment on the part of a great number of people that has made them possible. I think of the sustained vision of John Hume. I know that without Séamus Mallon's unswerving commitment to seeing the Agreement he worked so hard to bring about fully implemented, we would not be making such progress this week. David Trimble has again proved himself a courageous and innovative leader of his people. He has taken considerable personal and political risks and we owe him a great deal. The leaders of the republican community, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have also stretched their community to its very limits. I am pleased to see two Sinn Féin Ministers ready to take their places in the new institutions being created this week.

I know I speak for everyone in the House, and for all the people of Ireland, when I say we could not have made it to this point without the relentless commitment, patience, optimism and persistence of Senator George Mitchell. The embodiment of the international support with which the peace process has been blessed, he has helped to bring us to this remarkable point in our history. We owe him a great debt and will always remember and honour his contribution.

It is a cliché to say we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, a new century and a fresh start. The events of this week show more clearly than ever that we in Ireland have realised our future belongs together, that we can and must trust each other and build a future in peace and partnership. Many people in Northern Ireland are at different stages of trust, confidence and forgiveness. The fact that the institutions are this week moving towards full implementation of the process will transform the context in which many people who have not yet reached a stage of confidence in the future and forgiveness of the evils of the past will begin to build a trust in people. We can then get on with living our lives in peace and prosperity on this island.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I wish to share my time with Deputies Bradford and Deenihan.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Foley): Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  As a Deputy from a Border county, I congratulate all those involved in bringing about what is undoubtedly an historic agreement and occasion in Northern Ireland. In the decades and generations to come, people will look back at the courage of those who kept to the task set for them and lived and worked day and night to bring about a resolution to what seemed an almost impossible problem.

We salute the courage of Senator George Mitchell who was sent to Northern Ireland to do a specific job. He stuck with that task, even though at times it was felt he would not succeed. We appreciate what he has done and hope this House will recognise his work and courage. We salute all the leaders in Northern Ireland. We salute David [38] Trimble for bringing his people with him. This was not easy because those people come from an historic past of deep rooted beliefs and feelings. However, they have moved forward. I thank my party leader, Deputy John Bruton, for his sensitive and courageous statements when this was not popular. He encouraged the Unionist people to take the road to peace. We congratulate Gerry Adams on leading Sinn Féin-IRA when it seemed they were entrenched and not prepared to move. These people were encouraged to take the peaceful way forward which they recognised. We acknowledge the low key statesman, John Hume. I am aware of the work he did behind the scenes which was acknowledged by both sides in Northern Ireland. It was disappointing that former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, was not around when the final part of jigsaw was put in place. She worked extremely hard and was available at all times to deal with issues. She may have been outspoken at times but people understood and appreciated her views.

We thank and congratulate all those involved because this is a new beginning. Coming from the Border constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, we have lived in the shadow of the Northern Ireland troubles for the past 25 years and suffered from the spill-over. I hope this is in the past, to be buried but not forgotten. We must not allow this to be repeated. In this context, the present Ministers and Assembly will need tremendous courage to get on with the task of building trust. These people can now administer their own affairs and we in the South have a role to play in supporting and working with them. They will soon realise we cannot live in isolation because we are a small island. Members will recall that during the BSE outbreak in Great Britain, Ian Paisley said the cattle in Northern Ireland were Irish. People claim to be Irish when it is advantageous. We are all Irish now, we are all looking to the same markets and promoting the same ideas. There are many areas in which we can co-operate, particularly in relation to tourism. The Erne catchment area, which encompasses Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan, has huge potential. It is the greatest waterway in Europe which we can market together and where we have a common purpose. The Tourist Board in the Republic and its Northern Ireland counterpart can work together to promote this amenity. We in the Republic have been facing tremendous problems in the agriculture sector. I have tried to raise the issue in this House. I hope the Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland visits the Republic immediately to see how we can work together to resolve what is a common problem, North and South, the demise of small farms in both parts of the country.

Education has a tremendous role to play. This is where the real future lies for young people. There can be cross-Border co-operation whereby schools will interact. School tours can be organised for young people North and South. This will enable them to see that people North and South [39] are the same, that we live on the same island with a common objective to build and work for future generations. I know the present Ministers will grasp this opportunity and that the Government will support any avenue of co-operation, joint partnerships or promotional initiatives. If this is beneficial to the Republic, it will be beneficial to Northern Ireland. It will support the Border counties from Donegal to Louth which have suffered and been neglected. Again, I congratulate everyone involved and I assure the people of Northern Ireland that we in the South are anxious to support and work with them.

Mr. Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  Every cliché in the dictionary could be used as we undertake this debate. I add my words of support to everything that has been said. The House and the entire country is overjoyed by the developments of the past few weeks and days. This is a welcome and long awaited discussion. Over the past five or six years, many of us were impatient from time to time as a result of the long delays, the difficulties encountered and the way in which the process took one step forward and two backwards. However, in a strange way, this has been helpful and worthwhile because it has brought many of the politicians in Northern Ireland closer together. They now recognise that they must work in tandem with each other. All the disappointments, doubts and hurdles jumped over the past five years will make for a stronger and better future. I pay tribute to all those concerned – the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and their predecessors, our Ministers and all the various Government Ministers and politicians in Northern Ireland – who have worked to bring about this successful conclusion to a centuries old problem.

History has been the greatest problem as far as Northern Ireland is concerned. We were literally bound by the history of past generations. I am a little fearful, and support Deputy Currie's remarks, about stargazing into the future and pre-deciding what the Ireland of the next century will look like. We should leave that task to the next generation of politicians. The task of this generation of politicians, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, is to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have a normal future with normal political debate and let the future be decided by the next generation of politicians. I fear we may be setting too high a hurdle for the politicians of today to jump. Much work remains to be done on the wider theme of reconciliation. Much progress has been made but many people who have been wounded both physically and mentally will take time to come to terms with the new political reality. We must be understanding, considerate and support these people in every way possible. I wish the process well and thank all those involved in bringing it to fruition.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Last night was a momentous occasion in the House of Commons in providing [40] for the devolution of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. Today is as significant in this House.

It is heartening to witness the level of consensus on all sides in the House this afternoon. The men and women who established this State over 77 years ago would feel justifiably proud of their achievement. They did this courageously at the time and against such hostility that it is only now all parties accept their achievement. We can all play a pro-active part in helping this Agreement to be successful, through Government and non-governmental agencies, town twinning and so on. We have a critical role to play in whatever way we can to create a level of buoyancy and activity that will be irreversible. The train is just leaving the station and we must keep it going and accelerate its progress. There are major challenges ahead such as policing, housing, employment opportunities and so on. I foresee great difficulties in regard to decommissioning. I appeal to everyone to handle this issue sensitively and carefully over the coming months. February is looming. At Christmas the Assembly will be just up and running from an organisational point of view and as there will not be much activity after Christmas, it is very important that the deadline is not seen as an end in itself. This issue could derail the process and must be handled with great care. I hope, at the end of the day, it will not bring down this peace agreement.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Cuirim fáilte roimh an dul chun cinn mór atá déanta i bpróiséas na síochána. Is ábhair dóchais do mhuintir na hÉireann uile é go bhfuil Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta á chur in bhfeidhm faoi dheireadh. Táimíd ag cur tús le ré nua i saol na hÉireann.

This is a momentous week in the history of the Irish people. We are finally seeing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with the establishment of the Executive, the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the all-Ireland implementation bodies. It has been a long and difficult road to this point but, at such a time, the difficulties pale in comparison to what has now been set in place.

Sinn Féin's view of the Good Friday Agreement is clear. We see it as a major step forward, a vehicle for progressive change. We are totally committed to the full implementation of the Agreement. That in no way negates our republican beliefs and goals. On the contrary, we see the Agreement and the new political dispensation it brings with it as a secure foundation for building a better society here and now and as a bridge to a new future for all our people. We will be working to ensure that it hastens the day when we will see a united Ireland, sovereign and independent. That is our central aim.

The creation this week of a partnership administration involving republicans, Nationalists and Unionists is a truly historic achievement and credit goes to the pro-Agreement parties who finally made it happen. Despite all the delays in getting [41] to this point, no one should under-estimate the scale of this achievement. For republicans it has been a very difficult path to follow and there will be further difficulties ahead but we carry with us our belief in the ability of all the people of this island of diverse political opinion to work together for the common good.

I congratulate my colleagues, the new Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness, and the new Minister for Health and Public Safety, Bairbre de Brún. I know both of them will apply to their ministries the sense of justice and equality which is the bedrock of Irish republicanism. Their experience over many years in campaigning with communities for social justice will equip them for their onerous new roles. I know also that their diligence and attention to detail make them well qualified to fulfil their tasks.

As a Deputy representing a Border constituency, I look forward to working with the Sinn Féin Ministers and the other new Ministers and committee members of all parties in ensuring that we fulfil the potential of the Agreement to bring real and tangible benefits to the people of the Border counties and the entire country. We have the opportunity to put behind us decades of failed partitionist politics which saw a stunted economy and regions, such as the Border region, marginalised and under-developed.

For the people of the Border counties partition has been a daily reality thwarting their efforts to progress economically and socially. It has lasted for most of this century. For them, therefore, the all-Ireland nature of the Agreement is vital. It has potential to develop the island economy and to rebuild communities across the artificial boundary. That potential must be fulfilled and the Irish Government has a huge responsibility to ensure that.

There is a palpable sense of achievement about the events of this week but this is only a beginning. The Agreement carries the promise and the potential for change. These have yet to be delivered. Resistance to change has been the factor that delayed the implementation of the Agreement. There is no doubt that there will be continued resistance to change not only from some political parties but from vested interests. I mention in particular the RUC. That discredited force has been engaged in a charm offensive that has been indulged by certain sections of the media with smiling photographs of RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, receiving awards from schoolchildren. More seriously, there has been a public relations link-up between the Garda Commissioner and the RUC Chief. Indulgence by elements in this State in such a rearguard action by the RUC, whose future is clearly under threat, shows a blindness on their part to the need for fundamental change.

The Patten report highlighted the need for a new policing service in the Six Counties. Many of its recommendations are progressive; many do not nearly go far enough. All are dependent on legislation and implementation by the British [42] Government. What will not be accepted by republicans is any shirking from this task on the part of the British Government in an effort to mollify the rejectionist wing of Unionism.

A word of caution is also needed on the Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the weekend. David Trimble did step outside the Mitchell review and the Good Friday Agreement by setting a new deadline of next February on decommissioning. This again underlines the role of the international independent Commission on Decommissioning. However, I will conclude on a brighter note. Sinn Féin has entered the new Executive in a spirit of partnership, extending the hand of friendship to our Unionist neighbours. I believe that, by working together, our common interest as an island people will come to the fore and we can all embrace a new sense of Irishness in a new millennium. This can be, and I hope is, the beginning of a new era for all of Ireland.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  Much praise has been expressed for politicians across the spectrum of Northern Ireland politics for their achievement in the establishment of a governmental structure for Northern Ireland. They have been credited with making the breakthrough in circumstances that would have overwhelmed lesser women and men. That praise is richly deserved. The establishment of an inclusive Executive based on a sharing of power in a place where power was misused for so long is truly momentous. All have played their part. Senator George Mitchell, in particular, is owed our debt of gratitude. But credit for the achievement lies not only with politicians. We elected representatives are still answerable to the people, no matter how visionary and innovative some of us may be. Today it is the people of Northern Ireland to whom we must pay the highest tribute. They most of all have suffered horrific loss and pain when tragedy destroyed the hopes and happiness of so many families and communities. Such tragedy could have crushed the spirit of reconciliation both to their loss and with their fellow citizens but, instead, thousands of people in Northern Ireland found the fortitude to transcend the pain, hatred and terror visited upon them. It is they who have enabled the politicians to bring about this new, remarkable political framework.

An ugly war was waged in the name of self-determination and republicanism. Even though those who waged it are as yet unwilling to say so, it is clear that the war is over and that it failed in its objective. Self-determination was not won through violence, it was realised fully and unequivocally when the people of this island, Irish and British together, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, thereby determining their future. As a result of that vote, a devolved Government is being established which is built on the consent of the people and centred, at its heart, on the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

That is the strength of the new Northern [43] Ireland Government, but it is also the reality which presents us with challenges regarding the inclusiveness of our forms of government in the South. How do we protect, for example, the rights of minorities? There is often a presumption in the South that prejudice begins on the other side of the Border and that it is the responsibility of those living in Northern Ireland to abandon hardline attitudes and accept consensus as the price of peace. The fact that, against all the odds, politicians in Northern Ireland have proven their worth in transforming their attitudes poses questions in terms of how much or how little we have changed.

There has certainly been progress. As Deputy Quinn pointed out, it is only nine years since parties on the left introduced a Private Members' Bill which proposed changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The Government of the day, a coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, rejected the Bill. We have moved on but we have not moved far enough. The record of the Government in human rights is not good. The British Government introduced legislation to establish a human rights commission last December and established its executive last March. The Irish Government only published the relevant legislation in mid-year and, remarkably, the debate in the House only commenced on Thursday last.

This leisurely pace towards honouring commitments made by the Taoiseach does not reflect well on the State. We have been very quick to judge others while contentedly ignoring the abuse of human rights at home. The continuing delay in publishing the mental health Bill is a case in point. The failure to publish that Bill is an ongoing denial of basic human rights to psychiatric patients. It represents a contravention of the EU Convention on Human Rights. People who are incarcerated against their will are not protected in ways that are universally recognised. As we approach the end of the current session, the Bill has not yet even been published. That hardly shows a desire or thirst on the part of the State to protect human rights.

It is worth noting that many politicians, particularly those in the US, have shown a keenness to pursue the issue of reforming the RUC. There is no doubt that the RUC must be reformed but that presents us with a challenge, namely, do we have democratic control of our police force and do communities have an input when justice is being denied or not being delivered correctly by those given authority and power in that regard? These are issues we must tackle if we are serious about fully recognising and acknowledging the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland. Given the State's treatment of asylum seekers and travellers, how can we talk about equality when we see the grave injustices which still exist?

When we consider the institutions being established in Northern Ireland, it is clear that those who have been elected Ministers will be dealing [44] with and concentrating on the normal, bread and butter social and economic issues with which this House deals on a daily basis. They will be obliged to make difficult decisions. For example, the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland will be obliged to deal with a number of serious issues in terms of the prioritisation of resources. We must ensure that we can support the Ministers in Northern Ireland in every way so they can carry out the kind of work which results from being in government.

It is clear that these Ministers will be answerable to the electorate and that they will be governed by the inexorable pressure exerted by voters. That applies to members of the DUP as much as anyone else. I accept that DUP Ministers may create all sorts of interesting dilemmas within the Government of Northern Ireland. However, I welcome the fact that they have come on board. The DUP's representatives will also be answerable to their constituents and they will be obliged to cater for those people's social and economic needs.

I acknowledge the good work done by politicians and people who, during the dark days of the past, assisted in making progress. In that context, I refer to the early 1970s when the republican movement split over a decision on whether it should pursue a campaign of violence or take the road towards democratic principles and politics.

I am glad I have lived to see this day. It is a tragedy that so many have not lived to see it. In the memory of those who lost their lives, we must ensure that the Government takes action in respect of the human rights of our citizens and that the Northern Ireland Government and the new relationship between these islands works effectively for everyone.

Dr. O'Hanlon: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I propose to share time with Deputy O'Kennedy.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Dr. O'Hanlon: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I welcome the establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive. I compliment the parties in the North, particularly the SDLP which has followed a consistent policy for 30 years. That policy has, in the main, been responsible for current developments in Northern Ireland. I also compliment the two Governments, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, their predecessors, previous Governments, the President of the United States, Mr. Clinton, and Senator George Mitchell.

It is important to remember people of preceding generations who worked to bring about an end to conflict on this island. We must also remember those on both sides of the Border who were the victims of violence. Both sides of the community suffered in equal measure.

Today, however, we must look forward to peace, to an end to the destruction of life and property on this island and to see equal recognition for both communities in Northern Ireland. [45] For the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland the rights of Nationalists will be protected. This is happening because of the changes that are coming about as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. We also look forward to the restoration of normality. In that context, I am concerned about the part of Northern Ireland which abuts my constituency, namely, south Armagh. There is no sign of a return to normality in that area. It is time the British Army reconsidered the level of its activity in south Armagh and reduced it. I also appeal to the small number of paramilitaries operating in south Armagh and other areas to change their ways, enter the fold along with everyone else and accept that constitutional politics represents the way forward. People on both sides of the Border, when they voted in the two referenda, decreed that everyone should take this course of action.

I look forward to the establishment of the cross-Border bodies which will offer tremendous benefits to everyone on the island, North and South. There will be great opportunities for the 12 Border counties which suffered dreadfully in economic terms during the past 30 years. There is now an unprecedented opportunity for social and economic development. I am particularly interested in the inland waterways body because the restoration of the Ulster Canal was written into the legislation and I hope it will move on that rapidly.

It is also important for Government to recognise the contribution that has been and continues to be made by local authority members on both sides of the Border. They have established their own groups over the past 20 years and have done tremendous work. It is encouraging that there is cross-community involvement in the North as Unionist dominated councils also participate. Government should recognise and support their work because that would greatly benefit the island and the Border counties in particular. There is still much to be done but all of us can be proud of the implementation of the Agreement. We have progressed much further this week and with the goodwill of all the parties involved, particularly those in Northern Ireland, the support of the Irish and British Governments and the endorsement they received in the two referenda in 1998, we can look forward with confidence to the future.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Information on Michael O'Kennedy  Zoom on Michael O'Kennedy  The proceedings of the House on this, the first day of the last month of the millennium, will be remembered for this debate rather than the budget debate which will follow, although it will attract much more publicity. However, this is an historic event and I am very privileged and moved, after almost 35 years as a Member of the Oireachtas, to contribute to the debate. I have seen great change and I have been privileged to be involved as a Minister during that time. I am glad that the Taoiseach acknowledged that the original proposals of the Lemass consti[46] tutional committee in 1966 were central to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the basis for the future. I was privileged to serve on it as a young man because Lemass invited young men onto the committee on the basis that the future was in our hands.

Consent has remained a constant theme throughout the evolution of the process over those years. It was constantly put forward as a policy position here in terms of agreement between North and South, within the North and between both Governments. Indeed, it was central to a policy document that I presented in 1975 on behalf of my party, which was misunderstood, and perhaps misinterpreted, but that is history. Consent was also an element of relations with the British Government and House of Commons. I pay tribute to Deputy Currie's constant commitment as a member of the SDLP and Fine Gael. In 1960 there was no consent nor was there a facility to discuss Northern Ireland issues in the House of Commons. The Speaker's Convention prevented any discussion on those issues and our preoccupation in Jack Lynch's Government, in which I served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was to open the debate so that the issues could be discussed on the basis of the potential that existed if all the democratic representatives got together.

That is happening now and the experience we have had over the past number of years pursuing the policy of consent is a clear indication to those who will operate the new institutions that they have no need to fear or be distrustful of what can be achieved together through consent. For example, the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, of which I am privileged to be co-chairman, replaced the Speaker's Convention and espouses one view. Those who laboured through the difficult times should be remembered, including John Hume who has sacrificed his health and spent his life trying to reach this day. I concur with Deputy O'Hanlon that the SDLP deserves special tribute. David Trimble, who has emerged from a difficult position having regard to some entrenched positions within his party, deserves our recognition, respect, constant appreciation and support.

Recognition must be paid formally to Gerry Adams because I know from experience that he has tried to bring the republican IRA/Sinn Féin movement along the political path. I refer as far back as the hunger strikes and the dirty protest. I was involved in discussions with the former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Carrington, and Gerry Adams was instrumental in having that protest called off. Unfortunately, an entrenched attitude on the part of some authorities in the prison service brought all that to nought.

The future we look to involves consent and the world will open up to our fellow Irishmen through participation in Europe via the North-South bodies, co-operation in economic development in areas, such as agriculture and tourism and, particularly, the fact that beyond Britain and [47] Ireland, there is a bigger world still and both countries have an opportunity to make a contribution to harmony, peace and justice under this new principle which has been adopted.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I wish to share my time with Deputies McGinley and Connaughton.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who, over the last number of years, have worked so hard to break down barriers and make the establishment of a new Executive possible. Fine Gael was the first party in this House to realise that peace on this island could only be brought about through discussion and recognition of the rights of all people in the land. Former Taoisigh, Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald and Deputy John Bruton played a role and I pay tribute to them. I also pay a special tribute to Senator George Mitchell, David Trimble and Gerry Adams, all of whom displayed tremendous patience and courage over the past number of weeks. I wish David Trimble, as First Minister, and Seamas Mallon, as Deputy First Minister, and their colleagues every success.

The Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair together with all the Ministers and back-up staff have demonstrated the ability to understand the problems and eventually find solutions that have led us thus far. I congratulate all of them, especially the Taoiseach. As he stated earlier, everyone involved has had to take their courage in both hands. David Trimble had to overcome serious problems within his party and I fully understand why people have serious reservations as they can clearly recall how many of their loved ones were murdered over the past 30 years. One lady in my constituency recently reminded me that her brother died in his place of worship.

Likewise, Gerry Adams had and has a major problem to bring people with him and join his party into democratic politics. Much of the Good Friday Agreement has been implemented. Many prisoners from both sides of the divide have been released; the Executive is up and running; many other issues are being dealt with and the IRA has agreed to appoint a person to address decommissioning. According to the Agreement, decommissioning by both sides is to take place by May 2000. If people are committed to democracy and the building of trust, decommissioning must begin now.

As one who was involved in farm organisations and the Irish Meat Industries Association, I have developed many friendships in farming and industry over the years. My own co-operative, Cavan-Monaghan, Golden Vale, Lakeland Dairies, Kerry Co-operative, AIBP, which is owned by Larry Goodman, Monaghan Mushrooms and many other companies serve both sides of the Border, which demonstrates that when a common goal is shared, people can work together. Farming [48] organisations, women's groups and industrial and tourism groups have worked together over the years. The first time I felt that I was not free to continue open involvement was when I entered full-time politics in this House. I welcome the change the new structures will bring.

Cross-Border bodies are important and they will bring great progress to the Border areas which have suffered most over the past 30 years. They will bring progress in agriculture, tourism, waterways and other areas. I look forward to the cross-Border body being located in County Monaghan because it has the longest stretch of Border of all the counties in the area and it is suited to that type of structure.

As Deputy O'Hanlon said, the Ulster Canal must be addressed. The Blackwater River was addressed in more difficult times and the Ulster Canal provides an obvious opportunity. However, I am critical of the Taoiseach and the Government on one issue. If they are committed to a cross-Border structure, they must ensure that major secondary cross-Border roads are restructured and reopened. I refer in particular to the Dundalk to Castleblaney road, which goes through South Armagh, the Dundalk to Sligo road, which goes through Carrickmacross, and the Belfast to Galway road, which passes through Monaghan, Clones and Cavan. None of those roads were included in the national plan but they must be addressed if the Government is to show commitment to cross-Border activities.

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  Ar dtús, ba maith liom comhgairdeas a dhéanamh le gach duine a raibh baint acu leis na himeachtaí tábhachtaí agus stairiúil a thárla i dTuascairt Éireann an seachtain seo is a thugann sochair don tír ar fad.

Watching events in Stormont this week, most of us felt emotional at the historic coming together of all sections of the community there in a partnership representing the interests of all the people and different shades of political opinion in Northern Ireland. We are witnessing the termination of not only the past 30 years of unrelenting violence and suffering, but also, I hope, a lasting solution to what has been historically known as the Irish question which has endured and bedevilled us for many centuries.

This week we are witnessing the successful culmination of the efforts of many people over the past 30 years, extending from the Administrations of Liam Cosgrave to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. During those years many efforts were made, starting with the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974 when there was, for a period, a power sharing and partnership Administration in Northern Ireland. It is historic that one of the members of that Administration, Deputy Currie, spoke earlier. Perhaps the greatest weakness of that experiment was that republicans were not represented and the inclusion of a Council of Ireland was a step too far at that time.

The next major milestone was the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 which gave us a direct [49] involvement and say in Northern Ireland affairs. For the first time, there were Irish civil servants in Maryfield. In 1994, there was the Downing Street Declaration during Deputy Albert Reynolds's term of office, which was followed by the Framework Document in 1995 when Deputy John Bruton and his Government were in power. A major landmark on the road to this week's momentous and historic decision was the referendum in May 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement and its provisions were supported by 85 per cent of the population of the island. Since then it probably has been a matter of politicians responding to the wishes of the public.

There is a significant and meaningful change in the mindset of all political parties in Northern Ireland. Every party has given ground. There has been compromise on all sides and the result is that, for the first time in 25 years, there is devolved government in Northern Ireland with participation by all shades of political opinion. Deputy John Bruton and the Fine Gael Party have always extolled the virtues of pluralism as the solution to the problems in the North. The happenings there this week are a vindication of that position. In the coming weeks, I hope the various parts will fall into place. We look forward to the establishment of all the ancillary bodies, including the British-Irish Council, the North-South Ministerial Council and the Irish Federation.

I compliment everyone in Northern Ireland, here, in the UK, President Clinton and particularly Senator Mitchell for their efforts and support for the process. I also congratulate all those who have been appointed and taken responsibility for various Departments and committees in the North this week. I am extremely happy and proud that former Senator Bríd Rodgers, who is from my townland, Bunbeg in the Donegal Gaeltacht, has been given responsibility for the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. This is historic. On the eve of a new millennium, are we being too hopeful in looking forward to a century of peace, co-operation and understanding on this island?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I am honoured to be a Member of this Parliament today in welcoming wholeheartedly the progress at Stormont this week. I probably will never forget when the Ministers designate were sworn into the new Government. It was a great day for democracy, the people of Northern Ireland and people everywhere.

As I watched, I thought the new Government would be well served by its Ministers. All are capable people. They come from different backgrounds but they all want the exercise to work. A few months ago the ten people involved would not even sit in the same room together. A huge transformation has taken place and this will apply to the public in Northern Ireland in time. My second thought was of all the people who made it possible and one name in particular stood out, that of Mr. John Hume. I congratulate all those [50] involved over the years in the process. It has been a wonderful week in Irish politics.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I wish to share my time.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  This debate is taking place at a time of unique opportunity and promise in Ireland and it is a great honour and privilege to take part in this discussion. Some 18 months after the referenda in which the people voiced their overwhelming support for the new beginning offered by the Good Friday Agreement and as a result of a considerable amount of painstaking and dedicated work to secure its full implementation, we are within 24 hours of the institutions under the Agreement receiving their powers.

As we speak, for the first time in history, an inclusive Executive representative of all political traditions in the North stands ready to hold office. The Ministers designate have all waited a long time for the arrival of real politics in Northern Ireland. Tomorrow, that wait will end and the Executive will meet for the first time to begin the difficult task of government.

In the North-South institutions, including the Ministerial Council, the implementation bodies and the areas for enhanced co-operation, we are putting in place structures through which representatives from both Administrations on this island will be able to work together in close and friendly co-operation for the benefit of all the people. I am confident they will become a powerful force for the advancement of the concerns of all the people and that, in doing so, they will threaten the interests of none. In the British-Irish Council, a framework is being created through which the people of these islands will be able to come together to discuss matters of concern to us all, using our diversity as a creative force and celebrating all that we hold in common. Alongside these momentous institutional developments, tomorrow will also bring historical constitutional change.

When the Government meets following the exchange of notifications which will bring the British-Irish Agreement into force, it will issue a declaration to bring into effect the amendments to our Constitution for which people voted in such large numbers in May 1998. The Constitution, for the first time, will express our wish in harmony and friendship to unite all the people who share the territory of Ireland in all the diversity of our identities and traditions. Placing people rather than territory at the heart of our Constitution, the amendments will recognise that the people have no interest in achieving a united Ireland through any means other than the consent of the people. These changes to the Constitution will be mirrored by changes to British constitutional legislation which will also come into effect tomorrow. All these changes, institutional and constitutional, are profound and radical.

[51] Each member of the Government will be called on to play his or her part in ensuring the success of the new arrangements. Within these institutional developments, the establishment of the North-South implementation bodies will cement co-operation between the two parts of the island. In the context of my Department, the introduction of the Special EU Programmes Body is particularly significant. Essentially, this body will take over the central management of Community initiatives, that is, INTERREG and peace, for the remainder of the period of the current round of Structural Funding. It will be closely involved in the negotiation of these programmes under the next round and in their central management thereafter, along with the cross-Border aspects of Leader and the successor to EQUAL. The body will have some additional individual tasks in relation to the current round of funding, and a wider remit at the detailed level of implementation in the next round.

Its remit will be wider than the programmes and initiatives mentioned as it will also be responsible for monitoring and promoting implementation of North-South co-operative actions through the medium of the Common Chapter which is included in the respective North-South plans covering the period 2000 to 2006.

The body will, in a very real way, place current institutional developments in these islands in an EU context and build on the very extensive co-operation between North, South and the EU, which has developed in the course of the current round of EU Structural Funding under the existing INTERREG and peace initiatives. The functions of the body are set out in greater detail in the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999.

It was a privilege to take part in this debate.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  I commend Deputy Currie on his role in the early stages of the civil rights movement and in the politics of this island in the past 20 or 30 years. He has almost become an institution in his own right and certainly has been a political phenomenon in that he has the unique record of having been elected to two assemblies on this island. As a republican and Nationalist, I look forward to the day when we will have one assembly on the island of Ireland. I recognise it may not be in the short to medium term, but certainly in the long term we will have a united parliament for the whole island of Ireland. I make no apologies for saying that. I suspect this is an ambition that many on the other side of the House hold dear as well. James Connolly, who is most often quoted in this respect, said “Ireland without her people means nothing to me”. I share that sentiment. I believe the spirit of the Agreement and the spirit of the specific changes that were made to Articles 2 and 3 are exactly in that spirit, that the people of Ireland must be united through consent and without the use of violence to achieve political ends. That is a real and tan[52] gible achievement when one looks at the broader canvas and sweep of Irish history.

Some people say it is an 800 year history. Some say it is 300 years. Yet more people say it is a 25 to 30 year history. I do not think that matters any more. The point is that a very big milestone has been achieved with the implementation of this Agreement, with the all-Ireland referendum that has endorsed it, and with the courage that David Trimble has displayed in bringing his people to accept this Agreement. This Agreement was never going to be a good one for the Unionist community to accept or adhere to. Acceptance of equality is difficult in some quarters of the Unionist community. The mere acceptance of the idea that they must share power is very difficult. I commend David Trimble on the leadership he has shown. It has been a remarkable achievement on his part. I hope he lasts long. I hope he is not toppled or threatened by what I call the “Ulster says ‘no' constituency”. It would be fair to say the “Ulster says ‘no' constituency” consists not just of Unionists. There are nay-sayers and pessimists in the Nationalist community as well in regard to this Agreement.

We should pay tribute too to the paramilitary organisations. It is not fashionable to praise what are essentially illegal paramilitary organisations. However, the mainstream of those organisations, the loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA, have kept faith in terms of maintaining their ceasefires over a very difficult period in this process. It is remarkable that Martin McGuinness has taken up a position in a government in Northern Ireland. It was Martin McGuinness and many other young people of that time who took arms against the British state in 1969. It is a truly remarkable and very positive development that we see people like him and of that generation who grew up during the events of 1969 now taking their places in government and that they believe that if there is a road to Irish unity it is through government and participation in the political process. That is a lesson that was never lost on Deputy Currie. He knew about taking the constitutional road many years ago. It must be very satisfying for Deputy Currie and others like him that people are increasingly taking the view he took 20 or 30 years ago on how things should develop on the island of Ireland.

It is fashionable to sound positive and optimistic notes about these historic moments in the peace process. However, we need to be very cautious. Garret FitzGerald complained after the implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement that the British had been less than faithful in terms of their implementation of that Agreement. We in this House and those North of the Border will need to monitor the implementation of this. Merely forming the Executive does not automatically mean it will be fully implemented as an agreement. There is a danger of shifting political situations across the Irish Sea in Britain, shifting priorities, with different personalities coming in and out. We have to be extremely careful to [53] ensure the British honour and fully implement this Agreement as it should be implemented. We have made the first move as a Government in that we will soon implement the changes to Articles 2 and 3. We have all jumped together in that respect. We have to be extremely careful and ensure this Agreement is fully implemented in an honourable way.

I was very pleased with the allocation of ministerial portfolios. It was a great tribute to the SDLP that it managed to get so many fine portfolios in the new Administration. I look forward to the early introduction of the cross-Border bodies which, I believe, will have the dynamic to grow and improve themselves. As a Nationalist republican, I believe we are on the road to Irish unity, although it may not be the unity of which Connolly and Pearse dreamed.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This is a historic week for Ireland. The Ministers are in place, and it is wonderful that there will be a devolved government in Northern Ireland in the next few weeks.

I am delighted all parties have signed up to this Agreement. I have always said that, while we welcome help from Britain and America, the only people who can resolve this problem are the people of Northern Ireland and its politicians. When they went to England and were put into a room without outside interference, they worked out an agreement. That agreement is now in place, and we hope it will work.

I hope we will never see another bomb on this island. I hope the punishment beatings will stop, and I hope the people who are buried in unknown graves throughout this State will be identified and that their families will be able to bury their bodies in a dignified way.

I compliment people who are never complimented, people like Séamus Mallon who has given all his life to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. Such people are forgotten. We are always hearing about John Hume and David Trimble, the people in the front line. What about the people who have supported the SDLP and the democratic parties in Northern Ireland over the years? These are the people who should be thanked now, who should be honoured. They are the people in the background who supported democracy in Northern Ireland over the years by peaceful means, and they have paid a price for that.

I am delighted to hear Deputy Lenihan say he is a republican. I am a republican and delighted to be so. I come from a very strong republican background. We are all republicans in this State. We all have the same beliefs. Through the years people believed that if one did not support Fianna Fáil, one was not a republican. My people died for this country. They fought and paid a heavy price, but we believed in democracy. It is wonderful to see someone like Deputy Currie, who was a Minister in the last Executive in [54] Northern Ireland, sitting in this Parliament where he was also a Minister. We do not know what will happen in the future, but perhaps he will be a Minister in an all-Ireland parliament.

What is happening in Northern Ireland this week is wonderful for the country. I hope we never see another bomb or another life lost here in the name of Ireland. Too many lives have been lost. Too many people have paid a dear price. I understand the views of Unionists and of people who lost family members.

Debate adjourned.


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