Wednesday, 5 March 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: I am sure the House will agree that we expressed a sense of grave disappointment at the failure to conclude the talks in Hillsborough yesterday in respect of the completion of the Good Friday Agreement. I received a telephone call earlier this morning from the Department of the Taoiseach to request the Taoiseach be allowed to stay away from the House for a while, as the talks concluded late last night or early this morning. Arising from that can the Tánaiste outline a timetable to resurrect the talks to the point where they might be completed?
Given that both the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach were very much against the postponement of the elections beyond 1 May and the real possibility that an invasion of Iraq might take place which will obviously divert the attentions of the British Prime Minister, is there not now a serious possibility that these talks and all the work, discussions and deliberations that have taken place over the past five years will begin to unravel? This is very serious for the entire island of Ireland following the consent given in a referendum by the people, both North and South, to the Good Friday Agreement. Does the Taoiseach intend coming in here today to give a statement to the House and allow us to discuss this? Can the Tánaiste indicate the timetable set out by both Governments to attempt to resurrect the talks to a point where they can be concluded successfully?
The Tánaiste: I am sure the House would wish to join me in commending the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister as well as all the parties for their hard work over the past two days. There were 30 hours of intensive and substantive talks and this was an exercise in optimism and trust. While there have been difficulties nobody should underestimate the progress that was made.
The intention is for the two Governments to meet the parties again in early April to put proposals to them. I believe the parties are aware privately what those proposals are and there is now a period of reflection for the parties to sell those proposals to their members. During the  talks process everybody recognised it was preferable to delay the elections from 1 May to 29 May so that the appropriate time would be given to parties to sell the new proposals to their electorate before they go to the polls. That is understandable and appropriate in the circumstances.
I am not certain of the Taoiseach's intentions for today; I have not spoken to him yet this morning. However, I am certain the Government would be available to brief the Opposition parties and maybe later in the day we could discuss what form that might take.
Mr. Kenny: This side of the House offers its full support to the efforts of Government to achieve success in this. I share the Tánaiste's view that this was an exercise in trust. Can the Tánaiste confirm whether the issue of sanctions was the single dividing point and that all sides seemed to be in favour of this with the exception of Sinn Féin? At a recent meeting I attended in Belfast, it was made clear to us that Sinn Féin does not represent the IRA, but had influence over it. If that was the single point of real division, what attempts will be made to have Sinn Féin use its expressed influence over the IRA to bring about conclusion?
Given the likely diversion of attention by the British Prime Minister, this is now really urgent and is critical to the future reputation of the entire island of Ireland. In so far as this side of the House can give any assistance towards concluding these matters, that will be readily forthcoming.
The Tánaiste: I very much appreciate what Deputy Kenny has said and the constructive role Fine Gael has played in the talks process, not just in recent days but also in the past. I have been briefed on the talks and it would not be helpful to start speculating as to where the area of disagreement might be or what areas of difficulty remain. In all processes of this kind there are requirements on various parties and enormous courage and determination is required. The parties now have a period in which to reflect. That is a very good thing and the Governments will come forward with their proposals in early April, but the parties are in no doubt as to the shape of those proposals.
The elections in May will give an opportunity to the electorate in Northern Ireland to place their trust and support in those who have taken huge risks for peace. It is therefore important that we consolidate and resolve in the first incidence all the remaining outstanding issues to allow us to consolidate the enormous progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement so that all the institutions can be put into effect again as quickly as possible.
Mr. Rabbitte: Like Deputy Kenny, I agreed to the Taoiseach's request. However, it would be important for him to come to the House either  later today or certainly by tomorrow to have a discussion on these important developments.
Did the Tánaiste see the quote attributed to Deputy Woods, in which he described the Freedom of Information Act as a half measure, merely window dressing and called for the repeal of the Official Secrets Act when Eithne Fitzgerald was putting through the Freedom of Information Act? Does the Tánaiste not agree it was that kind of humbug, which brought the Progressive Democrats into existence? Did the Tánaiste not make her name on the basis of her espousal of openness, transparency and accountability? Is the record of the House not littered with references by her to the necessity for greater openness and transparency? How does she reconcile this with the repeal of the Freedom of Information Act?
Does the Tánaiste agree that it is not merely the historical role of the Progressive Democrats Party to act as the people's watchdog in Government and ride shotgun on the Fianna Fáil Party? As recently as the last election, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, canvassed on the basis that the Fianna Fáil Party could not be let out alone and required an escort. His slogan was “Single Party Government, No thanks”.
I draw the Tánaiste's attention to the words of Deputy O'Donnell when the then Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, was putting the Freedom of Information Act through the Houses. The Deputy stated: “There is little point in legislating for the principle of openness and access to information if everything sensitive to the authorities is to be excluded by exemption.” If she was not right then, she is certainly right now.
How does the Tánaiste reconcile her collusion with the Fianna Fáil Party in covering up arrangements made during the lifetime of the previous Government in order to keep them from the prying eyes of the public, journalists and the Opposition? It is a disgrace to which I did not believe the Progressive Democrats Party would assent.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am disappointed the Tánaiste did not make some attempt to justify her change of heart. She knows the Act is effectively being repealed. The new Bill goes far beyond even the recommendations of the five eminent civil ser vants, whose proposals were along the lines one might have expected.
I draw the Tánaiste's attention to a practical example of the legislation. Last November I asked the Taoiseach if it was true the Tánaiste, in her role as Minister for Enterprise and Employment, was contemplating cuts of 13,500 places in the community employment programme. He stated nothing of the kind was being contemplated. Then at the end of December The Irish Times reported that papers released under the Freedom of Information Act showed not only that the Minister was contemplating the cuts, but that she had already agreed to them.
Mr. Rabbitte: It is crystal clear from the papers released under the Freedom of Information Act. In his reply, the Taoiseach stated he did not believe the figure of 13,000 was under discussion. The papers show the Tánaiste had initially agreed to cut £63 million or 13,500 places and that this was only changed when Fianna Fáil Party backbenchers followed the Labour Party lead in objecting to the proposal in the House.
The Tánaiste: The fact is that if, in the context of discussing Estimates, the Department of Finance puts forward figures within which a line Department must live in a particular year, the Minister in question points out the consequences of the decisions he or she must take as a result. This is what happened in the case Deputy Rabbitte raised. At no time did I or my Department consider reducing community employment places by 13,000 in one year. The Deputy knows that as well as I do.
Mr. J. Higgins: The United Nations Security Council will probably vote later this week on the new UN resolution which is nothing more than a cover to launch an invasion of Iraq. What exactly is the Government's view of this resolution? The Taoiseach said it was a political imperative. Does the Tánaiste believe it is a legal imperative? Leaving aside the real reasons for the war and the question of morality, what is the Government's view of the opinion of many international legal experts that even a second resolution which endorsed the principle of a pre-emptive strike would be completely wrong and inadmissible in international law?
Will the Government please stop colluding in the fraud that the imminent invasion of Iraq is about alleged weapons of mass destruction or to bring democracy to the Iraqi people? The real reason is to secure Iraqi oil fields for the United States and western capitalism, in other words it is an old-fashioned, imperialist grab for resources and control of the region. Now that this is understood by billions of people around the world and a majority in this State, why do the Government and sections of the media continue to collude in the fraud?
Is the Tánaiste aware that many people feel deeply ashamed that the Government is turning Shannon Airport into a virtual military and police state to protect the war machine which is about to unleash slaughter on innocent children, men and women in Iraq who have never done any harm to us or anybody else?
This is the first opportunity I have had to address the Tánaiste since she and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, single-handedly tried to restart the Cold War with their speeches of a week ago. Will she apologise for her McCarthyite smears against those who are working night and day to stop the horror of a war against the Iraqi people? Will she apologise for her facile smears of anti-Americanism and anti-Britishness and the various other insults she directed at us?
The Tánaiste: It is important the United Nations is effective and respected, which is the reason the Government worked so hard for peace  in the world during its time on the Security Council and in the United Nations, in particular with regard to resolution 1441. We want the UN to be involved in any decision made on these matters. I will not speculate on “what if” strategies. It is not the way government should operate. We have to operate on the basis of facts.
In relation to Shannon Airport, some people appear to be determined to close down the airport in its entirety but we must realise that 40% of the income of Shannon Airport comes from refuelling charges. It is very important for the future of Shannon that we do not seek to undermine it by giving the world the impression that people might be insecure at Shannon Airport.
Mr. J. Higgins: —in refusing to spell out their view on whether they will support an invasion of Iraq with or without a UN mandate. The threat to Shannon Airport is from their policy of allowing the military machine of the United States to use it for a completely unjust attack on the Iraqi people.
Mr. J. Higgins: The Tánaiste did not answer my question and she did not apologise for her inane insult. What does she mean by anti-Americanism? Does she mean that we do not like the Rocky Mountains, the 40 million American people of Irish extraction or the tens of millions of American people who are deeply opposed to Bush's war plans?
Mr. J. Higgins: Will the Tánaiste agree that her smears were a cheap attempt to divert attention from the fact that her Government is unrepresentative of a majority of the Irish people in allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the US war machine? Will she agree also that we are correct to be opposed to the likes of Secretary of  State Rumsfeld, one of the many Dr. Strangeloves of the current Administration? Are we not entirely justified to be opposed to his policy of war at any price for oil?
The Tanaiste: It will come as no surprise to Deputy Higgins that I do not agree with him. I notice he did not say anything about the American companies in his constituency. I wonder what are his views on those companies.
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