Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
15. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the arrangements for his forthcoming meetings with the pro-agreement parties in Northern Ireland have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18248/03]
21. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will convene a meeting of the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board during his forthcoming visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19541/03]
22. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place within his Department for maintaining contact with the Ireland-America Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19542/03]
24. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has received a response from the British authorities to his call made on 1 July 2003 for an independent public inquiry into the murder of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19717/03]
25. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when he last met the British Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland; when he next plans to meet him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19724/03]
27. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the most recent discussions he has had with the British authorities regarding the holding of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly; when he expects the elections to be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19843/03]
29. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters covered during his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 13 September 2003; his views on the prospects for early elections in Northern Ireland in view of his discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20217/03]
36. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his September 2003 meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; the issues discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20401/03]
41. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the discussions he had with the US Administration during his recent visit to the United States; if any of these discussions involved the war in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20467/03]
Over the course of the summer, and particularly over recent weeks, both Governments and the pro-Agreement parties have been working closely together to make the necessary progress that will enable us to achieve the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland on a sustained basis.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and I met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin on 4 September. I met a delegation from the SDLP led by Mark Durkan on 9 September and I met Prime Minister Blair at Chequers on 13 September and again last Saturday in Rome. I also met David Trimble on 15 September and I met the Women's Coalition last Friday. I expect to have further meetings over the coming period as we seek to secure the progress we need. We want to make the kind of progress that will help assure a stable working Executive following elections.
I have made it clear what is now needed. We need elections. We need to have an end to all paramilitary activity backed up by decommissioning. We need the Unionists to commit to sustaining stable and inclusive institutions. We need the two Governments to deliver on their commitments to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including those outlined in the Joint Declaration.
Prime Minister Blair and I are determined to work jointly with the parties to get back to a position where we have the Executive and Assembly working effectively. As Governments, we are doing our best to encourage progress but a great deal lies in the hands of the political parties themselves. They each in their own way, and together, have a responsibility to move the process forward. In this context, I welcome the recent engagement between Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party. I hope these contacts can help build a foundation of confidence and trust, and address the issues that are essential for progress.
The good summer has had a settling effect on the situation generally. I commend all those who have worked to bring this about. This achievement must be sustained and consolidated throughout the whole year and through next summer and beyond.
Since last May, we have been proceeding with the implementation of the Joint Declaration in so far as we can. We have also recently announced the details of the Independent Monitoring Commission which both Governments believe can play an important role in building confidence on all sides.
At our meeting last Saturday, Prime Minister Blair and I took the opportunity to discuss the current situation. We are very conscious of the  time constraints for elections. We want to see progress made in the next week or so.
I travelled to Albany, New York on Monday, 22 September where I met Senator Hillary Clinton at the College of St. Rose. We discussed business and educational links between Ireland and upstate New York. I thanked Senator Clinton for her continuing close interest in Ireland and I updated her on developments in the peace process. Afterwards, I met Governor Pataki and attended a reception for the Irish community in Albany hosted by the Governor. I also thanked the Governor for his close interest in Irish affairs.
On Tuesday, I attended a number of economic events and met business and economic leaders. I also met Ambassador Richard Haass and we discussed recent developments in the peace process. I thanked the Ambassador for the US Administration's continuing support for the process and our efforts to restore devolved government to Northern Ireland. I will meet Ambassador Haass in Dublin next week when we will discuss the matter again.
On Wednesday, I travelled to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Centre at the University of Connecticut. There, with the British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, representing Prime Minister Blair, I was honoured to receive the first Thomas J. Dodd Prize in international justice and human rights. Thomas J. Dodd, a distinguished lawyer and Senator whose career was devoted to the promotion of human rights, was the father of Senator Chris Dodd who has worked closely with successive US Administrations in promoting peace in Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday evening, I met the President of Mexico, Vincente Fox. I reported last week on that meeting. On Thursday, I addressed the United Nations General Assembly and I also reported last week on the matters I covered in my address there.
I later visited Fairfield University in Connecticut where I received an honorary degree and gave the William and Mary Stack lecture in Irish history and culture, “Ireland Today – Building on Peace”. In the course of my address, I spoke about the key role played by US companies in Ireland's recent economic transformation and the enormous contribution of the US to the peace process. In all my public statements in the US, I stressed the crucial importance of making progress in the peace process.
I met Geraldine Finucane and the Finucane family on 2 September and I restated the Government's position that an independent public inquiry is the only way to uncover the truth about all the circumstances surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane.
I will receive this evening Judge Peter Cory's two reports into the murders of Lord Justice and Lady Gibson and of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Bob Buchanan. I am referring these reports to the Attorney General, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell,  and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, for their consideration, with a view to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform bringing the matter before Government as soon as possible. Judge Cory has also today presented his reports to the British Government in the cases of Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson.
I take this opportunity to commend Judge Cory and his team, who have shown enormous dedication and commitment in the course of their work. I am very grateful to Judge Cory for his deep personal commitment to the task both Governments set him. Both Governments are committed to publishing the reports without undue delay.
I met the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board last March. My schedule of engagements in New York recently was such that, while I met with some individual members of the board, I was not in a position to meet with the board itself during my visit. Contact with the board is maintained primarily through our embassy in Washington which provides reports, as necessary, to my Department.
Mr. Kenny: I reiterate the support of the Fine Gael Party for the efforts of both Governments to bring about closure to the problems in the Northern Ireland peace process. I support the Taoiseach in his personal efforts to make progress in this regard. I share his view that, on the one hand, there needs to be an end to paramilitarism and the implementation of decommissioning from the Unionist perspective. On the other, there needs to be adherence to stable and inclusive institutions.
We are now in October and, obviously, if elections are to be held, it must be soon. Is the Taoiseach happy that, on the one hand, Unionist politicians are anxious and fully committed to seeing the completion of the Good Friday Agreement? Will they adhere to stable and inclusive institutions? Is there any evidence available to the Government that the IRA intends to cease all activities and to end the war, as it were, irrespective of what phraseology they put on it? Is there evidence available to the Taoiseach and the Government that this is happening? If we are to have elections, they must be based on that premise, out of which can come stable, inclusive and long-lasting institutions for the governance of Northern Ireland. Is the Taoiseach happy on both these scores? I state my support once again for the efforts being made to bring about completion in this matter.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny asked if we are now in a position to move towards positive and stable elections that will restore the Assembly and Executive and fulfil the various aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, the North-South bodies and all the other matters in the near future. I wish to answer the question in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible. Next week will  mark the first anniversary of the failure of the Northern institutions due to the lack of the necessary trust and confidence to keep them going. We spent several months working on a plan to try to revive them. In response, the Governments completed the joint declaration at the beginning of March. In it, we set out the commitments of both Governments. We accept that role. I reiterate that we are prepared to fulfil the commitments contained in the joint declaration. We failed in that effort when the talks broke down at the beginning of May without bringing about the desired effect. The British Government postponed the elections, a move which we opposed and continue to oppose. All parties in this House stated at the time that the elections should take place anyway.
At my last meeting with Mr. Trimble, he confirmed that if he gets the necessary clarification and commitments, he is prepared to fight the election from a positive pro-Agreement stance and, if successful, to implement the Good Friday Agreement in terms of the Executive working in a cross-party and cross-community mode. We welcome the ongoing talks between the parties – the UUP and Sinn Féin. We wish the talks well. It is not necessary for the two Governments to be involved in all talks. We are anxious to see whatever dialogue is possible taking place and we support it. There is no opposing view, either between the Governments or the parties. We have not, as yet, reached a position where we have the basis of an agreement which would allow us to positively move towards elections, or even for people on both sides to be positive in their manifestos and manner of canvassing going into those elections.
That is the dilemma, but we hope we will get to that position. As I outlined in my reply, we have been trying to do so, on the dates I outlined, since the beginning of September. We have been seeking to make that progress, particularly over the past month, but we have not yet achieved it. It might not matter a great deal if time drifted on for another few weeks but for the fact that a timespan is required to have an election. It is now 7 October and there is some debate about whether the six week rule could be slightly shortened. As of now, we are negotiating on the basis that six weeks' notice will be required. It would be difficult to get everything set up and moving by the end of November, given that it is now mid-October. I stated categorically, not only in America but last week that, effectively, we have about a week. As of now, I cannot tell the House the basis of how such an end could be constructively engineered, but that is the reality.
Mr. Kenny: What the Taoiseach said is very sig nificant if the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. David Trimble, has confirmed that he is prepared to fight elections from a positive perspective in the context of the completion of the Good Friday Agreement. We have not yet arrived at a point where sufficient trust and confidence is coming  from the republican side to do the same. Given the timescale, is it not incumbent upon Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness to send out a very clear signal to their supporters and to what are termed “volunteers” that the Sinn Féin political party is fully committed and to request that all others support it in that context for elections that are soundly based and will lead to lasting institutions and good governance for Northern Ireland?
Given the shortage of time, is the Taoiseach aware of any further meetings planned to take place in the next week to ten days with Sinn Féin whereby such a statement could issue and such confirmation could be given? There is clearly an onus on Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness to deal with this matter which everybody else wishes to see completed in the shortest possible time.
The Taoiseach: Meetings are ongoing between Sinn Féin and the UUP and, as I stated, I wish them well. Obviously it would be regarded as very positive progress if a formula could be agreed within those meetings. There have been a number of meetings. I receive general reports of those meetings but I cannot say I am fully briefed on all of them. Like every series of discussions, it will have to come to an end and it will have to end in a positive light.
My stated position is that one way or the other I want elections to be held and I will not move from that position. The difficulty is that if this is not approved in the next period of time there is a possibility that there could be a situation that would lead nowhere and everybody would be fighting the elections from a negative position. It is my view and that of the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and all the other people on the pro-Agreement side that if that happens, the chances of finding a workable Executive and electing a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and carrying out a programme for Government in a positive frame of mind would be a total mess. I do not think any party or any party spokesperson wants to be in that position.
We have been endeavouring all year to ensure that elections are held in this calendar year. That is our stated position and I believe I speak for everybody when I say that is what we want to achieve. Second, there should be elections so that the pro-Agreement parties in a positive frame of mind will ensure that an Executive is elected and the institutions properly set up. This will require something of the order of what we were stating earlier this year about acts of completion. We have been talking about this for 12 months. The acts of completion should be clear commitments that paramilitarism is finished, in whatever form that is stated. I have stated many times that I am not interested in the wordsmith use of language on this matter. I think people will know what it means if it is stated in a way that is clear and meaningful and if people mean what they say. I  am sure if they say it they will mean it. On the other side, I believe Mr. David Trimble will publicly state his position and that will supply the trust and confidence to move forward. That is the key issue but the reality is that if it is not achieved within a short period of time, we will have a major difficulty.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Taoiseach consider that enough is being done on the matter of political and physical intimidation of persons connected with the district policing partnerships? Will he indicate his response to the comments of the vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Denis Bradley, who seemed to be critical of the Irish Government's stance in that regard? What is his reaction to the motion passed last Friday by the Ulster Unionist Party executive seeking radical changes to the Hillsborough Declaration? Are the two Governments minded to cede changes to the Hillsborough Declaration? Is it the Taoiseach's intention to lay before the House the report from Judge Cory, subject to protecting sources of information? Was the Nally report received by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform prior to the end of August in respect of allegations that information may have been withheld from the security forces in Northern Ireland which, it is claimed, might have helped to prevent the Omagh atrocity? Does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform still intend to come into the House, as he pledged at the end of August, to make a comprehensive statement and to take questions on the Nally report?
The Taoiseach: I understand that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will make a report to the House on the Nally report, which has been completed. I know the Minister is anxious to deal with that. He cannot publish that report because there are many sensitive security issues. However, he is happy to give as comprehensive a report as possible.
As regards Judge Cory, we will have the report today on the cases I mentioned, namely, Lord and Lady Gibson and the two members of the security forces, Buchanan and Breen. As I stated many times, we will examine that in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Office of the Attorney General is looking at aspects of it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will bring forward a report on that. I cannot promise full publication until I see the precise security aspects of the report. However, we will put through the data.
We have not yet finalised the arrangements with the British Government as regards when we will get access to its reports and when it will get access to our reports. However, we will exchange information once they are examined by the Departments. The British Government has an interest in our reports and we have an interest in the cases it has put forward because we have already stated positions.
 As regards the district policing partnerships, I condemn the threats against the members of the district policing partnerships. Deputy Rabbitte made a serious point in that regard. I know it is a difficult decision for many members to join the boards, but they do so out of a profound sense of public duty. The partnerships are a vital part of the new beginning in policing. The people serving on them deserve our full support. There is always a danger that those opposed to this process will act against these people who are working to implement the new policing arrangements. I have met a number of the members of the policing boards. Last weekend I met different groups of people, many of whom are not in the public domain, who told me about the harassment and the intimidation they have faced. They do not want to be in the public domain because that would put more pressure on them.
It is important that those who support the process, particularly in the Nationalist and republican communities, support and protect those who are working for an effective and accountable new police service. I welcome the fact that the Sinn Féin leadership has categorically denied any involvement by mainstream republicans and that it has condemned the intimidation and harassment. I urge Sinn Féin to take the next step – to endorse the policing boards and district partnerships and take their places on the boards. This would help greatly and enable progress to be made. I have read some of the criticisms but we have at all times endeavoured to help the boards and individuals involved in every way. I understand that they are under some pressure in these matters.
The Taoiseach: Last week, David Trimble described the UUP's position on the Joint Declaration as “nuanced”. We must wait and see what that means as we move ahead in the coming days. However, I discussed this matter with him before last week's statement. I do not want to misinterpret his position, although I am sure we will have a chance to discuss the details, but there are not too many difficulties with what he is saying. I can understand the different arguments and issues, but I know Mr. Trimble subscribes to most of what is in the Joint Declaration.
At the moment, Sinn Féin, the UUP and other parties all have some difficulties with the Joint Declaration, but they want the Governments to implement the parts they agree with while stating their positions on the parts with which they have difficulties. Like everyone, they want to have their cake and eat it. However, we are determined to implement the Joint Declaration as stated and are trying to work with the various parties in doing that. Many parties have difficulties, but the document is an overwhelmingly positive one which addresses all the outstanding issues – policing, demilitarisation, human rights,  an end to paramilitarism – and we intend to proceed with its implementation. Naturally, when I meet the parties I discuss with them the bits they do not like, but they all need to understand that to engender trust and confidence we must implement the whole document, not just the parts with which one group or one side agrees. Officials of the two Governments went through the document again recently and we will continue to implement it.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Perhaps the Taoiseach will note that he has not embraced all the commitments given by him and his Government in the Good Friday Agreement. Can the Taoiseach confirm to the House that he has strongly pressed the British Prime Minister on the unacceptable delay in calling the Assembly elections? The Government and the Dáil have called for elections to take place before the end of the autumn. Will these elections proceed before Christmas 2003?
What is the Taoiseach's view of recent reports that the British Government has undertaken to increase the role of its secret service, MI5, in their so-called security operation in Ireland, both in the Six Counties and in this State? Will he undertake to impress upon the British Prime Minister that this is totally unacceptable and runs absolutely contrary to the commitments made to a new policing arrangement north of the Border? Has the Taoiseach taken receipt of both the reports of Mr. Peter Cory – one for the British Government and one for the Irish Government? When will these reports be published?
Mr. Sargent: I congratulate the Taoiseach on receiving the Thomas J. Dodd award. Could the Taoiseach describe the Government's knowledge of the progress being made in the negotiations? What are the positions of Sinn Féin and the UUP? Can he tell us when the Dáil will be informed of any progress? In the interim, will he be open to taking soundings from party leaders and trying to move forward in as inclusive a spirit as possible? Is there any validity to the reports that following the presentation of the reports by Judge Cory, there will be judicial inquiries into the Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson cases, as well as the cases of the murdered RUC officers in south Armagh, Bob Buchanan and Harry Breen?
The Taoiseach: I have not yet received Judge Cory's reports but I will receive them later today. The reports I receive will be those dealing with the deaths of Lord and Lady Gibson, and Breen and Buchanan. The British Government will receive reports dealing with the other cases. As I outlined earlier, we will then put them through the process with our Departments and the Attorney General and, ultimately, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will report on them. We will publish them in so far as we can do so, depending on what security details the  reports contain. We will have to work out a mechanism with the British Government on how to exchange our information on the cases. We have a deep interest in the cases that Judge Cory has dealt with for the British Government and, of course, the British Government will want to know about the cases that affected us in one way or another.
As regards the elections, I have clearly stated the position, which is that we do not want the situation to drift. It is five years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the parties need to renew their democratic mandates. In our view the political process will be reinvigorated if it is a positive political campaign, particularly if it takes place in a positive atmosphere where pro-Agreement parties can present their manifestos for stable, inclusive, partnership Government. That is why we are trying to get everybody to do their bit. It is a year since the institutions were suspended and we have been trying since then to achieve a position. We need to establish the fact that paramilitarism has ended for good and that all parties will rely solely on their democratic mandates. We will not make progress if we do not achieve that. That is the reality and it is no good anyone saying otherwise.
Time is short but the parties have been actively engaging with each other and with both Governments, which I welcome. I hope that some progress is being made but it is not visible yet. The final steps have yet to be taken that would convince everybody that they are for real, that peace is here to stay, without doubt or equivocation, that everyone accepts that the institutions have to be inclusive and that we have to work in a sustained way in order for the Agreement to work properly, as was intended. The parties know what they have to do. There is no point in people just cherrypicking – parties cannot be half in and half out of the process. The Agreement is the only prospect for a stable, democratic future. The only real option is for parties to commit themselves fully to the Agreement.
Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me if I would readily admit that we still have responsibilities to carry out, and I readily admit that. I hope he will readily admit that his party has responsibilities to carry out also.
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