Tuesday, 16 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
8. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the Government's assessment of the prospects for political progress in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the Assembly elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28848/03]
9. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet political parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the prospects for political progress there in the aftermath of the Assembly elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28851/03]
10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in Cardiff on 28 November 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28853/03]
11. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, at the British-Irish Council in Wales on 28 November 2003. [28874/03]
15. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister on 28 November 2003; and the matters discussed with regard to the peace process and the need to accelerate the political process. [29065/03]
18. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with a Sinn Féin delegation on 4 December 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30682/03]
I held a series of meetings on 4 December with delegations from Sinn Féin, led by Mr. Gerry Adams, and the SDLP, led by Mr. Mark Durkan, and with the US ambassador, Mr. Richard Haass, who had also visited Belfast and met representatives of the parties. Our priority is to secure a sustainable basis on which the Assembly can be restored and the Executive quickly established and we will be continuing our intensive engagement with the parties in the period ahead. I thank Ambassador Haass for his valuable and deep engagement with the process since his appointment and wish him well in his new role.
I met the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, at the British-Irish Council in Cardiff on 28 November. We remain committed to consolidating peace and keeping the political process moving forward. We made this clear in our joint statement afterwards. The DUP electoral strategy was built on a message that it would be responsible and constructive and would secure an agreement that both Unionists and Nationalists could support. The UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, met representatives of the DUP on 1 December. After the meeting, the party publicly stated its intention to be constructive. It also conveyed that message to Ambassador Haass. We welcome its positive engagement and would be happy to meet representatives of the party in due course.
The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want devolved government and there is an onus on everyone to bring this about. I do not imagine any of the parties are against considering how the Agreement has operated, which is why we are to have a scheduled four year review. I have indicated a willingness to listen to the views of all parties on how the Agreement has operated and to consider changes in its workings where such changes secure consensus support. Both Governments have made it clear that this is not a review of the fundamentals of the Agreement. There can be no change to these which include the principle of inclusion. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, have written to the parties asking for their views on issues arising in the context of the review. The review proper will probably begin in early January.
The British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I will meet in London tomorrow to review the prospects for progress in the light of our recent contacts. We will also avail of this occasion to meet the Northern Ireland parties. The British Prime Minister met the DUP in London earlier today. We need to bear in mind that the current impasse essentially revolves around the operation of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. The matters encompassed by the Agreement are far wider than devolution. It embraces a broad agenda of change, including in the areas of policing, criminal justice, human rights and equality. These provisions of the Agreement, reasserted in the Joint Declaration, remain the agenda for both Governments and we will continue to insist that they are implemented. I acknowledge that there has been important progress, but there are issues, specifically the matter of weapons decommissioning, that remain to be resolved. The sooner this can be done, the better the prospects of resolving the impasse.
Until devolved government is re-established, the two Governments must drive and manage the issues, including through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC. I expect the BIIGC, which is chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, to meet again early in the new year. We are also committed to ensuring the North-South arrangements continue to function in a satisfactory manner. No matter what the outcome of the election, it was always going to take some time to sort things out. It may take a little longer now and there are no guarantees, but we are committed to this process and to making it a success.
On 28 November, together with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, Mr. Jim Wallace, and the Isle of Man Chief Government Minister, Mr. Richard Corkill, I attended the fifth British-Irish Council summit in Wales, hosted by the Welsh First Minister, Mr. Rhodri Morgan. Deputy Laurie Morgan represented Guernsey and Senator Frank Walker represented Jersey. The main focus of the meeting was indigenous, minority and lesser used languages. The council noted the rich linguistic inheritance possessed by all British-Irish Council members and reiterated the commitment on the part of members to support and promote their respective indigenous, minority and lesser used languages. In addition, the council was updated on work being undertaken in other areas.
Mr. Kenny: The DUP delegation met Prime Minister Blair this morning and the Taoiseach is to meet with him tomorrow. Does the Taoiseach expect to be briefed by the Prime Minister on the outcome of his discussions with the DUP this morning? Has the Taoiseach made arrangements to meet with the parties from Northern Ireland, the pro-Agreement parties and the anti-Agreement parties?
What is the position of the Irish Government in so far as any changes to the Agreement might be concerned? It has been reported that the Government would support a weighted majority in terms of changes to the Agreement, that is, 60% of the members of the Assembly, including 40% of Nationalists and Unionists. Is that the position of the Government? Is that the basis on which the Taoiseach expects to discuss changes to the Agreement? As one member of the DUP delegation said, one person's changes is another person's renegotiation. I take the Taoiseach's view that what is not required is a renegotiation but a discussion on how it might be moved forward.
Given that the Barron report, published last week, was critical of the extent of co-operation with the inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and given that the report has been referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, will the Taoiseach raise at his meeting with the British Prime Minister tomorrow the matter of non co-operation by the British Government in order that the committee, in whatever deliberations it undertakes, should be able to move the matter forward?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has raised a number of questions. I have already been briefed on the British Prime Minister's meeting with the DUP delegation this morning. We will have an opportunity tomorow to meet the other parties to assess the progress we will make and to work out the programme. I understand the meeting this morning was cordial and useful and the ground covered was that covered at a previous meeting with the Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, on 1 December.
In regard to the fundamentals of the Agreement, we have made it clear we do not believe any renegotiation should take place other than a review and that review obviously will not affect the fundamentals of the Agreement. I have not exhausted the issues we consider to be fundamental but I have said I do not want any changes to the institutional structure of the Agreement, including the North-South bodies, in particular, and the arrangements in place for them. The idea of devolved inclusive Government on a cross-community basis is an issue that cannot be renegotiated. The rights and principles enshrined in the Agreement, the areas of human rights and equality and that broad agenda we had worked on, and particularly the substantive document that came out of Weston Park, are issues we cannot go back on. It would obviously include a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means because that is the basis on which we can proceed. There will be other areas but I refer to those by way of illustration.
On one occasion, the Alliance Party, by re-engaging its structures, saved the institutions at a particular level. Since then the Alliance Party has asked for the question of the weighting of votes to be examined and that a review of the area be carried out. Various suggestions and proposals were made at the time. That will come up in the review, for the Alliance Party if not for others, but it is not an easy area to resolve.
In all these issues it is for the parties to respond to the letter of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to make their views known. We will then see how we can go forward. I do not wish to be prescriptive regarding discussions. On previous occasions I said what could be done regarding redesignation, but the Alliance Party has said it will not redesignate again, so I do not imagine that issue will arise. However, it must be examined and I have no doubt it and other issues will come up in the discussions.
The Taoiseach: I am not sure if we have already presented a document to the British Government. I will check that. If not, I will present it tomorrow. We have received the co-operation we are going to get on this phase of the Barron report and no issues remain. Following its work, the joint committee may come back with recommendations for further efforts. The efforts the Government has made with various Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and through raising the matter with the Prime Minister have gained all available information. I take the Prime Minster's word that any information available to him or to the Northern Ireland Office has been given. The issue of records held by MI5 and whether they ever existed is beyond the Prime Minister. The inquiry tried to get what security records it could. It got what it was given and I did not imagine any others were going to be given over. My belief is that they never will be.
Mr. Sargent: The Taoiseach previously acknowledged that the National Forum on Peace and Reconciliation did not need additional funding and he hoped other ways could be found to have the institutions restored. In that regard, does he acknowledge that there would be merit in hosting bilateral meetings with the parties in the House, as the Northern Ireland parties that are members of the forum already have bilateral meetings such as those he referred to in his earlier reply? It would be useful to glean from parties not involved in those discussions the potential for moving forward and how that might be done. Is it possible to organise such bilateral meetings in the context of the situation in which we find ourselves?
The Barron report will overshadow the meetings the Taoiseach will be having, particularly with the British Prime Minister. Is the Taoiseach inclined to follow the precedent he set when he apologised to victims of child abuse which occurred long before he was in Government? Is there a case for making such an apology, given that the Government in power at the time—
Mr. Sargent: The British-Irish Council certainly does. During the discussions on languages, did the question of the status of the Irish language and the prospect of it becoming an official working language at EU level arise?
The Taoiseach: The House has asked the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to consider the Barron report and to report back within three months. It would not be helpful for the work of the committee if there were to be a debate before it reports. We should leave it to the committee for now. There were several remarks outside the House about why we gave the report to the committee. That was part of the agreement worked out here on an all-party basis in 1999 and there are legal issues attached to this. That is why the House did this, it was not done off the top of the head. The House dealt with it in a procedural way as it had agreed to do. The House is entitled to do that.
The Irish language has been discussed and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has continued to pursue initiatives on how the Irish language will be handled on an EU basis. There will be questions later about the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland including one from Deputy Ó Caoláin. If I do not have a chance to answer it in this session the answer will come out later but we are trying to improve the position and move on it as well.
The Taoiseach: I have no difficulty about that if it would be helpful. I have stated that I would like the DUP to engage with the Irish Government but obviously it will not do so on strand one issues and I understand its position. It did not engage in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Whatever happens over the next few weeks I have no difficulty entering bilateral talks as a means of engaging the political parties in the House, hearing their views and updating them as things go forward. I would be very glad to do it if the Deputy would like me to do so.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: At his meeting on 28 November 2003 did the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Cory report? Is he aware that there is growing concern at the delay in the publication of the Cory report which was presented to both Governments last September and that now, following a three-month delay, there is concern on the part of the families of the victims and the bereaved, specifically the Finucane family? Will the Government be publishing that section of the Cory report as presented to the Dublin Government? Has the Taoiseach urged, or will he be urging, the British Government to publish the section presented to it? Does he have both sections of the Cory report? In the event of the British Government not proceeding to publish, would the Taoiseach, recognising not only the domestic but the international call for the publication of the Cory report in full, undertake to publish it in full? It has been reported that Cory calls for a sworn public inquiry into the Finucane case. Can the Taoiseach confirm if that is what the Cory report states?
The Taoiseach: At Weston Park both Governments recognised that certain cases from the past remain a source of grave public concern, particularly those giving rise to serious allegations of collusion. We spent much time in the run-up to the meeting in Weston Park discussing those issues and the various cases and the Governments committed themselves in the event of Judge Cory recommending a public inquiry in any case, to implementing that recommendation. That is our understanding of what happened at that stage. We spent a long time searching the world for an independent senior figure to undertake these inquiries. Judge Cory is a highly respected former Canadian Supreme Court judge who has international experience. A long search was conducted in various parts of the world to find somebody of his standing.
We agreed the cases that were to be examined, following which Judge Cory set about his work. The two reports submitted to the Irish Government will be published shortly. I hope it will be possible to finalise matters and to publish those reports this week. That is what I am endeavouring to do. The Government will proceed with the implementation of Judge Cory's recommendations as outlined in his reports. We will have to deal with those matters and we will make a statement on how we will do that when we release the reports.
I also understand that four reports on the cases of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright were submitted to the British Government, which have not been seen by the Irish Government. They may not be published at the same time. I will ask about them again tomorrow afternoon. We would welcome their publication at the earliest opportunity, but in the meantime we intend to proceed with the publication of the two reports which Judge Cory submitted to us.
There has not been a delay in this regard, as there was consultation with Judge Cory on the reports. He prepared the draft reports, checked them with both Governments and had follow-up discussions with both Governments. He did not change them but had such discussions in respect of substantive references and other legal issues. We have just completed that process. We moved on the process as quickly as we possibly could.
I said that I believed both Governments should move together on this because we had agreed to it together in Weston Park. There was never an agreement that we would not move without the British Government. I was trying to help the position by trying to get it to move on this as well.
The Taoiseach: Exactly, but now that it does not seem to be moving on it, I am going ahead with it. There was never an agreement that we would not move on it and neither was there a requirement that we would publish our respective reports simultaneously. I have made the British Government aware of my intentions.
When I met Geraldine Finucane and her family in September, I stated the Irish Government's position was that an independent public inquiry was the only way to uncover the truth about all the circumstances surrounding the murder, and I still hold that view. Judge Cory has now reported but I have not seen his recommendation. However, I believe it is important that the Governments stand by the commitments made at Weston Park, and I intend to do so.
Ms McManus: With regard to the general political situation in Northern Ireland, does the Taoiseach agree that the purpose of the Good Friday Agreement was to create political structures that would have majority support in both communities but, for whatever reason, that support has slipped away, specifically in the Unionist community? Does he therefore agree that there is an obligation on both Governments and all parties to consider measures that might restore that support? If so, would he indicate whether the Government has considered any measures to this end and whether he considers specific measures could be taken by the republican movement to attempt to rebuild that support in the Unionist community?
The Taoiseach: We have to continue to work to win support. The Deputy's analysis of that is correct. We have to win such support from every side – loyalists, Unionists, republicans and Nationalists – to try to maintain support for the Agreement. In the election, it was argued on the Unionist side that there was a fall in support for it and perhaps some of their supporters did not vote.
As I said previously, it would have given a boost and encouragement if we had been able to finish the work in which we were engaged and if the work of the Joint Declaration and the other matters had moved on. If the report given by General John de Chastelain of what was a significant and the largest yet decommissioning by the IRA had been able to feed into the process in a more constructive way, that could have given support for it a lift, but that was not the case.
We must now confront a number of issues. On Thursday next, this House will debate the Independent Monitoring Commission Bill 2003, which deals with the International Monitoring Commission to which the Government signed up on 25 November last. The members were appointed on 4 September, Joseph Brosnan being the Irish nominee, Lord Alderdice and John Grieve the British nominees and Richard Kerr the US nominee. The commission has started its work. It visited Dublin and met me and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. The British legislation in that area is now passed. The Irish legislation will be passed in the Dáil, having gone through the Seanad last week. That will help because it is the Government's assessment that without the mechanism of the Independent Monitoring Commission, it will not be possible to generate the confidence of which Deputy Kenny speaks, the confidence necessary to achieve the required outcome.
The commission will monitor and report on the carrying out of the commitments on the ending of paramilitary activity, including military attacks, training, targeting, intelligence gathering, acquisition and development of arms or weapons, other preparations for terrorist campaigns, punishment beatings, attacks and involvement in riots. The commission's report will assist in all of that being consigned to the past, and in an international verification that it is so consigned. The commission will also monitor and report on the programme of security normalisation to be implemented in the context of the definitive transition to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Should the British Government request details in advance of the programme being announced, the commission may report on security normalisation that has taken place to date.
This matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in January. Hopefully the Northern Ireland Assembly can be re-established early in the new year. The commission will also have a more general responsibility to consider claims by any party in the Assembly that another party is in breach of fundamental requirements in the Agreement.
The establishment of the International Monitoring Commission was not the Government's recommendation or suggestion, but it should help to fulfil the objectives mentioned by Deputy Kenny, namely, to breed confidence and support. All the other matters in the Joint Declaration of last April on a range of issues should be advanced. We have some responsibilities in this area, though the British Government has the lion's share of responsibility. We think we should get on with the implementation of those issues in the early months of 2004.
Mr. Kenny: I wish to raise a matter which has not been raised before. Last Thursday I visited the Shankill area of Belfast with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and Deputy McManus. Some 500 houses in that area are abandoned, derelict and burned out. The people who lived there, some of them former UDA commanders, now understand that the road to progress is the road of peace. They showed us a street where six suicides took place within a 200-yard stretch. These people's political representatives do not meet them and they are grateful for the efforts being made by the Minister for Education and Science and the Irish Government to provide the incentive for such meetings. Will the Taoiseach raise this matter with the British Prime Minister and members of the political parties in Northern Ireland when he meets them in the course of the discussions on a review of the Agreement? In view of the work now being done by those political parties, that must be encouraged.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny knows I am very supportive of those discussions and that I have met representatives of the main Northern Ireland political parties earlier this year. I continue to engage with them. I agree with and encourage dialogue with the political parties in Northern Ireland. It is helpful. I am aware that sectarian attacks on Nationalists have increased of late. The more engagement and control there is, no matter from where it comes, the better. It will help eliminate these problems.
This Government pressed very hard last year to relay the concerns of people such as those mentioned by Deputy Kenny directly to the British Government regarding the need for renewal and refurbishing of many of these people's communities. Such renewal is badly needed and we will continue to press the matter.
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