Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Last Wednesday was an important day in the politics of Northern Ireland and I wish to take the opportunity to explain why this was so and why it is my belief that we have reached the final, and admittedly difficult and frustrating, phase of our peace process.
Since last week there has been a fair amount of controversy and debate and it would be surprising if it were otherwise. I welcome this opportunity to present to the House the full context in which we are now working. People have tended to speak of yet another failure but I do not see things in such a negative frame. I have always believed that this end-phase would be difficult but just because it is difficult and awkward does not mean that we should avoid taking on the outstanding issues.
Let me make my position clear. I will not settle for a half-solution. I will take the political risks for peace and I expect others also to do so. I have heard some people say that things are quiet in Northern Ireland and that we should leave well enough alone. In my view it would be an act of irresponsible folly to leave things as they are and not try and bring agreement and final closure all around. I was privileged to have been part of history at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It is now my responsibility, and duty, to make history work, and work fairly and well for everybody. The proposals that we published last week cover key issues that must be resolved to finally and definitively assure peace and political stability in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement made a real difference to the politics of this island and to the lives of all its people. However, the Governments’ proposals would bring closure to issues, which were not, or could not be, resolved at that time. There were many such issues and it is now time to deal with them once and for all and build the final bridge to peace.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Blair and I had obviously wished to be able to present our proposals in the context of full agreement but we are not quite at the point of total success. Our work will, therefore, continue to secure closure on what, by any standard, is a landmark package. This is as close as we have ever been to assuring peace on our island and moving into a confident future on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome and value the continuing partnership that we enjoy with the British Government and I commend Prime Minister Blair for the time and effort that he invests with us in addressing the issue of Northern Ireland. The process derives enormous strength from this partnership and it is through it, and working in collaboration with all the parties, that we will ultimately achieve the final breakthrough.
Since the devolved institutions were suspended in October 2002, there have been two previous intensive negotiations designed to achieve a comprehensive agreement that delivered acts of completion on all sides. These were large-scale undertakings which were ambitious but they were essential in the context of the paralysis and distrust that had come to beset the process at that time. Each initiative had its own difficulties but each, in its own way, pushed the process forward and helped bring us today to the point where completion is achievable. The first such initiative culminated in the Joint Declaration in May 2003 but did not lead to the ending of paramilitarism or the restoration of institutions. The second, nearly 14 months ago, in October 2003, saw the political parties in Northern Ireland come very close to agreement on the restoration of the political institutions.
To our disappointment, and for reasons that are well known, we did not get over the line on that occasion. When the results of last year’s election became known, many believed it would never be possible for the two main parties involved to work together. I did not share that pessimism, first because political leadership carries responsibility to make things work. Following my meeting with the DUP at the embassy in London in January this year, the first such meeting between the DUP leadership and the Government on political matters, I was convinced that the DUP recognised this responsibility and wished to pursue a solution. In the months that followed, the Government pursued a new relationship with the DUP and worked closely with it and the other parties in this new environment. Second, the story of the peace process has been that the dynamic of the Good Friday Agreement inevitably draws people from opposing viewpoints to the centre ground. By offering equality and partnership to both communities, the agreement narrowed the scope for disagreement.
After several months of tentative engagement at Lancaster House in June of this year, the two Governments identified four critical issues which had to be resolved as part of any comprehensive agreement. They were a definitive and conclusive end to all paramilitary activity; the decommissioning, through the IICD, of all paramilitary weapons to an early timescale and on a convincing basis; a clear commitment on all sides to the stability of the political institutions and to any changes to their operation being agreed within the review of the Good Friday Agreement; and support for policing from all sides of the community and on an agreed framework for the devolution of policing.
Since then, we have spent an enormous amount of time and effort on these issues, the satisfactory resolution of which would open the way for the widest possible agreement. The package published by both Governments last week was styled as a comprehensive agreement. It is comprehensive in the sense that it seeks to address and resolve the four core issues identified at Lancaster House. It does not in any way transcend the Good Friday Agreement, whose principles and values remain the template for both Governments. However, by offering a way forward on the four core issues, the comprehensive agreement provides the key to unlock the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement.
At Leeds Castle in September of this year, significant progress was made in advancing these issues and in narrowing the gaps between the different sides. Following the momentum which had been created by those discussions, there was further engagement between the parties and the two Governments, including on the institutional matters pertaining to the review of the agreement. While the diverse range of issues being addressed was sometimes complex and technical, the central objective was clear, namely, to secure a complete end to paramilitary violence in all forms and the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons; to secure a genuine, lasting commitment to power sharing and partnership; and to achieve universal support for the new policing arrangements.
Sometimes in the hectic world of daily politics, it is a good idea for everyone to step back for a moment and to pause. That is what we should do when considering what was published last Wednesday. We felt that publication of these proposals was appropriate at this time. They had been in circulation among the DUP and Sinn Féin since the middle of November. We were concerned that time was slipping by and that other parties and the wider public were entitled to a full accounting of the efforts that had been under way. Both Governments made it clear in publishing the proposals that, while considerable progress had been made, not all elements were agreed. Nonetheless, we expressed the hope that the people of Northern Ireland would reflect on what was in prospect and the opportunity which the agreement, if accepted in its entirety, represented.
The proposals of the two Governments address the ending of all paramilitary and other illegal activity. The draft statement would commit the IRA to support the comprehensive agreement, to move into a new mode conducive to and consistent with a peaceful society and, consistent with this, recognise the need to uphold and not endanger anyone’s personal rights and safety and give instructions to its members not to engage in any activity that might thereby endanger the new agreement. No one anywhere on this island should turn their back on the prospect of achieving such an outcome.
We have always been clear and it was commonly understood throughout this entire period of engagement that the ending of all paramilitary activity must also encompass all other illegal activity. The IRA statement on Thursday, while confirming its intentions in regard to that organisation moving to a new mode, issuing instructions to volunteers and completing decommissioning to a rapid timescale, did not address this issue in the clear terms required by the Government. Clarification is required that the IRA’s commitment is to a complete ending of paramilitarism and other illegal activity. We are duty bound to satisfy ourselves on this point.
The Taoiseach: This initiative is based on this vital premise. It should be clear that any ending of paramilitary activity and other illegal activity would continue to be monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission which was set up jointly by the two Governments last year.
On completing the process of IRA arms decommissioning in a rapid timescale, the early realisation of this part of the proposals would remove an issue which has come to dominate and impede the prospects of political progress. The proposals envisage two independent witnesses, the availability of photographs for inspection as well as their later publication. I believe that the Governments’ proposals in this respect continue to represent a fair and reasonable judgment and should — in the context of an overall comprehensive agreement — have been sufficient to close the gap on this most sensitive issue.
We always understood that the photographs issue would be a difficult one for the IRA. However, in the context of an overall package, it was our understanding that this proposal would be considered by it. The IRA has since said that it is unable to agree to it. A core recommendation of Senator Mitchell’s report on decommissioning in January 1996 was that the process should “suggest neither victory nor defeat” and that the modalities of decommissioning should not require any party to be seen to surrender. Humiliation thus did not play any part in the Governments’ proposals and cannot be part of this process. Publication of any photographs would not have taken place until the formation of the executive which would be in March, several weeks following the completion of decommissioning. If all this had worked, my own view is that a much more compelling photograph would have been one of the formation of a DUP-Sinn Féin-led executive at that time.
The Taoiseach: I commend the continuing role of General John de Chastelain and his team on the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. We greatly appreciate their enormous dedication, patience and commitment to their responsibilities.
The Governments’ proposals seek to secure a basis for the full operation of the institutions of the agreement on an inclusive basis. The prospect, which was thought so unlikely by many, of all the political parties in Northern Ireland going forward together on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement will contribute hugely to certainty and stability. The question of changes to the operation of the institutions of the agreement has been exhaustively discussed and analysed since the review of the agreement commenced in February of this year.
From the outset, our approach was clear. We were open to sensible changes which improved the working of the institutions or which addressed operational difficulties that had been experienced between 1999 and 2002. However, the fundamental architecture of the agreement was not open to change nor was its fundamental principles. This included the key power-sharing provisions and protections of the agreement as well as the North-South partnership arrangements. The Governments’ proposals envisage change in the operation of certain aspects of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Inevitably, every aspect of these institutional changes will not attract total agreement from all sides. However, the Government is fully satisfied that they respect and protect the fundamentals of the agreement, that they have taken account of and been informed by the extensive discussions within the review and that they will strengthen the stability, effectiveness and accountability of the institutions in the years ahead.
Certainty and clarity are two-way streets. They apply equally to partnership politics as they do to the process of arms decommissioning. In the context of an agreement, I welcome the prospect of the DUP operating and participating in all the new arrangements, working in constructive partnership with all other parties in the Assembly and meeting its commitments in each strand of the agreement and in every other respect. I acknowledge too the support of Sinn Féin, which Gerry Adams has confirmed to me, for the political aspects of the Governments’ proposals which include those relating to the review of the Good Friday Agreement.
We have agreement on the basis on which the republican community will support the new policing arrangements. This is an enormously significant and historic prospect which will bring assurance and benefit throughout Northern Ireland. I obviously welcome that during the later stage of this initiative, direct engagement between the Sinn Féin leadership and the Chief Constable of the PSNI was initiated. I hope that this signals the prospect of further such contacts pending membership of the policing board by Sinn Féin when the legislation allowing for the devolution of policing and justice is enacted. Agreement on the modalities of the devolution of justice and policing will be difficult but if enactment of the legislation can be secured as envisaged, it should allow Sinn Féin to take a positive decision on policing later next year.
Such a decision by Sinn Féin on policing would be an enormous breakthrough and radically alter the climate of confidence and trust throughout Northern Ireland. I have always believed that the completion of the policing project both in terms of securing full community support and ensuring that the policing arrangements are accountable to the devolved administration would represent the consolidation of peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.
The Governments’ joint declaration of May 2003 outlines in considerable detail the many other issues that will be addressed in the context of overall closure, including moving ahead rapidly with reducing the British military presence and addressing the matter of the so-called “on-the-runs” or OTRs. In the context of assured peace, everyone will welcome Northern Ireland being progressively normalised on an accelerated basis.
I have had further copies of the Governments’ joint declaration placed in the Library as it too is an important part of the architecture of the completion we are trying to secure. Under the Governments’ proposals, pending the formation of the executive in March, roll-out would comprise a number of important elements throughout December, January and February.
In December, it was anticipated that the British Government would announce legislation to provide for a shadow assembly and to accommodate changes to the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 arising from the review of the Good Friday Agreement. It was also envisaged there would be initial engagement with the parties on a number of issues. It was understood that decommissioning would be completed before the end of December; a shadow assembly would meet in January following completion of decommissioning; consideration of the modalities for the devolution of justice and policing would be a particular focus of attention for this shadow assembly; suspension would be lifted by the British Government in February, allowing the new First Minister and Deputy First Minister to be confirmed by the assembly in March and, early plenary meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council were envisaged.
It was envisaged that the combined impact of our proposals would fully realise the vision of a new beginning promised by the Agreement. Compared to where we were one year ago, the Governments’ proposals represent a dramatic surge towards final closure. I have made clear that the Government would play its part in addressing those areas, few in number, that are relevant to us in this overall context. A comprehensive deal is a comprehensive deal. It means all issues being fully addressed by everyone. For everything to work in the context of overall agreement, each of us, Governments and parties, must therefore fulfil their obligations, some of which, taken in isolation, present the most profound difficulties.
I said in Belfast that the proposals we published were those that had been under consideration by the DUP and Sinn Féin. I also said there were other issues the two Governments were dealing with separately. For our part, there are three such issues. I have mentioned these issues in the Dáil on several occasions, most recently last Tuesday. They are not new. I will again deal with them.
I will deal first with the case of the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Garda Ben O’Sullivan. As the record of this House will show, in particular last May, I have already addressed, in a comprehensive way, the circumstances in which their release would arise. I will again repeat those circumstances. Their release could only arise in the context of a comprehensive agreement in which the International Monitoring Commission reported that all IRA paramilitary activity had ceased and the IICD reported that all IRA arms had been decommissioned. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will address this issue further in his contribution. I said in Belfast that nothing can console those bereaved and the last thing we wish to do is to add further to the suffering these innocent families have endured. My only hope is that full knowledge of the comprehensive agreement we have been seeking to secure will help clarify the environment in which we have been working. It was always the intention of the Government that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would meet with the McCabe and O’Sullivan families in advance of any decision on early release. Consultation with the GRA was also envisaged.
Second is the issue of the so-called on-the-runs. These are individuals who have been on the run for crimes committed prior to the Good Friday Agreement. The two Governments agreed in Weston Park in July 2001 that these cases would have to be addressed and we went into some detail on this in the May 2003 Joint Declaration. We made clear then, as I have said many times in the Dáil, that both Governments would address such cases arising in their respective jurisdictions. Again, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform will address this issue further in his contribution.
Third is the question of following-up, in an appropriate way, on the Seventh Report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. This issue has been discussed many times in the Dáil. I have frequently registered my support for the proposal to invite, on a periodic basis, Northern Ireland MPs to a committee of the Dáil on matters relating to Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, as I have in the context of inviting MEPs from Northern Ireland to attend Seanad discussions on EU matters. Both proposals are a matter for the Oireachtas and would have to be the subject of consultation and agreement with parties in this House and the Seanad. Reports on these matters have been exaggerated. The proposals would not involve granting any rights or privileges and there would be no constitutional implications or question of cutting across the architecture and operation of the Good Friday Agreement.
On Seanad Reform, I support increasing membership of the Seanad and formalising the existing ad hoc arrangements to provide cross-community representation from Northern Ireland. This could only be done by referendum. This issue is a matter on which I imagine all parties will have views. For my part, I would like to see such a referendum before the next general election.
The scope of what is in prospect has real potential. The Kilkenny writer Hubert Butler, an Irish Protestant, reflected much on the problems of Northern Ireland and once asked the simple question: “Why have our differences been so unfruitful?” That there are differences between us, Unionist and Nationalist, British and Irish, is beyond question. But difference can be a spur to achievement. The future lies in sorting out our differences through politics and, through politics, we have come a long way. I am not prepared to let the progress we have made become bogged down at the final hurdle. The sectarian nightmare has gone on too long, and nobody has a monopoly on suffering. If the will really exists, the outstanding difficulties can be quickly put behind us. The package unveiled last Wednesday is the signpost to a shared society. What is now required is a collective decision by all concerned to leave the past behind.
This is my appeal. That people resist the temptation to score short-term political points against each other and see the opportunity that is staring us in the face for what it is. The task of building a shared society is an urgent one. I do not agree with the point of view put forward by some that the status quo is acceptable. Agreed institutions are necessary to provide certainty and reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. That is why another prolonged fallow period will only make the urgent task of building a new society more difficult. I read that many expeditions to climb Mount Everest hit a psychological wall with 200 metres to go and that it is common for people to turn back having got so close. However, none of us can afford to turn back now. It is my honest assessment that enormous progress has been made during 2004. It is also my firm belief that the process of trust-building can only improve when direct dialogue is established between the two parties who enjoy a leadership mandate in their communities. I look forward to the day when such engagement becomes possible.
I have worked with politicians from Northern Ireland for a long time. I admire their political commitment and believe they genuinely wish for the future to be better than the past. I am not for turning back because I believe that if all that commitment, dedication and ability is channelled into improving people’s lives through politics, the differences between us will prove enormously fruitful and the future of Northern Ireland and all who share this island will be bright.
As we maintain our efforts on this initiative, everybody needs to play his or her part in creating a climate that is conducive to getting matters over the line. I ask people to reflect on the package tabled by both Governments and to study them carefully. We need everyone’s support to secure this comprehensive agreement. I met a Sinn Féin delegation on Monday and, last evening, I met Mark Durkan and members of the SDLP. I also spoke with Dr. Paisley on the phone on Monday during which I was able to confirm the Government’s position on the photographs issue, which I addressed earlier in my statement.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will meet Secretary of State Mr. Murphy and Northern Ireland parties at Hillsborough today. US envoy Mr. Mitchell Reiss will also be present. I will have an opportunity to discuss matters with Prime Minister Mr. Blair in Brussels over the next two days. As I have said before, if we do not get agreement soon we risk major delay in the restoration of the institutions. I, therefore, strongly urge all the parties not to delay unduly and to seize this moment of opportunity and real hope.
Members will be aware I leave today for Brussels and will not have another opportunity to speak again in this House before Christmas. I thank the Opposition and Members of the House for their efforts, contributions and support on Northern Ireland. While we may, perhaps, become somewhat frayed on particular issues at times I genuinely appreciate the support of the parties in Government and in Opposition. I also take this opportunity to wish everybody a very happy Christmas.
Mr. Kenny: I thank the Government for agreeing to this important debate, giving the House an opportunity to unite in its support for the ongoing efforts to reach a full and lasting settlement in Northern Ireland. In particular, it gives me the opportunity to reiterate the consistent position of the Fine Gael Party in its support for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which we have defended and promoted for six and a half years.
The House should remember that when the people voted in such large numbers to endorse this Agreement in May 1998, they did so on a number of clear understandings, including the full decommissioning of all paramilitary arms and a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means by all parties to the Agreement. The House should also recall that Fine Gael’s record of support for the peace process has been unequivocal and beyond question. Our party has a long history in brokering peace and fostering better relations between the parties in Northern Ireland. In 1973, we negotiated through difficult times to secure the Sunningdale Agreement. Although it did not survive in the face of Unionist hostility, the agreement contained many of the principles of devolution and power-sharing which underpin the Good Friday Agreement.
Later in the mid-1980s, the Fine Gael and Labour Government led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald negotiated and secured the historic Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving this State a direct say in the affairs of Northern Ireland for the first time. The 1994 to 1997 rainbow Government, with Deputy John Bruton as Taoiseach, delivered key initiatives, including the Framework Document and the ground rules for all-party talks, that played a large part in bringing about all-party negotiations among the Northern Ireland parties. The rainbow Government also appointed George Mitchell to chair these negotiations.
When the Taoiseach took office in 1997, my party’s commitment to developing the peace process remained undiminished. We supported the Government in the difficult negotiations, culminating in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. We campaigned vigorously for its endorsement in the subsequent referendum. The principles underpinning the Agreement are the same as those we have espoused for many years: devolution, power-sharing, mutual respect and understanding, and the absolute and total rejection of violence as a means to achieve political objectives. Since then, we have supported all efforts to see the full implementation of the Agreement. I, and several of my colleagues, have undertaken visits to Northern Ireland to urge all sides to make the necessary compromises. I have also avoided criticising the Government’s approach when difficulties arise, like the Taoiseach’s comments on Monday last. What would the situation have been then if the boot was on the other foot?
Fine Gael’s record on the peace process has been one of strong support, both in government and in opposition, in public and in private. The Government must note that we will take no lectures on bipartisanship from the Fianna Fáil Party, which did everything to undermine the historic Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1986, including sending representatives to the United States to persuade the Irish-American community to oppose it. Some Ministers need to learn that bipartisanship works both ways. If the bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland was broken, it was broken by Fianna Fáil when the Taoiseach did his secret side-deal with the republican movement to break his word to the people on the murderers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Until yesterday, I had received no briefing of any description from the Government on Northern Ireland issues for over 14 months. When I received briefings during 2003, the Taoiseach’s plan to release these common criminals was never once mentioned.
The Government can count on Fine Gael’s continued support for its effort to secure a final settlement. However, it cannot ask us to write a blank cheque or expect retrospective approval for secret deals. Most of all, it cannot expect this party to remain silent when the institutions of the State need to be defended from forces that have never shown allegiance to it.
Mr. Kenny: Some members of the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin parties have questioned my democratic right to ask questions in this House. Such has been the similarity of their reactions that one could be forgiven for wondering if the putative Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition is already taking shape.
The secret deal to release those who shot and killed Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and injured his colleague, Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan, while in the service of this country, goes to the heart of democracy. In 1998, when supporting the endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement, my party strongly supported the Government’s decision to specifically exclude these four killers from the early release provisions of the Agreement. When the people voted their approval of the Agreement, they did so on the understanding that these individuals would not benefit from it in any way. Internal Government papers make it clear that the reason these people were excluded was to help ensure public support for the Agreement.
These commitments to the electorate before the referendum were followed by even more specific and expansive promises to Detective Garda McCabe’s family, the Garda Representative Association and the people in the following years. These written and verbal commitments were not accidental. They were designed to convince the public that the Government was holding firm to its promises. Following the conviction of these men on the lesser charge of manslaughter, the Taoiseach offered the opinion that they were murderers. He subsequently assured the Dáil that while Sinn Féin negotiators had raised this issue in talks, they had been told in no uncertain terms that it would not and could not be considered. The letter from the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, to Mrs. Anne McCabe went even further, assuring her that these killers would not be released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement or on any other basis.
The breaking of his word undermines the Taoiseach’s authority and diminishes the credibility of his office. Despite his protestations to the contrary, the Taoiseach never volunteered information about this secret arrangement until after it had been leaked to the media in May of this year. It had been conceded in the negotiations with Sinn Féin as early as March 2003 and appears to have been part of the aborted deal of October 2003. Never on any occasion did the Taoiseach or his officials consult me or inform me about this arrangement.
All Members will be conscious of the strong public outrage at the notion that these criminals, who were completely disowned by the republican movement at the time of the killings, could now benefit from early release. Most right-thinking people believe these killers deserved longer sentences for the capital murder of a Garda and that they only secured lighter sentences through the intimidation of key trial witnesses. Right-thinking people are also outraged that the Taoiseach of this sovereign State chose to capitulate to a terrorist organisation which refused to fulfil any of its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement unless his solemn word was broken in secret.
I have listened to the verbal gymnastics of the political representatives of the republican movement in recent days. These same people had no problem signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, knowing that the killers of Jerry McCabe were specifically excluded. These same political representatives claim the Adare operation was not authorised by the IRA but by an authorised person. These same political representatives smiled as they posed for photographs with this gang inside Castlerea Prison in September 2003, seeing no humiliation in that photograph. They also expect people to believe that republican activists are not involved in any criminal activity despite the unambiguous findings of the Independent Monitoring Commission and others. While the hypocrisy of these utterances is transparent, there is one lie which must be nailed.
Sinn Féin has repeatedly claimed that the High Court and Supreme Court ruled that the killers of Detective Garda McCabe are qualifying prisoners under the early release provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. These statements come from the same party which refuses to recognise the recent court conviction of one of its members, found spying on Members of the Oireachtas. These claims are complete nonsense. The Supreme Court, on 29 January 2004, explicitly ruled that the designation of prisoners as “qualifying prisoners” under the Agreement is at the sole discretion of the Government. Sinn Féin representatives are fond of demanding that their democratic mandate be respected. My message to them is that I too have a democratic mandate on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. When we stand up for decent, right-thinking people, we do so without fear or favour.
I refer to the political impasse in which we currently find ourselves and make some observations as to how the process might be moved forward. The Taoiseach is correct when he speaks of the danger of positions unravelling in the event a political vacuum is allowed to open up. The most recent round of negotiations managed to achieve a substantial degree of co-operation between the parties on majority of issues. This progress was achieved despite the fact that no face-to-face negotiations between Sinn Féin and the DUP have occurred. To achieve a proper understanding of the remaining issues, they must be effectively trashed out directly between the parties involved, and I call on the Democratic Unionist Party to agree to engage directly with the representatives of Sinn Féin who have requested this.
I say to the DUP that it has agreed to the principle of sharing power with Nationalists and republicans, and the time has come to begin the process of face-to-face contact. I also say to the DUP to be far more temperate in its choice of language in the future. While I do not believe that Dr. Paisley’s outburst in Ballymena ten days ago was the sole reason for failure to reach agreement, it certainly did not help the process. That type of inflammatory language has no place in an era in which we are seeking to achieve a historic settlement between the divided communities in Northern Ireland.
I acknowledge the significance of the major moves made by Sinn Féin over the past ten years, but it must now complete its journey to fully democratic politics. The republican movement must provide a clear commitment that all criminal and illegal activity will end. We cannot have a democratic system where one political movement reserves the right to engage in and benefit from crime while all others operate within the constraints of the law. I have serious concerns about the rights and safety of citizens in this regard. I question the performance of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in dealing with the multi-million euro cross-Border illegal business in smuggling diesel, whiskey, petrol and cigarettes, which is rampant in many areas. I live in the real world and I know of smuggling on roads where tolls are extracted and embargoes are placed on the building and sale of houses. All these illegal and criminal activities must stop. I say to the republican movement that there is no difference in illegal acts between republican activists and republicans. It appears in some cases as if the money instead of the ideal has become the driving force.
As the process moves forward, it is crucially important that the other northern political parties are more closely involved in the negotiating process. It is particularly disappointing that the SDLP, a party which has stood for constitutional nationalism for so many years, feels excluded from the negotiations on the implementation of the Agreement, which it was so instrumental in bringing about. I understand the difficulties facing the two Governments in trying to manage a multilateral set of negotiations but it is important that the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party, as parties which are entitled to seats on the new executive, are involved in the talks, particularly those pertaining to changes in the operation of the Agreement. It is also important to have more transparency in the side-deals being struck between the two Governments and individual parties.
In recent weeks, we have seen the hurt and anger caused by the Government reneging on its commitments in regard to the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. It seems that all the key parties to these negotiations have their red line issues, the Irish Government, the British Government, the DUP and Sinn Féin, but no one seems to be interested in the view of the public who endorsed the Agreement in the first place. If the republican movement’s demands on this issue had been the subject of public debate at the time it was put on the table by Sinn Féin, the reaction would have been so strong that the Sinn Féin negotiators would have realised that this is a red line issue for the Irish people. In calling for more transparency on these deals, I am conscious that some aspects may be sensitive from the security perspective and these sensitivities, of course, have to be respected.
As I said, agreement has been achieved on a large number of issues and I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the Governments in overcoming the remaining obstacles. I strongly suggest to the Taoiseach that serious consideration should be given to inviting someone from abroad to act as a facilitator for what, I hope, will be the final round of negotiations. When George Mitchell was invited to do this previously, after some initial difficulties he won the respect of all parties for his handling of the Good Friday negotiations. Perhaps a person of his stature could help to break the logjam now. Despite the current set of difficulties, I believe progress can be made towards a successful conclusion in the Good Friday Agreement. It will only be achieved, however, if those who now hold the keys to unlocking these obstacles show courage and are prepared to take the risks involved in the interests of all the people of Ireland, North and South.
I assure the Taoiseach that, in so far as the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is concerned, he will continue to have the full support of the Fine Gael Party because we are fully committed to achieving a lasting settlement which will bring terrorist activity on this island to an end once and for all. I have given him credit in the past for the extraordinary amount of time he and the British Prime Minister have put into this business, and I wish him well in his endeavours. In so far as this party can support the implementation of the Agreement, it will offer that support. Please keep in contact with us.
Mr. Rabbitte: In some of what I have to say in this debate, I intend to be critical of the process and some aspects of the outcome of last week’s announcement of a set of proposals for a comprehensive agreement. I intend to praise where I can and criticise where I must. I will do so because it is my duty as the leader of a party in opposition to do so. I will do so in the interests of proper democratic accountability and, above all, in the interests of standing by the Good Friday Agreement and its potential, a potential that is to some extent still not realised. I am conscious of the fact that whenever any aspect of the peace process is criticised, however legitimately, whenever any question is asked, however relevant, the person who asks the question runs the risk of being described as unhelpful or even obstructive. I listened to the Taoiseach on Sunday last, for instance, suggesting that some people were not playing the game. Playing the game, it seems, is to be defined as supporting everything that is announced as uncritically as possible, never raising doubts or fears, never seeking to go behind the often obfuscatory language in which many of these agreements are couched.
I am aware that many unfounded and unfair accusations have been levelled against a Member of this House, Deputy Kenny, because he asked an entirely legitimate and proper question about whether an agreement had been reached in regard to the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Suggestions have been made that I too was not acting in the national interest by seeking the publication of side agreements relating to this and other matters. Such accusations, whether made against Deputy Kenny, me or other Members of the House, amount to no more than attempted political blackmail. They are an attempt, in effect, to prevent the Opposition doing the job it is required to do in a democracy. Despite such attempted political blackmail, whether it comes from the Government or the leadership of Sinn Féin, we will continue to do our job. This is our country too.
Today is the 11th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, a document which has come to be regarded as the first formal step in what is known as the peace process. In that declaration, in clear and direct language, the British and Irish Governments agreed that the central idea behind the peace declaration is that the problems of Northern Ireland, however deep and intractable, however difficult to reconcile, have to be resolved exclusively by political and democratic means. The British Government went on in that document to declare that it had “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”, and to agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement and between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given. For its part, the Government declared: “The democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Those three principles, the commitment to exclusively political and democratic means, the right to self-determination and above all the principle of consent have underpinned the peace process ever since. The referenda which adopted the Good Friday Agreement were an expression of self-determination concurrently undertaken by the people on both parts of this island and that agreement effectively enshrined the principle of consent in our Constitution.
What has bedevilled the peace process, from the moment the Downing Street declaration was signed until right now, has been the failure to arrive at a point where every political party is seen to operate on the basis of exclusively political and democratic means. The consequence of that failure has been the collapse of institutions that were set up on an inclusive basis, and an increasingly polarised society, especially within Northern Ireland. None of the difficulties of recent years would have arisen if that first principle had been accepted.
To say that is not to deny that much has been achieved, in terms of stability at least, in the 11 years since the Downing Street declaration was signed. Perhaps as many as 1,000 people are alive today, who might be dead were it not for the peace process. Families no longer suffer the fear of a knock on the door in the dead of night, or the anguish when a loved one disappears without trace. The economy of Northern Ireland has undergone a revival, and it is now a friendly and welcoming place to visit. Indeed, it can be argued that the stability and relative peace enjoyed by the whole island has been no small contributor to the progress made within our own economy.
It remains true, however, that reconciliation has not happened. Violence has been removed from the conflict, as my predecessor former Deputy Dick Spring remarked, but the conflict in some ways remains as bitter as ever. Too many communities are divided, not only by physical barriers but by those of hate and intolerance. Too little trust exists in the politics of Northern Ireland and the root cause of that is the use of violence and the pursuit of undemocratic means.
The only one of the major parties that has been unable to accept the first principle of the Downing Street Declaration has been Sinn Féin. I do not say that in any way to score a point. It is a simple fact that for Sinn Féin, the road to exclusively political and democratic means has been long and difficult. I have praised the leadership of that party before for its role in undertaking that journey, and for the courage and discipline required. However, when one traces the difficulties of recent years, they all go back to that one source, the difficulty of establishing an adherence to exclusively political and democratic means.
One of the ironies of that situation, of course, is that the longer the journey that Sinn Féin undertakes, the more it becomes the centre of attention for both Governments. Similarly, the more polarised society in Northern Ireland becomes, the more people cast their votes for parties at the extremes of the political spectrum. The consequence is that we have now arrived at a point where the development of a framework for a comprehensive agreement essentially has become an exercise in seeking to address and reconcile the concerns of two parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, even if that is at the expense of all others.
The process of engagement that led to the peace process was, throughout most of its history, an inclusive one. Indeed the notion of inclusion could be described as the central strategy of the process, the idea that everyone should be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. It is unfortunate and potentially dangerous that latterly, the process has become more and more exclusive. One may instance, as referred to by Deputy Kenny, that it was only on Monday of this week that the Government found it possible to brief my party on the outcome of last week’s events, and I gather that other parties were only briefed yesterday. It is far more to the point, however, that increasingly, a number of political parties whose history and contribution should place them at the heart of this process are becoming more and more marginalised.
There would not have been a peace process in Northern Ireland, indeed democracy itself would have struggled to survive, without the immense contributions of the SDLP and latterly the Ulster Unionist Party. These parties remain true to the objective of reconciliation, and have established track records to prove that. Similarly, some of the other parties in the process, including the Alliance Party, which have made many thoughtful contributions to the negotiating process, the PUP, the Women’s Coalition and others have played significant roles. They have rejected any attempt at triumphalism, often sacrificing their own expedient interests, and seeking to engage all the time in the interests of bridging the divide within and between communities. All these parties, it seems, are now to be expected to swallow whatever will bridge the gap between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
The single greatest manifestation of this new exclusion is to be found in annex B of the proposals, and especially in paragraph 9, which proposes a fundamental change in the way Ministers are to be selected for the new executive. When the executive was originally established under the Good Friday Agreement, and as a consequence of the operation of the d’Hondt system, Ministers were appointed in direct proportion to the mandate their parties received, and on no other basis. That process enabled Sinn Féin, for instance, to abstain on the election of Mr. David Trimble and Mr. Séamus Mallon as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, while still occupying ministerial posts in the executive as of right. The DUP actually voted against the establishment of that executive, but went on also to occupy two ministerial posts as of right.
Now the rules are proposed to be changed. The new “comprehensive agreement” significantly alters provisions for electing the First and Deputy First Ministers and the nomination of ministers to the executive that will penalise those parties which wish to register legitimate dissent at the entire process or at the nominations of certain individuals to particular posts. Previously, the only vote required was for the joint election of the First and Deputy First Ministers. The DUP demanded this be changed and that the First and Deputy First Ministers and the entire executive be elected together by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Their motivation was simply to save themselves the embarrassment of having to approve the nomination of Dr. Ian Paisley and Mr. Martin McGuinness in the one vote.
The net result is that should the SDLP or the Ulster Unionist Party abstain on the election of Dr. Ian Paisley and or Mr. Martin McGuinness as First and Deputy First Ministers in protest at the way the process has been managed, they would now lose their automatic right to have ministers nominated to the executive. This procedural alteration means that parties which wish to object formally to any individual holding a particular post may do so only if they are prepared to forfeit their right to participate in the executive.
This transforms the situation as it was, merely because the DUP wishes to claim to its constituency that it has substantially altered the agreement and Sinn Féin and the Irish Government have acquiesced. As Mr. Mark Durkan put it in a piece in The Irish Times yesterday:
I would ask this. Would the two Governments have accepted such proposals had the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP sought them, to ensure that Sinn Féin either voted for the First and Deputy First Ministers or lost their two ministries, or to force the DUP to endorse the entire executive rather adopt their “half-in, half-out” approach? They certainly would not. They would have told the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party that they were advocating exclusion. Sinn Féin and the DUP would have been raving to anyone who would listen about how the two main parties were denying them their right to join the executive.
The Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP in particular, which put inclusion at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, will be the first to be excluded should they wish to register their dissent at the antics of the DUP and Sinn Féin. The Irish Government has allowed that to happen. It will be said that strand one is principally a matter for the British Government and that there was nothing the Irish Government could do to prevent this happening. Everyone who has been involved in the peace process at intergovernmental level over the years knows that this is no more than an excuse. The truth is that both governments have acquiesced in the false proposition that there are only two protagonists who matter. The proposed agreement and the democratic structures of Northern Ireland are the poorer for that.
I now turn to the two most serious issues arising from the proposed agreement. Many people on this island would have been baffled last week to be told that one party was prepared to put peace at risk over the demand for a photograph of decommissioning and that the other party was prepared to put peace at risk by refusing it. The more one reflects on the matter, the more it has to be said that there is a great deal more justification in demanding verification than there is in refusing it. For that reason, I find it all the more surprising that the Taoiseach was so ready to resile from that aspect of the proposed agreement, apparently at the behest of Sinn Féin, until it was clearly pointed out to him that he had undermined the fabric of his own negotiated document. The IRA has made it clear that it regards the process of putting arms beyond use as part of its contribution to a comprehensive agreement which will see the transition to a totally peaceful society. However, it refuses a demand that this contribution be photographed and thereby reduced to “an act of humiliation”.
The analogy seems to be with the forced disbanding and disarming of a defeated army, following an act of surrender. In the European and wider international context, it is nothing of the sort. Sovereign and undefeated states regularly bind themselves, as part of their contribution to peaceful international relations, to international agreements on arms proliferation, arms control and arms disposal. Confidence building and compliance processes requiring notification, inventory listing, information exchange, inspection and peer verification are embedded in such agreements. To give just one example, I refer briefly to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which applies to NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. That treaty deals extensively with decommissioning, inspection and verification issues. The treaty states that:
Perhaps the most serious issue to have arisen since the publication of the proposed comprehensive agreement is that of criminality. Since the publication of the documents, there has been considerable confusion around this issue. It is fair to say that had the documents been signed last week, the Government would have fought very hard to conceal the clear division within the Cabinet on the handling of this issue. That division has served a useful public purpose, because it has thrown light on an issue that needs to be confronted. We all want peace in Northern Ireland. We want to be sure that paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration of April 2003 is accepted and will apply. For the sake of avoiding confusion, let me quote that paragraph:
Most interested citizens believe that terms like “full and permanent cessation of paramilitary activity” mean precisely what they say. There are now attempts by senior Sinn Féin spokespersons to qualify this by adding terms like “an end to all activity that would endanger the agreement”.
There are several aspects of ongoing paramilitary activity, North and South, that may not directly impact on the Agreement, but that nonetheless endanger our democracy. The most corrosive of these activities, to which we in this House cannot turn a blind eye, are the forms of behaviour used to assert and maintain control in certain communities, not just in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, but in some of the communities in this jurisdiction, especially where disadvantage is concentrated. There is only one way to be satisfied that the blithe assurances offered by Sinn Féin spokespeople on this whole issue of illegality can be taken seriously. Sinn Féin has always strenuously opposed the work of the Independent Monitoring Commission, just as it opposed its establishment. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the first IMC report found that there was a link between IRA and Sinn Féin leadership, that the IRA continued to be active and that the leadership controlled the level of that activity. However, let me quote from last week’s statement from the Sinn Féin president:
The political package as now presented, referred to by Gerry Adams, includes a timetable. That timetable in turn proposes an interim report by the IMC in December and a full report in February next year. If Sinn Féin, in accepting the political package, is also indicating clearly that it is accepting the role of the IMC in monitoring and reporting on all illegal activity associated with paramilitarism, then that would help to generate some confidence in this area. In the absence of such agreement, it is difficult in the light of my own experience and in the experience of many Members of this House, to take assurances of good behaviour too seriously.
There are a great many additional aspects of the present situation to which I would like to refer if the time was available to me. There are major issues to be addressed, such as policing and the Taoiseach’s own speech admits as much. Despite the legitimate criticisms I have felt obliged to express, I continue to hope for a successful outcome to the negotiations. I urge the Government in its fresh efforts to seek to be as inclusive as possible. I hope a truly comprehensive agreement, still based on the three principles of complete adherence to exclusively political and democratic means, self-determination by all the people of Ireland and above all the principle of consent, will not be long in coming.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo. Is annamh a bhíonn plé ar phróiséas na síochána agus ar cur i bhfeidhm Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta sa Dáil seo. In ainneoin na bhfadhbanna uile sa phróiséas le seachtain anuas creidim go bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta agus gur féidir linn uile dul ar aghaidh go dtí ré nua i saol ár dtíre.
In the current fallout from the stalled peace process no one should lose sight of the tremendous progress made and the potential for further progress. There is a need for renewed efforts by both Governments and all parties to reach agreement. My colleagues in the Sinn Féin negotiating team are sparing no effort and this morning have been in further talks in Belfast. I pay tribute to the Sinn Féin negotiators and to all those who played a positive role in negotiations. They have not failed and their work is not over.
The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement, including its power-sharing, all-Ireland and equality provisions, have been consistently and successfully defended. Key aspects of the Agreement have been strengthened.
The overall political package that was reached had a range of significant measures and each is important in its own right. They included the reinstatement of the Executive, the Assembly and all-Ireland structures, including the all-Ireland Ministerial Council; the removal by legislation in Westminster of the British Government’s ability to suspend the institutions; a stronger pledge of office by Ministers to ensure that they participate fully in the Executive; a requirement on Ministers to engage with the all-Ireland structures; devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly; Six County representation in the Oireachtas; a programme of demilitarisation and measures to address the issue of people “on the run” in both jurisdictions. These would be major steps forward by anyone’s reckoning.
Are we really expected to believe that the DUP walked away from a prospective deal because of the absence of a photograph or album of photographs? The DUP has campaigned in successive elections against the Good Friday Agreement. It still doggedly refuses to meet Sinn Féin, contrary to the falsehood so often heard this past week which claims that the two parties will not speak to each other. Let there be no mistake about it. Sinn Féin has been and is prepared and is anxious to meet and talk to the DUP. I believe the DUP lacked the courage and political will last week to sign up for a deal. That it came so far represents real progress, in spite of last week’s setbacks. Time and patient negotiation will bring the party further and I believe that can happen sooner rather than later.
Last week, in this Chamber, I was condemned for paying tribute to the IRA for its initiative. Not only do I make no apology for the tribute, I repeat it today. The commitment the IRA was prepared to give on the issue of arms was huge, historic and unprecedented. Surely that is clear to all Members of the House. The IRA is committed: “to support a comprehensive agreement by moving into a new mode which reflects our determination to see the transition to a totally peaceful society”. It decided to instruct all IRA volunteers not to engage in any activity which might thereby endanger that new agreement.
The IRA dealt in an unprecedented manner with the issue of arms when it committed to conclude the process to completely and verifiably put all its arms beyond use and to agree with the IICD the completion of this process speedily, if possible, by the end of December. To further enhance public confidence, the IRA agreed to the presence of two clergymen as observers during this process.
Anyone who knows anything about republican history and the history of the peace process must acknowledge the huge significance of the IRA initiative. The IRA deserves credit for taking this difficult and courageous step. While a wide spectrum of opinion will welcome it, many republicans will also have deep concerns. However, I believe the IRA has once again shown leadership and bravery in its efforts to achieve justice and peace.
Those who have been loudest on the issue of silent IRA arms have had little or nothing to say about loyalist weapons and British army weapons that are still in daily use on the streets of the Six Counties, as was recounted in the requests made in the Dáil earlier today under Standing Order 31. It is folly to believe that the historical physical force tradition in Irish politics can be ended easily, speedily or outside the context of real political progress. Every side of this House knows that; Members need only look at their parties’ histories.
Fianna Fáil won the 1932 election with the active and open assistance of the IRA and its first act in Government was to release IRA prisoners from Arbour Hill. The Fine Gael tradition holds fast to Michael Collins, a former IRA leader who, as leader of the Free State, encouraged the IRA to direct its energies northwards. This is the party that not only had a paramilitary wing in the 1930s but which amalgamated with the Blueshirts and adopted the name Fine Gael.
The Labour Party claims as its founder James Connolly — although I doubt he would recognise the party today — who co-founded an armed group, the Irish Citizen Army. What of the party within a party, the remnants of the Workers’ Party leadership which is now the leadership of the Labour Party? Its former associates were the so-called Official IRA. How many weapons did it put beyond use?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: When did it cease its extracurricular activities and did it ever disband? Much of the feigned outrage we have heard inside and outside this House has been about the electoral rivalry between Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats. Many believe that Deputy Kenny carefully and deliberately chose budget day to put the question to the Taoiseach about the release of the prisoners in Castlerea convicted of the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe. When the political deal stalled last week, the Progressive Democrats weighed in and raised the bogus issue of criminality.
I reject criminality from any source. I reject any attempt to criminalise republicans or the republican ideal to which I have given my wholehearted support and allegiance. In sections of the media and by some Members of this House, my party and my colleagues have been falsely accused in a most scurrilous manner. However, we will not be distracted by the bleating of political sheep. We have our eyes on the big picture.
There is a way forward from the most recent impasse. This should include direct dialogue between the DUP and Sinn Féin. The DUP owes it to its electorate to give leadership by entering that dialogue. There is a comprehensive agreement and a real achievement on the table and Sinn Féin is determined to make progress on that basis. For Sinn Féin and, I hope, for most Members of the Dáil, all of this is in the context of the unfinished and ongoing project to which we have given our wholehearted allegiance and commitment to achieve the reunification of our country and its people. Republicans are as determined as ever to achieve that goal.
Mr. Sargent: D’iarr mé féin ar son an Chomhaontais Ghlais agus go leor daoine eile ar an Rialtas go mbeadh an díospóireacht seo ar phróiséas na síochána agus cuirimid fáilte roimpi anois. On 21 October 2003, General de Chastelain, when he appeared on television, could not answer some of the questions he was asked about weapons decommissioning. The uncertainty that ensued and the lack of clarity that has bedevilled the process to this point has caused a faltering, if not a failing, in the process. It must be resolved today among all the parties that this faltering and lack of clarity cannot continue.
The Green Party lives by seven principles, one of which is that violence can never be used to further political aims. However, members of An Comhaontas Glas, North and South, are avid supporters of the Good Friday Agreement. With all its faults and difficulties, we want it implemented. Our international structures mirror strands one, two and three of the Good Friday Agreement. The Green Party in the North deals with strand one. While it has no MLAs, it has local authority representation and is part of an international movement at the same time. Green Party members, North and South, work on all-Ireland policy areas. Many of them are obvious, such as energy, agriculture, tourism and the need for an all-island environmental protection agency.
We also work with parties on the other island through our green island network, the Green Party in Scotland, England and Wales, which takes in strand three and deals with issues that range from Sellafield and fisheries to INTERREG projects. We are aware of the urgency of the peace process, not just between people but with the earth itself. Like the Good Friday Agreement, the Green Party is focused on an educational revolution with political implications. When we consider the parties and the political point scoring that often goes with the talks, we often forget that an educational change is being worked on. We must be reminded from time to time that we are talking about all our people rather than simply reconciling political parties. Part of the process is the building of trust and humiliation can have no part in that.
Whatever its political aspirations, and I particularly cite Sinn Féin, no party may cherrypick the law North or South. The law stands on the basis of the legitimate Government in existence in whatever part of the island. I heard Mr. Gerry Adams speak on the radio last night about how Irish law was based on English law. It is very distressing to hear any questioning of the legitimacy of the law in either part of the country. One might also talk about St. Patrick’s Britishness, but we have moved beyond that. We live in the present with the realities that obtain and must move on politically to make whatever changes are required. Flouting of the law is unacceptable. In that context, I think of the need to investigate the killing of solicitor Pat Finucane and many other unresolved cases and of the Dublin and Monaghan and Belturbet bombings that we discussed this morning and yesterday.
While the mystery surrounding those events must be investigated, it is imperative to remind people that the law must apply to everybody. Oil smuggling, illegal dumping, diesel laundering and protection racketeering continue. While people dissociate themselves from those activities, somebody is behind them. According to the reports I have received, some of those activities are extremely well organised from a political point of view. A matter that cannot be left unresolved is the extent to which it seems the writ of certain political voices runs where the police writ does not. The activities I have outlined must cease and be clearly deemed unacceptable. I am not convinced that the Good Friday Agreement covers the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe and it must be asked whether they accept the rule of law in all parts of this island. It is only when the law has parity of respect that there can be parity of esteem and it is only when there is parity of esteem that there can be parity of trust.
Sadly, the Good Friday Agreement has failed to prevent the growth of tension at interface areas. What we are engaged in is not a proper review of the Agreement, but rather an attempt to keep the show on the road. A proper review will have to take into account the work of the civic forums North and South and the need for proper designation that allows people, such as Green Party members, to describe themselves as they wish culturally and politically in terms not restricted to “Nationalist” and “Unionist”. A review must move us beyond sectarian structures in schooling and majoritarianism in the assembly. These are prizes worth striving for to enable us to rise to global challenges while harnessing the full potential of all the people on the island.
Mr. J. Higgins: The peace process is a shambles and might be characterised as degenerating rapidly into farce were it not so tragic. Does anybody believe Sinn Féin and the DUP, which are based on ongoing sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland, can have a stable relationship? They cannot even agree on the production by the IRA of a photograph while the Reverend Paisley, one of the most bigoted leaders loyalism has produced in many generations, feels free to bully prime ministers and anyone else while demanding that the IRA don sackcloth and ashes. The Taoiseach could have been helpful on the ashes front as I have noticed he wears them himself once a year. It may not be that painful. As he wears only clothes by Louis Copeland these days, I do not think he could help with the sackcloth.
Mr. J. Higgins: It was inevitable this crisis would happen. The process will experience ongoing crisis because it is based entirely on the fallacy that one can base the solution to deep-seated national, social, political and economic questions on the institutionalisation of sectarianism. That is exactly what the Belfast Agreement does. As I said six years ago, the terms drawn up reflect the stunted politics that have dominated Northern Ireland for generations and the work of politicians and political parties, most of which are hopelessly sectarian or right-wing or both.
Republican and loyalist political parties will continue when it suits them to play the sectarian card if they see a threat to their own electoral or other positions. They do not have to call for pogroms on the street. Coded messages are sent all the time by these parties to ring-fence support on a sectarian basis. I have many Socialist Party colleagues in the North who have been elected to responsible positions in trade unions that represent the Protestant and Catholic workers among whom they live. They will confirm that there is greater polarisation between communities now, especially in a geographical sense, than there was when the Belfast Agreement was signed. What respite is there for the generality of people in Protestant and Catholic communities who want to live peacefully but suffer ongoing heavy tactics by paramilitary organisations within their own communities quite apart from cross-community violence? It seems some republicans want to go only as far as beating their guns into baseball bats. What proposals are there to get the loyalist guns and weapons of terror off the backs of the people in their communities?
The Belfast Agreement presumes arrogantly that the communities of Northern Ireland will be permanently divided into sectarian camps and finds it inconceivable that working class people can come together on the basis of the many problems they face. The lasting solution to the problems is an economic, social and political alternative to mobilise working class people across the sectarian divide as they have borne the brunt of suffering in the course of the Troubles. An alternative based on democracy and socialism would unite the communities and lay the basis for moving on to address a resolution of the national issue and take British imperialism, the historic cause of everything we are discussing, out of the equation.
In his closing remarks, will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform tells us more about the economic package that was to be delivered? A description of the package was the one thing that was not published. Is the sum involved €100 million or €1 billion?
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt): I am pleased to contribute to this important discussion. In my previous role as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, I had the privilege of working with the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, Deputy McDowell and other colleagues in the talks process. In the light of that experience, I regard the comprehensive draft agreement launched by both Governments last week as a landmark document. It addresses and has the capacity to resolve the four key outstanding issues identified by the two Governments at Lancaster House in June.
The draft agreement proposes to end definitively paramilitary activity, to complete the process of arms decommissioning, to ensure the future stability of the institutions and to complete the policing project. It is extremely impressive that both the republican movement and the DUP have signed up to the package except on the questions of the form of transparency to be applied to the decommissioning process and the required clarity and certainty about ending criminal activity. It is a truly remarkable achievement that ought to be acknowledged and which must be fully secured. They must be resolved if we are to obtain the clarity and certainty needed to ensure public confidence that definitive closure is being brought to the paramilitary activity and capability of the IRA. The Taoiseach addressed those issues in detail in his contribution. I simply express the hope that with the necessary political will and a modicum of generosity and flexibility, it should be possible to satisfactorily close the gaps on these remaining issues.
As a member of the Irish Government team that first met the DUP delegation in London in January and as a participant at the talks in Leeds Castle, I am especially aware of the complexity and difficulty of the issues that had to be tackled, not least in regard to the question of changes to the operation of the Agreement.
The DUP was an avowedly anti-Agreement party and had campaigned on the basis of achieving wholesale changes to the Agreement. Its manifesto called for substantial changes under the headings of stability, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency. At the outset, many feared that any attempt to reasonably accommodate the DUP was doomed to failure.
From the beginning, the position of the two Governments was very clear. Through the medium of the four year review, which was due to take place this year in any event, we were willing to contemplate sensible changes that responded to difficulties experienced in the operation of the institutions. However, we were adamant that the fundamentals of the Agreement, including its key power-sharing provisions and protections and the North-South structures, were not open to renegotiation.
From my involvement in that review, I know at first hand the huge investment of time and effort that went into discussing and analysing how such an accommodation between the pro-Agreement parties and the DUP could be made. In framing the papers on strands one to three of the institutions that form part of the comprehensive agreement, the Governments took careful account of the contributions made by all the parties in the review.
I am aware that not every party is happy with every aspect of the strands papers. From direct experience in the review, my frank assessment is that such an outcome of total consensus, however ideal in principle, would never have been possible to achieve. In the final analysis, and taking full account of the exhaustive discussion on the subject and the requirement to comply with the fundamentals of the Agreement, the Governments had to make an assessment of the changes to the operation of the institutions that would be broadly acceptable to the parties.
The strands paper represents that assessment. In the view of the Government it is a fair and reasonable judgment and, crucially, its provisions are fully compliant with the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin has acknowledged the outcome of the negotiation as a good deal that reflects accurately these fundamentals.
I appreciate that the SDLP has reservations about particular aspects of the package such as the revised arrangements for the election of the First and Deputy First Minister. While I do not agree with that analysis, I hope the SDLP and the Government will share common ground in acknowledging the incontrovertible gains that have been made with regard to other aspects of the package, for instance, the new procedures for attendance at meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council that obviates the scope for obstructive tactics in this area.
In my view, the essence of this package is that, without damage to the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement, the DUP is now part of the landscape of the Agreement. It has signed up to power-sharing in inclusive devolved government. It has agreed to fully participate in the North-South and east-west structures of the Agreement. It has subscribed to the vision of a society in which there is respect for the rights and equality of all the citizens of Northern Ireland.
I welcome the fact that, in this negotiation, the DUP and Sinn Féin shared at least one negotiating objective, the achievement of a peace dividend that would help transform deprived communities in Northern Ireland, both loyalist and republican. I have walked the ground in these areas and met the people who live and work there. Whether in the Short Strand or on the Newtownards Road, I am very conscious of the need to make these communities stakeholders in the new society of partnership we are seeking to establish in Northern Ireland.
The full acceptance and implementation of this comprehensive agreement would be a huge step towards the transformation of life on the ground in these communities. For that reason, and many others, I fully support the comprehensive Agreement, commend all those who worked so hard to achieve it and urge all concerned to fully secure its promise and potential.
Mr. Crawford: I thank my party leader, Deputy Kenny, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this vital issue. Peace in Northern Ireland and the Border region means more to my constituents in Cavan-Monaghan than to those in any other part of Ireland, with the possible exception of Donegal. The Northern Ireland troubles cut off communities and parishes. Roads closed or blown up, army and police checkpoints and other issues caused serious problems over the years, not least that more than 3,000 people lost their lives. We must also mention all those who were maimed for life and those who died from cancer and depression caused by the unreal pressure from over 30 years of conflict.
Fine Gael has a proud record in that it led the way towards a peaceful settlement of the Irish question, first through our former Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave, and the Sunningdale Agreement, followed by former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and in latter years by the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, with the Framework Document and his appointment of Senator George Mitchell, to whom I will refer later. He played a major role in this issue.
While I was not involved in national politics at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I will never forget the efforts of the Fianna Fáil Party at the time in sending personnel to the United States and elsewhere to rubbish that Agreement, only to fully implement it when it came into Government in 1987. That speaks volumes.
The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body was set up as part of that Agreement and I am proud to have been involved in it for the past ten years. Many new friends were made between members of the London and Dublin Governments. It is a pity that the Unionist Party has not yet joined that body but I hope it will do so soon. There is a vacuum in that its voice is not being heard at the meetings of the body.
I want to raise the issue of photographs because it is of such importance at this time. A photograph of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was taken in Castlerea by our colleague, Deputy Morgan, as he stated at a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, to which there was serious reaction at the time. It was useful propaganda. That begs the question, therefore, why there is such a stand-off regarding photographs now. I pose that question because I do not believe any agreement should fall on such an issue.
A business colleague of mine asked me recently why Michael O’Leary spends so much money on advertising to get the Taoiseach to approve the building of another runway at Dublin Airport when he believes that a call to Gerry Adams could solve the problem, as it seems to do in other issues. I do not say that in a flippant way. The issue in question is very serious. The Jerry McCabe issue will not go away.
I welcome the most recent efforts by the Taoiseach, Prime Minister Blair and all the parties concerned. Both Sinn Féin and the DUP have come a long way and there is no going back. It is difficult to believe that Dr. Ian Paisley is now clearly involved in the Good Friday Agreement. There may be a slight change to it but that is the principle and it represents a major step forward.
It is six and a half years since we voted on that Agreement, under which all prisoners would be released within two years and decommissioning by both IRA and loyalists would take place. I make no apology for raising the loyalist issue because it is equally important. This matter does not relate only to arms. There are other issues to be dealt with similar to those on the IRA side, to which other speakers referred. I heard recently about attempts to take protection money on that side as well as on the other side. All prisoners were released but decommissioning did not happen.
My party leader put forward a number of proposals today, the first of which is that somebody like Senator George Mitchell should be appointed to try to draw the strands of this issue together. That would be a step forward. There was also a proposal from the leader of Sinn Féin that face-to-face talks should take place. That is the only way this issue will be sorted out. Nobody can step back from this process. It is vital that we get agreement because none of us wants to go back to what I witnessed at the graves of both loyalists and Nationalists. Their tears are no different and we cannot go back to that situation again.
Ms McManus: I can think of no better time to restate the fact the Good Friday Agreement belongs to all the people, North and South, who voted for it in May 1998. The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, alluded to this during the press conference following the publication of the comprehensive agreement last Wednesday. However, to observe the manner in which the entire process has been managed in recent years, and especially in the period since the end of the Leeds Castle talks in September, one would think that only issues that concern the DUP and Sinn Féin were being addressed in the negotiations.
The danger in attempting to fix a deal between two parties exclusively is that you allow them to dominate the agenda of discussions as they attempt to trade off each other and win more and more concessions from the two Governments, which they claim they need to bring their constituencies with them. The DUP, therefore, comes to the negotiations determined to change voting arrangements for the nomination of Ministers to the executive, regardless of the damage this does to the Agreement, simply to save them the embarrassment of electing Mr. Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister. Similarly, Sinn Féin enter talks with their own shopping list, namely, the need to protect the self-image of the IRA on decommissioning, securing the release of the McCabe killers and agreement on an amnesty for “on the runs”.
Issues that were never part of the initial negotiations become central to any new deal. Policing is one of the fundamental issues in the North that, regrettably, remains unresolved in light of republicans’ failure to endorse the new policing arrangements. While this was a key issue in the Hillsborough talks of April 2003, it has fallen off the agenda slightly in recent times. The explanation for this, we are told, is that Sinn Féin has embarked on a journey that will eventually see it come on board on policing. The recent negotiations and the details in the comprehensive agreement provide a draft timetable for this alongside the devolution of responsibility for justice and policing to the assembly. However, on close inspection, the policing commitments, while appearing positive, give both the DUP and Sinn Féin plenty of wriggle room on the modalities involved. Was it not a little naive to think that agreement would have been reached on the devolution of these powers by the end of February, as the timetable suggests, given the atmosphere that existed between the parties?
As ever, electoral concerns are to the fore and in the absence of firm commitments this time around it seems unlikely that expecting Sinn Féin to endorse policing and the DUP to agree to open up the possibility of a Nationalist as Minister for Justice in the new year, ahead of Westminster elections, was a little ambitious.
In fact, the sections of the agreement on policing were extremely woolly. There were Sinn Féin promises to “refer the issue” to their ard-comhairle, and references to the DUP resolving to “dedicate” itself to reach agreement, but no firm commitments.
We are told Sinn Féin continues to meet with PSNI Chief Constable, Mr. Hugh Orde, and the relationship is warm. We are not told precisely when they will endorse the new policing structures. We are told that the DUP, as a devolutionist party, wants to see policing and justice devolved to the assembly, but why do they continue to scaremonger in the Unionist community with images of Nationalist Ministers for Justice?
Meanwhile, in the background, policing continues to be one of the success stories of the entire peace process. In recent days we have had the 12th report of the oversight commissioner which states that the degree of policing change in the North is “remarkable and unparalleled in the history of democratic policing reform”. I pay tribute to those people from both communities who have engaged in the policing structures in Northern Ireland. Some of them have been subject to violent attack and they have shown great courage in the face of this intimidation. It is important that this Parliament pay tribute to their commitment to a peaceful and democratic resolution of the problems of Northern Ireland.
While there is still significant work to be done on policing, one of the main hindrances to achieving across the board support for the PSNI remains Sinn Féin’s selfish party political decision to remain outside the policing board. In recent days there has been much talk of criminality and the need for the IRA to signal a complete end to all illegal activity by its members. Surely a firm, unequivocal commitment that they agree to the new policing structures must go hand in hand with any declaration on criminality.
If we are ever to see an end to real criminality — no one can describe it as bogus — extortion, violent attacks, smuggling and illegality, which must come to an end, we must hear that declaration being made. We must also see Sinn Féin members on the policing board and real policing to be comprehensive in Northern Ireland.
There is no diminishing the profound sense of disappointment in the wake of the latest failure to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland, with the tantalising prospect of power being shared equally between Unionists and their Nationalists neighbours. Opposing poles of unionism and nationalism came so agonisingly close to clinching a historic deal that was unthinkable a short time ago.
There was considerable nervous tension on both sides in the negotiations as they moved forward, ever closer to the prospect of cutting a deal. On the Unionist side, a major demotivator was the 2005 UK general election with a major disincentive to accept any settlement prior to the election. The Irish and UK Governments strove valiantly to bring together a broad church of less than moderate Unionists and Nationalists, with both of them looking over their shoulders at their electoral bases.
Decommissioning of their arsenal of weapons by the IRA, as they have undertaken to do, would officially and verifiably end the longest guerrilla war in Europe. Hard line Unionists like Mr. Ian Paisley and Mr. Ian Paisley junior, sought photographs of decommissioning. Mr. Paisley even wanted an album but the only things produced were negatives. Perhaps Horse Racing Ireland should be called in to resolve what must be the longest drawn out photo finish in history, with two horses deadlocked at the finishing line but each unable or unwilling to put its nose across to claim the prize. Perhaps they just need that little prod to take the extra step.
Photographs of guns and arsenals being decommissioned would have been no more or less convincing evidence than a report from the internationally respected General de Chastelain and a practical synod of multidenominational clerical observers from all sides. The result of the DUP’s reluctance to trust eyes rather than a camera lens will be that the unique picture of Sinn Féin and the DUP sitting at the Government table will be missing. Had there not been a request for a photograph of the decommissioning there is no doubt that a pictorial record of the event would have surfaced and been kept for posterity. Nevertheless, photographs were demanded and duly refused. The end result was that the deal which we are led to believe was within reach evaporated in the cold December air.
Last week in the House, I called for decisive leadership and cool heads. I was under the impression that we were moving towards a settlement. I still hope and pray that we are, as we owe that to the people of the island. I am, however, dismayed and disappointed at the way the two Governments seem to be dancing to the DUP tune. I urge caution, as it is the national duty of the Government always to protect and defend the interests of its citizens while respecting the Unionist tradition in moving towards a democratic peace settlement.
I was deeply saddened by some of the parties in this House who tried to score political points over our peace process. When the words “criminality” and “photos” were used I was deeply concerned that we were moving the clock back. I remember Mrs. Thatcher and the criminality debate as a young teacher and H block activist supporting the five demands of Mr. Bobby Sands MP and the hunger strikers. Their bravery, integrity and dignity flashed across the world and the people of Fermanagh-South Tyrone put an end to that criminality debate. Let us not go back on this issue and let us remind ourselves of that cul-de-sac politics. Mrs. Thatcher is gone so let us not hark back to those days. Many Nationalists and republicans find this very offensive.
The photograph issue is a political red herring. I trust General John de Chastelain. Both Governments seem to be undermining him. I trust the two clergymen witnesses, one Protestant and one Catholic. What is the problem? I urge people to wake up to this DUP red herring and I urge the Government to be more proactive in pushing the interests of the Irish people.
It is also time for Members of this House to wake up to that reality and see that we are on the brink of resolving this issue with the declaration of peace by the republican movement. The Government should stand back and think about it. I urge all political groups to open their hearts and minds to that reality. When the republican movement moves in the peace process, people should not try to kick it to score a few lousy political points before the next election. Humiliation can never be part of a peace process.
I also urge the same caution and sensitivity on the victims issues. Over recent weeks I have spoken to victims of the Troubles, many of whom find it offensive and sad that political parties and sections of the media find some victims more important than others. Victims should never be used to score political points. I wish all those involved in the conflict resolution process well.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I thank all the Members who participated in the debate, which has been a useful exercise. The Taoiseach indicated I would deal with issues known as the OTRs or “on-the-runs” and the position of persons serving sentences for the killing of Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Ben O’Sullivan.
Most fair-minded observers will agree that if the elements of an agreement published by the Governments last week were signed up to fully by the parties and faithfully implemented, they would represent, at long last, the definitive closure of the conflict on this island. While full agreement has not proved possible, we should not underestimate what has been achieved to date. The history of the peace process has shown that, over time, ideas that were once rejected out of hand by some of the parties were finally faced up to and embraced by them. The people on whose lips the phrases “Not an ounce, not a bullet” and “No surrender” once featured have moved on.
There can be understandable public exhaustion and, sometimes, indifference to what looks like a labyrinthine process but, as public representatives, we have a duty to do what we can to ensure future generations are not condemned to live their lives in the shadow of the gunman and the hatreds that have bedevilled the people on this island and our nearest neighbours for so long.
The absence of armed conflict does not of itself bring about peace or ensure a stable future. The establishment of properly functioning democratic institutions in Northern Ireland should not be seen as some form of optional extra. It is a vital, central part of a settlement. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach who has been tireless in his efforts to bring about a resolution of all these issues and I believe that when the history of these times is written, his contribution will be seen to have been indispensable. The same will also be said of Tony Blair who, despite all the issues he had to deal with both domestically and on the world stage, will be seen as the British Prime Minister who was the greatest friend to all the people of this island. No British Prime Minister since Gladstone has devoted so much time and effort to the Irish question.
Thousands of people have died in the course of the Troubles while countless others were brutally wounded, psychologically destroyed or devastated by grief. There is no hierarchy of victims but, as Minister, I must be especially mindful of those members of the Garda who laid down their lives for the State over the past 35 years. They were called on to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people and our democratic institutions. Against that background, it is entirely understandable that the issue of the possible release of those prisoners who cold bloodedly shot Jerry McCabe to death and wounded his colleague, Ben O’Sullivan, has caused such widespread concern and, in some quarters, revulsion.
The reality is only one party in this House wants to see those prisoners released. I do not believe members of any other party in the House would agree to it in any circumstances, save with the greatest reluctance and the deepest reservations. Some Members say they would never agree to it and I do not question their good faith, but I ask them two questions. First, does anybody believe the Taoiseach, myself and our Government colleagues would authorise their release if there was a conceivable alternative? It would be simpler and politically popular and it would be everyone’s preference that the justice administered in their case should be carried out to the letter. Second, are people saying the agreement last week should not go ahead if it means addressing the issue of the release of those persons? I do not say it is an invalid point of view but we should be clear that if that choice confronted the Taoiseach and the Government, would the hand of history be seen to have guided to us if we said we would walk away from this particular opportunity at this point in time?
The Government has been clear and unequivocal that the Adare killers were never comprehended by the Good Friday Agreement. We fought that point in the courts and, despite mendacious claims that the Supreme Court decided otherwise, we have been vindicated at every hand’s turn on that matter. That is the solid position of the Government which has not and will not change. However, six and a half years after the people of this island voted on the Agreement, it became apparent that acts of completion were necessary on all sides to bring an end to the conflict on this island. In some cases, such acts were not directly and explicitly provided for but implicitly expected by those who signed up to and voted for the Agreement. For example, it was a requirement that the parties to the Agreement should use their best endeavours to secure the total decommissioning of all weapons within two years, but one party regarded that as something which simply required them to use their best endeavours and thought other actions had to be taken to bring about that situation.
The Government never put the release of Jerry McCabe’s killers on the table as an inducement. We never put it down for discussion and we never raised the issue. The only thing that convinced the Government that the matter had to be considered was our mature judgment that getting the provisional movement in its entirety to abandon violence completely, enter the political process as equals and become eligible to participate in the executive in Northern Ireland was not politically possible as long as some of its number remained in prison. That is our judgment and it is on that basis alone that we came to the conclusion that, in certain circumstances, we were prepared to consider reducing the sentences imposed on those killers by the courts.
This is not a day for recrimination or point scoring but I was struck recently by the claim that the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Garda Ben O’Sullivan was authorised at a low level within the structures of the IRA. These men were protecting social welfare payments as they were moved around Ireland and they were cut down mercilessly by a hail of machine gun fire with no chance to defend themselves. How low can one go in authorising such activities?
The second point has been made that the use of the term “criminality” is degrading or demeaning to those in the provisional movement who have engaged in a campaign of violence all these years. It has been suggested that criminality only arises if the crime is committed out of base motives. However, to break a leg with a baseball bat is a crime in anybody’s language. Somebody who is shot in the head or the leg is a victim of crime in anybody’s language. There is no such thing, despite the intricacies of provisional ideology, as a killing or mutilation on this island which has not been a crime.
The second point we must bring home is that what I have said, both publicly and in this House on a number of occasions, is true. I said that there has been a sustained campaign of criminality coming from the IRA since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. I said this not just about so-called policing of Nationalist and republican areas in Northern Ireland, but about criminality of the worst kind, theft and robbery. It has been orchestrated by senior members of the provisional hierarchy on a sustained basis.
I will not go into details, but I was asked on one occasion to either put up or shut up on this issue. On my honour I say, this country has been the victim of sustained criminality by leading members of the provisional movement. It is not just people’s limbs being broken and people being exiled or threatened. There has been sustained criminality right across the Border, and it must end.
The point was made that the IRA said that its volunteers would be instructed not to do anything that would endanger the Agreement. Are we to take it that it is now accepted that breaking people’s legs, stealing container loads of cigarettes and engaging in the countless unspeakable acts of barbarity that have taken place since 1998 endanger the Agreement? Would we not be met with the same answer, that it has nothing to do with the institutions in Northern Ireland or the Agreement if the odd container load of cigarettes is stolen to sustain the provisional movement? Of course we would. The same applies to smuggling and the Border roads, where it costs £400 sterling to move a tanker of oil up and down a road because the tax must be paid to a certain movement.
Let us be clear about what we are talking about. We are talking about a prize of enormous value. We are talking about an end to all that. We are talking about a society where none of that is tolerated at any level and where no political party is allied to any organisation which engages in or even equivocates about that.
Deputy Ó Caoláin spoke eloquently today about these issues. However, I remind him of his rare inarticulacy on the day he was asked by a radio interviewer whether he would recommend those who had information about the identity of the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing to go to the PSNI or the Garda Síochána. Then, because of the difficulties of the provisional position, he ended up obfuscating on the issue and failed to give the common decent response that of course anybody with that information should report it to the authorities on either side of the Border.
The other day we all noted that a copy of the 1916 Proclamation was sold for an enormous sum of money. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. If we read the text of the 1916 Proclamation, which hangs in the hall of this House, we read towards the end the demand of the leaders and signatories of it that no dishonour should ever be brought on their arms. If we think back on some of the occasions where those arms have been used to threaten young men to lie on the ground while other people smash their legs with concrete blocks because they stole a car or did something to offend the powers that be in the places in which they live, we must think how different that is from the values of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. There is much food for thought in that.
There is only one State and one republic on this island. It is the republic of which this is the democratic assembly. There is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann on this island, that is the permanent Defence Forces established by this House and maintained by it under the 1937 Constitution. Others may live in a world where they think there is another republic. Some people may think that Robert Emmet’s republic is alive and well in some shoe box in a corner somewhere. There is only one set of institutions on this island republic and that is the institutions in which we serve.
It all comes down to a simple choice for the provisional movement. It must ask itself has it arrived at the point where it can, as a movement, turn its back on all the activities described in paragraph 13 of the joint statement between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. The provisional movement should tell us whether it has arrived at that point. This is an issue on which we cannot budge and the provisional movement cannot fudge. There will be no deal if there is not clarity.
I acknowledge there was a time when constructive ambiguity moved people together. However, we have now reached the stage where ambiguity on that issue is destructive. We have reached a moment of truth where the prize is huge. It is the end of conflict and the normalisation of politics on this island. It is a huge and valuable prize that is within our grasp. It requires courage and statesmanship from all quarters to bring us over this last line. It requires sacrifice and humility. People do not have to be humiliated, but they must be humble, in some respects, about some of the choices involved. People must be willing to make concessions and to see the big picture. We are just there or thereabouts. It now requires that all politicians playing a part in this process should rise above the rank of politician and come on to the plain of being statesmen. We are almost there.
The issue of on-the-runs, the people who have never been dealt with by the justice system, must be dealt with also. If we make decisions with regard to some of them, it would be anomalous to take the view that others would have to remain in prison. This is one of the difficulties the Government has had to face. There will be a process whereby those people against whom there are outstanding matters to be dealt with by the systems of justice on both sides of the Border will have those debts to society effectively cancelled. That is inevitable. All this is available.
Now is not the time for mutual recrimination. It is not the time to score points at the expense of others, and I have not done so in this House. Now is the time for clarity and courage. It is time to grasp what the people of Ireland want us to do, to transform the political realities on this island from a reality in which the Good Friday Agreement has not yet released its full potential to one where the people can view sectarianism and violence as a thing of the past and can build, in the two parts of this island, a partnership which can, in the fullness of time, give reality and bring a sense of achievement to the endeavours of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. That is the prize and we should not allow it slip from our hands. It requires everybody to show their responsibility in this regard.
The Government is absolutely united on this. There is not a chink of difference between us. Anybody who thinks, for whatever purpose, that he or she can bring a crowbar to shift us apart in our determination to bring this matter forward is making a big mistake.
|Last Updated: 04/11/2010 09:52:32||Page of 199|