Ceisteanna — Questions - Northern Ireland Issues.

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 597 No. 5

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  1.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34087/04]

  2.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34088/04]

  3.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34089/04]

  4.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with a delegation from Sinn Féin on 13 December 2004. [34247/04]

  5.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with a delegation from the SDLP on 14 December 2004. [34248/04]

  6.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on his telephone contact with the leader of the DUP, Dr. Ian Paisley, on 13 December 2004. [34249/04]

  7.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on his contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland since 15 December 2004. [34250/04]

  8.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on his contacts with the British Prime Minister since 15 December 2004. [34251/04]

  9.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his assessment, based on his contacts with the British Prime Minister and the political parties in Northern Ireland, of advancing the political [1198]situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34252/04]

  10.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he has plans for a new initiative to advance the political situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34253/04]

  11.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his views on the implications for the situation in Northern Ireland of the statement by the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde, that the IRA was responsible for the pre-Christmas 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in which more than £26 million was taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34601/04]

  12.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he has discussed with the British Prime Minister the implications of the statement by the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde, that the IRA was responsible for the pre-Christmas 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in which more than £26 million was taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34602/04]

  13.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he has raised with representatives of Sinn Féin the implications of the statement by the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde, that the IRA was responsible for the pre-Christmas 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in which more than £26 million was taken; the response he has received from Sinn Féin representatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34603/04]

  14.  Mr. Sargent  Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34611/04]

  15.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his participation in the peace process since 17 December 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1382/05]

  16.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [1449/05]

  17.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [1452/05]

  18.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when he next expects to meet with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1455/05]

  19.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 26 January 2005 with representatives of Sinn Féin. [2328/05]

  20.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 26 January 2005 with representatives of the SDLP. [2329/05]

  21.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting [1199]on 26 January 2005 with representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party. [2330/05]

  22.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he has received a request from the International Monitoring Commission for a meeting; if he intends to meet the commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2331/05]

  23.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his meeting in Dublin with representatives of Sinn Féin on 25 January 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2459/05]

  24.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 25 January 2005 with the SDLP leader; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2460/05]

  25.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his discussions in Dublin on 25 January 2005 with representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2461/05]

  26.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   when he will next hold a summit meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2611/05]

  27.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2798/05]

  28.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 1 February 2005 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [3495/05]

  29.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with members of the International Monitoring Committee on 31 January 2005. [3496/05]

  30.  Mr. Sargent  Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will elaborate on media reports that he has encouraged the Independent Monitoring Commission not to recommend penalties against Sinn Féin in its report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3562/05]

  31.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 1 February 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3621/05]

  32.  Mr. F. McGrath  Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if the Northern minority will not be excluded in future developments in the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4489/05]

  33.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his meeting with the Independent Monitoring Commission. [4646/05]

  34.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his recent meeting in London with [1200]the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [4647/05]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 34, inclusive, together.

Last week, in the course of Private Members’ business, we had the opportunity to address comprehensively developments in the peace process, and the agreed motion received the overwhelming endorsement of the parties in this House. Without restating the text of that motion, it is clear that we all want to protect and develop the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement and to continue to work to secure its full implementation.

The agreement must form the basis of a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland. The Government’s proposals published in December addressed the key issues that we had identified as being necessary to make progress. Regrettably, however, we could not secure agreement on two key issues: an end to all forms of paramilitary and criminal activity, and decommissioning.

The Northern Bank robbery brought into sharp relief the need to address and resolve these key issues if trust is to be restored. That was the emphatic message that the Government conveyed to the Sinn Féin leadership when we met in January. The same clear message was imparted by Prime Minister Blair and it was the message that both Governments conveyed publicly after we met in Downing Street on 1 February.

At my meeting with the Prime Minister, I raised with him the issue of an apology for the Conlon and Maguire families and I am grateful to him for his prompt response. I also raised our concerns about the British response to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of the early 1970s and separate questions have been tabled on this issue. The Prime Minister and I will continue to meet as and when necessary.

The two Governments published the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission whose representatives I met recently. The conclusions drawn by the independent commission concur with the intelligence available to both Governments concerning the Northern Bank robbery and other incidents in Northern Ireland. The findings of the report underline the clear need for the issue of IRA paramilitarism, including all forms of criminal activity, to be resolved satisfactorily once and for all.

At my most recent meetings with the parties, we discussed recent developments and possible ways of moving the process forward. Both I and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will continue our contacts with them in the period ahead.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Following the publication of the Independent Monitoring Commission’s report, has the Taoiseach spoken to Prime Minister Blair about it? Has the Government considered the findings of the report and, if so, what action does it propose to take?

[1201]Has any evidence or information been given to the Government about the brutal murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast? Has the Government considered any action it might be able to take to assist in the detection of those responsible? I welcome the statement by the president of Sinn Féin asking that persons who might have any information about this matter should relay it to the authorities. That is to be commended. The nature, timing and brutality of this murder and the fact that there are allegations that the persons responsible were able to return to the public house and clean the place out forensically mean that this is a crime of the most serious type. The Taoiseach may wish to respond to those two points.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Government considered and discussed the IMC report last Tuesday, before its publication. These reports are normally given to both Governments some days beforehand. Obviously, the report highlights the need to keep the implementation process on track and to continue with all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, even if it takes some time to make progress on the political issues, given the impending local elections and possibly the Westminster elections.

As regards the McCartney killing, the PSNI has refused to comment on the basis that the investigation is ongoing. Therefore, there have been no reports or intelligence on this matter, other than what has been in the media. As the Deputy said, the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, has repudiated the killing in very strong terms, and has said that people who have reservations about assisting the PSNI should give any information to the family’s solicitor or any other authoritative person or body. The chief constable of the PSNI stated that it was not a crime by some political group in furtherance of its objectives but that it involved people who belong to illegal organisations. That is as far as he went.

The issue for us, as we prepare for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, is to take the issues on which progress has been made and, over the next few months, make as much progress on them as we can. We hope to have a substantive agenda for the conference, which the Secretary of State, Mr. Paul Murphy, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will attend.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I thank the Taoiseach for his comments. Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP, called for the reconvening of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation so that persuasive discussion could take place in an atmosphere that would lessen tensions arising from recent difficulties. Has the Government considered this? Will the Taoiseach agree to this? Mr. Durkan’s call was echoed by me and others in the House last week.

Has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform reported on the activities of the Criminal Assets Bureau in respect of recipients and beneficiaries of the illegal proceeds of paramilitary [1202]criminality? The CAB has done a fabulous job in tackling crime in general by sitting on drug barons and confiscating their assets. Will the bureau be given the resources to deal with the beneficiaries of paramilitary criminality?

The Limerick Leader reported this week, probably following reports in the Sunday newspapers, that the McCabe issue might be revisited. Will the Taoiseach reiterate that this issue is off the table and, in his own words, that he does not see it coming back on the table again?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I will take the questions in reverse order. There is no change in the position on the latter issue. I can see that people want to nail things down to the last degree. I do not have a changed position. I do not want to engage wordsmiths on this but it is off the table and that is it.

On the Criminal Assets Bureau, assets accumulated through criminal conduct by persons involved in paramilitary organisations are among those that have been investigated in recent years. In particular, many of the cross-Border cases involved people with past or current paramilitary links. A major joint initiative between the law enforcement authorities, North and South, has been undertaken, which has resulted in joint investigations on both sides of the Border. The CAB has worked with the Assets Recovery Agency and, in some cases, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland customs in carrying out processes in parallel in both jurisdictions. Assets have been frozen in both jurisdictions and a number of people face charges.

The legislation used by the CAB was amended in the past few days to allow criminality outside the jurisdiction to be taken into account and to allow the bureau to work more closely with the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland. These changes will help the CAB to examine assets with a paramilitary origin. The bureau keeps its resources under review in light of its workload but I understand there is no difficulty currently in this regard.

With regard to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I will have to consult the chairperson. It is a long time since we met. I have an open enough mind if we can frame a helpful, constructive and useful agenda. If, in the few months prior to the British election, it turned into a criticising match, it would not serve any purpose. Perhaps the convenors could examine this. The Deputy will recall the difficulty in the forum’s previous life was not alone the non-attendance of the Unionist parties, but their comments outside it, which were not always useful. If we can have a constructive agenda, I have an open mind on it.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  May I return to the ghoulish murder of Robert McCartney? The Taoiseach seemed to suggest that although the information in the public domain is that this savage killing was carried out by members of the republican movement, they were not on a mission sanctioned by [1203]the republican movement. Is that not the point, that this type of thuggish behaviour is being used to control communities in Northern Ireland? It is at least as offensive to me as robbing the Northern Bank that domination and sway is held over certain communities by sheer intimidation. In these circumstances, according to what is in the public domain, a number of people went back to the pub, took out the video tape that might be of use in prosecuting these terrible offences — Brendan Devine was also seriously injured in the circumstances — and cleaned the place forensically, as adverted to by Deputy Kenny. Is this Tony Soprano style killing not sufficient reason alone for the democratic parties and the two Governments to break the power of the republican movement in controlling paramilitary activity, even when not on an officially sanctioned job?

I also wish to ask the Taoiseach about the story that appeared in The Star. It was reported that the wife of one of the prisoners convicted for the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, apparently a councillor in County Cavan, said, more or less, that the Taoiseach did not know what he was talking about and that she was satisfied that her husband would be released early. Will the Taoiseach address that?

Is the provision the Taoiseach announced previously in terms of the side agreements with Sinn Féin and representation in the Oireachtas also off the table in the current context?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Deputy Rabbitte is correct on the McCartney issue. Anything that involves people using heavy-handed action is wrong. I want to remain consistent with my statements. The PSNI refused to comment on the basis that the investigation is ongoing. The only two statements the Chief Constable has made on this, or that have been passed because they were in the public domain and were not in any way confidential, are that it was not a crime by some political group in furtherance of its objectives but it did involve people who belong to an illegal organisation. Regardless of whether they belonged to an illegal organisation, a crime like that, where a person is stabbed to death and another — Brendan Devine — badly injured, is horrific. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte’s comment. The Chief Constable also said there had been intimidation of people who might be able to help the police. He said “might be able” and was not very firm on that. Police who carried out searches in the area were attacked by stone throwing youths. There were widespread reports in Belfast that senior members of the IRA were involved and the crime was cleaned up afterwards. As I said to Deputy Kenny, the PSNI has not given detailed reports to us on these matters.

I agree with the point made by Deputy Rabbitte and others on Northern Ireland, that in many ways some of these issues are more serious from the perspective of the Nationalist com[1204]munity than a bank raid. A bank raid does not affect people as much, other than the two families affected by the robbery, but this kind of behaviour does. That is the reason we need an end to criminality. I agree with that. I do not wish to wind these things up again but the point we have been making is that it is not just a question of money or petrol. A person has been stabbed to death and that is much worse. That is not to say the other acts are not bad, but it is much worse that somebody is dead. That is the reason and motivation for wanting to see an end to all these for everybody’s sake, not least the people in Nationalist communities who are being affected in this particular instance.

On the McCabe issue, those responsible have release dates and will be released when those dates are reached. That is the position. Some of those dates are soon and some of them are not, “soon” meaning in a few years’ time.

I have given no more thought to the question of Oireachtas representation. Naturally it would be a good development were we to achieve a comprehensive agreement, and we should still be able to do that although it would be in the context of a comprehensive agreement. It was only ever considered when the parties looked at this in the context of the Agreement back in 2001 and early 2002. It was on the basis of us having normality, and I hope we will return to that situation. I do not see a difficulty in that regard.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Does the Taoiseach expect any evolution in this impasse, although I do not think one can have evolution in an impasse? Are there likely to be any developments between now and the British general election? How does the Taoiseach see the way forward? In particular, will he give a commitment to the House that he will involve the SDLP more centrally from here on? He is as familiar as I am, or more so, with the manner in which the SDLP feels it has been essentially excluded from the real negotiations. Given that party’s democratic credentials down through the years, it deserves better than that.

In terms of an earlier reply from the Taoiseach, has the Criminal Assets Bureau been asked to investigate the issue of republican funding?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  As to where we go from here, a number of issues are being dealt with. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is preparing the agenda for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. We are trying to get as comprehensive an agenda as possible. At this stage that is the only forum in which we can progress matters with the British Government, and we want to progress a number of issues. Many issues in the various processes have been stalled or delayed and we want to try to make progress on them.

The care and maintenance issues of the North-South bodies are still outstanding. Useful work is taking place in that regard even though it is progressing more slowly than we would like. We [1205]still intend driving these matters forward. Co-operation is ongoing on a number of aspects regarding police oversight. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be in Northern Ireland next week for meetings on that matter. Other Ministers are involved in their individual areas of co-operation. We can usefully do a number of things.

We will continue to make as much progress as we can within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government remains committed to the Agreement and to the principle of parallel consent that underpins it. That principle creates a problem in that if trust and confidence are not built up, one cannot do many of the things one would wish to do. This has been the difficulty since the assembly collapsed. Since then we have endeavoured to pursue three major initiatives, namely, the joint declaration, the sequence of the autumn of 2003 and the document of 8 December, which address the outstanding issues, namely, decommissioning, ending paramilitary activity, completion of the policing project and ensuring stable institutions. We will continue to try to make whatever progress we can, to engage with all the parties and see what work we can do even if, as Deputy Rabbitte suggested, we are unlikely to get back to the comprehensive agreement in the next few months. Everyone accepts that position but it does not mean we will do nothing — we can continue to engage.

The most recent negotiations failed because agreement could not be reached on the transparency elements of the process of arms decommissioning because the IRA was unwilling to commit itself to clearly and definitively ending criminal activity. Nevertheless, the good side was that both the DUP and Sinn Féin signed up to the many political aspects of the comprehensive agreement, including the policing provisions, which I do not want to lose because we worked on them from the talks at Weston Park. We now have agreement on the issue, which is a significant and encouraging element. We got close to resolving many of the issues.

I understand that among the assets investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau in recent years have been those accumulated through criminal conduct by persons involved in paramilitary organisations. The CAB has our absolute support in dealing with those issues and for its activities in that regard. I do not know what are its achievements but it is involved in activity and is co-operating with the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland. Progress is being made in terms of these issues.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I was glad to hear the Taoiseach recognise in his contribution the difference between a stabbing and a robbery and state that a physical assault is worse in terms of a “moral league”, if one can call it that. However, did he really mean to refer to the bank robbery as showing the problem with the peace process in sharp relief, a statement which surprised me? Does he [1206]agree that the punishment beatings show the problem in sharp relief too? Perhaps he needs to put the two issues in the same phrase at least if he is making a reference to such a key issue or event.

Does the Government clearly distinguish between a conflict resolution process and a post-conflict situation? There has been some mixing of the interpretation of the two concepts which does not help us to reach the point at which we have a resolved conflict. Will the Taoiseach explain the Government’s view on the matter given that it appears different Ministers might have different views on whether we are engaged in a conflict resolution process or a post-conflict situation?

Given that the Good Friday Agreement, which all Members wholeheartedly support and want to see implemented, is stuck on strand one, can strands two and three be given any hope of proceeding as quickly as possible in the areas of justice, human rights, cross-Border institutions and so on in order to give hope to people who are yearning and grasping for whatever hope can be engendered?

  3 o’clock

I acknowledge that it is not the Government’s decision but the Taoiseach’s view is important in regard to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Does he support the proposal to reconstitute the forum so that not just the parties in this House or the Government but rather all parties, including the SDLP, other constitutional parties and all those in civic society who have a role to play, could be involved in pushing forward our agreements rather than our disagreements? Can this be implemented as soon as possible given the sense of despair which is beginning to grow in respect of the whole process?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I said earlier that the bank robbery in Northern Ireland brought into sharp relief the need to address and resolve the key issues if trust is to be restored. That applies to assaults on people or other aspects which damage the process. I think everybody agrees with that.

I do not want the forum to meet if there is no great purpose in doing so. If people believe that forum meetings with an agreed agenda can help towards the goal of full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, let us hold them. Otherwise I am not sure there is a purpose in doing so. If the convenors want to discuss holding meetings which would be worthwhile, I have an open mind on that.

I apologise for not replying fully to Deputy Rabbitte’s question regarding the SDLP, which Deputy Sargent also touched on. I do not feel that people are excluded from discussing any issue. In terms of the process in Northern Ireland, if one does not meet people on almost the same day as one meets someone else, people feel excluded. That is the nature of how things happen, with somebody or some small parties feeling excluded. It is not possible to meet everyone together. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [1207]and I do our best and have done over the years to keep closely in touch with the parties. In the period up to the end of 2003, the parties felt excluded because they thought we gave all our time to working with the two parties which were then in the key positions, the UUP and the SDLP. That situation changed last year to include the DUP and Sinn Féin so naturally we gave a lot of time to them. We did not do so, however, to the exclusion of the other parties.

I take the point and I assure the House that we do our best to keep all the parties involved all the time. The difficulty is that round table discussions, which would make my life much easier, do not work because for obvious reasons one cannot get people around the table. Over the years some parties, by and large not the Nationalist parties, have contributed more than others to that problem, but I will not get into that. That is a difficulty. Mr. Blair and I have tried on many occasions to organise round table discussions, but someone fails to turn up and the story then revolves around that, which does not help the process.

Deputy Rabbitte is right that the SDLP has played a huge positive and constructive role in the peace process at all levels over the years and we have never deliberately left it out of the process. We treat the smaller Unionist parties and the Alliance Party similarly because we take an even-handed approach to dealing with the situation.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I asked a question about conflict resolution.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  We will hear Deputy Ó Caoláin first as we are running out of time.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I ask the Taoiseach to note my abhorrence and that of Sinn Féin of the brutal murder of Robert McCartney, and our absolute rejection of this terrible deed. I repeat the call of Gerry Adams for people to assist the family in any and every way they can in its quest for truth and justice in this case.

Is the Taoiseach aware that in an interview in Irish News last Friday, 11 February, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Huge Orde, was asked if the Sinn Féin leadership knew about the Northern Ireland bank robbery and he replied that he had no idea? How does the Taoiseach square that with his own claims? He has supposedly based his opinion heretofore on PSNI information. His view is that the Sinn Féin leadership was in some way involved or conspired with others to carry out the Northern Bank robbery. I have addressed this issue with the Taoiseach previously. Is it not clear from all that has been said by the former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and now by Hugh Orde himself, that there is no basis to the charge, which is political and without any basis in fact? I appeal to the Taoiseach calmly to [1208]recognise and appreciate the importance of clarity on this specific issue.

Has the Taoiseach raised with the British Government the admission by a representative of MI5 at a British House of Commons committee meeting that it had planted electronic listening devices at the Connolly House offices of Sinn Féin in Belfast? The Taoiseach will recall that we raised this matter in the House at the time. There was some dismissal of the claims that we made. However, they have been vindicated, and I believe the Taoiseach was present when the apparatus was returned at the Leeds Castle engagement in which I also participated.

Does the Taoiseach recall that the institutions were brought down by the British Government regarding another so-called “spying” allegation which is, as yet, unproven? One of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement, the British Government, through its arm, MI5, has admitted it was directly involved in eavesdropping on another party to that Agreement and the ongoing discussions and negotiations, the party I represent. Has the Taoiseach raised the issue? Does he agree that its acknowledgement now is very damaging and that he should insist to the British Prime Minister that it must never be repeated?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I acknowledge what Deputy Ó Caoláin has said about the murder of Mr. McCartney, reiterating what the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, has said. That is helpful. On Connolly House, I recall raising the issue on the day in September at Leeds Castle when the device was handed over by the Deputy and his colleagues. We raised the matter then and made it clear that the idea of using bugging devices anywhere was totally unhelpful. As the Deputy will recall, it was not admitted at the time, when the British professed to have no knowledge of it. I will have to check with the Secretariat to follow that up, but we conveyed our abhorrence at the use of such tactics by MI5 or MI6 on the day.

I read the interview with Hugh Orde last week. He is not a politician, and he made his professional assessment very clear when he met the British Prime Minister and me in the presence of the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, and some of my colleagues. Of course, the difficulty for me is that the only way that I can get intelligence — the reason that I refused to make it up earlier today — is when it is presented to me with a categoric assurance. Then one must either say nothing about it, which is what I did many times last year, or one must express it, which is what I did in this instance this year. That is the position, and I cannot change that unless either one or both individuals does so. The more I say about it, the worse I make it, so I will say no more.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Is the Taoiseach aware that, to this day in both Protestant and Catholic areas, loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations, leaving aside major criminal acts, have a heavy hand on their respective communities, [1209]interfering with the democratic rights and free expression of groups and political organisations opposed to them? This is manifested in many invidious ways, even in terms of making it difficult to book community halls for meetings or distribute leaflets freely. The Taoiseach appears to have ignored that in the talks, at least until the time they broke down. I put it to the Taoiseach that his Government and the British Government have been somewhat hypocritical in that they have been quiet on this issue but also on major criminal jobs, for example, the Makro and Gallahers robberies, which many believe were carried out by republicans, because talks were still going on. When they broke down, however, they jumped all over the IRA and Sinn Féin over the Northern Bank job.

In regard to the Northern Bank robbery, there are not many people in Belfast who do not believe the IRA did it, but as a member of the Socialist Party, a small party whose members North and South slog around from door to door in winter and summer to get small amounts of money to fund our political activities, I do not recognise the legitimacy of any group to kidnap and rob to back political activity. Will the Taoiseach agree, however, it is extremely dangerous to go down the road of mere assertion of guilt by senior police officers or indeed the International Monitoring Committee instead of producing proof and is not a precedent with which we want to go forward? Will he agree that proof and evidence should be brought forward, that trial and convictions should follow and that the idea, for political reasons, of assertion of guilt should not become a norm? On the killing of Robert McCartney, those who did that bestial act should be put on trial but can the State guarantee the safety of those who can come forward to give evidence to do that?

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  To return to the issue of exclusion, will the Taoiseach agree that, with the benefit of hindsight, it was a tactical mistake to allow the agenda for the talks which were abruptly terminated before Christmas to be set by the parties of the extreme? Moderate parties such as the SDLP, the UUP and others, which were the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement, were virtually excluded and sidelined. The DUP is on record as having pledged to wreck the Good Friday Agreement, and I do not know whether Sinn Féin signed it. Will the Taoiseach agree that in future negotiations a more central and meaningful role should be given to the parties of the centre which were the architects of the Good Friday Agreement?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  To answer Deputy Joe Higgins’s question first, if we follow the process over a number of years, and I say this in a serious way, it was a process of trying to get away from a situation where people on all sides were being killed almost nightly and where there were incidents of maiming, burning and other serious [1210]issues, and trying to build a peace process. That was done. We then tried to build co-operation at the interfaces, de-escalate the tensions of the marching season, stop the number of shootings and beatings and all of those issues. Over the years, the effort incrementally was to change all those positions and when one position was completed, we moved on to the next series of offences. It is true that as we were going through the process year by year, we were making progress incrementally. Other issues were overlooked because there was a question over which acts were the most serious or vicious, and their effect on people’s lives and homes.

In recent years we argued about trying to make progress in respect of policing and this was something we achieved in December. We made such progress because if there was no policing in communities, people were taking the law into their own hands or using what they believed to be corrective action against youths in their areas. The only way to deal with the problems in such communities was to have a proper police force. That was why we invested so much effort into policing.

The issue of acts of completion is outstanding but, as with moving towards the end of criminality, we are making a great deal of progress in respect of it. These were the final matters on the list and the Deputy is correct that action was forthcoming in respect of some issues. If we had tried to take action on all of them at the same time, we could never have been able to so. It was not that they were ignored to the extent that nobody cared about them, it was merely the case that progress had to be made in other areas.

I hope that Northern Ireland will some day soon reach a position where, as is the case in the normal world of law and order and respect therefor, people will feel free to give evidence and prosecutions will take place. I will not comment on particular cases but, unfortunately, there is intimidation by loyalists and republicans of witnesses in many cases. This may also occur in criminal cases, in which those involved may not be affiliated to either side. That creates difficulties and may lead to evidence not being produced. I could cite many cases in which this type of behaviour takes place.

As regards acts of completion and everything that has been said since 8 December, the process in this regard did not start on that date. Since autumn 2002, we have been discussing acts of completion in terms of what these mean and how they will be achieved. I acknowledge the huge amount of work carried out in March 2003, October 2003 and during all 2004 was about those issues. It is not the case that these matters arose after 8 December.

On Deputy McGinley’s point, we were accused in 2003 of devoting all our time to the SDLP and the UUP and not dealing with other issues, except in respect of issues with which they were not involved. I refer here to matters of decommissioning where these parties could not play a role because they did not have anything to [1211]decommission. Last year we were accused by others of not being involved as much. That was because the Good Friday Agreement ordained that — this was decided by the people — the two largest parties should bring together the Executive. We have, however, always tried to be inclusive and will continue to be so in respect of the SDLP and every other party.


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