Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
5. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his assessment of the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of the discovery by the Garda of a major money laundering operation believed to have involved the IRA. [6768/05]
6. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his assessment of the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of the reported involvement of members of the IRA in the murder of Mr. Robert McCartney in the Short Strand area of Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6769/05]
10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 3 March 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7521/05]
13. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the McCartney family concerning the murder of Robert McCartney; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8688/05]
14. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in London on 3 March 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8689/05]
16. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his address to the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board during his visit to the United States in March 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8693/05]
22. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 10 March 2005; if the matter of the proposed British inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane was raised; if he conveyed to the British Prime Minister concerns at the inadequate nature of the inquiry proposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9191/05]
The primary focus of my recent visit to Washington was Northern Ireland. I briefed President Bush and members of the US Congress on recent developments. I met civic leaders from Northern Ireland and the McCartney family at the White House. When I met Robert McCartney’s sisters and partner again last Monday week, I reiterated our continuing and full support for them. Their campaign has the support of the Irish people and political leaders throughout the world. The McCartney family has shown great courage. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the intimidation endured by members of the family last week when they tried to inform people of a vigil for Robert McCartney. As I said previously, to bring the killers of Mr. McCartney to justice would be a good way of demonstrating that the republican movement is committed to making progress in the peace process.
I am extremely grateful for the continued support of President Bush, the Bush Administration and our friends in the US Congress for our efforts in respect of Northern Ireland and their strong encouragement for our attempts to secure an end to paramilitarism and criminality and to encourage the pursuit of purely peaceful and democratic means.
Gerry Adams’s appeal to the IRA is significant and has potential, but it can ultimately be judged only on the basis of the IRA’s actions on foot of it. He has asked the IRA to initiate internal consultations on the steps they must take as quickly as possible. The IRA has since said it will give Gerry Adams’s appeal due consideration and will respond in due course. It is vital that the IRA’s consultations should be concluded in a timely manner and that everyone should know that the necessary steps have been taken and will be adhered to, and that the IRA is moving on. Nothing less than a complete and decisive end to all IRA activity and capability will be acceptable if there is to be any prospect of achieving inclusive politics in Northern Ireland. The only way forward is through peaceful and democratic means.
The Government will continue to work to implement the Good Friday Agreement in full. During my recent meetings with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and the political parties, we reviewed recent developments and the prospects for progress. The Government will continue its efforts to achieve an inclusive and comprehensive peace settlement. I hope it will be possible to re-engage with the parties after the British general election and to explore the prospects for progress.
While I was in the United States, I took the opportunity to visit Syracuse, Baltimore and New York, where I was pleased to receive an award from the American Lung Association in recognition of Ireland’s contribution, by introducing the smoking ban, to the association’s vision of a world free of lung disease. When I was in Washington, I availed of the opportunity to meet representatives of the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board. I greatly welcome the invaluable insights and inputs that I receive from the members of the board. I briefed them on the peace process and on economic developments since the visit by a delegation from the board to Ireland in September 2004.
At my recent meeting with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, I raised the question of a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. The Government wants the standard agreed at Weston Park and set by Judge Cory to be adhered to. Mr. Blair has made clear in his discussions and correspondence with me that this is also the intention of the British Government. We continue to share the concern of the Finucane family that the new UK Inquiries Act 2005, under which the British Government intends to have the Finucane case investigated, will not meet the standards. The case was also discussed with President Bush during my recent visit to Washington.
Deputies are aware that a major Garda investigation into money laundering is under way. As inquiries are continuing, it would not be appropriate to make a further comment on the details of the operation.
Mr. F. McGrath: Have new or creative ideas emerged to break the current logjam in the peace process? Is the Taoiseach aware that many people are concerned about the vacuum in the North, particularly in the stalled talks process? I urge the Taoiseach, after the elections, to become involved more directly and to kick start the process.
It was significant that Gerry Adams stated the way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally. Does the Taoiseach consider this statement to be a positive development? Does it offer an opportunity to move the process forward?
Gloating or seeking victory in the peace process will not get us anywhere, it will only lead us down a cul-de-sac. Does the Taoiseach accept that all victims of the Troubles should be treated with equal respect? In his remarks, the Taoiseach mentioned Robert McCartney and Pat Finucane. I welcome that because there are many victims who feel that the broader political establishment here and in the North does not care about them. We should perhaps revisit the idea of a commission for victims to recognise their needs.
The Taoiseach: I have tried to avoid entering any new initiatives. During the election campaign I want to be sensitive to all sides and parties and I do not want to say anything that might damage any of them. I am concerned, however, that during the campaign people will make statements and manifesto commitments that will make positions harder after the election. Depending on the results, we must deal with that on the other side of the election but there are worrying issues and developments that will make the position quite difficult.
Issues can be made difficult by manifestos and statements — I can quote them if people would like me to, but I would prefer not to do so. Those following the elections will see what I mean. Candidates are pinning themselves to difficult positions, not just for this year or next year but for a generation, which is 25 years. Many of the statements being made are not helpful and will not make life easier after the election.
The statement by Gerry Adams is significant. It has potential but we need to see what the IRA says and does on foot of it. When the Government met Sinn Féin in January we made it clear that it must reflect on the key issues that must be addressed by the republican movement if the peace process is to get back on course, as everyone wants. We are mindful that the elections are under way and approach any comments made in that environment with some caution.
In making this obvious comment, however, I am not trying to diminish Gerry Adams’s remarks. Mr. Adams said the republican movement has reached a defining moment. For so many years there have been false dawns and dashed hopes, as I have said many times in recent months, and the last few months have crystalised the challenges that must be addressed. The crisis of trust and confidence is profound and will not be easily repaired. Only a complete transformation of the situation will generate the energy needed to move beyond the current stalemate that the Deputy mentioned and realise the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement.
I would rather not move beyond the Good Friday Agreement. There are many well meaning people with bright ideas but unfortunately they are all outside of the Good Friday Agreement. I have always taken the view that the Agreement can be reviewed in so far as allowance is made for that in it, but we cannot go off in another direction.
One of the issues people have raised in the election is abandoning the d’Hondt system. One cannot abandon the d’Hondt system and stay within the Good Friday Agreement. That would immediately remove the power sharing element from the executive. I know what people are trying to achieve when they say that but that will not solve the problem.
I am not in the business of over or under-analysing Gerry Adams’s remarks but like most other people in the country and elsewhere who are committed to democratic and peaceful politics, I want to know what the IRA will say. I am not demanding that it be said tomorrow or the next day because that is unrealistic — we will wait for the day — but we cannot fudge any of these issues. Ambiguity will not work, that has been brought to the fore in recent months. The fact that Gerry Adams has realised that and made a significant statement that has potential, and is prepared to lead the republican movement in a different way without the IRA in its existing form and to deal with criminality and the other issues, must be welcomed.
At every opportunity I try to mention every group. I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that this involves everyone on all sides. The case of Rosemary Nelson has just started in the courts. There are many other cases involving people from the Protestant and loyalist side as well as the republican and Nationalist side. Prime Minister Blair’s apology to the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong, Paddy Hill, Caroline Richardson, and the Maguires earlier this year was a stark reminder of that legacy and the pain that victims still endure, many because of physical injuries and many because of psychological trauma. I include in that all people from all sides. I am not sure if any more can be done in this area but I am always ready to look at some way of dealing with and acknowledging all of the families. As we move into a more peaceful mode, many of these families think about how little was done at the time to deal with their particular bereavement or case. I understand that. It is easy for me to say but it is they who have to live with it. It is not easily done, as we have found in the past, but it is not something I have ever ruled out.
Mr. Kenny: I share the Taoiseach’s view that the d’Hondt system for the appointment of Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive is an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement. I understand that when the DUP publishes its election manifesto tomorrow, it will say that it will turn away from this system. Does the Taoiseach regard that as a serious threat to a core element of the Good Friday Agreement or just as electioneering to consolidate the party’s vote?
On the statement issued by the President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, I draw the Taoiseach’s attention to a fundamental point. On 15 December when the Taoiseach was replying to questions in the Dáil, he outlined the comprehensive agreement that the two Governments had sought to bring about before the talks finished because of the difficulty with the photographs. Speaking on that occasion, the Taoiseach confirmed to Members and to the public that the statement that was issued by the IRA at the time confirmed “its intentions in regard to that organisation moving to a new mode, issuing instructions to volunteers and completing decommissioning to a rapid timescale” but did not address the issue of other illegal activity with the clarity that was needed. The thrust of the statement issued recently by the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, invited the IRA to hold a comprehensive internal discussion about a matter that had already been decided by the IRA in the statement it issued and to which the Taoiseach referred on 15 December. Does the Taoiseach share the view that the IRA stated its intent, that this decision was made prior to the breakdown of the talks last December and that the Sinn Féin President’s statement now is merely going back to discuss something that has already been decided?
In respect of his visit to America recently where he met President Bush, was there any contact with him or his officials in respect of the Irish illegals in the United States, of which I understand there are some 50,000? Reports here from the American Embassy and the ambassador’s staff indicate that they are anxious to regularise the position. The Taoiseach is aware that these can be awkward and sensitive in some cases. Was there discussion about that? Did the Taoiseach find there was a willingness to accommodate it and on what basis can we proceed?
The Taoiseach: I do not want to make a categoric comment on a manifesto that is due out tomorrow. I do not know but from what I have read, and I have been following this issue, and if it is as it seems, it appears to reflect a hardening of their position, including ruling out the d’Hondt voting system. Without getting into the election, it is a core element of the Good Friday Agreement under which a power-sharing executive is assured. Without going over the issue, it is an unwelcome development because it cannot be made work. Perhaps when I negotiated the Good Friday Agreement I did not absolutely understand how it would work but having been through it to get the executive up and running, I became an expert on it and without it we could not have a power-sharing executive. There is no other mechanism.
When I read that in conjunction with what has been said by Peter Robinson, and perhaps he was misquoted, that it might take a generation to make any progress, that indicates enormous scepticism in terms of where we were last December. That is the only point I am making. We had difficulties within the past few months and we are trying to deal with those.
There was a willingness in the talks that ended unsuccessfully on 8 December for the republican movement to move to a new mode. The difference between that and the statement we have seen is that I am fairly certain it was not worked through the whole republican movement throughout the island in the way that it was debated and agreed upon here and that they would formally move to what Gerry Adams is now asking of them — an end game and to recreate themselves in some other form, and that is their business, but away from paramilitarism, criminality, training and all of the other issues. That is the distinction. While there was a willingness to do these things on the part of the leadership of the movement, it was not something that had the ground-swell of support. My view is that because it did not have that, it led to what I believe was the IRA robbery on 20 December and other activities. I suppose that is true of any organisation. As I have said many times before, the people in the republican movement have their own rules and orders and they have to follow their own procedures. The fact that they are into a process of considering that now is good. Obviously, the result will be the important aspect. It will not be much use to us all unless there is a conclusive result without conditions but time will tell in that regard. It is not an issue for now but I hope it will be later in the summer.
I took the opportunity this year of having a good engagement with the US President on the position of the illegal Irish in the US. This issue has become acute because of the new procedures they have introduced, particularly the one on driving licences which has caught many people who perhaps had their heads under the parapet. The new procedures mean they are off the road and that is difficult for people living in the United States. We raised this issue but we have no idea of the number of people who are in this position, although the Department of Foreign Affairs and the organisations in the United States have been trying to get a proper handle on the statistics.
There is a willingness on the part of the President, the Administration and friends of Ireland on the Hill to help with this issue. Their problem is the way they deal with countries like ours, which they do not see as a problem because, by and large, very few people now emigrate to the United States; if anything, people are returning here from the US. The Deputy will be aware that because of these issues the trend is for people who did not come back in the past number of years to come back now. There has been an upward trend in the past 12 months in the number of families and people who emigrated before the 1980s to return here, and that can only be linked to the fact that they are finding it too hot, so to speak, in the new environment.
The problem not just for the President but the Houses of Congress is finding a scheme that deals with the Mexican situation. It is easy to deal with our situation and that of other countries like ours but the Mexican situation is very difficult. There are many bright people looking at this and we will make any suggestions we can but we need to make some progress. There is a willingness to do it but we cannot get Ireland dealt with separately.
The President spoke about the quota system but there is no longer a quota system; perhaps they will bring it back in some form. We will continue to pursue it during the course of the year. We have built up a liaison through the ambassador who has been meeting many of the Irish groups during the winter and trying to get an assessment of the number of Irish illegals. The official figures are a bit of a nonsense, although we should probably not say that. They indicate there are 3,000 or 4,000 illegal Irish in the country but we know that in the Boston area alone there could be 10,000. I am not sure of the figures but we will continue to help. Congressman Walsh, Senator Kennedy, Senator Dodd and others are being quite helpful in trying to assist us with it.
Mr. Sargent: Will the Taoiseach agree that in this electioneering period the temptation to engage in megaphone diplomacy must be resisted at all times? Will he acknowledge that it is particularly important that his Cabinet colleagues resist any temptation, regardless of the provocation, to engage in megaphone diplomacy? Will he acknowledge also the frustration felt by parties on this side of the House that are not engaged in the current fora and the fact that the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, for example, is not in session? I accept there is not a pressing need for it but will the Taoiseach acknowledge the need to give Opposition parties an opportunity to bring themselves up to date on issues and offer suggestions in line with the Good Friday Agreement without having to resort to megaphone diplomacy?
Does the Taoiseach agree, and this proves my point because I can only raise it in this forum, with the suggestion by David Trimble that the SDLP and the UUP coming together would be fraught with difficulties, particularly in respect of the Good Friday Agreement? Does he see that as having any potential? On the other hand, does he agree with the SDLP view of the need to appoint an interim executive, for example, an idea no doubt borne out of frustration at the lack of progress? What progress does the Taoiseach believe can be made to encourage the British Government to provide the necessary evidence and co-operation in the Barron inquiry or the Pat Finucane inquiry? Is there potential for progress in the current period or must everything wait until after the election?
The Taoiseach: I agree with Deputy Sargent that we should not practice megaphone diplomacy. Neither my colleagues nor I have done so for several weeks on any side. I will be careful and make brief points. I do not want to say anything for that reason about the DUP or the UUP. I will stay out of it and people will make their own decisions on the arguments. They will certainly not be influenced by me nor will their voters.
I am always ready to have Forum for Peace and Reconciliation meetings if I think it is meaningful to hold them. The significant issue will have to be picked up and addressed on the other side of the elections in summer or, as most parties suggest, in September due to the marching season. We have never made much progress during the season in good not to mind bad years. I agree with the point which has been made that negotiation must take place on the Good Friday Agreement. I will say nothing which opens up the prospect that we will proceed on any other basis. I cannot do otherwise and wish people would stop asking me to reconsider during the campaign.
The Good Friday Agreement is the agreement we are trying to implement. While there was a great deal of controversy about some aspects of it, we accepted the review and went out of our way to be helpful to the parties to it, especially the DUP. We thought that was the right thing to do tactically. To set off on a process which is outside the Good Friday Agreement is something I will not do. I see no other way of moving on.
The logical conclusion of moving away from the agreement is intergovernmentalism, which is something parties in the North, especially in the Unionist tradition, very much oppose. If one moves away from the Good Friday Agreement, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, whoever they are, take over and adopt an intergovernmental approach. As such an approach has traditionally been opposed, we must work with the Good Friday Agreement and establish how we can make progress. While I do not mind the heat of the election, I object for the reasons outlined to very prescriptive manifestos which have the potential to make life very difficult. In the context of tomorrow’s publication of the DUP manifesto, I reiterate that the Irish Government cannot agree to and will not negotiate the exclusion of the d’Honte system. We will not entertain that proposal.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Taoiseach said he did not expect within the next day or so a definitive response from the IRA to the speech by the president of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams. Putting the most benign construction on the speech, will the Taoiseach indicate what constitutes a reasonable time to wait for a response? Does the Taoiseach agree that the issue is not whether Sinn Féin should break away from the IRA, as suggested by a number of commentators and posited in a newspaper poll which asked if the time had come to leave the IRA behind, but that we ought to ask if the time has come for the republican movement to disband it? It is a different question. If it is not asked, the work of the past ten years will not advance us as significantly as intended.
The Taoiseach gave a qualified welcome to the statement by Mr. Gerry Adams and I join him in that. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says decommissioning is no longer an issue but an embarrassment to the IRA which holds an arsenal of weapons for which there is no use. He said it is the strategic objective of the republican movement to maintain small arms and the wherewithal to enforce its wish in communities and raise funds. There are significant issues to address in this context. Presumably the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speaks with the benefit of intelligence. As Deputy Kenny said, most people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement thought these issues had been resolved. Is it not timely to resolve them now without equivocation, doubt or ambiguity about what has been decided?
The Taoiseach: I agree entirely with Deputy Rabbitte’s last point. I agree also that it would defeat our purposes if Sinn Féin were to move away from the IRA but the IRA were to continue to function. While the Sinn Féin leadership is trying to bring the IRA into a new mode which excludes paramilitarism, we contend that the related criminality should also be excluded. They do not agree, but the ending of criminality is what I view as the acid test. I do not necessarily agree with those who say the IRA must disband in a way which precludes its members from meeting for commemorative reasons. We have had that scenario before, but it is a different issue in terms of functions. It is what I understand the Sinn Féin leadership is endeavouring to do.
Deputy Rabbitte asked about a reasonable period to await a response. As the process, we are told, is a consultative one which must take place throughout the island and beyond, it will take a few months. I assume that is what we are talking about rather than a period of years. The comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must be viewed in the context of the information that as of last weekend there continues to be training, recruiting and, more worryingly though perhaps not directly related, a cross-over, to say the least, into criminal activities.
The criminal activity is carried out by people who have been involved in the IRA, but I will not get into an argument about whether they are still inside the net. It is not always easy to know who is in or who is out and I can understand that may also be the case for the republican movement. We have seen instances of the difficulty overnight. I do not have the full facts, but I am aware of a serious drug case overnight involving people with a past record of IRA involvement. These are the concerns of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with which we must deal.
The central point is that on the other side of the election we must manage, as always, the marching season. I appreciate the commitment of republicans and loyalists to get through the difficult summer season, which is always especially problematic when there is a vacuum. We must then attempt to move forward to implement fully the Good Friday Agreement, deal with outstanding issues and maintain agreement on the matters decided last December. I accept that there are difficult issues. I hope people do not add to the difficulty by getting themselves into positions from which it will be very hard to get out. If things are nailed down too tightly in manifestos and people say it is part of their mandate then we will be in a very difficult position. I hope people avoid doing that.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: One of the last items of legislation enacted by the Westminster Parliament before its dissolution was the Inquiries Act. Will the Taoiseach tell us if he has raised with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the absolute unacceptability of this Act to the Irish people? Did the Taoiseach receive any commitment whatsoever from Prime Minister Blair, regarding the scrapping or amending of this Act, which we all know would allow a British Minister to effectively gag an inquiry and is designed to prevent any real inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and others who were victims of collusion?
Is the Taoiseach aware of the Finucane family’s request to all senior British judges not to serve on any inquiry that is brought about under this totally unacceptable Act? Would the Taoiseach be prepared to echo the call of the Finucane family, given all the facts he must now know in regard to it?
I noted what the Taoiseach said in reply to an earlier question, that he would “stay out of that one”. He was referring to the tussle between the DUP and the UUP in the current elections. That is fair enough.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In conclusion, does the Taoiseach believe it is inappropriate for Ministers, senior representatives of his party, to involve themselves directly in those elections in the interests of one party? How does he believe that impacts on the opinion of his impartiality and objectivity in regard to engagement with other political parties now and in future, specifically Sinn Féin? Has there been a directive, either orally or in writing, to specific or all backbenchers of his party to make themselves available to assist the SDLP in the course of the election campaign that will come to a conclusion on 5 May?
The Taoiseach: I am not answerable for my party here, but I take the opportunity to say there is no directive. However, if people from my party, as they have traditionally done, want to spend their time——
The Taoiseach: ——working, as they have done for many years, they are entitled to do so. We are a democratic political party. Our members are also entitled to go canvassing with the Deputy if they wish.
The Taoiseach: On the issue of Pat Finucane, we have been dealing with all the points made by Deputy Ó Caoláin. We have taken up all the points he made. I met Geraldine Finucane and the Finucane family on two occasions recently which coincided with the 16th anniversary of the murder of Pat Finucane. It is well past time for a proper public inquiry to be held into this terrible case.
Our objective is to secure an independent public inquiry as set out at Weston Park. That view has also been represented by Judge Cory who shares the Finucane family’s concern about the British legislation. We have lobbied on that legislation. We got many changes but not changes that give us confidence. Tony Blair and others have argued about how they can make this work but they have not convinced us at this stage. We have exchanged correspondence with the British Government and the family. It is our view that the British Government should honour the commitment in a manner that has the confidence of Pat Finucane’s family. That is the issue. It has to do that.
The family has our full and continuous support in its tireless efforts over many years to get to the full truth in what is a disturbing case. Officials remain in close contact with the family and we will continue to help them and to give them our advice and support in whatever way we can.
Mr. Stagg: I am surprised my question was included in this lot. I refer the Taoiseach to an article in The Irish World of 11 March where he is reported as saying while he was opening the RTE Millbank offices in London, that he hoped the complex issues of providing RTE coverage for the Irish in Britain in particular could be resolved. During a recent visit there with colleagues it was the top issue, particularly among the first generation Irish community, and it was also identified in the task force report as one of the issues that needed to be tackled.
The sum of €8 million was provided although that report concluded that funding of €34 million per year would be required. Subsequently I contacted the director general of RTE, Cathal Goan, who advised me that the provision of the service was feasible, that it was both technically and legally possible and that the only outstanding issue was funding. The DTT system and the DSat system in the UK could be used for this purpose.
Will the Taoiseach consider giving the required €34 million, as outlined in the task force report? I welcome the €8 million that has been provided. It is a major step forward. Will he examine the issue to see if further funding can be provided for this area? If that is not possible will he examine the possibility of ring-fencing an increase in the licence fee to fund this purpose as a thank you to the 800,000 people who went abroad and sent home money to us when we needed it?
The Taoiseach: I raised the issue because there is a great desire from first, second and third generation Irish people who now take a very active interest in Irish political and cultural affairs. I hoped that within the resources of the licence fee which we tried to increase it could perhaps be done, but I understand there is pressure. We should try to find a way of progressing this.
What has happened in Northern Ireland recently has been very helpful. Many younger Irish people abroad have got used to watching programmes on the Internet but they would like to be able to do it in a more comprehensive way. It would be good for us. We should pursue it, given the fact that it is technologically feasible and that it does not sound astronomically costly to do so. I assure Deputy Stagg that I will follow it up.
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