Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an assurance that the mechanism for a review of additional areas of co-operation, as part of the St. Andrews Agreement, will be undertaken; if so, when; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6852/11]
At the outset I wish to say my deepest sympathies, and I am sure the sympathies of the entire House, go to the mother and family of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr who was callously murdered last Saturday. I, along with all the political leaders on these islands, totally condemn this act which runs completely contrary to the expressed will of the people. We will do our utmost to ensure the continuing success of the peace process and will give every support to the Garda Síochána to continue to work closely with the PSNI to tackle this threat. I will make a statement to the House on the matter later today.
With regard to the questions posed, the Government is firmly committed to infrastructure projects which will be of benefit to the island of Ireland. Infrastructure projects which have been particularly successful include Project Kelvin, the Dublin-Belfast Road and the significant level of co-operation under way to promote innovation to underpin economic growth and create employment, including increased co-operation in securing research funding under the EU Seventh Framework Programme, FP7.
We are also very supportive of all-island co-operation in the energy area. The single electricity market has been operating effectively for over three years and work is under way on a second North-South electricity interconnector. Following the acquisition of Northern Ireland Electricity by the ESB, the energy markets in both jurisdictions are more closely linked than ever. Work on the common arrangements for gas is progressing as are joint actions in the area of renewable energy.
The Government is also supportive of the A5, North West Gateway to Aughnacloy, and A8, Belfast to Larne, road projects. The completion of these roads will make a major contribution to the economy of the North and the north west and will have benefits for the whole of the island. As I said to the Northern First and Deputy First Ministers when I last met them during my recent visit to Washington, I am open to looking at more cost effective ways of delivering this project to a high quality.
There were suggestions recently that this Government lacked commitment to the development of a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, wrote immediately in response to Michael McGimpsey confirming our commitment to the development of a satellite radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital. It is the strong view of the Government that this provides the optimum solution to the provision of patient centred services in the Donegal area.
Let me assure the House that the Government and its Ministers with direct responsibility for the North-South bodies will continue to support fully the agencies involved and will engage constructively with their Northern ministerial counterparts to enhance and develop North-South co-operation.
The Government is fully committed to the implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. As the House is aware, under the St. Andrews Agreement, it was agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government, under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, would appoint a review group to examine objectively, first, the efficiency and value for money of existing implementation bodies and, second, the case for additional bodies and areas of co-operation within the NSMC where mutual benefit would be derived.
I understand the consultation with relevant Ministers in both jurisdictions on all aspects of the St. Andrews Agreement review is now nearing completion and that the St. Andrews review group will prepare a report for consideration by the North-South Ministerial Council at its next plenary session which will take place in June. It is hoped the process will be brought to a conclusion at that stage.
I also hope to see progress on the establishment of the North-South Consultative Forum. Proposals have been made to the Northern Ireland Executive on the role, format, membership and operation of the forum but no response to these has yet been received.
The establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum is another outstanding commitment under the St. Andrews Agreement that I would like to see progressed. Having attended the North-South parliamentary forum in Newcastle last October, I can see there is great potential for parliamentarians North and South to work together on issues of mutual interest. While the establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum is a matter for agreement between the Oireachtas and the Assembly, I hope we will see progress on this after the Assembly elections in May and I have written to the Ceann Comhairle to this effect.
On the issue of 50-50 recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State underlining the view of the Government that the transformation of policing is a central pillar of all that has to be achieved in the peace process. It has also been indicated to the Secretary of State that if for any reason there is any slippage or failure to make steady progress towards a fully representative force, corrective measures would have to be taken, including consideration of the re-introduction of 50-50 type provisions. We will continue to raise this with the British Government as opportunities arise.
I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron yesterday following the killing of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr. I expect to travel to London in the relatively near future to meet with him following his invitation when I expect that, among other matters, we will discuss the general situation in Northern Ireland, including the economic challenges faced on all parts of this island.
Both Governments are aware of the need for economic growth as a stabilising factor in the peace process. I know the Secretary of State has recently launched a consultation paper on the Northern economy entitled “Rebalancing the Northern Ireland Economy” which sets out the major challenges facing the Northern economy. It is in all our interests to have a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland with benefits for the whole island as a consequence.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I join the Taoiseach in condemning the evil and cowardly murder of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr at the weekend. This was a shocking attack on the peace process and it is a human tragedy of immense proportions for the Kerr family. Our sympathies go out to the family, friends and neighbours of Ronan Kerr. Later today we will have an opportunity to articulate more fully our abhorrence at this horrific attack by a cowardly gang of terrorists whose sole objective is not just to visit terror upon the population of Northern Ireland but to undermine the transformation that has occurred as a result of the peace process.
Nowhere have the changes that have occurred in Northern Ireland been more evident than in the transformation of policing in that jurisdiction. All parties to the British-Irish Agreement deserve credit for that transformation, which is seen as being the way to proceed in resolving other conflicts across the globe. It is the foremost example one can suggest to people as a model to be followed in the context of conflict resolution. What occurred at the weekend was an extremely ruthless, strategic attack on the transformation to which I refer. We did not realise when we tabled these questions to the Taoiseach that such a murderous attack would take place in the interim. This attack underlines the need for vigilance in respect of the peace process. There is a need to pay constant attention to the detail of the Agreement and to moving it forward, particularly in the context of its economic and social aspects.
I tabled two of the questions in this group, the first of which relates to cross-Border infrastructure and the second to the North-South bodies. I have no difficulty with the two being taken together. I welcome the assurances provided by the Taoiseach in respect of the ongoing investment in infrastructure in Border areas. The programme for Government was somewhat light in the context of commitment in this regard. However, the Taoiseach has articulated that he is committed to the development projects relating to the A5 and A8 roads. The previous Government agreed to the allocation of between €400 million and €500 million to fund critical infrastructure for the economic and social development of the island, particularly its northern part. In the context of bringing significant inward investment to the Border area and the North in general, there is need for significant investment in the areas of utilities and infrastructure.
I ask the Taoiseach to pay particular heed to the north-west spatial study, which has been in existence for some time and in respect of which some political issues have arisen. This study is critical to unleashing the potential of the north-west corner of this island — including areas such as Donegal, Derry and elsewhere — in the context of attracting inward investment. In that regard, the relevant utilities must be upgraded. There is a good corporate tax policy in place on this side of the Border and there is a good pool of labour available on the other. If both Governments and the Executive got their act together and dealt with some of the issues that are delaying the study considerable potential could be unleashed. I ask the Government to pursue that. I also welcome the Taoiseach’s confirmation of continued funding for all the areas of cross-Border infrastructure agreed by the outgoing Government.
With regard to North-South bodies, there will, shortly, be key visits by Queen Elizabeth and President Obama. Has the Taoiseach considered approaching bodies such as Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland to see if there are ways to highlight and use the potential of those visits to promote Ireland as a tourism and inward investment destination, particularly in Border areas and Northern Ireland itself? This is a welcome opportunity to promote Ireland through the North-South bodies. Now that the review is nearing completion, in the aftermath of the Assembly elections we should move on and be bolder by adding to the existing number of North-South bodies. There have been political issues regarding them for some time. People are becoming more comfortable with them as time passes. It is important to urge others to take a more pragmatic approach to the operation of the North-South bodies and to the creation of new bodies that could add real value to the island of Ireland in the future.
The Taoiseach: I assume there is no disagreement in the House regarding the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr. I regard this as an act of cowardice that does nothing for anybody on this island. Yesterday, I spoke to Constable Kerr’s mother, Nuala. I admire her quiet courage and forthrightness in speaking out. I admire those, from all sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland, who have spoken out and acted in the interest of peace and harmony between all communities on this island. I intend to travel to the funeral of Constable Kerr tomorrow, with a number of other Members of the House, as a statement of solidarity with the Kerr family and that the Oireachtas and the vast majority of people on this island abhor what happened. The person who placed the bomb in the footwell of Constable Kerr’s vehicle may, in their own warped version, be someone of stature. That version is false, wrong and utterly removed from the future of the peoples of this island. Our attendance will condemn their action without question or hesitation.
I also admire the fortitude of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The chairman of the Ulster Council of the GAA issued a statement of direct and forthright condemnation. His statement was a lesson that an attack on a member of the association is an attack on the entire membership, which reaches into every town, city and parish in the country. Contact has been made with many GAA clubs in Northern Ireland in this regard. The House will have an opportunity to make statements on the murder of Constable Kerr when the Order of Business concludes.
The other matter raised by Deputy Martin is important in the context of the economy of the island of Ireland. I know from my experience as Minister for Tourism and Trade that the opportunities presented by the forthcoming visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama are immense. There are issues that have yet to be decided in the context of the visits. However, they should be seen as an investment for the future from a tourism and business perspective. I expect that the welcome accorded to both international visitors by the people of Ireland will be historic in significance and that they will be made feel welcome when they come to our shores.
The Deputy referred, not today but last week, to the International Fund for Ireland, which is an important consideration in respect of vulnerable communities on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. It is hoped this matter will be addressed by the US through its appropriations committee. It is an important element of leverage for further funding.
I look forward to working with the newly elected Members of the Assembly, following the casting of votes by the people of Northern Ireland in early May. We also look forward to following through on our work, through the Ceann Comhairle and new Speaker of the Assembly, in respect of the North-South parliamentary forum. It is hoped that the meeting of the North-South Ministers, which will take place early in the summer, will conclude the process outlined here. I agree that the Government and Assembly should work together on addressing issues relating to the island of Ireland and its economy. I am committed to working in harmony and co-operation with our colleagues in Northern Ireland in respect of all of these matters.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Aontaíonn Sinn Féin le achan focal a dúirt an Taoiseach faoi dhúnmharú Ronan Kerr. Bhíomar leis an teaghlach ag an áit deacair agus brónach ina saol. Bhí mé sa Tuaisceart Dé Domhnaigh agus inné ag obair le Martin McGuinness agus daoine eile sa Tionól. Táimid ag déanamh ár ndícheall chun a rá go soiléir nach nglacann pobal nó muintir na hÉireann leis an dúnmharú seo.
I agree with every word the Taoiseach said in regard to the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr. I was in the North on Sunday and Monday and, in concert with the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and others in the Executive, spelled out clearly our views in regard to that dreadful action.
When I asked the Taoiseach two weeks ago to urgently raise with the British Government its unilateral decision to do away with the 50:50 — 50% Catholic and 50% Protestant — recruitment policy in respect of the PSNI, I did not contemplate the murder of this young man, whom I did not know but whose father and grandfather come from Andersonstown in West Belfast. His grandfather still lives there. Although I did not know Constable Kerr, I presume he joined the PSNI because of the changes, brought about collectively by us, in that service. A 50:50 recruitment policy is crucial. The British Government took a decision and did away with that policy although it had no right to do so. The Irish Government is an equal partner to the Good Friday Agreement. The Patten report is an essential part of that agreement.
It is not clear from the Taoiseach’s reply whether he made representations in this regard immediately after my having raised the matter with him in the House. If he did, the British Government ignored him. I do not say that to make any point other than that the current British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has taken a number of solo runs with this international agreement and other agreements. It is difficult for any Irish republican to have confidence in a British Secretary of State. I acknowledge that we, like the Irish Government, have developed working relationships with a series of Secretaries of State. However, I have no confidence whatsoever in the current British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Owen Paterson.
The young man concerned joined the police service to, according to his mother, be part of the quest for equality for all. Mrs. Kerr also spoke of a neutral police service being necessary for our country. I beseech the Taoiseach — it is as important as that — to take up all of these matters with the British on an ongoing basis.
I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to indulge me for a moment. I know Deputies will have an opportunity to discuss the murder of Ronan Kerr later. In dealing with those outworkings of the St. Andrews Agreement which have not been implemented and other issues — in this respect I welcome the commitment from the Government on cross-Border infrastructural and regeneration projects and, like the Taoiseach, I am lobbying on the International Fund for Ireland — it is inappropriate to lump together the three or four serious issues involved.
We will go toe to toe with the so-called dissidents. However, it does not help the case we are trying to make if the British Government is reneging on outstanding parts of the Agreement or breaking essential parts of it. I ask the Taoiseach, as a matter of grave urgency, to place this issue on the British Prime Minister’s agenda and, with our friends in the USA and elsewhere, ensure that the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements are implemented as they should be implemented.
The Taoiseach: Níl aon easaontas eadrainn faoi seo. Mar adúirt mé, aontaím go mór leis na Teachtaí a cháin dúnmharú Ronan Kerr. Bhí mé ag caint le Máirtín McGuinness agus leis an gCéad Aire, Peter Robinson, inné agus labhair mé le Príomh Aire Cameron freisin. Phléamar an cheist faoi ionadaíocht 50-50 an tseachtain seo caite. In parallel with that, the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote to the Secretary of State indicating the Government’s concern about this matter. The Secretary of State has, therefore, been made aware of the issue. I will also raise it with the British Prime Minister when we make arrangements for our meeting which I assume will take place at a reasonably early date. It is a matter of considerable importance.
While I do not know the answer to the question, it may well be that the person or persons who crept up on Mr. Kerr’s car and placed a bomb under its foot well are Catholics. If the attack was in the realm of dissident republicanism, it is not to anyone’s benefit to take away the life of an innocent young man who is merely doing his job and duty as part of a process that the vast majority of people on this island voted for and want to see implemented in order that they can live their lives in peace and harmony and get on with raising their families. While I cannot speak with the strength and power of Mrs. Kerr when she stated that her son’s murder should not deter young Catholics from wanting to join the PSNI and participate in and contribute to the well-being and livelihood of the people of Northern Ireland, I support her 100%.
I give a commitment to follow through on the letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State and I will raise the matter with Prime Minister Cameron when I see him. We will also apprise interested colleagues in the United States of all these matters.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The previous Government will have communicated to the British Government at the relevant time its opposition to the ending of the 50-50 recruitment rule. Irrespective of whether it is within the parameters laid down, the decision to end the 50-50 policy is premature. The success of the Patten commission has been well documented in terms of the transformation of the police force.
Perhaps we should remove from our vocabulary, as I have already done, all references to “dissident republicans”. Dissident is an honourable word that was used during the Cold War to describe people who, in conscience, went against autocracy and dictatorships.
The term “dissident” has no place in the context of describing the people who committed that evil act this week and, indeed, other evil acts in the past two or three years. That part of our vocabulary should simply disappear because it seeks to give some degree of legitimacy to what these people are doing. I know that no Member of this House would attempt to do so in any shape or form. In my view it is a cowardly, criminal gang who did this. I am fully conscious of the use of language in the context of the island and the past conflict in the North, but it is time to move on now as regards how we describe these acts of terror. The latest such act has had an appalling impact on a young life and the lives of his family members. There is no room left for using language that is in any way equivocal.
The Taoiseach correctly raised the matter of the International Fund for Ireland. It is interesting that the initiative to keep that fund going came from the Irish Government, and myself as Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time. There needs to be a genuine and substantive cross-party approach by parties in the North with the British and Irish Governments in dealing with communities that are hard to reach on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. Insufficient attention has been paid to investment or economic and social development in those communities. The matter is nonetheless urgent because it is a fundamental potential threat to the long-term success of the peace process. There have been plenty of political dividends from that process, including a radical change in politics. However, for many people in working class communities there remain frightening issues such as unemployment, a high school drop-out rate and poor health indices. The scale of statistics reflect such problems in those communities. I would fault the lack of a comprehensive approach from the Northern Ireland Executive and others concerned. That is why the retention of IFI funding is so important.
We also need to work with the European Union which has provided such funding in the past. The Taoiseach should see that his officials and those of the Department of Foreign Affairs are in discussion with the European Commission to ensure that EU funding is retained, as well as the American funding. Whatever other additional supports the Irish and British Governments can give are also needed to ensure that meaningful progress is made in dealing with young people in hard to reach communities. We all remember some of the commentary from some young people following the atrocities at Massereene Barracks in 2009. They were hardly four or five years old at the time of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It was difficult to comprehend some of the opinions that were articulated at that time, which were a cause of concern for many of us who witnessed those attacks. That centrally important issue therefore deserves to be brought to the top of the political agenda on this island, otherwise the sustainability of the peace process will be in difficulty in the medium term.
The Taoiseach: There can be no doubt but that, after many years of difficulty, trial, tribulation and hardship, having arrived at a position where a peace process is in situ and being implemented, there is always the danger that vulnerable communities will regress. Young people can tend to drift backwards because of unemployment, depression, alcoholism or suicide. That is why the IFI and EU funding, as well as funding from both Governments is absolutely critical for the development of such communities, as well as demonstrating to young people that there is a better way. The cause of peace can lead on to a better life for everyone concerned. That is why it is so important that those who work in such communities, on both sides, can demonstrate the effective value of that kind of expenditure in the interests of young people’s livelihoods. I have met quite a number of them and I have been impressed by the range and scale of work in which they are involved. I also appreciate the difficulty they have in constantly reaching out for new ways to attract young people to honour the peace code. That is why there is no disagreement that the IFI fund is critical, as is the funding from Europe.
I am sure everyone here hopes, as I do, that what happened to Ronan Kerr can be viewed not as the beginning of something but as the end of it. We would all like to think this can never happen again. For what it is worth, it is important that this House expresses its utter condemnation of what happened, as it is also important for people to be able to express that condemnation by attendance at the funeral of young Ronan Kerr. As I said, I admire the courage and quiet strength of his mother, having lost her son yet speaking out for so many others of a young generation, and a generation to come, of the kind of Northern Ireland she would like to see.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Tá a fhios agam go mbeidh seans againn an dúnmharú seo a phlé agus díospóireacht a bheith againn níos moille. Tá a lán oibre le déanamh againn anois. One of the things we have to make very clear is that the Irish Government is in the driving seat of the peace process. It is the Government’s project because it is the popular project, the citizen’s project, and the Government must take the leadership role. So many little things can be done which would also help the people in this part of the island, even in terms of economic deprivation. It does not make sense that in a small island, with a small land mass and a small population, we should have two competing economies.
I commend, for example, the projects to which the Government has committed, such as the N2-A5 and the A8 infrastructural projects. This will help to generate employment and, as is possible under the Good Friday Agreement, to ensure local labour clauses and apprenticeships to help people in the communities through which, North and South, those big projects are being developed. The Taoiseach might update us on other flagship projects such as the Ulster Canal — at least, it was described as a flagship project at the time it was launched. The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the North recently pulled out of the Altnagelvin radiological unit for the north west. I welcome the commitment of the Minister for Health and Children, who, in an answer to Deputy Ó Caoláin, stated the Government remained committed to that project, which is another that helps everybody in the north west.
I understand many issues are pressing down on us all at present. However, given these outstanding elements of the St. Andrew’s Agreement and the fact that the mechanisms are not in place, the Government should indicate, and be pleased to do so, the areas of co-operation and harmonisation it wants to see developed. On all of these cross-Border economic, social, health, environmental, energy and agricultural issues, there is no resistance from Unionism. I travelled to Belfast from this Chamber last week and met working class loyalists in the middle of a working class loyalist neighbourhood to talk about social and economic issues. They understand this Government and this island with regard to those issues. While they may not have moved away from their commitment to the Union, they have moved on these issues. This is why we need to move beyond condemnation to the real politics of peace making.
To conclude, there is a democratic and peaceful way to bring about Irish unity. It is there as part of an international agreement, the British Government has signed up to it, all of the parties in the Assembly in the North have signed up to it, and we need to make it a reality. In a very clear way, with the Government in the driving seat, we need to spell out all of that.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I add my voice and that of People Before Profit and the United Left Alliance in offering our condolences to the family of Ronan Kerr following this terrible tragedy. We join other speakers and parties in condemning absolutely this despicable act. There is simply no justification whatsoever for this kind of atrocity. As Deputy Martin said, these are not dissidents fulfilling some sort of authentic republican strategy. It is an utterly brutal, barbaric action that leads nowhere except back down a road which has failed in the past and which we do not want to go down again.
However, it is important to look at the deeper politics, as Deputy Adams said, to allow us to address this problem and the danger of things moving back in that direction. We all must acknowledge that there has been a worrying growth, albeit among a minority in the North, in the organisations associated with this kind of activity. We have to ask ourselves why that is happening and what we can do about it. The peace dividend was much talked about at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. Many people placed their hopes in the Agreement that there would be a dividend in terms of prosperity, improved quality of life, better living conditions — all that people hoped would come with it, not just peace but a social and economic dividend. Does the Taoiseach agree this has not been delivered and that, in such a situation, there is always a danger of alienated young people moving towards twisted, warped or misguided ideas which they think can somehow address it? We must look seriously at that. In that context, the economic austerity being imposed in the North as well as here and across the world, in the interests of protecting bankers and bondholders across Europe, is part of the problem and will fuel it. We have to resist an austerity which leads to that sort of alienation and which fails to deliver on the social and economic aspirations of ordinary people. We must also ask whether, despite best intentions, the political structures that were set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, which sought to bring about a political dispensation that could end conflict, may perhaps at some level have institutionalised communal identity in the political structure of Northern Ireland. The Agreement has corralled people into community identities instead of developing a politics that breaks us out of communal identity and where we begin to talk about the social and economic issues that unite people rather than the communal identities which divide them. That is something we must address in a serious way.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Adams raised several issues. In respect of the economy of Northern Ireland and of the island as a whole, when I was on that side of the House my party set up a cross-Border forum dealing with issues that impact on people North and South. Deputy McHugh, who is from Donegal, chaired a number of useful sessions concerned with identifying issues in the agri-economy, tourism economy, business sector, health sector, education sector and so on. At one of those sessions we had speakers from the UUP and the SDLP. With Sinn Féin and the DUP in government together in the Assembly, we did not want to tread on people’s protocols in so far as that is concerned.
A number of issues were identified which clearly, from any political point of view, would be of interest and benefit to the infrastructure and the economies North and South. The Deputy mentioned some which have been under discussion for a long time. Were we not obliged to pay €3 billion to Anglo Irish Bank for the next ten years, it would be great to be able to tell the Deputy that the Government could now deal with the Ulster Canal or a number of other issues. Unfortunately, that is not the way it is at present. Consequently, from that perspective the Government will continue to commit itself to working diligently in the interests of the development of the economies North and South and, in consequence, of the entire island.
As for what Deputy Boyd Barrett can do, the United Left Alliance can vociferously and strongly voice its opinions that when they take away life like this, those who perpetrated this cowardly act have no place in a democratic island. While we all can have political differences and can argue on the politics of one’s beliefs, to deliberately attempt to take away innocent lives is not part of the Irishness espoused by the Deputy or by me and I condemn it out of hand from that point of view. I agree with the Deputy on the twisted mentality of people who may think they are doing something for some warped belief that has been and will be rejected by every right-thinking person in this country. All Members should stand 100% behind Mrs. Kerr as the mother of a young man who chose his career to play his part in the development of his community and country. His life should not have been ended by someone who crept up in the dark to deliberately plant an explosive device under his car, thereby ending his career of contributing to his community.
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