Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has scheduled an early meeting with the newly elected First Minister and deputy First Minister in the Six Counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11453/11]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has had any contact with the newly elected First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland; the level of contact he has had to date; and when he will next meet them. [13621/11]
I met the First Minister, Peter Robinson, MLA, and his deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, MLA, in my first full week in office when I visited Washington for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I also met them at the funeral of Police Constable Ronan Kerr in April. I met them again at the event in College Green to welcome US President Barack Obama last week. I have also met other political leaders from Northern Ireland and I anticipate further such meetings as required.
I also spoke on the telephone with the First and deputy First Ministers to congratulate them on their electoral success in the recent elections in the North. During that conversation I told them that I looked forward to meeting them, along with the newly appointed Executive, at the next plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council which will take place on 10 June here in the South. At that meeting I expect that we will discuss the economic situation and review progress across the full range of areas of North-South co-operation.
I have not made any changes to the Northern Ireland division in my Department which continues to play an important role in co-ordinating matters relating to North-South co-operation across a range of Departments.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Cuirim fáilte roimh an chruinniú atá socraithe idir an Taoiseach agus Airí an Tuaiscirt. Sílim gur cruinniú maith a bheidh ann. It is very important when dealing with social and economic issues that we do not confine ourselves to this State — an island as small as this, with a land mass as tiny as this and with a population of fewer than 6 million people. There are many steps that could be taken to ease economic distress. The very good decision by the Executive’s Minister of Health to press ahead with the cancer unit at Altnagelvin hospital is a case in point.
Will the Taoiseach ensure that Ministers proactively examine ways of strengthening the connections between the Government and the Executive and of strengthening the Good Friday Agreement, which is a hugely important and significant agreement? The Taoiseach said he has not changed the set-up for dealing with the North. I made a suggestion to him about appointing a Minister of State without pay to deal with the North. Will he reconsider that?
Deputy Micheál Martin: Does the Taoiseach agree there has been a surprising lack of engagement by Ministers with their counterparts in the North in the three months since the appointment of the Government? One cannot present informal and brief meetings as substantive engagements. It is accepted that to ensure we cement the advances of recent years it is important there be regular, formal substantive meetings, as well as informal meetings, between Ministers.
There has been a failure to consult in regard to the decision to close down the Smithwick tribunal. I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality is bringing forward measures in this regard. The Unionist parties have already expressed their disquiet at the failure to consult them on the closing down of the tribunal. Will the Taoiseach suspend any measures until the North-South Ministerial Council has had an opportunity to discuss them at its upcoming meeting? It is a very sensitive issue in terms of perceptions and it is important that it is handled sensitively and appropriately given the seriousness of the issues that are covered by the tribunal. It is important that regular contact occurs to avoid any misconceptions arising.
The Taoiseach: In respect of Deputy Adams’s questions, the best way of being proactive in regard to Northern Ireland issues and in so far as North-South issues are concerned is through the North-South Ministerial Council and by regular contact between Ministers. I agree this should happen on a regular basis. The reason we have not had a great number of contacts is that we had the run-in to the Assembly elections. We did not want to give a wrong perception of our Ministers meeting with representatives of one party more often than those of another. I have already made that clear both to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
The meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will take place on 10 June. We expect a full agenda for that and Ministers will clear their diaries for it. We will follow that with a regular series of meetings. As the Deputy is well aware because he was involved in it himself, the fact that relationships have normalised to a great extent means there is not the same requirement for regular high-level emergency meetings as was the case in the past and as supported by my party in opposition.
In regard to the Smithwick inquiry, this is a sensitive matter which is being handled from this jurisdiction. I accept it is a matter of sensitivity and concern. I wish to make it clear to the House that there is no intention of any interference in any way in the inquiry in respect of the work it has to do. I remind the House that the original motion which set up the inquiry included a specific recommendation that within ten days of the commencement of public hearings that an interim report would be provided. What the Minister for Justice and Equality has requested is to give effect to the terms of the motions setting up the inquiry. If for some reason the inquiry is unable to conclude its business in the time requested by Government, we will consider that. As a general principle, we would like to see tribunals conclude their business. The motion setting up the Smithwick inquiry referred to producing an interim report within ten days of public hearings commencing. Public hearings commence next month.
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