Northern Ireland Talks: Statements.

Deputies will be aware of the efforts made over a period of six months by the British Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, to achieve political progress in Northern Ireland.

The Irish Government have consistently supported the Secretary of State's initiative. We have been as helpful and as positive as possible. We have engaged in an intensive programme of discussions and at least eight meetings have been held at ministerial level with the British in recent months.

To a large extent there has been a common approach by the two Governments. The key element of this common approach was that there should be three sets of talks within the same timeframe: (1) internal between the political parties in the North of Ireland; (2) North-South between the political parties in the North and the Irish Government; and (3) East-West between the British and Irish Governments.

It was generally acceptable on all sides that the ultimate outcome of the exercise might well be some new agreement or arrangement which would transcend the existing Anglo-Irish Agreement. There was also a general acceptance that the three relationships, internal, North-South, East-West, would be the essential subject matter of the talks.

Various formulate governing the operaction of the Intergovernmental Conference and the Secretariat have been proposed and discussed. While substantial progress has been made on a number of important aspects — progress which we believe can be built on at an early date — a satisfactory basis which would avoid problems later and ensure success has not yet been fully established. Further consultations with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are necessary at this stage but we are confident that a satisfactory formula and basis for meaningful discussions can be found.

The Secretary of State has referred to the constitutional question even if only, to use his words, in the hope of putting it to one side. In the same spirit, I will confine myself to saying that my view on this matter does not correspond with that of the Secretary of State.

I have, through the courtesy of the Secretary of State, been able to secure for Deputies a copy of the relevant part of the Secretary of State's statement in the House of Commons today which I hope they have now in their hands.

I thank the Secretary of State through the Taoiseach, but it is unfortunate that I did not get a copy of the statement in sufficient time to make a detailed study of it. I want to respond briefly because I think we are all conscious of the sensitive timing now. In one sense the Secretary of State's speech today in the House of Commons is disappointing in as much as various Government leaks, not necessarily from this side, in the papers had led us to believe there would be a substantial statement from the Secretary of State announcing the commencement of talks that would lead to some form of agreement between the parties in the North, the Irish Government and the British Government about the future in the North of Ireland. Unfortunately, evidently he did not feel capable of making such a statement or thought it was not possible to do so at this stage. I regret that.

I hope the Secretary of State will continue in his commendable efforts. I have watched with some admiration his nimble-footedness in trying to get the parties in the North to come to agreement in the last number of months. It is not easy. Progress has been extremely slow. Every bit of the structure must be put in place before he can move on another inch. He has shown himself to be quite sure-footed in handling this.

I say to the Government that they have adopted in the last few months an attitude of encouraging the Secretary of State in what he is trying to do while holding firm to the Anglo-Irish Agreement which means so much to the Nationalists in Northern Ireland. If, over the summer, the prospect of talks and the work being done by the Secretary of State should continue, I recommend to the Government that they continue in that role as well, saying as little as possible, holding firm to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and giving the Secretary of State every opportunity available to him to bring together the people in the North so as to bring about what we all, whether in the House of Commons, the Dáil, the North or the South, Nationalists or Unionists want to see, that is, peace and reconciliation on this island.

I shall indeed be brief. First let me express my disappointment in relation to what the Taoiseach has had to say regarding the statement made in the House of Commons by Secretary of State, Peter Brooke. We have been led to believe for some months now that the Secretary of State would have been in a position to make a serious announcement to report progress on his efforts to get talks going in Northern Ireland. While I am disappointed at the failure to reach that stage, one has to admire the efforts being made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He started out from a very difficult position but it would appear that he has made, as he himself described it in his contribution in the House of Commons, modest progress. It is very difficult on this side of the House to assess the level of the progress or to quantify the progress that has been made because we have very little information available to us.

I listened to the Taoiseach and I noted at the end he confined his remarks to saying that his view and that of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland do not coincide. I trust that therein does not lie the problem of the conflict between the Government and the British Government. The Anglo-Irish Agreement has stood the test of time and it is important that it is not cast aside easily. I have had some worries over the last number of months hearing various sides in Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach saying they are quite prepared to replace the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I believe people are talking about totally opposite things and concepts when they talk about replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and that, "ne'er the twain shall meet." It is important in the context of these talks that the three-way relationship is kept to the forefront. Perhaps it is timely that the Provisional IRA stop the mayhem they are causing in Northern Ireland to allow these talks to take place in a better atmosphere. I concur with the statements made by the Minister for Justice last night in the Seanad in relation to calling on the Provisional IRA to stop the mayhem in Northern Ireland.

While we are disappointed, we can only hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will persist. It is very important that the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland are brought to a position where they can, by way of dialogue, sit around the table and work out between themselves a solution for the political affairs of Northern Ireland.

First, I thank the Taoiseach for circulating the copy of Mr. Brooke's statement. I received it only a short while ago and, having leafed through it, I think what he has said should be welcomed. Obviously we need to study it in more detail. It runs to something like ten pages and obviously the points he makes have been considered and are clearly aimed at giving an assurance to all those involved in the talks with him at this time that they have nothing in particular to fear. His statement goes some way towards clarifying the present position in regard to proposals for talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland. It is regrettable to some extent that he has not been in a position to report more progress, but we have to be satisfied with what progress is being made. For so long no progress at all has been reported. We should pay tribute to Mr. Brooke and admit that in a very difficult situation he has achieved far more than most people thought possible when he was first appointed to his position as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

However, it is clear that the Brooke initiative and the whole potential for political progress in Northern Ireland is now very delicately balanced and the maximum of goodwill and flexibility is required on all sides if the whole process is not to founder. There is a particular obligation on our own Government to show the maximum degree of political flexibility and not to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of dialogue between the parties in Northern Ireland. The essential prerequisite for progress in Northern Ireland is the opening of dialogue between the democratic political parties there, and there is unlikely to be significant progress on other matters such as cross-Border co-operation or British-Irish relations until this dialogue has started. While the Anglo-Irish Agreement recognises the interest of Government in political developments in Northern Ireland, I argue that there can be no justification for the Government of the Republic seeking to exercise a veto of any kind over progress towards a political settlement in the North. That the Dublin Government should become directly involved in the dialogue should not be considered to be a matter of such importance as to threaten the whole process.

This question should be deferred and considered later in the context of what progress has been made between the political parties within Northern Ireland. Any Government or party who adopt an intransigent attitude will bear a heavy responsibility. Should the fragile progress made so far be smashed, one risks condemning the people of Northern Ireland to many more years of violence and destruction with a consequent over-spill of violence and security costs in the Republic.

It is not a reflection on those who negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement to say that the accord has not brought the progress that it was hoped it would bring. Progress has been made in some areas, but in others the very existence of the agreement has contributed to the political impasse. Sectarianism remains entrenched, the murderous campaign of the Provisional IRA continues to take an appalling toll in Northern Ireland, in Britain and, indeed, on the Continent. Most important of all, the Anglo-Irish Agreement created a situation which made political dialogue in Northern Ireland virtually impossible. While we initially supported the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we never considered that it should be viewed as having been written on tablets of stone. If the Anglo-Irish Agreement is not delivering it must be replaced by a new arrangement that will assist in the peace process.

I conclude by welcoming to the House Deputy Currie from Northern Ireland. It is an important development that a former Northern Ireland politician is capable of sitting in this House and is happy to do so. It would be helpful to the parties in this House if the Taoiseach would take an opportunity at an early date to brief the Leaders of the parties in Opposition as to what precisely is being discussed between himself and the British Government.