Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Constitutional Reform.

Dick Spring

Question:

1 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the steps he has taken to comply with the objectives placed on the Government under Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

2 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he has any plans to initiate reform of the Constitution, especially in the light of repeated statements by representatives of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland, that they consider Articles 2 and 3 to be offensive and an obstacle to better relations between Northern Ireland and this State; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

I would refer Deputies to paragraph 5.7 of the report of the New Ireland Forum, which was endorsed by all the parties participating in it, who, of course, had full regard to the relevant parts of the Constitution. The paragraph states:

The particular structure of political unity which the Forum would wish to see established is a unitary state, achieved by agreement and consent, embracing the whole island of Ireland and providing irrevocable guarantees for the protection and preservation of both the Nationalist and Unionist identities".

As I have said before it is not possible, at Question Time, to attempt to set out any exhaustive set of steps towards achievement of the Forum objectives, except to say that such measures would in my view have to meet the requirements set out in Chapter 5 of the Forum report.

These requirements would, among others, include a total cessation of violence which can have no place in the building of the Ireland of the future that we all desire; constructive dialogue with Unionists in Northern Ireland; accommodation of the two traditions, their aspirations and their loyalties and an all-round constitutional conference to formulate new structures.

I have made it clear that I categorically reject any idea of achieving unity by force or imposing the jurisdiction of this State on the six counties of Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court judgment of last March confirmed that the enactment of laws for that area by the Oireachtas is expressly prohibited in Article 3. Nor can our Constitution ever be invoked by anyone to justify the use of force to achieve the purposes of Articles 2 and 3, because the means by which unity might be achieved are clearly set out in Article 29 which affirms Ireland's devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations and its adherence to the principle of the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

I have made clear on a number of occasions my conviction that new arrangements or structures which might be agreed for Ireland as a whole would clearly require an entirely new Constitution.

I am sure we all echo the remarks of the Taoiseach in relation to the non-use of force or violence in terms of any aspirations on this island. They are also glaringly obvious in relation to what is happening at the moment, which was referred to in the House earlier. Does the Taoiseach consider that the constitutional imperatives contained in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution — and referred to in the Supreme Court case he mentioned of last year — are compatible with the realities of life in Northern Ireland?

I am not clear on the implications of the question. My view of the Constitution is as I have set out and the important thing from that point of view is the part of my answer which says that the Supreme Court has confirmed that the enactment of laws for that area by the Oireachtas is expressly prohibited in Article 3 and that the use of force can never be justified by Articles 2 and 3 because the means by which unity might be achieved are clearly set out in Article 29. That is the important one from the point of view of these two questions. Article 29 affirms Ireland's devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations and its adherence to the principle of the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

I call Deputy De Rossa whose Question No. 2 refers to this matter.

Will the Taoiseach accept that, as outlined in my question, it has been expressed a number of times by spokespersons for Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland, that Articles 2 and 3 are offensive to them? They regard this claim on their territory as unjustified and it is not acceptable to them. In order to have a realistic relationship with the people of Northern Ireland it is necessary to address that concern and, therefore, it is not adequate to say that in the context of a united Ireland or an all-Ireland constitutional convention — or some such procedure — we will address their fears because, clearly, they do not want to be part of a united Ireland.

I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I must remind the House that there are many questions down for reply by the Taoiseach. The Chair is anxious to make progress and, therefore, appeals for brevity.

It is inadequate to say that we will address their fears when they agree to some form of a united Ireland.

The Deputy is purporting to interpret the position of the Unionists to me. I hope he agrees that it would be far better if the Unionists would talk to me and tell me what their views are.

Deputies Spring and De Rossa rose.

I call Deputy Spring and I also want to bring in Deputy Dukes.

Will the Taoiseach accept, given that he has not had an opportunity of meeting the Unionists, the position is as Deputy De Rossa set out? They have difficulties with Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and, therefore, will the Taoiseach agree that some alterations or additions to those Articles might be considered positive from the point of view of the Unionists? Will the Taoiseach outline to the House what practical steps he, and his Government, are taking to bring about the sort of aspects contained in Chapter 5 of the New Ireland Forum as outlined in his original reply?

The Deputy should also remember that Articles 2 and 3 are of great importance to the Nationalist community and they would not be very happy if anything was done with Articles 2 and 3 along the lines suggested. I would prefer to hear the arguments concerning the Unionists from the Unionists themselves so that I could discuss the matter with them; the other side of the coin is that the Nationalists have a very real and positive interest in Articles 2 and 3 which indicates that the sort of all round constitutional conference about which I am talking would be very helpful.

May I draw from the Taoiseach's reply to the two original questions that he holds to the position he set out in an interview some weeks ago in this connection, that in the context of looking for new constitutional arrangements "everything is on the table", to use the Taoiseach's phrase, including specifically Articles 2 and 3?

In the context of some new all-Ireland arrangement, yes, a new constitution if necessary.

A final question from Deputy De Rossa.

May I ask your indulgence and allow me to say by way of preamble that I am a bit tired of hearing the Taoiseach say that he would prefer to hear what I am saying from the Unionist representatives themselves.

A preamble is a luxury we cannot afford now.

As a public representative I am entitled to express concerns regarding Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. There are significant numbers of people in the Republic who are concerned about the impact of Articles 2 and 3, not only on Unionist opinion but on the way in which——

The Deputy is embarking on a speech. I call Question No. 3.