Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Bodenstown (Kildare) Speech.

Dick Spring


4 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will elaborate on his recent speech in Bodenstown, County Kildare, in so far as it is related to the possibility of an all-Ireland referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Proinsias De Rossa


5 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if, in regard to his speech at Bodenstown, County Kildare on 18 October 1992 in which he said that he would be prepared to place the terms of any agreement between the two Governments and the Northern Ireland parties before the people in a referendum, he anticipates that changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution will form part of any such referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dick Spring


6 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will elaborate on the text of a speech given in the course of Strand Two of the Northern talks about Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which was published in Irish newspapers on 19 September, 1992; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

In the course of my speech at the Annual Fianna Fáil Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown on 18 October 1992, I said the following:

I would like to give an undertaking that any agreement that is reached between the two Governments and the political parties in the North of Ireland could be put in a referendum to the people both North and South at the same time. In that way all the people of this island would be given the opportunity to pronounce simultaneously, for the first time since 1918, on the form that future relationships might take on this island. Such a mandate would provide a conclusive endorsement of the peaceful democratic approach so earnestly desired and supported by the vast majority of the Irish people.

In relation to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, I clearly stated the Government's position in reply to Parliamentary Questions on 7 October 1992. Any question of a referendum affecting the Articles would arise only in the context of a comprehensive agreement which achieved, in particular, a satisfactory balance between the positions of the Irish and British Governments and of the Nationalist and Unionist traditions in Ireland on the central constitutional issue.

But if such an agreement were reached and if constitutional sanction were conferred on it by a positive vote of the people in a referendum it is quite possible that the position in regard to the matters dealt with in Articles 2 and 3 could be affected by the agreement reached and any related constitutional amendment.

I also said in the course of my Bodenstown speech that:

a balance must be restored between the recognition of existing constitutional realities and the acknowledgement of the value of a future that we believe would be best for all the people of Ireland. That future is desired by some, and recognised by many more as likely to happen eventually. Taking a positive view of Irish unity and encouraging it as a long term solution is in no way incompatible with accepting the necessary principle of agreement and consent and does not conflict with any obligation that either Government have undertaken.

Having regard to the agreement by all of the parties to the talks process that the discussions should be treated confidentially, I do not propose to comment on media reports regarding matters discussed.

While I can understand the Taoiseach's reticence to comment on matters discussed perhaps he would elaborate on the undertaking that there may be a Referendum in both parts of this island? Can the Taoiseach inform the House if he is confident that the talks which are taking place will be concluded successfully and can he give an outline as to when they might be concluded?

I am not prepared to speculate or to try to forecast when the talks which are continuing will be finalised. All I can say, without any breach of confidentiality, is that they are making progress. There are very complex issues involved. There is a question of balance between the identification and recognition of the two traditions. I am sure the Deputy will agree that those are complex items and will take time to tease out and much goodwill will be required on both sides at the negotiating table. I am not putting a deadline on them. I do not want to rush them. I want to give them every opportunity because I think a real opportunity does exist and, personally, I feel there has been some shift in the political landscape in the North of Ireland. I hope the talks can continue and reflect that charge and that we can go on to build structures that will evolve for the betterment of all the people of this island on both sides of the political divide.

In view of the Taoiseach's comment that there is a need for institutional structures and powers with regard to the relations between North and South, have the Government made any formal submissions to the talks in relation to such institutions and powers? Has he any comment to make on the rather aggressive statement by Mr. Seamus Mallon at the weekend that there would be a necessity for the Irish Government to have executive powers in Northern Ireland? What is his view in relation to the question of structures and powers?

First of all, I should say to Deputy De Rossa I do not propose to comment on anything that Mr. Seamus Mallon or anybody else has said. I have also said there is a confidentiality aspect to those talks. The Deputy can take it that we have submitted papers on various aspects of how things might evolve in future. I will not break the confidentiality of the talks from one side or the other. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is in place and will continue in place until such time as there is a better agreement which will advance the situation or build on the present agreement. That agreement provides that we have consultation on matters which need to be raised from time to time between the Irish and British Governments. The next conference meeting will be held on 16 November.

The Taoiseach said his perception was that there has been a shift in the political landscape of Northern Ireland. Will he elaborate on what he means by that? Does he accept that a political shift in the landscape of Northern Ireland also necessitates a shift in the political landscape in the South and, in particular, by the Fianna Fáil Party, if there is to be peace and reconciliation on this island?

With regard to my perceived view that there is a shift in the political landscape of Northern Ireland, I believe ordinary people on both side of the community there are sick, tired and fed up of the violence they have had to endure over the past 23 years. There is a yearning to find a new way out of the problems and to find the path to peace. I have often used that phrase in this House — I used it on my first day as Taoiseach — and I am fully committed to doing this.

I know many people in Northern Ireland; I have many friends there. I listen to what the people on both sides have to say. As recently as last Saturday at the international rugby match at Landsdowne Road I listened to the views expressed to me. People of all shades of opinion are yearning for a solution to this problem. They want these talks to continue until such time as there is some movement forward. None of us expect miracles, but we want to see movement forward which can lead to something else. That is the way I view this matter. There is a willingness by people on both sides of the Border to come together in a spirit of economic and cultural co-operation and to look at projects which will benefit both sides. Some projects have already been put in place and, hopefully, more will be put in place. That is the backdrop to the current talks. I believe a genuine feeling of good-will exists. The Government negotiators, who are acting on behalf of the Irish Government and people, are as open minded and constructive as anyone could expect them to be. We all know exactly where we are coming from and where we are trying to get to.

The Taoiseach said earlier that the Government could envisage putting a settlement to the people here in a referendum. Would he go so far as to say that he would be prepared, if there is an acceptable settlement, to recommend such changes in our Constitution to our people as might be necessary to give effect to such an acceptable settlement?

We have not yet arrived at a stage in the negotiations where an evaluation or assessment could be made which would enable me to answer that question directly. As I clearly said in my statement, we and most of the other people are going along in good faith and we will continue to do so, but it would be foolhardy to express a view at this stage as to whether the type of agreement we would all wish to see will result from the talks. It would be better to let the talks continue in their present manner. I have given my views as have the political leaders in the North of Ireland. We all recognise that there are constitutional issues on both sides which need to be approached in an evenhanded manner. That is and will continue to be my position.

Would the Taoiseach agree that the achievement of traditional unity as commonly understood by Nationalists is not an achieveable objective in these talks and that what should be sought is a peaceful co-existence and the structures to enable that peaceful co-existence to take place? In that regard, will he indicate whether he has made submissions on the structures and powers on which such a peaceful co-existence could be based? We know that the other parties to the talks have made such submissions——

Brief questions, please.

——and I am trying to ascertain whether the Irish Government have made any such submissions. Will the Taoiseach explain how a referendum could be held, particularly if constitutional matters are not at issue? What procedure does he foresee to enable a referendum to take place? As I understand it, there is no such procedure except in relation to Bills which come before this House.

I made it abundantly clear that at various stages throughout these talks the Government produced papers, depending on the subject on the table at any given time. The Deputy can take it that we have done this. I respect the confidentiality of these talks. Some people chose from time to time to comment on the talks but I do not think comments made in public contribute to the efforts to try to arrive at a position where the balance of identity to which I referred can be achieved. We want to build up mutual trust and reconciliation between the people and to demonstrate our willingness to come together and develop structures which we believe can be evolved for the betterment of all the people up there.

As the House knows, the Single Market will come into effect on 1 January 1993. The economic borders will be gone but we will still be talking about an invisible political border which still exists in people's minds. That is the issue we have to address. Ireland will be the only place in the Community which will have a border. However, I do not think any of us should be emotional about this issue. We are trying to find a new way forward not only for people on both sides of the political divide in the North of Ireland but which will ensure that we can live as good neighbours not alone North and South but with the people on these islands.

Arising out of his reply to my last question, would the Taoiseach agree that the whole basis upon which these talks are taking place is that nothing is agreed in any strand until everything is agreed and that, therefore, our Government would have nothing to lose, and might well contribute to the acceleration of the process towards agreement, by indicating that they would be prepared to make such changes to our Constitution as they might agree in the event of an acceptable settlement being achieved without the loss of any commitment because of the basic provision that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed?

I answered that question and I have nothing further to add except to say that we will continue to participate in these talks with good faith and good will. It is well recognised by the people around the table that we have done this up to now. Any suggestion that we look at our part of the problem without looking at the two parts together would be counter-productive and would not achieve the result all of us wish to achieve.

I will allow a very brief question by Deputy De Rossa.

Would the Taoiseach agree that after the Single Market the political borders in Europe will still remain, that various Governments will still be in power and the borders will continue to exist between all member states? May I put it to him that it is clear from what he said today that the Government have not made any submissions on the structures and powers and the relationships between the North and South and within Northern Ireland? Will he agree that until such time as the Government do this it is likely that the talks will not make any further progress?

It would be totally wrong to draw any such inference or conclusion. When I talk about the political border, I am referring to the political border dividing the island of Ireland.

Will the Taoiseach accept that the objective of these talks is to bring about peace and stability on this island, that Strand One seeks to find agreement between the constitutional parties in the North of Ireland, that Strand Three seeks to have that agreement accepted by the Governments in Dublin and London and that Strand Two provides that that agreement must be accepted by the people on both sides of the Border? If that is so and if it involves constitutional change, is it not obvious that the proposal must be put to the people? I cannot understand the reluctance of the Taoiseach to accept that this is so.

I have to dissuade Members from the notion that we can debate this matter now. Clearly we cannot. This is Question Time.

Would the Taoiseach accept that among the participants in the different groups there is now widespread concern at the unwillingness of the Government to give a positive response to the issue raised by the Leader of the Opposition indicating that they would put constitutional changes to our people if agreement were reached on a satisfactory basis and that this refusal is seen as prejudicing the success of the talks? Would the Taoiseach agree that if the talks do not succeed in making progress in this round, responsibility will be firmly placed on our Government for their failure?

I have to reject what has been said by Deputies FitzGerald and Barry. Those comments do not line up with the comments of Sir Patrick Mayhew after my speech in Bodenstown. Elements of Strand One have been agreed but Strand One has not been agreed.

Therefore, the Government are not losing anything until everything has been completed.