Deputy Bradford is in possession and both he and his colleague, Deputy Currie, have 28 minutes at their disposal.
Northern Ireland: Statements (Resumed).
I wish to allocate 20 minutes of my time to Deputy Currie.
Before Question Time I made the point that Northern Ireland was the most important issue in Irish politics and that everything else was secondary. For the past few years those of us who live on the southern part of the island have been fortunate to live in splendid isolation, relative peace and security. As a result we have not always looked at the problems in Northern Ireland as closely as we should.
While it would be realistic to accept that a certain level of horrible but contained violence could continue indefinitely in Northern Ireland it is unreasonable to think that this will not or could not be visited upon us. Because of this we cannot wait any longer and the time for action is now.
There is a song which contains the word, "What do you say when words are not enough". In relation to Northern Ireland we must ask ourselves that question. Many words have been spoken — criticism and statements of concern and condemnation — yet for the most part those words have fallen on deaf ears.
We in the Republic must begin to take decisive action to demonstrate that our first priority is peace in Northern Ireland and that this comes before everything else. Peace and harmony in Ireland, North and South must be our first priority ahead of any long term political settlement, be it in a unitary State or otherwise.
We have to admit that a unitary state is the goal of some parties, North and South, for some it is the reason for their existence. Side by side with this aspiration we must admit that the quest for a unitary state has resulted in the deaths of many people in Northern Ireland — murders carried out in our name. It has been said many times before, including today, that we must disown the people who claim to represent us in carrying out their desperate deeds and actions. I concur fully with those sentiments. We must ask ourselves what we can do to bring these violent deeds and actions to an end. Words are not enough.
Some speakers referred to the delicate subjects of Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution and extradition. The topic of extradition has been raised at Question Time and on the Order of Business on many occasions in recent weeks. It would be unforgivable if we, in this Hosue, did not do everything possible to close every legal loophole which allows people to remain in this State, despite the fact that we know they have assisted in or committed atrocities in Northern Ireland or in other parts of the United Kingdom. We must take this action.
In relation to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution one would not have enough time in a speech of 60 minutes to address them fully but if we, in the Republic, have ideological hang-ups in dealing with them this will cast grave doubts on our ability to deal with the much more difficult questions that would emerge if a political settlement were on the table. The political, economic and cultural aspects require attention but if we have ideological hang-ups about Articles 2 and 3, will we have the will to tackle the broader issues?
Deputy McDowell mentioned eduction. For far too long in our history books one side was considered to be right and the other wrong. That is something we in this House could address and which we could redress. This must be done if we are to prevent the next generation adopting the semi-warped ideology and philosophy that has led to people with guns and bombs going North to blow apart their fellow Irish citizens. We have eliminated from our history books those people in this country who believed that political progress could be attained without resorting to military force. We hear very little about Daniel O'Connell or Charles Stewart Parnell, yet our history tells us that those gentlemen made political progress without the use of weapons or force. We must try to focus on political progress through a peaceful process. Peace must come first and if we demand peace on this island a political settlement will follow.
I wish to thank Deputy Bradford for sharing his time with me. In the time I have available I hope to cover new ground and where at all possible I will not repeat points that have been made earlier in the debate. Therefore, I wish to put on the record my support for the peace movement, my support for the courage and humanity of Senator Gordon Wilson, who will be meeting the IRA as the father of his murdered daughter, and my total commitment to reconciliation and consent as the only way forward in Northern Ireland.
Throughout my political career I have been a strong advocate of an all-party approach in this House to Northern Ireland. I have always considered such an approach to be in the broader national interest. For the same reason I support the proposal, first put forward by the Tánaiste, and now strongly endorsed by Deputy John Bruton, for a forum of all the parties which would enable matters such as security, to be discussed without the glare of publicity. I support and will continue to support the all-party approach. However, I found the Taoiseach's speech today deeply disappointing. He said his Government is committed "not to retreat to the certainties of the past but to strive for a decisive political breakthrough which will help to bring about a new formula for peace". That is what the people want. That was the demand of those who demonstrated for peace last weekend, but in the Taoiseach's speech it was unfortunately, no more than a pious platitude and, I regret to say, he failed entirely to respond to the national mood. He seemed to be more motivated by fears and uncertainties within his own party. I say that with regret.
Time is running out in Northern Ireland. The elimination of terrorism by political means must be a central political objective. I say "political means" because there is no other way which would not be self-defeating. How is this elimination of terrorism by political means to be achieved when so many attempts over a period of more than 20 years have failed? It is invariably useful to work back from an objective to ascertain the conditions necessary to achieve it. A prime requirement is the existence of political institutions which people are prepared to support and defend. People should have the maximum say in governing themselves, the greatest possible power to change their own lives, and central to all of this, to protecting and defending democratic institutions and empowering themselves is the capacity to implement their decisions through acceptable policing. There will never be peace, normality or stability in Northern Ireland until there is acceptable policing. That means the involvement in the policing process of both Nationalists and Unionists without feeling or being made to feel any less of a nationalist or a unionist for being involved in that process. We will all know that the Northern Ireland problem has been solved when children and grandchildren of prominent Unionist and Nationalist politicians serve side by side in the police force. When that day comes the Northern Ireland problem will be solved. All of these necessary pre-conditions for the eradication of terrorism are currently lacking in Northern Ireland. What action can we take to remedy that situation? The answer lies in the proposal for joint referenda, North and South. A package of agreement arrived at in the talks between the two sovereign Governments and the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland put to the people in the North and South in simultaneous referenda and approved by them would be the greatest instrument ever forged for the eradication of terrorism throughout this island. For those of the Republican tradition, the sovereign Irish people would have spoken. For those of the Unionist tradition the Ulster people would have spoken. The agreement and the new institutions created by it would have unchallengeable authority. Terrorism would end or would be eradicated.
The first necessary step in this process is the immediate resumption of talks. That is the very least expected of constitutional politicians in the aftermath of Warrington and the barbarities of Loyalist paramilitaries north of the Border. What if politicians, for whatever reason, do not resume the talks process or if they do resume it and fail to reach agreement? The possibilities have to be faced that there may be some doubts about some politicians in regard to a sincere commitment to dialogue. I admit to having serious doubts in this regard. Nothing is as powerful as a timely idea. Yet, 20 years after the power-sharing Executive there are still Unionists who refuse to commit themselves to the concept of power-sharing.
There are still Unionist politicians who refuse to unequivocally condemn paramilitary activity when perpetrated on the Unionist side, but who every day of their lives condemn paramilitary activity on the Republican side. There still remains what I call the spectre of Ian Paisley. As Members know, I believe in calling a spade a spade. In my opinion the only person who can compete with the IRA in terms of harm done in the community in Northern Ireland over this past quarter of a century is Ian Paisley and, unfortunately, over the years he has not changed that much. He is temperamentally incapable of political responsibility. As an avid Paisley watcher for more than a quarter of a century that has been and always will be my view.
If we are faced with the circumstances that some politicians, for whatever reason, do not resume the talks process or, if they do resume it and fail to reach agreement, must we stoically accept the inevitable escalation of violence, more Warringtons, Castlerocks, Dublins and Londons until we end up in a position already planned for by the paramilitaries of a Lebanon or a Yugoslavia? No new arrangements will work without at least the tacit consent of those to be governed. The withdrawal of consent by any significant section of the population would ensure the continuation of terrorism, but that is not to say that in the face of the awful alternative I have outlined that the great majority of the population of these two islands should be held to ransom by a few politicians unwilling or incapable of compromise and accommodation. There are other ways forward which all politicians should seriously consider before putting their own personal or sectional interests first.
The two Governments can proceed through the full use of the mechanism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In a perceptive and prescient article in The Irish Times on 31 December last, an architect of the agreement, the former civil servant Mr. Michael Lillis, suggested that the Irish Government “should work the Agreement vigorously and creatively as though from a new beginning” and he outlined the areas in which this could be done: political structures; human rights and other political and identity issues; policing and other security structures; social and economic issues; prisons, both policy and individual cases; the courts and the judicial system and nominations to public bodies.
In two months time it will be 25 years since the start of the Civil Rights Campaign in which I played some part. It is 21 years since the British Government took direct responsibility for affairs in Northern Ireland. It is almost seven years since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. The days are long gone when the Unionists could be blamed for everything. Yet we still have a situation that it is only in recent weeks that the most blatant discrimination in the North's premier educational establishment, Queen's University, my own alma mater, is being effectively tackled.
The two Governments by the use of the most democratic instruments available to us — the referendum and the plebiscite — can proceed with the consent of the people. The greater use of these democratic instruments as well as a means of promoting change can be of valuable assistance to those Northern Ireland politicians who wish to escape the dead hand of history. Agreement in advance that the end product will be subject to approval by referendum will assist those who wish to escape from the hooks on which they have been impaled. I have referred already to the essential role of joint North-South referenda in establishing institutions with sufficient authority to bring about peace and stability. There is another dimension to a possible solution, the British dimension. Whatever the future relationship between Northern Ireland and Britain and Ireland and Britain, the views of the British people will be of crucial importance also. A strong case exists for the British people expressing their views in a referendum on arrangements proposed to be entered into in their name and in particular any proposals with implications for the future of the United Kingdom. Such a proposal, while having implications for all parties, has particular implications for Unionists. Continued membership of the United Kingdom has responsibility as well as advantages. Terms of membership of the United Kingdom club should be determined by all members and not by fewer than 2 per cent of it.
Let me repeat, there is no way forward except by consent and it is my fervent hope that the gravity of the present situation will concentrate the minds of all politicians on the necessity of compromise. Time is running out for Northern Ireland and it may be running out for politicians of all parties concerned with Northern Ireland, not only in Northern Ireland but here and in Britain as well. The downward spiral must be halted. Nothing I have said, I hope, takes away from the responsibility of those of us who belong to the majority tradition on this island to make the major contribution to a solution. We are the suitors. It is we who wish to bring about change and we must show generosity and take the risks.
In his important contribution this morning Deputy John Bruton again emphasised the continual necessity to bear in mind the viewpoint of the other tradition. We must all bear this in mind. It might be difficult for some Members of this House who have been used to thinking all their lives in terms of one tradition and one solution and now they are being asked to think in terms of other possible solutions. If we are all Irish, Irish of two traditions, then it is only by reconciling those two traditions and recognising the differences between us that we can start to eliminate them. I fail to understand why it was not possible for the Irish Government to tell the Unionists during the first phase of the talks that finished some time ago of its commitment to change or to substitute Articles 2 and 3 in the context of an overall agreement. I do not understand why it was not possible to say that across the table because it could have made a difference. I would like to know, either privately or publicly, why the Government did not find it in itself to make that move across the table. I fail to understand why it was not done.
All possible options must be considered. The people in all parts of these two islands have a right to expect their politicians to respond to their demands for peace. That is the first priority. Other issues are secondary at this stage. The late Cardinal Conway, when asked on radio in 1974 whether the power sharing Executive of that time would lead to a united Ireland or — because Nationalists were now getting a fair deal — to a perpetuation or partition, replied "I am prepared to leave the answer to that question to history." He was a wiser man than we recognised at that time.
I now wish to raise a number of points in the time remaining. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, how much time do I have left?
They relate to points raised in the course of the debate. I now wish to comment on Deputy De Rossa's attack on the SDLP and its leader, Mr. John Hume. I am biased because I was a founder member of the SDLP and contributed to all the major decisions taken by that party until I moved from the North. Deputy De Rossa is also biased because he is the leader of a party that is in direct confrontation with the SDLP in Northern Ireland and has been for some time. The difference between his party, and indeed the previous party he led, and the SDLP is very clear in terms of the Unionist versus the Nationalist traditions. I am not saying that the SDLP — I no longer have to defend them — did not make mistakes over the years. They made mistakes, and indeed I contributed to making those mistakes as well. But the remarkable thing is that, considering the crucible in which those politicians operate, they did not make a damn sight more mistakes than they actually did. There is one achievement of the SDLP for which all in this country and further afield owe a deep debt of gratitude — its staunch unyielding upholding of the democratic process under threat. The SDLP held the democratic line in Northern Ireland in circumstances where, if the line had gone, the situation would have been fatal. Supposing the Provos had received the mandate of the majority of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland, how would they have used that mandate and, particularly in relation to the United States, how many extra bombs and guns would have been attracted to their side? The effect of any such mandate in terms of the spill-over into this part of the island has to be borne in mind.
I had hoped Deputy Blaney would have more sense in his old age but apparently that is not the case. While I am critical of the Deputy I would take the opportunity to pay tribute to the very good and distinctive contribution made by his fellow Donegalman, Deputy McDaid. Deputy Blaney said there is a distinction between British withdrawal and a declaration of intent to withdraw, but there is no such distinction. A declaration to withdraw and a British withdrawal would have the same effect. In those circumstances it is not the Border communities to which Deputy Blaney referred that one would have to worry about; it is those isolated communities where in some areas there is a Nationalist minority and in other areas a Unionist minority. Those are the people one would have to worry about. For those who quote Connolly and say that Ireland is the people of Ireland and not boundaries on a map, that is what ought to concern people.
I am concerned about Portadown, Larne and Carrickfergus and what the position of the Catholic minority would be in those circumstances. I am concerned about South Armagh, Fermanagh and many areas throughout the North where the position of the Protestant minority would have to be considered. I have thought long and soberly about this matter and if we want a recipe for civil war, for a Yugoslavian type situation, we would have it in those circumstances.
I see the Leas-Cheann Comhairle moving forward, which means my time is up. I would say — I hope this prediction never comes true — that there may be a time when Deputy Blaney, myself and others will plead with the British not to withdraw in certain circumstances rather than ask them to go. That has to be very carefully worked out. For us to talk about it in these circumstances at this time is entirely dangerous.
I wish to share my time with my colleagues, Deputy Rory O'Hanlon and Deputy Jimmy Leonard.
I very much value the sentiments expressed by Deputy Currie. He is one man who has been through the mill in relation to the North. While I might not always agree with what he says, he speaks from some position of authority. In relation to what the Deputy said about Articles 2 and 3 in terms of the previous talks, my information was that Irish Government representatives always made the point that the Articles were on the table in an effort to find an overall solution to the problems on this island. I do not think there is any change from that position and I question the Deputy's information in that regard.
I concur with the remarks made by Deputy Currie in relation to Deputy De Rossa. Deputy De Rossa has no authority to speak in relation to peace on this island, and in saying that I am not being in any way critical of him. The Deputy's fellow travellers of years gone by, constituents of mine, will remember the antics of some of his predecessors along the Border.
I want to put on record my abhorrence of the use of violence to further political aims. The bomb and the bullet only prevent the achievement of lasting peace on this island. As a Deputy who lives literally a stone's throw from the Border I feel that I have some authority to speak today on the unacceptable situation on this island. My constituency in Louth has been at the coalface since the partition of the governing of this island — the cold-blooded murder of Tom Oliver is a stark case in point.
In the early seventies refugee families descended upon my home town looking for assistance. North Louth has been dogged with problems peculiar to Border areas. My own area has suffered on the economic helter skelter caused by disparity of prices and taxes on either side of the Border, though thankfully this has lessened in recent years because of prudent economic management here and increased recession across the Border. I also feel that I have some authority to speak on this issue in view of the fact that I have participated in peace talks involving representatives from both sides of the community from across the Border.
Efforts to secure some advancement in the peace process have floundered because of unwillingness to change on both sides. Sunningdale was one such effort, but the British Government capitulated under Unionist pressure. We can only speculate on how things would be on this island had this effort succeeded and subsequently been built upon.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was another such attempt to fill the political vacuum. The Unionist attempts to scuttle this were rightly resisted by the British Government. It is no secret that my party had problems, and still has, with the agreement. It was perceived at the time that it was giving an unwarranted veto to an agreed Ireland. I have been on record both inside and outside this House as supporting the Agreement in that, for the first time, it allowed the Republic some say in the internal affairs of the North. This has been brought home to me time and time again by the way people on the Northern side of the Border got much more action on their local problems through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat.
We moved on from this to last year's talks process, which unfortunately has not superseded the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Efforts to recommence these talks have so far been fruitless. Anyone who has at heart the genuine wellbeing of all the Irish people on this island must hope and wish they will recommence as soon as possible.
I personally got the impression over the last few years that the British Government was making a genuine effort to understand the Irish problem. Peter Brooke showed an acute appreciation of the different emphasis on both sides of the divide. In my opinion, initially Sir Patrick Mayhew showed that he too was trying to get to grips with the problem. Unfortunately, his recent speech, in which he attempted to reassure Unionists on the retention of the Union, is depressing in that he indicated that British Government opinion has fallen back to the age-old rhetoric. He also harked back to the sentiments in Article 1, Subsection C of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that is, that if in the future a majority of the people in the North favoured a united Ireland, the British and Irish Governments would facilitate this wish by passing the necessary legislation.
I have previously stated that one of my hang-ups about the Agreement is that it proposed a simplistic solution to a very complex problem in that it very dangerously suggested that if there was ever a 50 per cent plus I majority in the North in favour of a united Ireland, that would happen. In effect, if this were to happen the former majority in the North, the Unionists, would be coerced into a united Ireland against their wishes just because they had lost the numbers game. This would then leave a large minority on this island unhappy with their situation. Is it any wonder that the Unionists refuse to have anything to do with the Agreement particularly in view of the recent survey evidence that the population discrepancy between Nationalists and Unionists is getting closer and closer. This over-simplistic approach originally stated in the Agreement and most recently articulated by Sir Patrick Mayhew, compounds the problem of partition, which was not of our making on this side of the Border.
While the recent statement by John Hume has received a luke-warm response on both sides of the Irish Sea, it should not be dismissed out of hand. If any of the various interested parties cannot find it possible to talk they should be coerced, not into a solution, but to the talks process. Why should any one group hold a veto over talks? Obviously, if one side wishes to exclude itself, it does so at its own risk and it would have to justify its dog in the manger approach to its own supporters and people. The two-way referendum would be a device to get consensus by letting the people have their say on new structures which could easily be set up as part of the "tripod" of relationships as recently referred to by Sir Patrick Mayhew.
It has been represented that the Southern negotiators in the recent talks showed an intransigence in regard to Articles 2 and 3. This is not the case, as far as I am aware. It has always been the position of Irish Governments that, in the event of an agreed Ireland, as the new Ireland Forum put it, "a constitutional change of such magnitude would require a whole new Constitution". Unilateral change of Articles 2 and 3 would have the direct effect of allowing Sinn Féin to claim that they are the only party aspiring to a united Ireland. Never before have they looked to the Constitution for their raison d'etre.
They claim their position in Irish life from the 1918 election. That is a spurious claim. If they do not recognise our Constitution why change it to give them such a mandate? Deletion of Articles 2 and 3 could possibly lead to the alienation of the Nationalists and consequently an escalation of violence.
We were told before that if we got rid of the special position of the Catholic Church from our Constitution relations would be better between Nationalists and Unionists. Did this happen? Many political watchers have warned against amending Articles 2 and 3 in that they would lead to a very divisive debate with potentially dangerous consequences. Our President, Mrs. Robinson, stated in an article in April 1990 that in the climate at that time there was "a serious risk" that any referendum on Articles 2 and 3 could "highlight divisions, exacerbate fears and prove to be counterproductive". Has the situation on the island improved since then to allow us to move for constitutional change? I think not.
Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Spring, during the debate in December 1990 on the Bill put forward by The Workers' Party to amend Articles 2 and 3 said that the Bill could amount to writing a Unionist veto into our Constitution. He wondered would a negative result in a referendum to change Articles 2 and 3 not set back reconciliation. Why should we, by making such a constitutional change at this stage, further confirm a Unionist veto?
Why did Mrs. Thatcher and her advisers not take up the misguided offer by Garret FitzGerald and his team to delete Articles 2 and 3? I suggest that they were being realistic. If we delete Articles 2 and 3, would it not lessen our right and duty to speak on Northern issues? Would it not help confirm the Unionists view that we have no right or say in Northern Ireland affairs? Could it lead to the unwanted position whereby the Nationalist people in the North were isolated? Who would they turn to? Maybe this is why the British were reluctant to entertain unilateral change at that stage.
Surely Articles 2 and 3 should not be touched until such time as we have something better to put in their place.
I represent two Ulster counties in this House and I do not intend to spend the very short time available in this debate going back over the fact that a boundary was drawn around six of the nine Ulster counties for the purpose of ensuring a permanent Unionist majority over the Nationalists.
Instead, I wish to dwell on one or two political and socio-economic issues. I believe in the re-unification of Ireland by agreement. I was a member of the New Ireland Forum whose preferred option was a unitary state. I deplore violence from all sources and the destruction of human life as a means to an end. This accomplishes nothing. Instead, it perpetuates the futile cycle of violence and death that has brought so much sorrow to the people of Ireland.
I recognise that there are two communities with legitimate rights in Northern Ireland and this is recognised by both sovereign Governments. It was reinforced by the Haughey/Thatcher meeting in 1981 and through the Anglo Irish Agreement. The DUP appears to recognise not only the right of the Unionists to be British but to ignore the Nationalist right to be Irish. All the constitutional Nationalists on this island unequivocally condemn violence from all sources and it is long past time that members of the DUP stopped trying to justify Loyalist violence.
It is a matter of grave concern that further progress has not been made in the talks between the interested parties. I deplore the fact that some Unionist politicians are calling for Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution to be dealt with in isolation from other fundamental issues such as the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. These Articles are of fundamental importance. The Taoiseach dealt at length with the issue this morning. There should not be any change in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in isolation and they should only be changed when something as good or better is put in place, otherwise we will be betraying the northern Nationalists. It is disappointing that the parties to the talks, particularly the Unionists, did not first discuss the very many social and economic issues on which agreement can be reached and leave the more difficult constitutional issues until later.
It has not all been bad news. We are all aware of many successful areas of co-operation across the Border with an input from both communities in the six counties, some involving support through EC Structural Funds and the International Fund, along with support from both Governments. The creation of the Single European Market with its elimination of trade barriers and tariffs has further reduced the differences between North and South.
While I was Minister for Health, I met my counterpart, the Northern Ireland Minister, about every six months when we agreed on a number of very practical initiatives beneficial to all the people on this island. Because there are only five million people on the island, North and South, it was agreed that duplication of certain high technology procedures was expensive and undesirable. It was evidently more practical and effective to develop co-operative measures. As a result lithotrypsy, the crushing of kidney stones is performed in Dublin for the whole island and total body irradiation for children awaiting bone marrow transplant is performed in Belfast.
At a joint meeting in October 1990 it was agreed to establish a joint working group on procurement and supplies in the health sector to ensure how the best value for money might be achieved.
During my period as Minister I established a national cancer register in close association with the Northern Ireland health department. Similar statistical data is collected on both sides of the Border, making the register more relevant to research into cancer on the whole island.
Other areas where great progress was made included joint immunisation programmes and a number of health promotion projects. European Community money through INTERREG has provided a number of joint facilities.
At local level there is increasing co-operation between adjoining area health boards North and South. For instance many hospital services in Altnagelvin, Derry, are provided for people from Innishowen peninsula.
I have referred to health, but such forms of co-operation are happening in a variety of other policy areas also. I would call upon all the parties involved to focus more of their energies on developing such beneficial models of co-operation. If the talks were to identify a range of economic and social areas and deal with them first, leaving the difficult constitutional areas until the end, it might be beneficial.
Representing a constituency which has two-thirds of the Border as a boundary, I am concerned about a number of issues including the closure of Border roads. It contributes nothing to security and is a source of major inconvenience to people living along both sides of the Border. The Government should use its influence to have these roads re-opened, particularly those which are a life line to towns such as Clones and Belturbet which have been economically devastated by the Border over the years. It is difficult to understand, at a time when there is freer movement throughout the EC, why so many major new permanent vehicle check points are being erected, particularly as there is a large volume of opinion that believes mobile patrols are more effective.
There has been much documented evidence over the years of harassment of the Nationalist community, particularly by the UDR. It was agreed through the Anglo-Irish Agreement that the Army and UDR, now replaced by the RIR, would be accompanied by a member of the RUC. In my experience this is only partially implemented. I ask the Tánaiste to continue to raise this matter through the Anglo-Irish Conference. Because of the manner in which the Six Counties was contrived, the normal rules of democracy have never worked there and for a number of years policy has been formulated on the basis of a London-Belfast axis.
In this context I would see a more significant role for the British-Irish Parliamentary Group. We must all be concerned at the serious and tragic situation that exists on this island. There is an obligation on all of us, North and South, to do all in our power to bring about a solution to the problem whereby all the people of this island, Nationalists and Unionists, can live in peace and harmony.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate at a time when violence is continuing unabated in a more vicious and horrible manner than was thought possible heretofore with no regard for human life. I would hope the talks can be resumed and in this regard I wish well the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring and the negotiating team.
It is important to reject the claims which are continually made that the South is a safe haven for IRA terrorists. I live closer to the Border than any other public representative at national level and know this is not the case. The Government's commitment in terms of additional security costs due to the Border situation and the Northern troubles in 1970 was £2 million or £1per capita. In 1989 the cost had risen to £180 million or £51 per capita, so that costs to date would be in the region of £2 billion. Part of that cost arose when snatch squads crossed the Border and we appealed for additional forces to be brought to the Border to safeguard our own people.
Much has been said concerning a single economy for the entire island and the benefits that would accrue. The lack of progress in cross-Border development is disappointing, especially in areas such as agriculture and tourism where they have much in common. There has been a marked improvement on the industrial front, an area which is much more competitive. Industrialists, both North and South, see great advantages for inter-trading. North-South trade in 1991 amounted to £1.2 billion, comprising some £792 million, or 61 per cent, of exports from the South to the North and £496 million, or 39 per cent, in exports from the North to the South. In the period 1986-91 North-South trade — at a time when there were serious problems so far as paramilitary activities were concerned — increased by 37 per cent. Recent studies indicate that trade could be trebled with a major impact on employment, both direct and indirect, resulting in something of the order of 75,000 jobs.
The Single Market and the moves towards economic integration will provide a stimulus to open up new commercial opportunities for cross-Border trade. Indigenous industries, North and South, face similar problems in trying to expand their business. The small scale of native industry and their reliance on small domestic markets makes it difficult for firms to achieve success in businesses where economies of scale are crucial. It is self evident that with the reduction of the physical and technical barriers — the removal of the Border and customs post — firms both North and South would seek to increase their domestic market by going across the Border for sales opportunities. There is a need to develop and intensify such cross-Border linkages with our enterprises and to co-operate effectively in the European Community.
In recent years a wide range of initiatives has been taken to improve the level of cross-Border trade and economic contact. In this regard I pay tribute to the National Fund for Ireland and the States in New Zealand, and Canada who contributed funds. The CII and the CBI have co-operated on each side of the Border, as well as the chambers of commerce, the IDA Mentor programme in conjunction with Ledu in the North, Córas Tráchtála and IDB. It was regrettable when customs controls were removed on 1 January that we had the devaluation and sterling problem to contend with so that we have not reaped the benefits.
From discussions I have had recently with industrialists I found an awareness and a desire to co-operate between the two parts of the country. At the end of the day public representatives can do very little so far as changing the minds and hearts of the people in the North is concerned, but we can in our own way contribute by cross-Border co-operation and by our meetings with people on the other side of the Border.
Last week North-West Tourism announced a development plan which included a number of projects with a cross-Border content. Projects in this State would complement the Ulster Trail and the north-west passage tourist development. I hope the tourism agencies, both North and South, will grasp this opportunity, particularly community groups actively engaged in developing their own regions. This is very important in the Fermanagh-Tyrone area, where some of the most terrible atrocities have been committed down through the years; yet they are still willing to co-operate and to try to develop their area. The INTERREG initiative was set up in 1991 to assist internal border areas of the Community in overcoming their special development problems. If those programmes were used to the best advantage it would make a huge difference to both the social and the economic life of those areas.
Earlier today Eamon de Valera was quoted. He said in 1933 that we cannot solve the problem by words or by force but only through a better livelihood for our people here. If de Valera were alive today and examined the social welfare, health and all the other benefits North and South, he would certainly be a surprised man, because most of the benefits for the aged are at a higher level here. I had experience of this recently when I had a hip replacement operation in Navan. I was discharged before the appointed time, after 12 days. A person I know very well, who lives across the Border in my own parish, was discharged after six days without having fully recovered. That is the difference in the approach to health matters both North and South.
Quote that at the health board meeting the next time the hospitals situation in the north east is raised.
The previous speaker, Deputy O'Hanlon referred to the Border roads. Road closures continue to create serious problems for local residents and have social and economic consequences. I appeal to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, to do everything possible in this regard. At cross-Border meetings we have pursued this matter continually. The Aghalane bridge in County Cavan between Belturbet and Enniskillen was blown up by Loyalists in 1970. There has been sustained pressure to have that bridge restored. This is in the same area as the Slieve Russell Hotel and the large Quinn development across the Border, which has given so much employment to the people of west Cavan. The town of Clones is virtually surrounded by the Border and has suffered economic and social disruption because of closed cross-Border roads. There have been persistent calls for the opening of Lackey bridge and the road from Clones to Roslea via Finn.
A study carried out by the Social and Economic Committee of the EC on both sides of the Border listed Clones as one of the most disadvantaged towns in a disadvantaged area. The social and economic life of the towns of Belturbet and Clones has been seriously affected by the closure of cross-Border roads. Many of those closures were expected to be temporary, but there is growing frustration in that area at present at the apparent permanent nature of those road closures and the IRA and Sinn Féin are quick to exploit that frustration. They are the winners and we must not forget that those organisations use such road closures very effectively. Members of the IRA and Sinn Féin have been appealing to have Border roads opened. We made a road at Aughnacloy at a cost of £250,000 and within one month £80,000 worth of damage was done to the Moy bridge on that road by the people — making those appeals. That illustrates the genuineness of their appeals. I would ask the Tánaiste and his team to do something in regard to the closure of cross-Border roads.
Another cross-Border problem which affects the counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Cavan and Monaghan is that of animal disease. We had hoped that the funding listed for such problems in the INTERREG programme would have been availed of. Twenty years ago those areas were completely clear of animal disease, but they are now black spot areas and we have requested that they be designated as pilot areas.
I would like to share my time with Deputy Creed.
Once again we are making statements on Northern Ireland. It is regrettable that we are not having a debate through which some clear strategy could be articulated, because many of the contributions today have dealt with violence carried out by the IRA and UFF, violence in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom and, perhaps in the future, violence in this State.
If we have learned anything over the past 25 years it must be that speeches by politicians, churchmen and many well-meaning people will not bring about an end to violence. The men of violence on both sides in the North must be extremely pleased by the world attention that has been focussed on them in the past fortnight. Both Parliaments on these islands have had debates on violence. The men of violence will be encouraged by this and convinced that what they are doing is correct and, to use their own words, will "bomb their way to the table". It is a reflection on every politician here that we have not been able to do more to resolve that problem.
What will bring about an end to violence is political structures in Northern Ireland which both traditions see as being fair and representative and to which they can give their loyalty. If such structures can be agreed and are endorsed by a referendum in both parts of this island, support for those who use violence to achieve political goals will fade and democratic politics will take over. That process will take time, because too many people in Northern Ireland have a vested interest in the perpetuation of violence.
However, there is a body of people in Northern Ireland who have a vested interest in peace, that is the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of those who have been killed, injured or in some way touched by the violence of the last 20 years. Those people want peace and they will ensure that there is peace if there are political structures in place which will, in the words of the Anglo-Irish Agreement:
acknowledge the rights of the two major traditions that exist in Ireland, represented on the one hand by those who wish for no change in the present status of Northern Ireland and on the other hand by those who aspire to a sovereign united Ireland achieved by peaceful means and through agreement;
The generosity of spirit and ability to forgive displayed by relatives of the victims of violence constantly amazes me. The parents of the children in Warrington are a perfect example of that and another is the many appeals for no retaliation from the loved ones of those of both traditions killed in Northern Ireland. Frequently the response of ordinary people to violence has been to take to the streets in huge demonstrations for peace, such as that in Dublin last Saturday. The goodwill and concern expressed in such demonstrations is welcome and useful. However, that will dissipate unless there is a corresponding response from politicians. It is the responsibility of this House to close all loopholes in our extradition laws so that if the perpetrators of such crimes are found in our jurisdiction they may be sent to face the courts in whatever jurisdiction charges are brought against them. We must redouble our efforts to find a political solution.
Approximately two years ago the two Governments initiated a process of talks on three levels: between the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland — by far the most important of the three strands — between political parties in Northern Ireland and the Dublin Government and between the Irish and British Governments. Those talks have the support of the majority of people in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Many people, including myself, wished to comment on those talks but submerged that wish in an overriding desire to give the Governments and the parties to the talks as much room and as little criticism as possible so that agreement could be reached primarily between the four constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. They represent the people whose differences must be resolved.
We were told that the talks would be open-ended, without precondition and that nothing would be agreed until everything was agreed. However, it was not long before the "without precondition" undertaking was abandoned, first, by the Unionists who wanted Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution amended and, second, by the present Taoiseach — his predecessor was too astute and wily to fall into this trap — who wanted the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, on the table. In my view both that Act and Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution have been superseded by Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which states:
The two Governments
(a) affirm that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;
(b) recognise that the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland;
(c) declare that, if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, [This is where Deputy Ahern misread the article; he should read it again] they will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.
This Article, in an Agreement which has been ratified by the Dáil and the House of Commons, registered as an international agreement in the United Nations and supported by the majority of people in Ireland, should be accepted by all the parties as a starting point in the process of identifying and establishing administrative structures for the future in Northern Ireland. It protects the position of Unionists and recognises the aspirations of Nationalists. More importantly, it contains an undertaking by the British Government that if the majority of people in Northern Ireland consent to a united Ireland it will introduce legislation to give effect to that wish.
There is always a reason for postponing action. At present the two Governments appear unwilling to go beyond appealing to the parties in Northern Ireland to return to the talks process. They do not want — this is understandable — to give any ammunition to the extremists on both sides in the local elections which will be held in May. This is not good enough. Next year it will be the European elections, and no doubt something else will arise the year after which will prevent the Governments bringing the parties to the table.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement should be dusted off and worked far more vigorously than it has been for the past six years. I was glad to hear the Tánaiste say this morning that he intends to work the agreement very vigorously. The agreement has not, for some understandable political reasons, been worked as vigorously as it should have been since 1987.
The Unionist community were opposed to the agreement because they felt it gave the Irish Government a say in the administration of Northern Ireland. This is true; the agreement allows the Irish Government to make proposals on political, security and legal matters and a whole range of other matters which I believe would contribute to a more stable political environment in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland. The Unionist community were told by their leaders that the agreement was a step towards a united Ireland. This was not the case, as Article 1 clearly shows. I believe most Unionists below the level of their political leadership — and perhaps even at that level, although they would not admit it — now recognise that this is a fallacy.
The Nationalist community favoured the agreement because they saw that for the first time in 70 years the matters which were of concern to them would be addressed without damaging the interests of their Unionist neighbours. It was never the intention of either the British or Irish Government to place the Unionist community in an invidious position. The purpose of the agreement was to provide a process by which the Nationalist community could participate in political structures and begin to identify with the institutions of that society. This includes participation in and confidence in the security forces to the extent that a Nationalist should be able to join the RUC without in any way being regarded by his neighbours as being less of a Nationalist. I made that point many years ago when I was co-chairman of the Anglo-Irish Conference. If there is to be confidence in the security forces then a Nationalist who joins the RUC should still be able to be recognised as a Nationalist. If this can be achieved then there will be some hope of bringing about peace in Northern Ireland.
Any new arrangement which is agreed in Northern Ireland, accepted by the two Governments and endorsed by a referendum, must contain those two ingredients. Both communities must have confidence in the political structures, must identify with and feel represented in those political structures and have confidence in the security forces.
Some of the parties concerned are refusing to participate in talks until their preconditions are met. A political vacuum exists at present. The British and Irish Governments must not allow this political vacuum to persist. The Irish Government could begin — I welcome the points made this morning by the Tánaiste about the Anglo-Irish Agreement — by addressing all the problems set out in Articles 4 to 10 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Therein lies the key to political progress on this island. These Articles deal with political, economic and legal issues and their resolution could benefit not just the Nationalist community but also the Unionist community and make a contribution towards peace.
Talks about talks do not constitute the kind of dialogue necessary to facilitate a process which will bring about peace and reconciliation, which are so vital to the achievement of stability and normal political exchange. Aspirations are not enough. The Governments and politicians must take action and demonstrate that the political process can work. The future of these two islands depends on that process.
I thank Deputy Barry for sharing his time with me. Northern Ireland has been in turmoil for almost a quarter of a century. The statistics of thousands dead and maimed have been repeated so often that we are in danger of becoming desensitised and almost dehumanised as a community to the full horror and pain they represent. The extent of the problem becomes apparent when one considers that more than 3,000 people have been killed. Comparatively speaking, a greater percentage of the population has died in Northern Ireland since the conflict began there than died in the American Civil War. For this reason alone, this debate is especially welcome; we must never allow ourselves as a nation to become indifferent to or aloof from the problems in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has been a problem on the political agenda of this House for a long time. It is a problem of equal proportions, if dissimilar in nature, to the many economic problems confronting this Assembly. The problems in Northern Ireland contribute in a very tangible way to the economic problems of this country. In addition to being a human and political tragedy, the problems in Northern Ireland have had enormous economic consequences. Countless millions of pounds and punts have been invested and exploded in Northern Ireland and much needed investment has been discouraged because of the troubles.
The name of Ireland has been sullied throughout the world by ruthless gunmen acting in our name and in defiance of democracy by perpetrating their carnage on innocent victims. Their most recent atrocity in Warrington is neither excusable nor was it accidential. Rather, it is part of a strategy designed to inflict terror in the hearts of people and destabilise the institutions of the State and people's confidence in them.
The ritual condemnation of violence has become part and parcel of our political process. The vocabulary used in these condemnations has been well nigh exhausted at this stage. The time is now right for us to move meaningfully and with purpose onto a new agenda which hopefully will bring about a lasting settlement of the Northern problem. Having said that, important opportunities such as this debate have to be used to restate our total opposition to violence and intimidation as a means of achieving political goals. To put it simply, the bomb and the bullet have no role to play in our society; they are the tools of the politically inept, the weapons used by those who have been rejected by the democratic process.
Those elected by the democratic process have enormous responsibilities in this context. Public representatives in Northern Ireland are not living up to these responsibilities and the vacuum is being filled with the blood of innocent victims who have been killed by terrorists who thrive in this vacuum. The resolution of these problems does not rest solely in Northern Ireland or among its elected representatives. The two traditions in the North look in different directions in terms of the State to which they believe they properly belong. The British and Irish Governments must also play their part in resolving these problems. Political posturing and fragmentation in regard to Articles 2 and 3 for political gains, and political inaction on the question of improved extradition procedures, do not help resolve the problems. "Green" political statements made by Members of the Government parties, including the Taoiseach, which are of relevance only to a bygone era, serve no purpose. They further delay dialogue, send wrong signals and fuel further Unionists intransigence. To put it simply, such statements have not helped to resolve these difficult problems; rather they have added to them.
The challenge facing us today in terms of Northern Ireland is the creation of new arrangements and political structures and institutions to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the two traditions, namely, the right of the Nationalists to effective political and administrative expression of their identity and the right of Unionists to effective political and administrative expression of their identity, ethos and way of life. Dominance or victory for either tradition is no solution. New arrangements not acceptable to both will ensure continuing violence. In this regard, I am glad the Government has rejected the idea mooted by John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, of a solution foisted by the two Governments on the two communities, and I am glad to read the Government's response to this which stressed the importance or renewed talks. However, we need Government action now in this regard. Talk about talks is cheap.
With regard to Northern Ireland it is all too easy to despair. Increasing paramilitary violence and political intransigence have driven the people to the streets. Twenty thousand people marched in Dublin as a response to the latest acts of violence perpetrated in England and in Northern Ireland last Sunday. Similar marches were held throughout the country. This is, first and foremost, an expression of revulsion by ordinary people, North and South, of violence as a means to a political end. It is also an expression of frustration with the political process. We, as democratically elected politicians, must take our cue from this. The constitutional political parties must never despair as this plays into the hands of the terrorists. This is the time for brave action in search of a political solution and for effective extradition arrangements from this country.
A little over 12 months ago I had occasion to visit Northern Ireland, especially Derry and Belfast. It was informative, if somewhat disheartening. However, I believe there are straws in the wind that offer some hope. In Derry, a Nationalist-dominated council shares power with Unionists, and today there is a Unionist mayor from the Democratic Unionist Party. Unfortunately, in Belfast Unionists' intransigence means they cannot even fete our olympic medalists when they return victorious.
Further evidence of change for the better can be found in the fact that some Unionists have already come to Dublin and spoken. It can be found in the fact that the Northern Ireland issue is high on the political agenda both in this country and in the United Kingdom. I believe the election of Mary Robinson as President will be interpreted in the North as a sign of the creation of a more open and pluralist society down here. Furthermore, I believe that expressions from some elements of the prison community, who are a very important element in the North, questioning the continuing operation of the arms struggle are significant. Indeed, we have heard voices from Sinn Féin saying that no-one can be coerced into a united Ireland. There is also the possibility of Unionist leaders emerging with some vision and policies, leaders who will break the mould in terms of reactionary intransigence that has, for too long, been the sole response of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland.
All in all, I believe an historic cocktail may be beginning to emerge and converge. It is our role as democratic, constitutional representatives of the people to use every means at our disposal to facilitate the emergence and convergence of this cocktail. It may be some time in the future, but better to light a penny candle than curse the darkness.
I would like to share my time with Deputies Bree and Kirk. I understand that Deputy Bell also wants a minute.
I agree with Deputy O'Hanlon when he says that Northern Ireland has not been a democracy in any real sense. For much of the 70 years of its history the minority Catholic population in Northern Ireland was routinely and systematically repressed and deprived of its rights. Constituency boundaries were rigged and public housing and public jobs were more likely to be given to Protestants than Catholics. Nationalists played little part in the security forces, the Judiciary or the Civil Service. Nationalists were prevented from displaying and enjoying the very emblems of their nationalist identity, the Irish language, music and its culture.
It is fair to say that many Catholics never identified with the State of Northern Ireland in the first instance, but it is equally true to say that this pattern of oppression alienated many who might otherwise have acquiesced. Even today in 1993, with much of the more overt discrimination removed by the UK Government, there are still many Catholics in Northern Ireland who are profoundly alienated from the state in which they live.
What do we do about it? There are those who say that Northern Ireland has failed as a political entity and should be abolished. According to this analysis the British Army should withdraw, the British Government should signal its intention to withdraw and the Irish people would come together to negotiate a new and united Ireland.
I believe, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that this analysis is profoundly and dangerously flawed. The British presence in Northern Ireland does not consist of some 14,000 troops; it comprises one million people who think of themselves as British — one million people who identify with the symbols of Britishness up to and including the British Crown. Northern Ireland is not a colonial outpost, it is not in a post colonial situation. Northern Protestants were living in Ireland long before Australia was settled and many years before Europe's current political states were established. These people are not going to set aside their identity just because a British or Irish Government wants them to, and why should they? They are as entitled to their identity as much as any one of us. There is nothing illegitimate or wrong about the British identity of Northern Protestants. If we have learned anything from the history of our country and our Continent, we must surely have learned that feelings of national identity are not easily suppressed. We do no service to anyone on this island if we create or seek to create an all-Ireland unitary state with a dissident minority which feels itself to be oppressed.
It has been said in this debate that the Irish Border is an artificial one. Perhaps the lines could have been drawn differently, but surely the essential point is that there are one million people in Northern Ireland who want no part of an all-Ireland unitary state. Until we accept the legitimacy of that decision we will never be able to deal honestly with Unionists. That is not to say that the status quo is acceptable. It is common cause between all constitutional parties of Britain and Ireland that the three sets of relationships in these islands have to be radically redefined.
We must create or help to create in Northern Ireland a structure and administration which both communities can accept. Discrimination must be eliminated. Human and civil rights must be guaranteed. Both communities must have a say in the running of ordinary day-to-day life. Alienation must be combatted, ensuring that as many people as possible have a stake in society. However, in isolation this will not be sufficient. Many Catholics think of themselves as Irish and identify with Dublin rather than with London. This fact must be reflected in all-Ireland institutional arrangements. I do not have a rigid view as to the exact nature of such institutional arrangements, but they must have real teeth. I fully appreciate that it is difficult for Unionists to accept even the principle of an all-Ireland dimension, but I fully welcome the indications in the position paper which they put to the talks before they were completed last November that they are willing to do that. The precise functions of an all-Ireland institution can evolve over time; equally any structures which we put in place must recognise and give voice to the identity of Northern Unionists. This we can best do by enshrining and solemnly repeating the principle of consent, the principle that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people living in that State given in referendum.
Many Unionists claim that Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution are an obstacle to peaceful cohabitation on the island. They see the Articles as a threat. That view can only have been compounded by the Supreme Court decision of some years ago. Most of us had previously thought of the Articles as an expression of aspiration. It is fair to say, I think, that if the Constitution were being written anew, Articles 2 and 3 would scarcely appear as they do now. The Tánaiste recently said that the Articles are not written in bronze. I fully agree with that, but a referendum is needed to amend the Articles and this referendum must be passed by the Irish people. A failed referendum would be a major setback and it would be irresponsible to contemplate such a referendum if there was not a decent chance of it being passed. This can only be done in the context of a broader settlement and negotiations between all parties concerned in the future of the peoples of these islands. Having said that, I cannot conceive of any settlement which would not involve a change in Articles 2 and 3, and I believe we should clearly indicate in advance that we are willing to embrace such change.
Much progress was made during the talks held last year. I hope those talks will recommence soon. The talks should be approached in a spirit of openness and generosity. There is much in the Unionists' position paper of November last that I welcome. I welcome the acceptance of the Irish dimension, however grudging; I welcome the commitment to a Bill of Rights, I welcome the apparent willingness to develop structures within Northern Ireland that would allow the minority a say. The Unionist proposals do not go far enough, but it should be acknowledged that they go further than they have done for some years.
I commend the Tánaiste for the courageous and generous tone of his contribution this morning and his recent speech in the Mansion House. I am sure that he will have the support of all of the House in his efforts.
I very much welcome the objective in the Programme for a Partnership Government to recommence and sustain the process of dialogue with the parties in Northern Ireland and with the British Government. I particularly welcome the proposals to conduct dialogue in a spirit of openness and honesty, with the overriding aim of achieving peace and reconciling the legitimate rights and aspirations of all the people of this country.
I join Deputies from all sides of this House in condemning the recent outrages committed in Britain and Northern Ireland and in offering sympathy to the families and communities who have suffered loss. Members of Dáil Éireann have a duty and an obligation to condemn the activities of the paramilitaries. We also have an obligation to investigate the source of the ongoing violence in our country and to take active political measures with the aim of achieving peace with justice in our country.
In recent years many people have been reluctant to criticise the British Government, indeed many people have been afraid to voice concern about much of what has been happening in Northern Ireland, they fearing that they will be branded as Provos or Provo fellow-travellers. All one has to do is merely express concern about British repression in the North and immediately the revisionists in the media and in this House will scream "Provo" in an attempt to isolate and marginalise one.
As one who is not a Provo nor a Provo sympathiser, I believe that I speak for the great majority of people when I say that the Irish people have a fundamental and democratic right to unity and independence. This right was most blatantly suppressed by the undemocratic imposition of partition, an imposition that establishes Britain's central guilt and responsibility for the political crisis in Ireland. It is now just over 70 years since the British Government responded to the struggle for national independence by forcing partition on the Irish people. The seeds of the ongoing political crisis, the violence, the torture, brutality, deaths and repression, lie in this injustice and are directly Britain's responsibility. Indeed, the continuous political crisis in Northern Ireland since October 1968 has clearly shown that the 1920 solution to the Irish question is a failure. Partition has distorted the political, economic, social and cultural life of our country and has fostered sectarian divisions among our people.
Harassment, brutality, ill-treatment, torture, internment and political executions sanctioned or tolerated by the British State for over 20 years have been part and parcel of life in the Six Counties. Non-jury Diplock courts, the use of supergrasses, the blackmailing of young people by the RUC and British Army, the widespread and deadly use of plastic bullets and official shoot-to-kill policies have eroded any confidence people might have had in the law. We are all aware of the writings and experiences of John Stalker, Fr. Denis Faul, Fr. Raymond Murray and many more courageous people who have documented the ongoing litany of injustice that is Northern Ireland. It is now an accepted fact that the forces of the British State have been responsible for unjust killings, direct murder and indirect unjust killings and murder by collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries. Catholics in particular despair of getting fair treatment in human rights from the British Government. Catholics do not trust the RUC and the British Army and regard the Royal Irish Regiment as a sectarian force. Day in and day out, week in and week out and year in and year out, the British Tory Administration perverts justice by imposing policies that are appropriate only to a totalitarian state. This is a matter of public record.
In 1990, the Helsinki Watch Committee published a 93-page report criticising British rule in the North and documenting a wide range of human rights abuses. In May 1991, Britain was brought before the United Nations Human Rights Committee to answer questions about shoot-to-kill, its responsibility for the continuing armed conflict and discrimination against Nationalists. The committee expressed dissatisfaction with Britain in all these areas. In June 1991, Amnesty International issued a 63-page report documenting widespread and systematic abuses of human rights in the North by the British Authorities. In 1992, Amnesty International released another report showing that these abuses, if anything, have increased. Britain has been found guilty of human rights violations by the European Court of Human Rights more times than all the other countries put together. When we receive such reports from other countries — like South Africa, El Salvador or Iraq, Deputies from all sides of this House raise their voices in protest, yet when it relates to Northern Ireland and our own citizens there is a deafening silence from many Deputies.
The Twenty-six County State over the years has left a lot to be desired, particularly in terms of secularism and cultural pluralism. However, the Northern Six County State, since its inception, has been a blatantly undemocratic and sectarian state. Down through the years Unionist regimes treated Catholics and Nationalists as second-class citizens and imposed a system of discrimination which could only be compared with apartheid in South Africa. When ordinary people peacefully protested and demanded one man, one vote and civil rights they were beaten off the streets on the direct instructions of Unionist and British politicians. We should remember this when we talk to the Unionist parties. We are talking to representatives of extreme right-wing parties who have little or no regard for the concept of democracy as we know it.
As a socialist, I abhor sectarianism and am totally opposed to the concept of a Protestant State or a Catholic State. Like many people, North and South, I cherish the dream of creating an Irish Republic which could guarantee democracy, secularism and cultural pluralism, a Republic which would unite Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.
Today there are people on the other side of the House demanding that the people of this country should unilaterally remove Articles 2 and 3 from our Consituation. Articles 2 and 3 did not cause the conflict in Northern Ireland and their deletion will do nothing to stop it. Dropping Articles 2 and 3 would not save a single life. In fact, the deletion of Articles 2 and 3 would strip Northern Nationalists and Unionists of Irish citizenship and the rights and protection it offers. It would leave the British claim set out in section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act and section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act as the only claim to sovereignty. It has always been accepted that our Government had a constitutional duty to intervene in Northern Irish affairs. This has been most notable in cases of human rights abuses. Irish Government Ministers have regularly demanded explanations from the British Government following instances of shoot-to-kill by British forces, unrest in jails, evidence of collusion between the British Army/RUC and Loyalist death squads. They have the legal authority to do this because of the provisions of Articles 2 and 3. Without these Articles our Government would have no more right to intervene in Northern Ireland than have the French or Pakistani Governments.
It is right that the Members of this House condemn the activities of the paramilitaries. However, peace and justice can be achieved only by addressing the root cause of the problem, which is the continued interference of Britain in the internal affairs of this country. Northern Ireland is one of Britain's last colonies. I believe that, if we are to find a way out of economic decline and the vicious circle of violence in Northern Ireland, we will require an end to British repression and a declaration from the Tory Government that it intends to withdraw within a specific time from all interference in Irish affairs, political, military and economic; thus opening the way for the Irish people, North and South, to determine what future political and economic structures are needed to best serve their interests. The winning of a British declaration of intent to withdraw is of great importance because it would remove from the Unionist leadership the major weapon by which it maintains the division of the people in the North, the so called guarantee of union with Britain.
The great majority of people in Ireland and indeed our neighbours in Britain desire a peaceful resolution of the Northern conflict. I believe that by working together we can achieve that resolution.
I have not heard a contribution such as the previous one for 20 years and I hope that I do not hear a similar contribution again.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to these statements. I thank the two previous speakers for giving me the opportunity to make a short speech. Unfortunately, because of significant interest and the number of Members who wish to contribute, each speaker is limited as to time.
In the late sixties when the civil rights movement was organised and became active in Northern Ireland very few people anticipated that by 1993, more than 20 years later, more than 3,000 people would be dead and many thousands more would have been injured and maimed, both physically and mentally, in the North. The formation of the civil rights movement was a direct response to the discrimination that then obtained in the North — democracy simply did not function there. The murder, violence and mayhem over all those years have led to a very serious and pronounced polarisation of the two communities in the North. The ruthlessness with which the Provisional IRA and the paramilitaries on the Protestant side carry out many of these murders makes us despair of a solution ever being found. The process of ghettoisation which inevitably comes with inter-community violence will take a long time to thaw out. Overcoming a siege mentality is a slow, tedious process. In order to reach a final solution it will be necessary to come to terms with this mentality, if we are to overcome the problems that have obtained in the North of Ireland for so long.
The importance of getting talks going again cannot be over-emphasised. I believe that if the representatives of the two Unionist parties can be persuaded to sit down in a positive attitude to find a final solution we can put in place a clear, distinct accommodation which would recognise the tradition and culture of the Protestant community in the north.
Removal of Customs frontiers within the EC will see the process of integration accelerated. Let us hope that that process of acceleration will help to change attitudes in the North of Ireland. Sometimes here in the South we tend to overlook the fact that, despite the violence and unrest in the North, the economy there is developed and in a condition we might well endeavour to emulate. Anybody who lives in close proximity to the Border and to the North of Ireland must constantly admire the great sense of organisation and work ethic that obtains there.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, has said that if the Provisional IRA will stop and renounce the violence, there is a place for them at the conference table in order to become involved in the political process. Getting all the parties to the table will constitute a momentous step forward. Therein lies the key to progress.
Enormous responsibility rests with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Spring. If he can convince the Unionists of our sincerity, then a great obligation to reciprocate will rest with them. If meaningful talks cannot be got under way, the violence in the North will continue indefinitely.
Unfortunately, the local elections due to be held in the North in the month of May are a major inhibition to progress at present. Clearly, timing is very important. Despair of making progress must never be allowed weigh down our efforts. We must continue to work at the process of bringing the different parties together, getting the representatives around the table and working towards a final and firm solution to what has been a most intractable and historic problem in the North of Ireland.
I thank my colleagues for affording me a few minutes to place a couple of points on the record.
I have been involved on the Border in many respects over many years. In 1984 and 1985, as Mayor of Drogheda, I initiated the first cross-Border exchange of delegations from local authorities by inviting them to visit us in Drogheda to discuss mutual co-operation between local authorities in the Border area. That was followed up by an exchange visit or visits. Nevertheless, the unfortunate position still obtains. While there was a full attendance by SDLP representatives and Independents, we never achieved any involvement on the part of any public representative of the Unionist parties. That position still obtains today.
As Deputy Kirk well knows, many important local authority committees in the Border area try to co-operate on infrastructural development, sewerage, water schemes and tourism. This co-operation has continued during all the violence. It continued on a weekly or monthly basis over the years throughout all of the troubles. That is why I took strong exception this morning to the remarks of Deputy De Rossa, who made a personal attack on me. It was not the first time he did so, nor the first time I had to respond. In that attack he included the SDLP and our colleagues in that party. I want to say to Deputy De Rossa that his interpretation of what I said in relation to the Unionists, and the manner in which I said it, was totally misrepresented by him this morning. I never said that the Unionists should go back to where they belong. I said that, in the context of a united Ireland being achieved by peaceful means, if there were Unionists who wished to continue their allegiance to the British Crown they could very well do, as was done in India, Pakistan, Israel and other countries — they could be repatriated to their homeland and continue their allegiance there to the British Crown if they were not prepared to give that allegiance to a new all-Ireland democratic State.
It was in that context that I made those remarks. Yet Deputy De Rossa continues to misrepresent them. Since I made those remarks I have seen 16 different versions written. I made those remarks also in the context of Dr. Ian Paisley's daughter, Rhonda Paisley, actually OK-ing the bombing of publichouses and stores in my constituency, endangering the lives of the people I represent. It was within that overall context and discussion on radio and the media generally that I made those remarks. I am glad to have the opportunity, once and for all, to nail that down. In fact, I take it as a compliment, coming from Deputy De Rossa, because while I was commanding troops on the Border in 1969 and 1970 keeping the peace, he was commanding troops blowing up the railway in my constituency.
That is a lie.
Furthermore, his "stickie" outfit were forcing the people in Newry to close their shops for a funeral there—he knows that too — while the activities in which I was engaged were serving this democratic State. I have always done so, I will continue to do so and nothing that Deputy De Rossa or anybody else says will detract me from that. The Army Intelligence Unit could very well tell Deputy De Rossa that they were more fearful of him and his outfit than they were of the IRA——
The Deputy is a joke.
That is a fact. If Deputy De Rossa cares to check with the Army Intelligence Unit — or if he has anyone in there — they will tell him so.
The Deputy is a joke.
The only joke here is Deputy De Rossa, because nobody believes what he is saying. He talked about peace, went on peace trains while his outfit were blowing up the railways.
That is a Provo lie.
That is not a Provo lie. That is the position. It is a fact.
The Deputy has one minute remaining.
It is about time Deputy De Rossa stopped attacking members of the Labour Party. I will continue to pursue Labour Party policy on achieving a united Ireland by peaceful means——
Does that mean all the Protestants must leave the North?
I will not be derailed by any attacks, whether on radio or here in this House, by people like Deputy De Rossa.
When I addressed the House earlier today I expressed the hope, in view of the gravity of the issues under discussion, that we would have a measured and reflective debate, as free as possible from tactical or partisan considerations. While it might be something of an exaggeration to say that that happened in every case, nevertheless I feel we had many thoughtful contributions which made this debate very worthwhile.
I believe there were two themes which emerged with great clarity from the interventions from all sides of the House. The first was a strong and unequivocal condemnation of violence, from whatever quarter it may come, and a profound sympathy for those who are its victims. As elected representatives we have also asserted our collective belief that those who seek to impose their will by violence and force act in violation of our shared beliefs and fundamental democratic values.
The second point, which again was common to a great many interventions from all sides of the House, was the importance and indeed the urgency of renewed political dialogue if we are to find the way forward to a solution. The Government fully subscribes to both these positions which in a sense form the core of a common approach shared by almost all Members of this House in relation to Northern Ireland. In that respect the message which will have gone forth from this debate will be a helpful one.
However, I would like to address a number of particular issues which were raised in the course of the debate. Let me first address the question of differences which Deputies purported to see in the approach between the partners in Government. I would remind Deputies that this Government was formed on the basis of a carefully worked out Programme for a Partnership Government. That programme contains a full section on Northern Ireland policy. It deals in detail with a range of aspects of that policy — political dialogue, the goals of agreement, the measures necessary to deal with violence, the challenges of economic co-operation, the need for a balanced accommodation of the differing positions of the two main traditions on constitutional issues and many other aspects. That programme remains the common mandate and point of reference for both partners in Government and will ensure that the divisions and dissensions which some Deputies seem to dread so much for us will remain safely at bay.
In relation to some of the comments made on the Taoiseach's speech and also to related comments on the position of the SDLP, I would remind the House that the goal of our programme is to work towards an accommodation between the two traditions in Ireland based on the principle that both must have equally satisfactory symbolic expression and protection. I subscribe fully to the sentiments which were expressed on the need for a careful and sympathetic understanding of the Unionist tradition on this island. I have tried as hard as I could to put that into practice since coming into office. However, I must stress that respect for the Unionist tradition must not and should not imply disrespect or disregard for the values of the Nationalist tradition on this island. Our aim is to extend and not to limit or deny respect for the ethos and identity of each Northern community. A denial of the rights of Northern Nationalists would be just as inconsistent with our programme as a denial of Unionist rights.
In deploring the ravages of violence in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, including that perpetrated by the IRA, we should also acknowledge how much more extensive the support for such groups might be had not the SDLP, under the leadership of John Hume, consistently and tenaciously fought to show that the true expression of Nationalism is peaceful and political. The leadership of the SDLP has taken courageous political and, indeed, personal risks to uphold that principle. In view of some of the comments which have been made here today it is right to put that tribute on the record.
Another charge that was made was that the positions adopted by the Taoiseach and myself reflected a lack of urgency in our approach to the situation. I would again remind the House that the Northern Ireland issue has been one of the key priorities of the programme from the outset and our actions reflect that priority. Since taking office I have had a total of four meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — two meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference and two informal meetings. We have addressed together, as a matter of the greatest urgency, how we can both help to achieve the resumption of talks. We remain in continuous contact on the subject.
I have met the leadership of the SDLP and Alliance parties. If I have not had meetings with Unionist parties in Northern Ireland it has certainly not been for lack of interest or lack of trying. While I regret that it has not as yet been possible to establish the direct face-to-face contact with the Unionist leadership that I would like to see in place, nevertheless I have done my utmost to ensure that I have first-hand knowledge of as many strands of Unionist opinion, whether political or otherwise, as I can manage to acquire. I can safely say that no day has gone by since I assumed office that I have not devoted at least a part of it to work on some aspect or another of the Northern Ireland problem.
The Taoiseach has met the President of the United States and the top echelons of American political leadership to update them on this problem and to ensure that the great potential for good offered by the interest and concern of the United States is brought to bear as helpfully as possible on the search for a solution.
Deputy Bruton referred to the possibility of a peace forum. I share his concern to ensure the widest possible consultation and consensus between all sides of this House in relation to the Northern Ireland problem. For this reason one of my first acts as Minister for Foreign Affairs was to offer a full briefing on the current situation in regard to Northern Ireland to the Fine Gael spokesperson on Foreign Affairs. This offer has not been taken up, but is still available to Opposition spokespersons.
I will take it up.
I can assure the Deputy that he would be more than welcome. I wish to emphasise my availability to party leaders or their spokespersons, both individually and collectively, for discussion and consultation in relation to Northern Ireland.
I was at pains to ensure that a Foreign Affairs Committee was brought forward as a priority objective. Subject to certain constraints arising from the obvious sensitivity of some issues, such as security, the proposed Foreign Affairs Committee can be a valuable forum for inter-party discussions on the issue of Northern Ireland and for exploration by all the parties in this House as to how progress towards peace can best be made. I would not claim that any party in this House has the answers and it will test all the parties to find the answers to the difficult problems.
Would the Minister agree to a forum of party leaders, as he suggested when in Opposition?
The Deputy is very welcome to the debate at this hour of the day. I have notified the Whips that I am agreeable to appropriate provisions being made for this purpose in the terms of reference of the proposed committee which are under consideration at present.
The debates in the Seanad last week and in this House today are a forum in which Members of the Oireachtas can offer their opinions on the best way to achieve peace and stability. I look forward to their continuation.
Deputy Bruton also spoke of the Unionist paper which had been submitted at the end of the last round of talks. I was not a member of the Irish Government delegation which took part in those talks. However, I have studied the papers. The paper he referred to was put forward after a general election had been called in this jurisdiction and in the context of a Unionist refusal to agree to "time out" for the election period, as had been the precedent in the case of the British general election earlier last year. Therefore, perhaps it was inevitable that the paper should have been seen as a tactical exercise, all the more so in that it was vague on the scope and functions of the proposed Inter-Irish relations committee but very specific on the point that the conference which was scheduled for mid-November should be the last conference and should, moreover, announce the modalities of a referendum on Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
However, I agree with the view expressed by many people here today and since last November, that there were positive developments from the talks that took place last year. The recognition by the Unionist leadership of the need for new arrangements, including new structures, to cater for the identity and aspirations of the Nationalist community was a step forward. The conclusion I draw from the discussion of this paper is this: if its potential is as great as its authors suggest it is a very strong reason for them to return to the negotiating table to explore that potential further and to carry forward the process of dialogue.
I listened with care to the comments made by a number of speakers in relation to problems arising for the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland, in relation to confidence issues and the closure of cross-Border roads, which also inconvenience a large number of people on this side of the Border, as has been made clear by several Deputies.
The matters of cross-Border roads and confidence in the security forces are constantly on the agenda of the Anglo-Irish Conference and it is my intention that they should remain firmly on it in the hope that we can achieve progress. I am well aware from the deputations I have met and from contacts with Deputies of the inconvenience and disruption in the economic and social life of Border counties caused by the closure of cross-Border roads. I will pursue an active policy to try to convince the British Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland that it would be helpful if many of these roads were re-opened to allow normal community interaction to take place in the Border counties.
As I said earlier, it is the policy of the Government to seek progress in relation to the Northern Ireland problem at every level possible. We are pursuing the question of resumed dialogue vigorously and energetically. At the same time I want to underline carefully and adamantly that there is no political vacuum. The provisions of the Anglo-Irish Agreement are being implemented as fully and as extensively as is within our power. At the meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference which I have chaired these issues have featured prominently on the agenda. Progress is not always as rapid as we would like. Nevertheless, I wish to reassure Deputies, as I have made clear in public statements I have made elsewhere, that these issues are not being and will not be neglected. They will continue to have my full attention as co-chairman of the Anglo-Irish Conference.
Irrespective of progress in the political field it is our joint intention in the Anglo-Irish Conference that a whole range of issues will be discussed with other Ministers. Apart from myself and the Minister for Justice attending to deal with security matters in the norm, we also had the Minister for Tourism and Trade at the last meeting. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment will attend the next meeting and, throughout the rest of the year at scheduled meetings Ministers from economic and social areas and, indeed, arts and culture, will be attending to ensure that the wider agenda between North and South can be addressed in the context of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Some people have referred to suggestions and articles in the press in relation to the workings of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I can assure Members on all sides of this House that it is my firm intention that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which I personally and politically value as an important instrument between the Irish and British Governments, will be fully implemented. It is important to reiterate that it is not in the interest only of one community in Northern Ireland. The proper and full implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I strongly believe, is in the best interests of all people there, both the Unionist and Nationalist communities. I would like to think that the Unionist community could view it in that light.
I referred earlier to the importance of cross-Border economic co-operation. Many Deputies, particularly those in Border counties, raised this issue. I can assure the House that the Government will use all its resources to advance the process in every way open to us. I echo also the tributes paid to the agencies active in this area. The work of the International Fund for Ireland has had a particularly beneficial effect in the 12 counties where it operates, both in terms of the funds which the donors have generously made available and the role of the fund in making use of them, in the interest, in particular, of disadvantaged areas.
The problem of Northern Ireland is in the first rank of issues which confront this Government. There can be no doubting the determination of the Government to achieve political progress which will facilitate an agreed solution. This is one of our central objectives as a Government and is one to which we are profoundly dedicated. It is not a matter which comes and goes on our agenda; it occupies constantly the highest possible position.
The Minister for Justice set out in some detail the action being taken to ensure that those who resort to violence do not succeed and are made answerable before the law. Everyone in Northern Ireland, and in these islands generally, is entitled to lead his or her life in peace, protected from the threat of murder from whatever quarter.
This Government is resolutely opposed to terrorism in all its forms. We have unhesitatingly committed enormous resources to combating it and will continue to do so for as long as that is necessary. Our security co-operation with the British authorities is at an unprecedented level. This has been publicly acknowledged on several occasions by the British Government in recent months. We are determined to maintain this level of co-operation with the British Government in order to ensure that those who resort to violence do not succeed, and never will succeed, on this island.
The initiation of a process of political dialogue involving a range of different and conflicting interests is no easy task. It calls for courage, patience and goodwill on all sides. It calls for a readiness on the part of all participants to adjust their positions to those of others and to explore actively areas of potential co-operation and agreement. This Government has been actively and assiduously exploring such areas. Every conceivable approach which might assist in a resumption of talks on agreed terms has been and will continue to be examined. We are engaged in a process of continuous and intensive consultation with the various interests involved in the search for a way forward.
I have said again and again that the reality is that neither tradition can dominate or coerce the other, whether in a Northern Ireland or in an all-Ireland context. We must seek to build new political arrangements on this basic reality. That will require compromise on all sides, ours no less than theirs, but negotiations are needed to establish the lines on which a stable accommodation must be found. To achieve this would be the single most important contribution which could be made to all our futures.
I would like to mention the work of the British-Irish parliamentary tier with the founding of which I was associated. At that time it was a very important inter-parliamentary body. I want to ensure that members of the British-Irish tier can resume their work as soon as possible. It is a very important instrument between these two islands in breaking down mis-comprehensions which existed for many years between Members of this House, the Seanad, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. To date its work has been instructive and, indeed, constructive. I hope Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and our colleagues in London will continue to build on the foundations which the British-Irish parliamentary tier founded in its short time.
I can also assure the House that the British Government is as anxious and determined to bring this conflict to an end as is the Irish Government. I had extensive experience in working with the British Government in the eighties. I cannot in any way fault the approach of that Government now or, indeed, then. Just as we share the burden of the historical conflict in this island, we must strive to find a lasting solution which will lead to peace and reconciliation on this island.
Far from contenting ourselves with words, as some might like to suggest, I believe the approach of this Government is practical and action-oriented. We have a clear political purpose in view — the recommencement of political dialogue at the earliest opportunity. The obstacles are formidable but, with sufficient patience and determination, we may reach our objective.