Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Northern Ireland Talks.

Mary Harney

Question:

1 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will give details of his meeting with the British Prime Minister. [8284/95]

Mary Harney

Question:

2 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach his views on whether all parties should be afforded equal status in the upcoming British Government talks with the Northern Ireland political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8365/95]

Bertie Ahern

Question:

3 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if following the opening of Ministerial talks, he will request the British Government, to lift remaining restrictions on contacts between Sinn Féin and all state agencies in the North. [88246/95]

Mary Harney

Question:

4 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach to report on his recent meeting with Gerry Adams. [8827/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The commencement of talks, at ministerial level, between the British Government and Sinn Féin represents an important advance in the peace process. The Government has always believed that such a development would have a consequential effect on the nature of contact between state agencies in Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin. This was confirmed by Mr. Ancram on 10 May when he said the British Government would allow contact between Ministers and Sinn Féin councillors to take place, contingent on a continuation of the present phase of ministerial dialogue. We would regard such contact as part of the wider objective of achieving full normality. Matters of that nature and other issues of importance to the peace process were discussed at my meeting with the Sinn Féin leader on 5 May.

The British Prime Minister and I reviewed a range of developments in a most useful discussion in Moscow on 9 May. We covered, in particular, the current situation in Northern Ireland and how, together, we can best advance it. We also discussed European affairs, details of which were given yesterday in reply to other related questions.

On Northern Ireland. I wish to emphasise that the over-riding objective of both the Irish and British Governments is the commencement of all-inclusive dialogue on an agreed settlement, leading to lasting peace and reconciliation. The British Prime Minister made clear that his Government wants Sinn Féin to participate in political talks on the same basis as other parties. The two Governments, however, recognise the reality that the Unionist parties in particular are first seeking reassurance before that objective could be feasible to them. Within that context, the Prime Minister assured me of his Government's intention to realise genuine and productive progress in its ministerial dialogue with Sinn Féin. For my part, I stressed that the decommissioning of weapons, while an important issue, is not the only item on the agenda. Matters such as prisoners, policing and recognition of political mandates would also need to be addressed in an imaginative way if the proper climate of confidence for comprehensive talks on a settlement is to materialise. Important concerns and sensitivities exist on all sides and these need to be approached in a balanced way to move the situation forward.

The British Prime Minister and I agreed to hold a formal summit meeting in Dublin, probably early in September, as part of the well-established agreement to hold two such meetings each year.

Given that Mr. Adams recently called for marching feet, did the Taoiseach caution him against such an approach? Did he raise with him the recent riot in Derry during the visit of the British Prime Minister?

The answer is yes to both questions.

What response did the Taoiseach get?

Mr. Adams listened carefully to what I had to say. While there is a constitutional right in all democracies for people to demonstrate in favour of their viewpoints and against policies with which they disagree, there is a concomitant responsibility on those who organise demonstrations in what remains a divided society to ensure those demonstrations do not lead to events which could be harmful to the overall peace process which requires reconciliation as well as the absence of physical violence. In that context I urged great care on all those, from whatever community, who may be involved this summer in organising demonstrations.

I note the British Government has moved to lift the remaining restrictions. That is a positive development and I welcome the statement by the Minister Mr. Ancram in that regard. Up to now we witnessed the petty position whereby Sinn Féin elected representatives could not deal with constituency matters. On meeting the Prime Minister Mr. Major, did the Taoiseach communicate his concern at the lack of momentum in many areas of the peace process such as those he mentioned on policing and prisoners? As we know from discussions, the issue of prisoners is attracting equal concern from loyalist and Nationalist communities because prisoners played a major part, particularly in the case of the loyalist ceasefire, in convincing militants to cease their activities. What was the Prime Minister's response on that matter?

I do not accept the Deputy's view that there is lack of momentum in the peace process. The contrary is the case and there is sustained and responsible momentum in the peace process. I raised with the British Prime Minister the issue of greater remission of sentences of prisoners in Britain and Northern Ireland.

The view of the representatives of prisoners is that there is a lack of momentum. Perhaps the Taoiseach knows something we do not know, but no prisoners have been released and the regime in prisons is tougher than it was before the ceasefire. Substantial progress on policing issues has not been made and discussion has not taken place on how we can move forward in that regard other than at the forum talks, Strands I, II and III. On Strand II perhaps the Taoiseach will confirm whether he has issued invitations and, if so, if they have also gone to the smaller loyalist parties?

There are many questions involved.

There are many issues on which there is no momentum and I would like answers on each issue.

Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply.

On prisoners, what progress has been made since the ceasefire last October and what has been done to increase confidence in the peace process by the loyalists?

I did not express satisfaction with the position in regard to prisoners; I challenged the statement the Deputy made here and elsewhere of a lack of momentum in the peace process generally. That statement is entirely unsustainable bearing in mind the Government has been successful in negotiating the Framework Document, the most comprehensive document of its kind; we have been successful in opening ministerial contacts with Sinn Féin, which never happened before; we have been helpful in ensuring access for Sinn Féin councillors to Ministers, which did not happen before; on this side of the Border we lifted the state of emergency and we organised the commemoration ceremony in Islandbridge which, without precedent, was attended by Sinn Féin representatives, Unionist representatives and representatives of Government and Opposition in a joint commemoration of Irish people who lost their lives and in commemoration of the holocaust. In symbolic terms that was probably a major advance and is an important contribution to momentum in the peace process on a broad front.

We continue to apply ourselves in a responsible and non-adventurist way to building a structure of trust and confidence which will lead to true reconciliation. As the Deputy must know, that is not achieved by hyper-active issuing of press releases but rather by solid work behind the scenes which leads to achievements such as those of recent months which I have itemised.

Regarding the question of prisoners, the position on this side of the Border is that the Government as a contribution to the peace process released a significant number of prisoners earlier than would otherwise have been the case in light of the reality that the risk of reoffence is greatly reduced as a result of the ceasefire. On the other side of the Border and in Britain prisoner releases are governed by statutory regulations which limit the extent of remission that it is permissible for the Secretary of State or the Home Secretary to grant. Those regulations need to be changed and I have made the case to the British Prime Minister that they should be changed. I also availed of the opportunity when meeting Conservative MPs, Government backbenchers in the Bow group in London last week to stress that the regulations should be changed to allow earlier remission. Furthermore, I have arranged to raise the matter with the Opposition parties in the House of Commons.

I raised it with the Liberal Democrats Leader when I met him and I understand the issue of changing the regulations to allow earlier remission of prisoners was also raised at a meeting in the Irish Embassy in the past two days with the Opposition Labour Party in Britain. It is a matter we will pursue vigorously because we recognise that prisoners on loyalist and republican sides have made a significant contribution through creating the climate in which the ceasefires became possible and continue to be an important factor in the issue. We believe early release policies should be considered on a case by case basis — not generally — in light of the reduced threat of reoffence. That requires some change in the legislative provision now made in Britain and Northern Ireland on that matter. I have and will continue to take up that matter in the same patient and effective way I have taken up other matters.

I put it to the Taoiseach that he is becoming soft on the issue of the decommissioning of arms. He has certainly changed his approach and his language has become even ambivalent. Will he accept that it is not a question of simply recognising Sinn Féin's mandate which is qualified for as long as the IRA hold on to arms? Will he agree it is paramount to deal with the arms issue if we are to build confidence and get an all inclusive set of talks under way in Northern Ireland?

If the Deputy cares to look at my carefully phrased statement on decommissioning the last time this matter was discussed, she will see that I have a firm view on the decommissioning of arms. I believe that parity of esteem will not be achieved between parties if one party at the table is associated with an organisation which has arms while another in negotiation on the basis of a parity of esteem does not have access to arms. That issue needs to be tackled in a firm and effective way, but it is not the only item on the agenda. There has been no change in my position on this matter and there will be no change in it regardless of how many times the question is put to me. As I said on the last occasion, I do not see particular merit in gratuitously repeating this point day in day out because people recognise it is a matter that must be dealt with, but I recognise it is a difficult one for the loyalists and republican movements. It is not something for which there is a precedent. While the Government should be firm in stating its views on the matter it must at the same time allow those organisations time and space to reconcile themselves to the reality that parity of esteem cannot be achieved unless the arms issue is dealt with, but they must reach that conclusion themselves. I do not believe that the type of statement the Deputy made leading into her question is in any sense helpful, it is misleading.

The Taoiseach mentioned the word "hyperactive" in relation to this side of the House and I consider that a compliment. Will he accept that if it had not been for the hyperactivity of the Fianna Fáil Party in Government we would not have an IRA and loyalist ceasefire? Regarding Question No. 2 relating to the Strand II talks the Taoiseach said in the House some time back that he would issue invitations to all the parties in the North to take part in talks. Will he lay down the same preconditions for those talks as the British Government did in its negotiations with some of those parties regarding talks with them? When he discussed the conflict on this island with Mr. Major did he ask him about troop reductions, particularly in the Border areas, and about the withdrawal of the large military arsenals and checkpoints in Border areas?

I do not know any incoming Taoiseach who, repeatedly, paid tribute to his predecessor as I did to mine on his work in this area. I give him credit for it and I will not deviate from that view but it is credit he shared with many others inside and outside this House.

The Government has no preconditions for talks with any of the parties of the kind to which the Deputy referred. The matter of troop reductions was touched upon in my meeting with the Prime Minister. We have noted that there has been a significant reduction in troop presence in Northern Ireland. We have acknowledged that has contributed to an atmosphere which is less threatening and conductive to political progress, but we also acknowledge that further progress, particularly regarding physical installations which may be obtrusive, can and should be made.

May I ask a brief supplementary?

There are a number of Deputies offering and I want to call them if time permits and if they will be brief. I observe Deputies O'Hanlon, McDaid, Burke, O'Donnell and others. I call Deputy O'Hanlon.

Is the Taoiseach aware of the sense of frustration on both sides of the Border at what they consider a lack of urgency on the part of the Government towards the peace process? When does he expect Strand II of the talks to commence? Had he any response from the British Prime Minister when he spoke to him about policing, an issue of fundamental importance? Did he discuss the relationship between the Secretary of State and the police authority and the role of the Chief Constable in policing? That is an appropriate matter at this time of the year when difficulties which arise during the marching season often result in street protests. Why will the summit between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister not take place until September? In view of the urgency to ensure that the peace process moves forward effectively——

Deputy, I asked for brevity.

——does he consider that it should take place before September?

One reason is that we had a summit last week and we covered a good deal of ground. I will be meeting the Prime Minister in Cannes in the margins of the European Council and I will be able to talk to him then. Furthermore, I will meet him in Majorca. Any time I need to talk to him or he needs to talk to me we do so. We continue to have very good communication on all relevant issues and I do not believe there is any particular significance or value in setting a date for a formal summit because contacts are so intense and ongoing that it is not a crucial question. I most certainly do not accept that there is any sense of feeling among the public on either side of the Border of a lack of urgency on the part of the Government regarding the peace process. On the contrary, there has been a negative reaction to the attempts by Fianna Fáil to make such statement and inferences. They are not true——

The Taoiseach should come up and see if that is the case.

——and not in accordance with the facts or public opinion in this country.

Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply.

That is nonsense.

Deputy Ahern, please desist.

They are unhelpful and recognised as such by most members of the public.

Regarding policing, the House will more than fully understand that while improvements have been made in this area, there has been a dramatic increase since the ceasefire in the number of applicants coming from the minority community seeking to join the police in Northern Ireland. I understand it has doubled, or more than doubled in proportionate terms, even in the period since last August.

Further progress is necessary in the area of policing and that must be concomitant with, and to some degree flow from, a political settlement. In terms of organisation, structure and political accountability, policing arrangements relate to political arrangements and, therefore, we will not achieve a satisfactory policing system until we have a satisfactory institutional and political position in regard to the overall governance of Northern Ireland.

When will that happen?

The purpose of the talks process is to reach such a settlement. Members from all sides must recognise that there remains a major division of loyalty and perception between the Unionist and Nationalist communities as to the appropriate way forward. I welcome the fact that the principal political leaders of those communities have met to at least discuss economic issues. This is a major step forward. I am working with the British Government to create conditions in which we can have all-inclusive dialogue on Northern Ireland, including organisations formally associated with parliamentary activity. Only when we hold all-inclusive discussions will we be able to achieve the necessary all-encompassing settlement which can be achieved by patient and determined work. It will not be achieved very quickly because we are talking about overcoming a legacy of not only decades, but of centuries of distrust between the two communities.

When will Strand II commence?

The Taoiseach gave a litany of his commitments in regard to Northern Ireland over the past few months but the perception in Border counties is that Deputy John Bruton is not like Deputy Albert Reynolds.

Let us not indulge in personalities, let us proceed by way of question on policy matters.

We want to support the Taoiseach in every way possible——

I am still awaiting a question.

——but he is not giving us direction. I thought this matter would have been kick-started at the forum last week where the Taoiseach was extremely vague on the constitutional issue. Is he sticking to what was originally agreed between the previous Government and the British Government or has he distanced himself from that somewhat? The Taoiseach is not the man he seemed to be during his first two weeks in Government.

That should be quite adequate.

It is most unfair of Deputy McDaid to bring the name of Deputy Reynolds into this debate in such manner and invite me to make adverse comments, which I will not make.

I have not asked the Taoiseach to do that.

I have already paid tribute to him. He was leader of Fianna Fáil but it decided to dispense with his service. Perhaps members of Fianna Fáil would address that question before invoking his name in the House.

The Taoiseach had a part in that, he would know all about it.

He would still be leader of Fianna Fáil if it had not removed him as leader. Before Deputies opposite invoke his name, they should recall their role in his dismissal to the backbenches.

I again appeal to Members to avoid bringing personalities into the debate.

We all know the support the Taoiseach gave him on the peace process. He opposed every policy issue.

If he had listened to the Taoiseach there would never have been a ceasefire.

I fail to understand why Fianna Fáil decided to get rid of him, but that was its decision.

The Taoiseach would also want to be careful.

In reply to the only substantive part of Deputy McDaid's question, the Government's position on constitutional change is set out clearly in the relevant paragraph of the Framework Document.

In his long winded answers, the Taoiseach avoided answering the question regarding invitations to be extended under Strand II. This is the responsibility of the Government, it does not need to discuss the matter with the British Prime Minister or any other Government. It is merely a question of extending invitations. Will the Taoiseach outline who he invited and the response he has received. I emphasise the necessity for Strand II invitations to be issued to republicans, Nationalists, loyalists and Unionists. If republicans and loyalists were at Strand II of the talks, the Taoiseach would have an opportunity to discuss the very serious matter of punishment beatings. The absence of shooting and bombings does not mean there is peace in some areas in Northern Ireland. It is incumbent on the Taoiseach and his Government to show initiative, which has been sadly missing in regard to Strand II talks.

Invitations in respect of discussions by the Irish Government with parties in Northern Ireland will be issued to all parties who do not support violence.

The Taoiseach said a moment ago that no conditions applied.

I will not invite Republican Sinn Féin because it continues to support violence and I take it the Deputy would not urge me to do so.

He said there would be no conditions.

I will invite Sinn Féin, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party and other parties whose identities are well known.

The Taoiseach has not issued the invitations yet?

The timing of the issuing of such invitations is a pragmatic decision. I want to have the largest number possible present and to ensure the invitations are issued in circumstances conducive to a successful outcome of the discussions.

The Taoiseach has been in office for eight months and has not issued invitations in this regard. It is disgraceful that the Framework Document has been published since February and the Taoiseach has not issued invitations to the Strand II talks.

The Deputy has made his point.

I indicated only three or four weeks ago that I would issue invitations. Prior to that there was no mention of the invitations being issued. I have contacted on an informal basis, representatives of all parties concerned and I will issue the invitations at a time I believe to be most productive——

In the meantime life drags on——

——from the point of view of the peace process and achieving an overall settlement. I will issue them when I believe it is right, not a moment sooner or later.

In regard to the Taoiseach's response to Deputy Harney's reservations about the Government's change of view on decommissioning, it is regrettable that in a parliamentary democracy the leader of an Opposition party, in exercising critical faculties on the peace process, can be termed unhelpful. Arising from the meeting with Gerry Adams, apart from the arms issue did the Taoiseach raise in any substantive manner the continuing ferocity of punishment beatings in the North? What response did Gerry Adams give to the Taoiseach?

I regard it as unhelpful for an Opposition leader to misrepresent a Government decision and, in the introduction to her question, Deputy Harney misrepresented the Government's position on decommissioning.

The Taoiseach has changed his position.

I have made the Government's position clear on this matter on many occasions and I will not allow any misrepresentation of our position to pass unchallenged——

He will not even allow it to be questioned.

——regardless of how much I may agree with the general tenor of that Deputy's questions on other matters.

May we ask the Taoiseach questions on it?

If the Government's position is misrepresented I will correct the misrepresentation without apology. So, far as the other part of Deputy O'Donnell's question is concerned, I have repeatedly expressed my concern about punishment beatings by loyalist and republican associated groups. It is a matter of grave concern and entirely inconsistent with the peace process that such punishment beatings should occur. It is, however, quite difficult in all cases to assign responsibility for these, to determine whether they are in any sense centrally organised or simply local events undertaken on a freelance basis by individuals or groups of individuals. Either way, it is a thoroughly reprehensible and anti-democratic practice and I will use every opportunity I can to make that view known and to discourage anybody who may be giving any kind of sympathy or understanding to those who are engaged in such practices.

Bring them in and tell them that.

Will the Taoiseach agree that the following has been the timetable since the Downing Street Declaration 18 months ago: the ceasefires were announced nine months ago; the Forum was established six months ago and we had the Joint Framework Document, which was merely an elaboration of the Downing Street Declaration, three months ago? Now we have a vague proposal about a summit meeting with the British Prime Minister next September. Does all that not amount to a grave stalling of the peace process? Will the Taoiseach give this House some indication soon of the specific items he proposes to have on the agenda for the meeting with the British Prime Minister next September? I attend meetings every week of the Forum but nothing can be achieved by these meetings because of the lack of leadership from the Taoiseach and the Government in this matter.

We had the Joint Framework Document three months ago; we had the opening of talks between Ministers and Sinn Féin one week ago; we had the lifting of the state of emergency in this State two months ago; we had the release of prisoners in this State by this Government three months ago, and more recently; this month we had a commemoration in Islandbridge which was attended by people from all sides of the community — that never occurred before — and we have had continued responsible progress on all of these matters. I have to say that the Fianna Fáil Party, which seems to be acting in a concerted fashion, is not being helpful in misrepresenting the progress that is being made on this matter.

That is outrageous.

The Taoiseach should withdraw that remark.

I wish to inform the Taoiseach that a number of us went to Kilmainham. We believed that was a useful initiative and we supported it by our attendance. In fact, I attended it twice because I missed the Taoiseach's letter cancelling the ceremony on the first occasion but that was my fault.

I am sure it is part of the Deputy's new constituency he had not visited before.

I was not sure where Deputy Mitchell would draw the lines at that stage.

It is a very nice place.

I did not have as much influence as he had with the Commission. I assure the Taoiseach that we on this side of the House want to be helpful but to do that we must be clear on the Taoiseach's policy and the direction he is going. If he answered questions in a forthright way——

I have done so.

——that would be helpful. I realise he must read the notes he is given but——

Deputy Ahern did not read a note that was put in front of him.

Unfortunately, it still did not get Deputy Mitchell a job.

The issue of policing is a major one and the reason there are punishment beatings is because it has not been dealt with. The sooner the better that takes place. The issue of prisoners is a major concern to the loyalists in particular, as I said at the outset. The Taoiseach has now issued the invitations on Strand II.

I have not.

The Taoiseach is about to issue them.

I have not set a date.

The Taoiseach told me more than two weeks ago that he was ready to issue them but I will not argue the point.

But I have not issued them since. I am not going to pretend I have when I have not. That is done deliberately.

Will the Taoiseach outline how he sees Strand I proceeding, which involves talks between the parties in the North and the British Government, and his initiative under Strand II? How will they work? What will be the relationship between the two? Has that been thought out? On the issues that are concerning my colleagues in the Border counties, what is happening about the Delors plan? Where is the co-ordination between INTERREG II and the Delors plan? What about the proposed investment conference and the people who will attend it? These matters are causing concern for people. We want to support the policies——

This question is too long.

——but the Taoiseach must outline where he is going in regard to those policies.

We have already devoted 35 minutes to a few questions. That is unsatisfactory.

They are very important questions.

They are important questions but other important questions remain on the Order Paper.

If the Taoiseach would give us comprehensive answers we could be more supportive. Will the Taoiseach explain how he sees his initiative under Strand II proceeding and what has begun under Strand I?

On the question of policing, I have already given a comprehensive answer to that question to Deputy O'Hanlon. I do not think there is any purpose is repeating what I said on that subject. In so far as the relationship between the different talks is concerned, our objective in regard to Strand I is to get all inclusive talks underway, in other words, talks involving Sinn Féin as well as the other parties. Because of the difficulties over the arms issue we cannot say when that will happen. There are issues in regard to arms, for example, that have to be sorted out before we reach a fully inclusive position. I am hopeful we will reach that stage reasonably soon. We are working hard with the British Government to get to that point. From my personal contacts with the British Prime Minister I believe he is as equally determined as I am to reach that point. That is what he is working towards and I have made that clear to Sinn Féin as I have no doubt Mr. Micheal Ancram has done also. Obviously there are difficulties that have to be overcome and anything that can be done in this House to encourage people to make substantive progress on the decommissioning issue will be helpful towards getting all inclusive talks started in Strand I. That has to be our common objective.

As far as Strand II is concerned, that relates to the issue of North-South discussion. Part of the component of such North-South relationships is the institutions in Northern Ireland. There is an inevitable inter-relationship between Strand II and Strand I. It would not be possible to complete Strand II unless Strand I was also making progress. I am anxious to have fruitful and full discussions with all the parties in Northern Ireland, all of whom I have already met but on a more formal basis, to move forward on the issues that are relevant to Strand II. These will feed in to the consideration of issues in Strand I. There is not any barrier between the two Strands — they support and reinforce one another. The third Strand which needs to be considered concerns the East-West relationship on which much work needs to be done.

When will the Taoiseach start it?

I want to bring these questions to finality. I will hear Deputy Harney and a final question from Deputy Dermot Ahern.

A Cheann Comhairle, I would remind you that three of the four questions are mine and this is only my third opportunity to contribute.

We have been on these questions a long time, Deputy.

You call the Deputies, a Cheann Comhairle. Despite what the Taoiseach has said, I put it to him that he has changed the position on the arms issue. It has gone from being a primary issue to being just another issue and that is a major change. We will not be successful with Strand I if that issue is not dealt with and I believe the pressure has been reduced because of the ambivalent language that has been used. In his meeting with the British Prime Minister, did the Taoiseach ask him to use his influence to ensure that those who are organising parades in the forthcoming marching season do not route those triumphalist parades through areas where they are not wanted?

I will not allow Deputy Harney to misrepresent my position on the arms issue. I do not understand why she is trying to misrepresent my position on decommissioning. From the very first day I spoke on this issue, on the steps of Downing Street after my initial meeting with Prime Minister Major, I made it clear that the decommissioning of arms was an important issue on which substantial progress must be made but that it was not the only item on the agenda. That is the formula I used last December, have continued to use and am using to this day. There has not been nor will there be a change in my position and I forcefully reject Deputy Harney's inference that there has been. Furthermore, on the question of parades it is important that restraint be shown by all sides in regard to demonstrations and parades in a divided community. I have conveyed that view to Sinn Féin, particularly in the light of events in Derry on the occasion of the British Prime Minister's visit to that city. On average there are 250 parades of a Nationalist provenance and 2,400 parades of a Unionist provenance annually in Northern Ireland. Responsibility, care and restraint both in regard to the organisation and number of parades needs to be exercised by both communities. I addressed my plea for restraint to both communities in Northern Ireland in order that both communities can benefit to the full from the peace process which is in the interests of both communities.

Earlier the Taoiseach said in relation to Strand II talks, talks between his Government and the Northern Ireland parties, that there would be no preconditions. Later he said he would not talk to anyone who espoused violence and we on this side accept that. Our recent history, particularly in relation to the peace process, proves our acceptance of that. Yet there seems to be a delay in inviting people to these talks. Am I correct in assuming the reason for the delay is that there is a precondition that the British Government has to be satisfied first in its negotiations with a party such as Sinn Féin? In effect, is the Taoiseach saying he will not send out invitations prior to the British Government entering into full talks with a party such as Sinn Féin?

Absolutely not, there is no connection. I have made it clear quite independently in this House that I will issue these invitations at the appropriate time. It will not in any sense be related——

The Taoiseach is not pushing the process on.

I will decide on the best time to issue these invitations. I will not be influenced by the relationship between the British Government and Sinn Féin. That is not a factor in my consideration of that matter. I am, however, anxious and the House will understand that, to get the maximum number of parties to accept the invitation. I do not want to issue invitations to find that only representatives of one community will accept them. That would be counter productive. I am in a responsible way, through informal contacts taking the steps necessary to ensure that the invitations are issued at a time, in a form and in circumstances that achieve the maximum attendance rate.

In issuing invitations to the various parties will equal status be afforded to all parties?

In the Three Strand process, that unfortunately has not got under way yet, will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to confirm to the House that the guiding principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed remains his policy?

It is important to point out that the Three Strand talks broke down in November 1992 and have not been resumed since then. They should not be seen as something that had been happening just before I came into office.

It is part of the Taoiseach's Programme for Government.

A cardinal principle of the Three Strand approach is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and it provides reassurance to all the parties concerned. I am aware that the Official Unionist Party, for example, has expressed a view that we should look at agreements on a more limited range of issues but as far as the Government is concerned our talks will proceed on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.