Northern Ireland Peace Process: Statements.

Inan Bashir was 29 years of age. He ran a small newsagent's kiosk at South Quay in Canary Wharf. He was a well known face to hundreds of office workers who bought newspapers and snacks from him before commuting home. He lived at home with his parents in Streatham, South London. His brother described him as "a lovely man". He is dead today, killed by the IRA.

John Jefferies was 31 years of age. He was helping Mr. Bashir, his friend, because Friday was his busiest day. He was a keen musician who would occasionally sing songs to amuse customers. He lived at home, the only child of a widowed father, also named John Jefferies, in Bromley, Kent. Father and son were referred to by neighbours as "Big John" and "Little John". He too is dead, killed by the IRA.

Inan Bashir and John Jefferies died because of republican violence. What did these two young men ever to do Ireland, or do against Irish republicans, to deserve such a death? Who has a right to decide that Inan Bashir and John Jefferies should die for Ireland?

Barbara Osei is 23 years of age. She is still in hospital suffering from horrific injuries caused by flying glass. Over 100 other people were injured in a shower of flying glass, masonry and metal. For the remainder of their lives, many of these people — disfigured, blinded and traumatised — will wake up at night, thinking they are back in Canary Wharf. What did they do to Ireland, what did they do against republicanism, to deserve such permanent injuries?

These people did not deserve to suffer. To all who know any of those killed or injured at Canary Wharf, I say the overwhelming majority of Irish people, at home and abroad, share deeply in your grief. We too are traumatised by your loss. The tragic deaths of Inan Bashir and John Jefferies on Friday last are a terrible waste of young lives. I extend my deepest sympathies on behalf of the Irish Government and the Irish people to the relatives of both men. There are many questions still to be answered about the IRA bomb on Friday. Who authorised it? When did they decide? Who knew in advance that it would happen? Who knew when it would happen? Who knew that it would happen, but was not told the exact date? Who speaks for those who knew? What would they have to say now if they met Mr. Bashir's brother, or Mr. Jefferies father? Would they even have the moral courage to meet them? Would they be able to look into the eyes of the bereaved?

This is a time of shock and sadness, it is also one for restraint and reconciliation. There will be much analysis, much writing about what has happened. As I have said many times, it is true that some could have done more to underpin the peace. It is also true that others did more than could ever have been expected. I do not propose to attempt to spread the blame.

I have made my position clear. The blame for the suffering and deaths of innocent people rests solely on the shoulders of those who agreed to, who knew about, and those who planned and planted the bomb at Canary Wharf. Let us not become so lost in the moral fog that we cannot see this clearly.

Democratic politics is about the resolution of conflict. Politics is an inexact science, but politics will always be needed, because there will always be a conflict to be resolved. In trying to resolve conflict, politicians always have made, and always will make mistakes. In this they are no different from the rest of humanity. However, there is a deep and fundamental difference between occasional selfishness and the normal human errors that democratic politicians might make, and the use of violence to achieve political ends.

There is no moral equivalence between killing people to achieve political ends and making mistakes in the course of non-violent politics. They are entirely different, and we must be absolutely clear about this difference.

The British Government made a mistake in its response to the Mitchell report. The Unionist parties made a mistake in not sitting down with Sinn Féin and asking them the hard questions face to face, but a comparison cannot be drawn between political mistakes and the response to those mistakes that took human life. Killing is never justified as part of the political process. Killing is never justified as part of a negotiation. Killing is not an acceptable passport to negotiations.

A Government cannot allow murder, or the threat of murder, to set the political agenda. Our State is founded on democratic principles. We do not use violence, and we reject those who do, and those who accept political support from those who use violence. If we accept violence in one area of life, then we are opening the door to the acceptability of violence in other areas of life.

It is part of the role of government in a democracy to protect people from violence from every quarter.

As leader of the Opposition, before I became Taoiseach, I made an act of faith when in this House I said in September 1994 I believed in Sinn Féin, and I was willing to believe that the IRA had ended the killing for good. Since then I have reguarly met and trusted Sinn Féin. Even last week I had an amicable meeting with Sinn Féin including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. I accepted that Sinn Féin was committed exclusively to advancing its cause by peaceful, democratic politics. I believed they had made an irreversible commitment to peace. That act of faith has now been thrown back in my face by the IRA.

I ask Sinn Féin to tell me how we can restore that faith. Let Sinn Féin tell the Government this publicly, because this is the public's business and not just the stuff of private meetings. Let Sinn Féin say what it has to say to all the Irish people, not just to me.

I still want to talk to Gerry Adams about peace. I share the frustration that he, and others, feel about the pace of political progress in Northern Ireland. I cannot do so until Sinn Féin persuade the IRA to say, and prove by what it does, that violence has no place in the political process.

Sinn Féin has influence with the IRA. Sinn Féin and the IRA are part of the one republican movement. Sinn Féin can, from time to time, speak authoritatively for the IRA. It persuaded the IRA to stop the killing 17 months ago. It can persuade it to do so again. Sinn Féin must now speak to the IRA and convey a simple unambiguous message: killing does not serve our people.

Let me make it clear. We have not shut any door on Sinn Féin, but we will not meet it at ministerial level until the IRA campaign is called off. I welcome Deputy Bertie Ahern's support, on RTE's "6.01 News" on Sunday, for that policy "of not formally meeting with Sinn Féin, going back to what had been the practice over a number of years". I also welcome the support by the leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Mary Harney. This is no more than I would have expected from two democratic parties in Dáil Éireann. This Government's policy is the same as the one followed by Mr. de Valera, Mr. Costello, Mr. Lemass, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Cosgrave, Mr. Haughey, Dr. FitzGerald, and Deputy Albert Reynolds. There were no handshakes or photocalls in Government Buildings until the killing was stopped, nor will there be now. That firm policy helped bring us the peace and it will do so again.

Our decision puts down a moral marker on what Irish society considers to be civilised political behaviour. It puts down a political marker in relation to what we expect of Sinn Féin. It also represents a security marker. I am speaking here about the security of the State and of all who live in our own towns and countryside.

As the SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon said on RTE television last night, "Our party, the SDLP, recognises that any sovereign Government, in a sovereign State, has a duty to protect that sovereign State, and I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that I believe, in this instance, that the Irish Government had no option whatsoever but to take this stance". He continued: "You cannot have a situation where a sovereign Government one day, or one hour, is sitting having discussions and negotiations with a political party that is part of a movement which is murdering people and one hour later having to go themselves in front of the television cameras or on the steps of Government Buildings to explain that". Mr. Mallon underscored the particular responsibility on Government, as Government, to protect the democratic institutions of the State from complicity, or the suspicion of complicity, in acts of terror.

The Government's door is open to Sinn Féin. I will talk to Gerry Adams and his colleagues as soon as they go to the IRA and succeed in getting it to say that it will stop killing people. In the meantime, Government officials are in daily contact with Sinn Féin and reporting to me on what Sinn Féin has to say. The Tánaiste and I are willing to authorise a face to face meeting at official level with Sinn Féin. This meeting can take place on the basis that Sinn Féin would bring forward their ideas on how the ceasefire can be restored.

We appreciate that there are people in the republican movement who believe in peaceful politics and are using their influence to get the IRA to stop killing. The Government is supporting John Hume in his enormous efforts to persuade the IRA to end violence. If the IRA clearly states that the cessation of violence is restored, the Government will resume full political discussion with Sinn Féin. I urge the leadership of Sinn Féin to think strategically as well as tactically. All democratic politicians have experienced tactical setbacks. I believe, and have said, that recent British Government responses were tactical setbacks for the Irish Government but such setbacks have not, and will not, deter us from our strategic goal of agreement between the people on this island.

The republican movement must understand that a peace process cannot be just a tactic, something to turn on and off to relieve the frustrations that will arise as part of any political process. It must come to understand that all democratic politics anywhere are based on the principle of consent — consent not to use violence, to accept the same rules as apply to others and to abide by collective decisions. The republican movement, as a whole, must reflect on the principle it signed up to when it joined the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, namely " that all differences relating to the right of self-determination of the people of Ireland, and to all other matters, will be resolved exclusively by peaceful and democratic means". Sinn Féin needs to think about what that means for its current attitude to the IRA bomb in London.

Sinn Féin did not make a mistake when it embraced the peace process. The peace process was working. Let me itemise the progress that has been made so far, which shows why the republican movement should have persevered with the peace process. The British Government has accepted that it no longer has any selfish or strategic interest in Ireland, and that it will accept the will of the people of Northern Ireland on their political future. It is now for the people to find a basis for agreement, with the support and involvement of both Irish and British Governments. As a result of the cessation of violence, British and Irish Ministers were freely meeting with Sinn Féin. Highly accomplished reports on many issues of relevance to the Northern Ireland situation were compiled by the parties at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. We were closer than we had ever been at the time of the IRA bomb in London to the goal of all party talks. The British and Irish Governments had agreed a firm aim of launching all party negotiations by the end of this month. There was, as Prime Minister Major's speech showed yesterday, a lot of work going on on alternative mechanisms for launching these negotiations on a basis that would allow everybody to take part, including Sinn Féin and the Unionists. The Mitchell report had just been published and provided a carefully balanced formula for getting over the roadblock in regard to decommissioning of arms.

More than that, last week had been characterised by a considerable intensification of the political track. The Government's proposal for proximity talks was gaining real momentum towards all-party negotiations by the end of this month, as agreed between the two Governments. The Tánaiste's visit to the United States, and in particular his discussions with President Clinton, went very well. His meeting with the Progressive Unionist Party in the political track was a milestone. The Government's face-to-face discussions with the SDLP, the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin were most constructive.

On the morning of Friday, the day of the bombing, I had a very positive meeting with four key Conservative Party backbench MPs who were, I believe, beginning to appreciate the merit and practicality of the Irish Government's proposal for proximity talks.

As all such progress was being made the IRA decided to ignite a bomb in London. Apart from its immorality, this bomb was a drastic political mistake from the point of view of the cause of Ireland. Let me tell the House what we have been working on, and continue to work on, with the British Government. We are working on an inclusive, democratic mechanism that will be ready and waiting for Sinn Féin and the republican movement to participate in as soon as the IRA renounce violence. We want to build a vehicle that will accommodate the two Governments, the Unionists and the Nationalist communities in all-party negotiations. We want Sinn Féin to be part of that. It has much to contribute. But before it joins us in rebuilding the peace process, it must get the IRA to stop killing for political purposes. The Government sincerely hopes that Sinn Féin will influence the IRA to reach that decision. That is why it is leaving open channels of communication to that end at official level.

For its part, the Government will do everything possible to get the peace process back on track. In particular, it will work closely with the British Government to steer the process through this difficult stage. I had a very constructive telephone conversation with the British Prime Minister on Sunday evening. We agreed on two key objectives — first, to bring an immediate end to violence and secure a restoration of the IRA ceasefire and, second, to persevere with our work towards the commencement of all-party negotiations.

With a view to advancing those objectives, the Prime Minister and I agreed to meet as planned later this month. There is much for both Governments to build on. Progress at times since the end of August 1994 may have been slow, but set against the history of three centuries of fundamental political division in the ancient province of Ulster, the pace and nature of work in the last two years towards a lasting, all-inclusive settlement was quite unprecedented.

Imaginative intergovernmental understandings were reached. The Joint Framework Document set out for the first time a shared British/Irish model of a possible agreement that was designed to give impetus, focus and direction to all-party negotiations.

The US Administration led by President Clinton was, and still is, an active participant in the peace process. The Mitchell report on decommissioning offered new and challenging insights on the way forward to immediate political negotiations. The work of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation provided clear focus on realities, principles and requirements. Recently, we launched our proposal for proximity talks as a mechanism to achieve the firm aim of all-party negotiations set out in the November communiqué.

All these developments were against a general background of peace dividends for everyone — reduced security, economic rejuvenation and above all, the freedom from the oppressive fear of bombs and bullets. Those dividends, and the potential for their further development, will guide the actions of the Government. We will relentlessly pursue the objective of a lasting political agreement. Our commitment to the aim of reaching a fair and balanced settlement remains undiminished.

The British Prime Minister said his mind is not closed. Nor is mine. In that spirit, and following on my phone call with him on Sunday, I put a series of issues to him on which work needs to be undertaken before our planned meeting before the end of this month. The matters I suggested we consider together are: the creation of a way forward that Sinn Féin could honourably join, and into which it would be accepted by the other participants, once the IRA campaign is over; whether, and how, an elective process, which is broadly acceptable and fully within the three strand structure and which followed from proximity talks, might lead directly and speedily, without equivocation, to all-party negotiations. In that context I welcome John Major's openness to the ideas of others in finding the way to a restoration of the ceasefire. I note his statement that elections would give the electoral mandates and confidence which could lead straightaway to negotiations; the way in which proximity talks, which would enable the two Governments to clear up doubts and misunderstandings in the minds of the participants about all proposals, might be helpful; how these talks could enable us to be as clear as possible in advance on how the principles and modalities of the Mitchell report would fit into any "elective process — all-party negotiations" proposal. This could deal with the real danger that because of lack of proper procedural understanding, an impasse over decommissioning could unexpectedly paralyse negotiations at any stage. I made very clear the Irish Government's view that the presentation of any way forward must take account of the justifiable fears of Nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland. Neither the elective approach nor any other approach should be presented as a foregone conclusion or as a policy to be imposed.

This preparatory work for the meeting between me and the British Prime Minister must also now take on board the very welcome and interesting proposal from John Hume for referendums North and South. This proposal has considerable merit as it would afford all on this island the opportunity to state in a unique way their opposition to violence and their wish for all-party negotiations. It would show that the only electoral mandate any of us have is to use exclusively peaceful methods. It would end the theology of violence, and would endorse the demand for talks without threats. The Government would be prepared to give top priority to the necessary legislation, if agreement is reached on the terms of such referendums and the issue of how best to avail of President Clinton's offer, when I spoke to him on Friday night, of his support, and that of his Administration, for the restoration of the ceasefire.

To sum up, I am satisfied that a viable basis exists, despite the terrible act on Friday, to restore peace to the people of these islands and this time to underpin it on a democratic basis, provided Sinn Féin uses its influence for peace, and the IRA clearly says that a total cessation is again in place.

I ask the IRA to think again. A quarter of a century of violence did not progress any of your political aims. It divided Ireland more than ever before. There is no escaping the truth that bombs and bullets do not persuade people to change their minds. Violence is a bankrupt substitute for peaceful persuasion and patient negotiations. I urge every Deputy in this House and everybody in Ireland to join me in an unambiguous call for the restoration of the IRA ceasefire.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party I extend our deepest sympathies to the families, relatives and all those who knew Inan Bashir and John Jeffries on their tragic deaths. We extend our sympathy to all those who were injured and hope they will have a quick recovery to full health. From photographs and reports in the media we know many of them, unfortunately, will not get back to total health in the short-term.

The Irish people regard the bombing in London last Friday night and the breakdown of the 17 month IRA ceasefire as an absolute tragedy. It should not and need not have happened and must not be allowed to continue. The IRA holds sole responsibility for the renewed bombing. The impasse in the peace process is something for which we are all responsible. All of us involved must learn from our mistakes. The peace process must be put back on the rails again, if possible, before further tragedy occurs. In this House we must give the reasons Sinn Féin must now go back to the IRA and ask it to stop before it is too late, before the renewed cancer of violence spreads to Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

My central theme will be what needs to be done. We should approach the matter in three ways: our attitude to the London bombing and the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire; the lessons to be learned from the way the peace process has been handled in the past 17 months; and how we can best proceed to restore the integrity of the peace process before further irreparable damage is done. It is four months since I, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, requested a debate in this House so that we could talk at length about problems in the North. I know from the Whips that during the next two days most Members of the House will endeavour to contribute to the debate — more than half the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party have already listed their names. That is proof that people are prepared to join the Taoiseach in extending their sympathies to those who were killed and injured and in ensuring the process is retrieved.

What has been most lacking in the peace process to date is a spirit of generosity. Before I make some difficult and harsh statements on this issue, I will say something positive about the achievement and maintenance of the ceasefires and the peace process during the past 17 months. The peace process has been a magnificent achievement of which Irish people at home and abroad have felt justifiably proud and which has been greatly admired all over the world. Loyalists, even if they define their nationality differently, have shared in that pride. To give a single example, the Irish peace process has been an inspiration to the people and politicians of the Basque country who are also caught in the grip of violence that is difficult to end.

The Irish peace process was largely a creation of the Irish people and was sustained by them most especially by Nationalists and loyalists. Both sets of paramilitary organisations held their ceasefires with a discipline that has few parallels elsewhere. Even those who disagreed with the ceasefires, some in smaller paramilitary organisations, nonetheless respected the will of the people and of the community.

The peace process owes a great deal to dialogue and to the political courage and risk-taking by leaders in both the republican and loyalist organisations as well as political leaders like John Hume and Deputy Albert Reynolds. Like many others of different political persuasions, I had come to admire the personal commitment and courage of many of the republican and loyalist leaders whom I have come to know. I feel some sympathy for many of them in the difficult and awful predicaments they now face. In particular, Gerry Adams deserves credit for persuading the IRA to accept a complete ceasefire and to make a definitive commitment to the peace process, even if it has now broken it. He should get some assistance consistent with democratic principles, to help to restore it, but this time it must really be for good. I and my party, in the right spirit, intend to give him whatever constructive help we can, but the political atmosphere will be poisoned and trust will be impossible, if a constant sense of threat continues to hang over us.

The democratic process is slow and frustrating. All of us in this House know that and the constitutional Nationalist politicians of the SDLP are even more aware of it. Political progress is never automatic. Serious and prolonged setbacks are something we all experience from time to time. We have to tackle these difficulties politically and in democratic ways. Eighteen months is far too short a period to test what the democratic alternative can deliver, particularly when 25 years of violence delivered so little. If 25 years of paramilitary campaign could not deliver measurable progress towards a united Ireland or British withdrawal, what is the justification for going back to it and giving up on the political process after only 18 months, when its long-term potential has scarcely even been tried?

I understood the argument that IRA leaders could not bind a future generation, and therefore, hesitated to use the word "permanent", but it was reasonable to expect that after one generation had been blighted by conflict, the coming generation would be given a full opportunity to see what peace and democratic politics could achieve over the next 25 years.

Virtually everyone in this country is horrified and appalled by the bombing of an office block in the East End of London, and by the accompanying statement that announced the end of the IRA ceasefire. Bombings by their nature, no matter what warnings are given, inflict sudden death and injury on the civilian population in a way that can never be calculated in advance. Those who allow or order them to be planted can justifiably be accused of a callous disregard for human life. What have two poor workers done that they should be blown to smithereens, and why should around 100 office workers, travelling home on a Friday evening, be showered with splinters of glass? What credit do such actions confer on the Irish cause? The IRA statement speaks of removing injustices. Can the IRA not see all the human injustices that last Friday night's bombing and a sustained campaign of violence would create?

Britain is our most important economic partner. The Irish economy, North and South, and those looking for employment here will also suffer in different ways as a result of last Friday night's bombing. Many here who might have earned a living next summer in the tourism trade or who might have found employment in new industrial or service projects may not do so now. As in every conflict, ordinary working people suffer most. The bombers may have thought they were damaging the city of London, and no doubt they were, but they were also hitting the heart of every provincial town and city in Ireland, even if they remain physically unscathed.

We believe it is a profound political miscalculation by those who carried out or authorised this bombing to believe that their political case will be strengthened by last Friday's action. On the contrary, they have made the task of those in Sinn Féin who have argued their political cause infinitely more difficult. They raise a doubt as to whether any reliance can be placed in future on Sinn Féin's influence with the IRA or on Sinn Féin assurances with regard to the IRA's further intentions. The bomb has damaged the credibility of all of us who urged people to put their trust in the commitment to peace of the movement which combines Sinn Féin and the IRA.

The long-suffering people of Northern Ireland deserve better than the prospect they now face. They have been through 25 years of a bloody and pointless conflict, and they do not want to go through it again. There is more to life than politics. It is not true that there has been no benefit to the people from the peace. Life has been easier and more relaxed. Most of the fear had gone, creating a greater sense of freedom. Plans and projects for the improvement of the economic and social conditions, even in the most deprived areas, were being discussed and, in some cases, were in progress. Security had been scaled down. Cross-Border roads were being reopened. There was new hope of a better life for the future, even if there remained immense political difficulties with which I will deal later.

The people of Northern Ireland do not deserve to be plunged back into the fear and the reality of random death by bombs or sectarian assassination. Their children deserve a better future. Two of the biggest atrocities on this island over the past 25 years occurred outside Northern Ireland, in the Republic. While the Garda will do everything to protect people, we have no guarantee of immunity. Well over 3,000 people died during the past 25 years. I do not want to see anyone on this island or on these islands die as a result of renewed political violence, but time is fast running out.

If the ceasefire is restored, this country, North and South, faces an exceptionally bright economic future which will benefit all our people and will have some influence in bringing the two parts of the island closer together in many ways. That future will be partially blighted if full-scale violence returns. We will feel the effects, directly or indirectly, whether or not we are directly subjected to attacks. Renewed violence would cost us millions of pounds in extra taxes and lost opportunities.

I now come to deal with the political aspects of the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire. The original IRA statement promised "a complete cessation of military operations" and "a definitive commitment" to the success of the democratic process. The IRA and Sinn Féin understood quite well that the commitment required of them, and which they gave, represented the equivalent of a permanent end to violence, even though the word "permanent" was not used. "Definitive" is defined in the dictionary as meaning "finally fixing or settling something", "conclusive". It means that there can be no alteration of intent, no going back. Martin McGuinness gave the assurance that the ceasefire would hold "in all circumstances". On 6 September 1994 Gerry Adams, with John Hume and Deputy Albert Reynolds, issued a statement which commenced:

We are at the beginning of a new era in which we are all totally and absolutely committed to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving our political problems.

Similar joint statements have been made with the present Government. Sinn Féin joined the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on the basis of terms of reference which stated:

It will be a fundamental guiding principle of the Forum and of participation in it, that all differences relating to the exercise of the right of self-determination of the people of Ireland, and to all other matters, will be resolved exclusively by peaceful and democratic means.

Last week the Sinn Féin delegation agreed to a statement in the Forum report that:

the first principle must be the right to peace, based on justice. Flowing from this right is the principle that the pursuit of all political goals, including the establishment of an overall political settlement, must be undertaken by exclusively democratic and peaceful means, characterised by dialogue and free from violence and coercion.

The renewed IRA campaign is not compatible with any of these statements.

There are now enormous contradictions in the position of both the IRA and Sinn Féin. In the past the IRA had a reputation for keeping its word. On 31 August 1994 all sides of this House accepted the permanence of intent. I am very disappointed that the present IRA has not kept its word. Those of us on the Nationalist side, the Irish Government, Fianna Fáil and other parties in this House, John Hume and the SDLP, Irish-Americans and the Administration of President Clinton, all feel profoundly disappointed. Some will argue, pointing to the continued state of preparedness of the IRA, that from the start its commitment to peace was not made entirely in good faith, was only conditional, not unconditional, and that, in practice, it was keeping its options open. It will be said that the action last Friday has provided Unionists and the British Government retrospectively with some basis for their claims of justification for doubting all along the IRA's position.

I am sure there are many senior people and ordinary members in Sinn Féin, and even in the IRA, who were committed to the peace process, who knew nothing in advance about the decision to end the ceasefire and who did not agree with it. From the point of view of IRA volunteers in August 1994, the leadership brought about a peace with honour, which was neither victory nor defeat, but which allowed Sinn Féin to transfer for good their struggle onto the political and democratic plain. It could prove much more difficult, if violence continues, to restore peace on the same terms that volunteers will find honourable or acceptable. That is the reality which must be faced before all boats are burnt. When conflict really begins, all sides tend to up their demands, making peace more difficult. We can already see this beginning to happen.

I have always known and understood that Sinn Féin and the IRA are determined to stay together as part of the one movement. I have always believed and tried to persuade others that attempts to create splits or talk up alleged ones are counterproductive, that their discipline has been more an ally during the peace process than an enemy. It is far more important to us that internal debate should result in a restoration of the ceasefire than that public condemnations be expressed which would create an open split and nullify the influence of those who might be able to bring it about.

How could the IRA call an end to the peace process without apparently even informing or consulting many of those who spoke for its political movement and who had been battling politically on its behalf? On the face of it, the IRA has treated some of the leaders of its political movement with contempt, and seriously prejudiced its ability to serve them in the future, by damaging their credibility. A French newspaper, which had no axe to grind one way or the other, wrote at the weekend that this outrage has wiped out years of effort by the leaders of Sinn Féin to give a certain respectability to the republican movement associated with terrorism for 20 years.

While I understand the political frustration that was building up, without in any way excusing the decision to end the ceasefire, experience has demonstrated that violence leads nowhere. I note the IRA statement ending the ceasefire is short on defined aims or the character of what may follow, whether it consists of a once-off event, a limited series of actions, or a full-scale campaign. It clearly represents a provocation to other paramilitaries, which I hope they will firmly resist. However, loyalists have nothing to gain by joining in. I understand the difficulty that responsible leaders have in controlling all their volunteers from undertaking hasty and instinctive reflex actions. They should leave dissuasion of the IRA to the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, North and South, and to the forces of the State. I assure them that Fianna Fáil, and I believe all other parties in this House, will remain totally wedded to the principles of the Downing Street Declaration, including the principle of consent as there defined. That is what we spoke to them about when we were in Government and we are committed to it. It is imperative that there be no further acts of violence from any side, as each act of violence will make the restoration of peace under any reasonable conditions even more difficult.

The peace process was not built on the imposition of political tests. In Government, Fianna Fáil did not require that people give up deeply held convictions or ideological beliefs, even where these may in practice have been one of the sources of conflict. It was far more important that the IRA campaign should have ended than that it accepted the principle of consent, which is essentially a political requirement.

Professor Eide, a respected Norwegian international lawyer, who undertook an important study for the Forum states: "Numerous territorial arrangements made in earlier times would, if they had been effected today, be seen as a violation of present-day international law. Since they are already in existence, however, they must be accepted until such time as there is consent to change. On the other hand, it is obviously legitimate to openly argue in favour of change to seek to achieve the necessary consent to bringing it about". This reflects exactly the understanding that underlay Fianna Fáil's discussions on self-determination and consent, both with Sinn Féin and the British Government, in the drafting of a joint declaration that eventually became the Downing Street Declaration.

I believe the alleged justification in international law for the position on national self-determination that underlies the Sinn Féin analysis and the IRA's armed struggle is fundamentally flawed. Self-determination means government by consent but, as John Hume has often pointed out, the will of the Irish people to solve their differences and conflicts by exclusively political means is not in doubt and has on numerous occasions been overwhelmingly demonstrated. In practice the present-day IRA has ignored the principle of national self-determination. The people of Ireland have, over and over again, expressed in unmistakeable fashion at elections their will that their profound differences have to be resolved by exclusively political means.

There should be no doubt about the position of Fianna Fáil. While we consider partition was a grave injustice and contrary to the principle of national self-determination, if it had been correctly observed at the time, we cannot ignore the lapse of time and treat Northern Ireland 75 years on as if it had never existed. Most of the Irish people, while they would like to see a united Ireland brought about in due course by peaceful means and agreement, have no wish to coerce an unwilling Unionist majority into a united Ireland against their will. As they confirmed in 1994, Sinn Féin does not believe on the face of it in coercion either. In any case, practical reality dictates that coercion will not work. There is not the power to do it, and it would not be right even for anyone to talk of it. In the joint statement on 6 September 1994, Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Gerry Adams stated: "We reiterate that we cannot resolve this problem without the participation and agreement of the Unionist people".

I will be honest and say that like many people, I have great difficulty in understanding the tortuous distinctions between non-coercion, veto and consent. Sinn Féin accepts on the one hand that a Protestant majority in the north cannot be coerced into a united Ireland, but vehemently denies it has a right of veto over it. It accepts that Unionist agreement is needed for any settlement, but denies that the consent of a majority in the North is required. Quite frankly, most of us find such distinctions difficult to grasp and doubt their substance of reality. Yet they seem to be a cause or source of conflict.

I will give another example. The first draft of the Downing Street Declaration which had the support of John Hume and Gerry Adams as well as conditional IRA support as a possible basis for peace, the text of which is to be found in a 1994Political Quarterly, stated in paragraph 5, speaking of the Taoiseach: “He accepts, on behalf of the Irish Government, that the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with the agreement and consent of the people of Northern Ireland”. This last clause was slightly amplified in the course of negotiation with the British to “with and subject to the agreement and consent of the people of Northern Ireland”. Are we to believe, as suggested in a weekend newspaper analysis, that that sort of fine verbal distinction is part of the basis for the renewed IRA armed struggle? Is it not the truth that republicans have always been torn between the generous notion of needing and seeking Unionist agreement and the more ideological belief that in the last analysis Unionist consent is not required? Less dogmatic rigidity on the part of Sinn Féin in certain areas could have contributed greatly to increased momentum and confidence in the peace process.

The IRA, if it continues down its present path, will infallibly destroy the current peace process, which was one of the most noble endeavours created in Ireland this century, and the Nationalist consensus on which it was based. If that violence goes on, I predict it will ultimately destroy itself and its movement because, without support among the Irish people, it will not survive in the longer term.

The IRA has the capacity to do immense damage to the wider interests of Nationalist Ireland and to discredit by association the whole basis of the peace process and many of those who worked on it. In August 1994, it took, on the basis of a fundamentally sound analysis, a long-term strategic decision. It is short-sighted to devalue that strategic decision to a tactical one. The breakdown of the IRA ceasefire will make it impossible to maintain any inclusive Nationalist consensus. Nationalist Ireland will be weakened and divided, and in some less friendly quarters, discredited. It is ironic that the Nationalist consensus for peace should have been abandoned at a time when, led by the Irish Government, it was functioning reasonably well with strong support from Washington.

I am also very surprised and disappointed that members of the IRA should have allowed themselves to be provoked into a serious blunder by British Government obstruction and what in effect was an attempted Unionist veto on inclusive political talks. There will of course be a certain grim satisfaction at the turn of events in some of these quarters.

I now want to turn to the way the peace process has been handled, particularly by the British Government. Again, I would like to praise before I blame. The Government of John Major did contribute with the Irish Government to the breakthrough of the IRA ceasefire. The British Prime Minister, John Major, deserves full credit — as I have said many times already in this House and elsewhere — for his contribution to the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document. I fully accept that if he had been solely concerned with parliamentary arithmetic, John Major would never have become involved in the peace process.

Unfortunately, I regret that his fine part in that achievement has more recently been overshadowed by serious mishandling of the peace process by the British Government over the last 12 months. I believe that the peace process would still be intact today if it had been better and more sensitively handled, and without any loss of democratic principle. A little more understanding, generosity and confidence-building would have made all the difference to persuading the IRA to stick to their commitment to democratic politics as now providing the only way forward.

I am saying very little today that I have not said in private to various British representatives or that I have not argued in public before the ceasefire broke down. The British Government did not fulfil its own commitments.

First, in the Anglo-Irish Agreement the British Government promised to work together with the Irish Government to accommodate the rights and identities of the two traditions. The solo British run, announcing an elected body without any proper consultation with the Irish Government, the day the Mitchell report was published was in clear breach of the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and was a throwback to the unilateral Prior initiative of 1982 which was launched without consultation with the then Irish Government. Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that type of approach was meant to be a thing of the past.

Second, in the Downing Street Declaration, the British Government promised "to work together" with the Irish Government to achieve agreement, and "to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of such agreement through a process of dialogue". In paragraph 10 they promised that democratically-man-dated parties showing a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods would be free to participate fully in democratic politics, and to join in dialogue between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead. That right of full participation was denied by the British Government to Sinn Féin for over a year because of the creation of a subsequent precondition. Sir Patrick Mayhew keeps saying Unionists will not turn up to talks in this or that format. What efforts did he make to persuade them? If the British Government could talk freely to Sinn Féin, and even invite two SF councillors into Downing Street, why did they never publicly urge Unionists that it was time for them to talk to Sinn Féin? Why were the Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties not doing the same?

Third, prior to the ceasfire on 4 January 1994 John Major pledged in the Belfast Newsletter, “If they renounce violence — for good — and show they mean it then Sinn Féin have the clear prospect of entering into the talks process, with the other constitutional parties”.

Five days later he promised:

We've offered them a route into the democratic talks themselves. That is what is on offer. All they have to do is give up violence ... will the IRA give up violence in order to enter into talks in the democratic process?

On 26 May 1994 at a press conference John Major said about Gerry Adams: "there is an opportunity for him to give up violence and then in a short while to enter the constitutional talks". Sixteen months after the ceasefire, more than a short while has long since elapsed. The IRA called a ceasefire on the basis that they would be admitted to all-party negotiations on a three strand basis, with the Framework Document, not on the basis of being allowed to join an elected body or assembly.

Fourth, in the Framework Document of February 1995, the British Government declared with the Irish Government that the climate of peace "transforms the prospects for political progress, that "everyone now has a role to play in moving irreversibly beyond the failures of the past", and that "a vital dimension of the three-stranded process was the search for new institutions and structures to take account of the totality of relationships". They acknowledged the widespread desire "to see negotiations under way as soon as possible". They hoped to give impetus and direction to the process. They undertook "to deploy their political resources with the aim of securing a new and comprehensive agreement involving the relevant political parties in Northern Ireland and commanding the widest possible support".

In recent months it seemed that the British Government had abandoned its commitment to early all-party talks so clearly set out in the Framework Document. Indeed, its political resources were, if anything, deployed in the opposite direction, to put up new obstacles to progress. I will not dwell on the commitment to all-party talks at the end of February that were promised in the 28 November 1995 communiqué, a commitment that had again effectively been abandoned by the British Government before last Friday.

If Sinn Féin and the IRA have severe credibility problems in the light of commitments they have made, so too unfortunately do the British Government. Over the past 18 months they singularly failed to provide any credible or broadly acceptable route into all-party talks. In public at least it was not apparent that they had lifted a finger to urge Unionists towards talks.

In the absence of victory or defeat for one side, did the British Government seriously expect the peace to last absolutely indefinitely if there were no progress towards negotiations? Were they not exposing the peace to huge risks by placing it under almost intolerable strain? For example, what would have happened in South Africa, the Middle East or Yugoslavia or any other conflict area if, after a ceasefire had been painfully secured, no round-table negotiations were to take place over 17 months, if one principal party to the conflict — in this case Sinn Féin because of its associations — continued to be excluded from the conference table? The British Government tried to treat Sinn Féin and the IRA to all intents and purposes as defeated parties on whom they could impose terms at will and with whom the understandings on which the peace was based could be safely ignored. There was never the slightest acknowledgment by the British of the republican or loyalist contribution to peace.

The atmosphere was spoilt from the beginning by British quibbles about the original IRA ceasefire statement. This was then replaced by an unrealistic precondition about decommissioning, against which they were warned by successive Irish Governments and out of which they proceeded to create a serious obstacle.

When the Mitchell report eventually provided a solution to that problem within hours a proposed elected body was promptly interposed and perceived as yet another stalling tactic or worse. It allowed republican critics of the peace process to argue plausibly that the British Government had never acted in good faith, that there was no intention of ever allowing all-party talks to take place, except on humiliating and one-sided terms that involved unacceptable political or military preconditions. As many of us in this House have argued repeatedly, how could we demonstrate the superiority of the political alternative if Sinn Féin continued to be denied full participation in it, as originally set out?

Lack of generosity also applied to prisoners. I have been told many times by very good inside senior people that if even 50 prisoners in the North had been given early release the ceasefire would still be intact today. In Britain the Home Secretary stiffened the regime for many long-serving prisoners in Britain, while minimal concessions were made to prisoners in the North. People seemed determined to ignore the role both republican and loyalist prisoners had played in securing and supporting the ceasefires and to play to the Gallery of right-wing Tory opinion. The Unionists were quite agreeable to a sensible prisons policy and were not an obstacle to it.

Sir Patrick Mayhew once used the analogy of a slow bicycle. Inevitably, perhaps, anyone who tries to cycle slowly will end up, as in this case, falling off. As the person primarily in charge of Northern Ireland policy, I believe he bears more responsibility than anyone else for the prolonged impasse in the peace process up to Friday last.

As I said in my Ard Fheis speech last November, "can it be that we are actually seeing the re-emergence of the old situation, where Irish affairs are treated as nothing more than a pawn in the British political game?"

In recent times, obviously there was some truth in that. Indeed, a plausable case could be made for saying that Sir Patrick Mayhew's job was to manage the Northern peace process in a way that ensured the survival of the Tory Government at Westminster rather than the survival of the peace itself.

My party supported the conclusions of the excellent Mitchell report. It provided the solution to the decommissioning issue and should have paved the way for all-party talks before the end of February. No one in this House could believe how within a few hours a most valuable piece of work could be cast uncermoniously aside by the British Prime Minister for an idea that came from only one side of the divide. Instead of adopting the Mitchell report as the way forward to talks, an elected body was offered as the only alternative to prior decommissioning. It is evident unfortunately that this removed the last hope of any move within a reasonable time-scale to all-party talks, on a threestrand basis, despite united Nationalist opposition to the proposal for an elected body.

During the entire 17 months of the ceasefire, there was scarcely a breath of criticism from the British Labour or Liberal Democrat parties about the mishandling of the peace process. It was left to a few senior outspoken Tory and Labour backbenchers like Peter Temple-Morris and Kevin McNamara to provide warnings on what was happening.

Irish people in Britain and this country respected the role of the British Labour Party in Government in 1969-70 when James Callaghan was Home Secretary. They saluted the contribution of Clive Soley and Kevin McNamara. They will also remember that the current Labour leadership rarely lifted a finger to help the peace process when it was in difficulty. They gave Sir Patrick Mayhew and the Major Government a free hand to drive the peace process virtually into the ground.

Despite our strong feelings about the behaviour of the British political establishment, we recognise that it is essential for the two Governments to work together. The conciliatory tone of the British Prime Minister yesterday would be more welcome if it had come earlier. A spirit of humility all round rather than a sense of vindication would better serve us in rescuing the peace.

I do not want to give the impression that the peace process was handled perfectly on this side of the water. At this time it is important for us in this House to try and support the Government in positive efforts to rescue the peace process. I acknowledge that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have devoted enormous time to it, and have done the best they could by their own lights. I acknowledge the genuine efforts of the Taoiseach to understand a political philosophy and organisation, with which he had little sympathy prior to coming into office. I also acknowledge the efforts of the Tánaiste and his Department to provide continuity, to ensure realism and to defend as best he could the original spirit of the peace process.

We in Fianna Fáil, too, need to be self-critical. Perhaps we could and should have done more to tie down firmly both Sinn Féin and the IRA on the one hand, and the British Government on the other, before the ceasefire, to more explicit commitments, assuming this could have been achieved. It was irresponsible on both sides to allow a strong Government that had the confidence of republicans and Nationalists to fall over a matter that did not compare in importance with the peace process. The smug assumption at the time that the peace process was bigger than any party or individual and could be equally well handled by others has turned out to be not entirely true. The notion that the new Government would be better placed to do a deal with Unionists has also so far not been borne out, particularly in the light of recent recriminations.

A major factor in the difficulties in the peace process was that the British Government no longer seemed to be listening to the advice of the Irish Government. The Government, despite its best efforts, did not always conmmand the full confidence of the Nationalist community. When the Taoiseach briefly argued for a decommissioning gesture last March, it gave huge encouragement to the British campaign to make it a precondition. Last autumn, there was a feeling that too much ground was being given diplomatically, although we supported the 28 November communiqué, albeit with reservations. The refusal to meet John Hume and Gerry Adams together had a devastating impact on confidence, and I personally could not and still do not understand it, since the British Prime Minister has always been willing to meet the Unionist or indeed other leaders together. I would also have to say frankly that the admission, against precedent, of the leader of Democratic Left into the Anglo-Irish negotiations, even though his Department gave him no functional responsibilities in the area, and his constant sniping at Sinn Féin, did not help confidence in the Government either.


Hear, hear.

We have adopted a bipartisan approach, while reserving the right to make both positive proposals and on occasion offer criticism. I would, therefore, prefer to focus attention on our responsibilities in this House and the responsibilities of the Government in the period ahead.

On the positive side, I have always acknowledged the valuable support of the UUP and indeed the Alliance Party for the Downing Street Declaration. I welcome the improved level of contact and political exchange that has taken place between our parties, especially over the last year. Much the same is also true of our relations with the loyalist parties. Politically there is much more in common than can be easily acknowledged, as Senator Mitchell observed. Unionist and Nationalist parties make things very difficult for each other, because of the traditional gulf of mistrust.

What I regret, however, over the last 17 months is the non-co-operation with any aspect of the peace process by the DUP, and the continued reluctance of the UUP to re-enter three strand talks, with or without Sinn Féin, as that reluctance goes back long before August 1994.

I believe that people in Northern Ireland, not least the business and professional communities, would have appreciated the beginning of direct dialogue between the Unionist parties and Sinn Féin, I know some Unionist representatives like Chris McGimpsey, Raymond Ferguson and Ken Maginnis were prepared at least to engage in debate. Unfortunately, the UUP gave the impression that it wanted to stall all-party dialogue as long as possible, and instead bring the peace process under the umbrella of an elected strand 1 body, which would not embark on formal negotiations for some time. Was it too much to ask the Unionist parties, for the sake of the better life enjoyed by all during the ceasefires, that they should have engaged in direct talks with Sinn Féin as the Belfast Telegraph and the Methodist Church urged? I cannot believe that many people in Northern Ireland can be pleased at the way in which the precious opportunity of peace has apparently been politically squandered.

I accept that the argument about a return to Stormont was not the real issue in this debate but there seems to be little recognition that majoritarianism is not democracy in a divided community. In general, Unionists seem to have considerable difficulty with any new practical applications of the principles of partnership and parity of esteem within Northern Ireland. They have even greater difficulty with practical recognition of the all-Ireland identity to which Northern Nationalists are particularly attached but which can be in the interest and service of the entire community.

My only hope is that some good can come out of evil. I hate to think it takes an act of terror to get anybody to reflect. I think all parties and both Governments will examine closely the experience of the last 17 months, and that we will all try to learn from the mistakes and over-confident assumptions that we made. Nor should we uncritically go back to all the practices that obtained over 25 years. Successive Government may have abided by the finest democratic principles, but they did not succeed in doing what we must do now, namely stop the violence in good time forever.

I do not expect the two Governments to do more than they should have done and agreed in principle to do, before the bomb was set off in London. If they committed themselves in the 28 November communiqué and previously to getting all-party talks off the ground soon, they of course remain duty bound to do that. The objective of all parties and Governments involved in the peace process must be to get IRA violence stopped for good and political progress started.

Everyone who has any influence with the IRA must try to ensure that there are no further attacks, as every attack will make the task of restoring the peace process to its previous state and achieving early inclusive all-party talks even more difficult.

I call on the IRA to restore the authority of its political leadership. Unless it does so, Sinn Féin and the IRA will be left without a political voice, and will find it very difficult to influence the intensifying dialogue between the two parties and the two Governments. In August 1994, they boarded a political train that seemed to be going somewhere, only to find that it slowed right down. Now that they are off the train, there is a danger that it will start to move again, and it could quite readily disappear into the middle distance. There will be forces around only too happy to see what they regard as a dangerous Nationalist consensus for peace ruptured for good, with republicans left with nowhere politically to go. I have always believed that Sinn Féin's influence can only be brought to bear within a broader consensus and will not come any longer from the continued threat of IRA violence.

There is strong support for the view that dialogue must be maintained. That is equally the strong conviction of Senator Mitchell and the US Administration, who have immense experience of conflicts throughout the world. The political traditions in these islands are somewhat different.

The situation prior to August 1994 was that there had been no direct contact at Government level with Sinn Féin or loyalists, which was mainly conducted through intermediaries. However, there was a single direct line of communication with a person in the Taoiseach's office. The British, as we discovered, also had their own direct line of communication. While we should not return to a policy of total isolation, which arguably continued for so long, it would be very dangerous to create the perception that democratic Governments are negotiating under duress. There is a very careful balance to be struck.

I believed there was a case for a meeting last Saturday between the Taoiseach and Gerry Adams, before high-level contact was curtailed, to put as strongly as possible the Government's view on the previous day's event. Many people found the Taoiseach's initial statement too hard. It was in the same spirit that we proposed yesterday that this Friday's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation should go ahead, though we understand that that will not now happen, and that it is in fact being postponed for two or three weeks which is far better than stated earlier.

I understand the formal position of the Taoiseach and the Government. I want them to know that they will have our support in any contact with Sinn Féin they judge appropriate. They should not feel inhibited by fear of criticism from the Fianna Fáil Party. Indeed, we encourage them to continue the maximum level of contact that they consider prudent.

As an Opposition party, we naturally have somewhat more freedom in this matter. There is a balance to be struck between bringing home to the IRA the enormity of what it has done to the peace process, and trying to find acceptable ways of putting it back on track. We will try to talk to all parties, including Sinn Féin, in an appropriate manner.

The question arises as to whether there would be value in having a US peace envoy, who could talk freely to all parties without compromising any principles of democracy. I put this suggestion to the US Ambassador, Mrs. Jean Kennedy Smith, yesterday and the response from the United States and from Senator Mitchell has been quite encouraging. The Clinton Administration is the one part perceived as neutral by all, and we will continue to need the quality of help and assistance it has given us in recent years.

We also believe the Mitchell report has a central role. We must at all costs avoid being drawn back into old arguments about permanence and decommissioning. The only way to avoid that is to take the six Mitchell principles and phased decommissioning during negotiations as our cornerstone. We should firmly resist any attempt by the British Government to add a seventh principle, that of consent, which they had wished to see in the Mitchell report. There must not be new preconditions.

I have no difficulty welcoming John Hume's idea of a referendum, held simultaneously in both parts of Ireland to underscore the exercise of the principle of self-determination in relation to violence, to put it beyond all argument or doubt, and all-party talks. At that point, the IRA and the political parties would be directly confronted by the wishes of national democracy.

It would be best, when and if the present breakdown is overcome, if all the paramilitary organisations of their own accord would decide quickly, simultaneously and by agreement to disband and, by whatever method, safely dispose of their weapons in a verifiable manner. President Clinton was right when he said their day was over, and what happened last Friday in London only confirms that. Practically no one wants an Ireland in which paramilitary organisations continue to hold sway. They and the forces that motivated them belong to history.

With regard to an electoral process or an elected body, I am glad the British Prime Minister accepted yesterday that this was not the only option. There are still many unanswered questions. It is still not clear whether immediately following elections it is envisaged that three strand talks should begin, with those elected making up the negotiating teams. In the three strand process, the two Governments played a central role. We do not want to see strand two between the Northern parties and the Irish Government diluted, or the holding of strand two talks made subject to the will of the majority in the body. We would prefer the two Governments to organise and convene the talks as they did before. An elected body that is only a debating chamber could not trigger a phased start to decommissioning, which the Mitchell report says should happen during the negotiations proper.

On the other hand, if an elected body is solely for the purpose of providing teams to negotiations, the exclusion of Sinn Féin because of continuing IRA violence that has been hinted at would only serve to inflame the situation further, by challenging or denying its electoral mandate. I remain concerned about the divisive effect of elections, in that they are likely to throw up new obstacles to talks. I am not convinced of their necessity.

The proximity talks proposed by the Tánaiste before the end of the month would be a demonstration of the two Governments' good faith in their commitment in the communiqué of 28 November. The idea gets over the problem of parties that will not talk to each other. Either the appointment of a US peace envoy or the proximity talks or a combination of both, if properly handled, will provide a good start to sort out ideas on the way forward.

Prior to August 1994, the British Government seemed most of the time to want to push forward the talks process ahead of the peace process. The Irish Government must not lose sight, in all the manoeuvrings that will take place, of the primary objective of all of us, which is to restore peace and make political progress. As long as there is any realistic hope in the short-term of stopping a renewed IRA campaign and restoring the ceasefire, we must guard against proposals designed to achieve a measure of agreement among some constitutional parties but that would leave the violence to continue. The peace process and the talks process must be treated as one.

A great national effort is required to mobilise public support for peace and Fianna Fáil will play its part in doing all it can North and South to convince those we meet. I ask the IRA to listen to and respect the voice of the Irish people and those elected to the Oireachtas to represent that voice, and all other parties to make their best endeavours to achieve a workable compromise that leads directly to talks.

Last Friday was one of the darkest and most depressing days in recent Irish history —"Black Friday" as Cardinal Daly has rightly called it. It left me and, I am sure, the overwhelming majority of Irish people sad and angry, Two young Londoners, at the end of a long day's work in a newsagents, met a brutal death. Many others were maimed or wounded. They were wantonly made to suffer for a cause of which they probably knew little and understood even less. Our first thoughts must be for the innocent victims and their families. They did not expect that by going about their normal daily lives they would become the victims of a conflict we all believed was over. The Government has already, on behalf of the people, expressed its deep sympathy. Our words will be scant consolation, but that does not diminish the sincerity with which they are expressed.

The London bomb shattered more than the lives of its victims. It shattered also the hopes so many of us cherished that we had at last left behind the dark shadow of violence. It shook our confidence that we could successfully construct a truly inclusive process in which the commitment to the democratic and peaceful process would be universal and unquestioned. It faces us with the question whether the peace process is stronger than those who seek to destroy it, and the need for us to make it so.

I have heard people interviewed on the radio who claim they have got nothing from the ceasefires. This is simply not true. The past 18 months lifted a great burden from the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland. They were enjoying — many for the first time in their lives — the benefit of a peaceful society, which is their fundamental right. People from both parts of the island were reaching out, in a transformed climate, and discovering common interests and affinities which the violence had blighted.

The visible signs of conflict and of the security response to terror had been fading away. The economic benefits of peace had begun to manifest themselves both North and South — tourism numbers in Northern Ireland had increased by 56 per cent and North-South trade had increased by 12 per cent. There was a striking increase in international interest in investment opportunities, assisted by the major support offered to the cause of peace both by the European Union and the United States. There has been a proliferation of new contacts and a development of new understanding across the Border, at all levels.

Friday's bomb has done huge damage to all these developments. If it presages the resumption of a campaign of violence then we will throw away the gains which have so painstakingly been made. Politically, many people have invested unprecedented hopes in the peace process and have worked tirelessly for its success. The ending of the cessation of violence calls into question all that has been achieved in recent years, and threatens to make a mockery of the efforts of all of us who have worked for peace in Ireland, in Britain and throughout the world — above all in the United States.

No language is sufficiently strong to condemn the action of those responsible for the bomb. Its wanton disregard for its victims was matched by an equally contemptuous disregard for the collateral damage done to the true welfare of the Irish people, in terms of their political hopes and aspirations and their natural right to peace. We cannot pretend this was not a grave setback to the search for a political accommodation.

However, the present situation calls for more than condemnation or passive despair. We must seek to put matters right. It is the sobering truth that this bomb may be the opening move in a new spiral of tragedy and destruction. Those who resort to violence frequently do so in the delusion that they can control the process. History — and not least the history of Northern Ireland — shows otherwise. It is crucial, therefore, that we all use our utmost political resources to draw back from the brink. We must redouble our efforts to bring about a lasting peace, underpinned by a comprehensive political settlement. The Government has already made clear that it has chosen the path of peace. We want the republican movement to rejoin us irrevocably on that path, but whether they do so will not diminish our determination to reach our chosen goal.

The approach of this Government and of its predecessor to the search for peace has been consistent, comprehensive and logical. It is fundamentally encapsulated in the Joint Declaration. It has been based on awareness that the divisions which have led to conflict can only be healed by the agreement and co-operation of the people, North and South, representing both traditions in Ireland. We know that such agreement will only be won if there is a shared understanding of, and commitment to, the fundamental principles which must underpin a political settlement. In essence, there must be consent on all sides to new political arrangements and structures, and identities of all. The Government and the great majority of the people of the island fully accept, and have repeatedly made clear, that there can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its people. We have equally made clear that any political accommodation must be squarely based on the principles of parity of esteem and equality of opportunity, treatment and advantage, and must address and embrace all relationships.

The prospect for real peace and lasting agreement is immeasurably enhanced by the cessation of paramilitary violence and the consequent scaling down of security counter-measures. The coming of peace will so alter the political climate as to make a just and lasting agreement achievable, not easily achievable, but ultimately so.

Our approach has been based on a continuing repudiation and renunciation of violence, coercion and threat as a means of securing political progress. We reject and condemn them both as morally evil, and as politically futile. However, at the same time we have worked on the assumption that those who used or threatened violence had — not for moral reasons, for violence is always wrong — to be offered a meaningful political way out of the bloody cul-de-sac in which they were trapped. Accordingly, with the British Government, we reiterated that the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence. We confirmed that, in these circumstances, democratically mandated parties which established a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and showed that they abided by the democratic process were free to participate fully in democratic politics.

In short, we have sought to set out both the basic requirements for a settlement and the way to get there — through dialogue and negotiation — but we made clear that admission to dialogue, and the right to take part in negotiations, had to involve an end to violence. Violence is the direct opposite of democratic politics. It seeks not to persuade, but to overwhelm: it looks not for agreement, but for victory. I said in the Dáil on 31 August 1994 that there is a fundamental distinction between democracy and violence and that "no true dialogue is possible between those, on the one hand, who accept the constraints and rules of democracy and those, on the other, who accept them only selectively or not at all".

In the run-up to the IRA ceasefire the then Government made clear that the price of Sinn Féin's admission to full participation in the political process was a total cessation of violence. We made clear that there could be no question of trying non-violence for a limited period to see what it brought, of turning the tap on and off. We saluted the announcement of 31 August on the basis that it represented a permanent and irrevocable step away from violence and into the democratic arena.

On that understanding, the then Government moved swiftly to welcome Sinn Féin into the democratic family, opening discussions with its leadership and moving to establish the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. That clear commitment to a total cessation of violence is the basis on which we have operated since then and on which our commitment to fully inclusive negotiations has been based.

As Saturday's Government statement makes clear, the fact that commitment to a total cessation of violence, which was to have held in all circumstances, has now been revoked, in the bloodiest possible way, fundamentally alters the situation. That fundamental change cannot be ignored by the Government and must, of necessity, bring about a change in our approach. That is the reason the Government does not feel it right or appropriate to meet Sinn Féin at ministerial level until there is a restoration of the IRA ceasefire. The republican movement must be shown, with whatever emphasis it takes, that we do not and will not condone violence.

As has been made clear, this does not mean that Sinn Féin is being isolated or marginalised. Contacts will continue at official level in order that we can establish whether and how Sinn Féin can be brought back fully into the process. There will be no closing-off of practical channels of communication and no lack of opportunity for dialogue in either direction. Likewise, we acknowledge the continuing courage and commitment of other political figures, notably John Hume, who will, we understand, continue to engage in direct contact with the Sinn Féin leadership, as he has done for several years. We very much hope that these exchanges will be successful and fruitful. Nevertheless, the Government has a particular responsibility, as the custodian of democratic values on which this State is founded and as the representative both in Ireland and internationally of the interests of all our people, to make utterly clear the dividing line between politics and violence. As Séamus Mallon has said, it is possible to make peace or war, but not both.

The crucial goal now is that the ceasefire should be restored and the search for political progress resumed in the only climate where meaningful and inclusive political negotiations are likely to succeed, namely, a climate free of the threat or use of violence for political ends. I know for a fact that a great many members of Sinn Féin are working hard to bring about such a decision. Sinn Féin has invested heavily in the peace process and many within that organisation have worked tirelessly in its cause.

I have repeatedly praised the personal courage and political creativity shown by the Sinn Féin leadership in bringing about the August 1994 cessation of violence. That courage and creativity is now needed more than ever as well as a realistic awareness that each atrocity narrows palpably the prospect of political agreement and the trust that is the essential foundation for any lasting settlement.

It is equally vital that the loyalist ceasefires hold firm and that the appalling spiral of killing and retaliation not be allowed once again to impose its fatal logic upon us. The honest and courageous leadership which the leaders of the loyalist political parties have shown in recent days is commendable and once again demonstrates that they have a vital role to play in the search for a settlement.

The fundamental problems which we need to overcome by political negotiation have not altered since last Friday — Friday's bomb serves only to remind us of the urgency and necessity of agreement and the terrible future to which a failure to agree would condemn us. Likewise, the basic principles which must underlie a settlement have not changed. Nor has the route to agreement changed: there is no alternative to comprehensive and inclusive dialogue and negotiation.

Since the cessations of violence the political path has been a tortuous and difficult one. I have always thought and said that it would be so. Twenty-five years of violence aggravated the already profound lack of trust between the two communities and only served to restock what Senator Mitchell called their vast inventories of historic recrimination. There is no doubt, however, that the road to the all-party negotiations which are accepted as necessary on all sides was made more uphill than it need have been. There can be no doubt that with greater flexibility and imagination all round we could have been much further forward.

Just as the Irish Government and Nationalists generally were for too long dismissive of the Unionist identity and unwilling to acknowledge the real interests and fears of the Unionist community, so the British Government and Unionists generally have not appreciated or taken on board the sensitivities and concerns and demands of the Nationalist community. The Unionist refusal to talk or their insistence that talks must be on their own terms and within a conceptual and institutional framework of their own making has been decoded as a reluctance to take part in the common enterprise of building a society in which all can feel at home. Many Nationalists see it as a refusal to acknowledge or address their legitimate concerns.

The search for peace and a negotiated settlement to underpin it must inevitably be a joint enterprise between the two sovereign Governments and all those with a contribution to make to a solution. In this, the relationship between the two Governments is the enabling condition for progress on all other fronts. It is an "iron law", to borrow Mr. Paddy Ashdown's phrase, that the prospect of success for any initiative on Northern Ireland is in direct proportion to the degree of agreement the two Governments bring to bear in seeking that objective. The pattern of the relationship between the two Governments over the past decades has been one of ever-growing co-operation. It is important to maintain that co-operation in the face of any threat of violence. It is ever more important to maintain it to meet the challenge of peace and under-pinning it through a negotiated settlement.

Such co-operation requires an act of political will. Each Government must operate within the constraints of its own situation. Good English politics all too often can make bad Irish politics and the converse is equally true. The Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Joint Declaration and the Framework Document are so many milestones along the road to our co-operation and show the degree of convergence and solidarity which is possible when the political will and imagination is there. A carefully co-ordinated approach is again necessary. Both Governments have an interest in overall peace, stability, justice and fairness in Northern Ireland which transcend any partisan interest there. We need to make that commitment shine out from our common position and "stay on message" in that regard, to borrow the American phrase.

The Northern parties, since the ceasefires, have been locked in a stand off between those who wished to go into inclusive negotiating without preconditions and the two Unionist parties which did not. That stand-off has caused great and dangerous frustration.

I repudiate the view that there has been no progress in that period. Progress may have been too slow for many people's liking, including that of the Irish Government, but we have continued to work for agreement with the British Government.

I was flying over the Atlantic last Friday, one hour after a very productive visit to Washington which had significantly advanced the prospect of talks, when I was informed of the IRA statement and when the bomb exploded in London. Progress — slow, tortuous, but real — was put at risk by a murderous but ultimately futile gesture of frustration.

The political stand-off is mainly concerned with a disagreement as to whether an election must come before negotiations or negotiations before an election. This disagreement coincides more or less exactly with the constitutional fault line in Northern Ireland, the pro-union parties demanding an election first, the Nationalist parties the opposite. For as long as that remains the case, the elective process inevitably polarises the political debate.

The Nationalist parties' reluctance to begin with an election is not based primarily on a fear of a return to Stormont, although any such proposal would be anathema to them. It reflects a fear that the purpose of such an election would be ritual and symbolic, rather than practical. Elections in Northern Ireland are proverbial for their predictability. That predictability might almost be offered as one of the defining features of the problem. There is no doubt whatever that elections will confirm what is already incontrovertible — that there is a Unionist majority and a Nationalist minority, in the percentages which they both know exactly.

Nationalists fear that the purpose of such an election would be to establish the dominance of the majority, and the primacy of the internal strand of negotiations, as a prelude to going to the table. The suggestion that the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland should revert to the status of a subject minority is for them very like what a proposal for a united Ireland is for Unionists — a certain receipe for wall-to-wall opposition.

It is wise, in debating the election option, to bear this ingrained reflex in mind. It is not of course allayed by a Unionist refusal to address these concerns in the political track, or the refusal to discuss elective options with the Irish Government, on the grounds they are an internal matter.

Nationalist leaders have made known the many practical difficulties they foresee in approaching negotiations through an elective process. The very language illustrates some of the dangers — we fight elections, we do not fight negotiations. Elections can be adversarial and confirm existing divisions. Negotiations must be inclusive and must seek new ways to make consent in a divided society a meaningful concept.

The final say about any elective process rests with those who are invited to stand for such elections, namely, the Northern Ireland political parties. We have said repeatedly that this issue should be a matter for discussion and that the onus is on those who believe that the elective approach is best to persuade those, who, from experience and analysis, have advanced several cogent objections to it.

It has been a helpful development that Prime Minister Major, in a carefully measured speech in the House of Commons yesterday, sought to address two areas of particular concern. He sought to provide assurances that an elective approach would not lead to inordinate delay and to make clear that all-party negotiations would ensue as an immediate and direct result of an elective process. These clarifications are positive and helpful and will make it easier for the elective approach to be considered calmly and rationally in the manner we would wish to see. However, there is still a need for clarity on a range of other very important and complex aspects of this issue, and a need to address these in discussions between the Governments and the parties.

The Mitchell report, whose brief passing reference to an elective process received such unexpected prominence in the House of Commons, nevertheless sets out succinctly and shrewdly three important criteria. It underlines the need for broad acceptability. This is a requirement of common sense, as well as of fairness. An elective process which was boycotted by the Nationalist community, or whose result was boycotted by the Nationalist community, would serve little, if any, useful purpose. There is an ominous precedent in the Prior Assembly, which resembles in some respects some of the ideas now on the table, and which was boycotted by Nationalist representatives in the early 1980s.

Any elective process would need to have an appropriate mandate. This again could involve a wide range of issues. One of the most important would be the relationships between any elective process and the negotiating process. Unless that were direct and immediate, and without scope for further pre-conditions, I do not see that Nationalists would have any incentive to consider the proposal. The Unionist suggestion that elections were an alternative to negotiations significantly increased opposition to their proposal.

There is the question of the three-stranded process. I said earlier that any suggestion of an internal solution automatically guarantees the total opposition of Nationalist political leaders in Northern Ireland. It would be essential that the three-stranded dimension is clearly and unambiguously spelt out in any proposal for an elective process and that the independent role of the Govenrments and the integrity of the three-stranded process is guaranteed at least to the same extent as in the 1991-92 talks.

Looking beyond the particular issue of an elective process, there is an urgent need to address the basis and format of negotiations themselves. Much work remains to be done to establish the model of negotiations which can command the agreement of all the parties. We need to establish which format will best enable a lasting settlement covering all the strands to be hammered out. We need to see how the potentially invaluable contribution which the Mitchell report could make can best be reflected in the negotiating process.

It was the need to resolve these many complex issues, as well as to give momentum to the process of negotiation, which led me to propose to the British Government the notion of proximity talks. I regret this proposal seems to have been addressed, and partly dismissed, on symbolic grounds rather than on a consideration of the practicalities involved. The preparatory talks involve eight or nine parties and two Governments. We had a firm target of the end of February. We had a range of complex and interlocking matters to discuss between the Governments and with all of these parties. There was a danger that the contacts taking place, frequent and welcome through they were, could be merely a chain of inconclusive meetings.

It was for that reason that I proposed that the two Governments should take the initiative of calling all the parties into one convenient venue for an intensive two-day conference. I am of course fully aware that certain parties have difficulty in meeting certain other parties. The arrangements and, so to speak, the geometry of the proceedings can be easily arranged to take account of all of these sensitivities and to ensure that no group is pressurised into a meeting which it does not want to hold. At the same time, the proximity of the parties would enable an intensive interaction to be set up between them and with the Governments, using whatever contacts and meetings are appropriate for any given participant.

The present stand-off between the approach of those who believe elections must precede negotiations, on the one hand, and those who believe elections should flow from negotiations, on the other, is not necessarily irreconcilable. Many of the reasons which led parties to adopt one or other position reflect genuine and rational concerns, but concerns which can perhaps be addressed and assuaged. For that, however, a process of intensive discussion is necessary. The proximity talks proposal is intended, essentially, to deal with this need and to fast track the preparatory phase of talks. If there is a speedier and better way of doing that, naturally the Government will be open to it. So far, however, I have not heard any, I remain convinced that the proposal which we have made is a practical one, and takes account better than most of the practical requirements of the position.

The Irish Government is also determined that, whatever route is taken to all-party talks, there should be a place at the table for the loyalist parties. The people whom they represent have been part of the conflict in Northern Ireland and they must be directly involved in finding a solution. We would have grave doubts about any mechanism which excludes them from the negotiating table.

The loyalist parties have, as I have already mentioned, made a positive contribution to the process of reconciliation which has been a feature of the last 18 months. Only last week I welcomed a delegation of the Progressive Unionist Party to Iveagh House, where we had a most constructive and encouraging meeting and I look forward to meeting the Ulster Democratic Party in due course.

The immediate challenge facing the two Governments is how to fulfil the mandate of the November communiqué and to reach agreement on the basis, participation, structure, format and agenda of all-party talks. We will continue our efforts over the coming days, in consultation of course with the British Government, to put together a package of options which might be put to the parties in the near future. The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister will be able to review progress in that regard at a summit very soon.

I am certain that I speak for every Member of the House when I say that it is our fervent desire that Sinn Féin is part of negotiations we wish to see in place. All parties represented here have worked closely with Sinn Féin in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation for almost a year and a half. We have all gained from the experience. I appeal to Sinn Féin to make it possible to participate without qualification in the peaceful democratic process. I call upon the IRA not to stand in the way of allowing Sinn Féin to do so. The people of Ireland are tired of wars. Violence begets only violence. We demand peace.

Together the people of this island have the patience and determination to overcome mistrust and to construct a political foundation strong enough to ensure that peace will never again be broken.

A dreadful cloud of gloom, near despair, swept through the country since news of the IRA bombing broke last Friday. In that evil deed two innocent people were murdered and 100 injured. The explosion destroyed our hope, our sense of optimism that flowered all too briefly for 17 months. People everywhere are rightly shocked and terrified at the prospect of a full blown return to violence and tit for tat killings that we had for the past 25 years.

Collectively, we are all holding our breath and hoping that the peace process can be salvaged. Whatever tactic or strategy motivated the IRA to plant that bomb, it was just a tactic or a strategy. If murder is one strategy or one of one's tactics, one places one's self outside the limits of democracy, of civilisation and the most basic form of morality. It must be repeated in this House over and over again that killing and maiming, whether with semtex, armalites, petrol bombs or baseball bats, is profoundly evil. It is evil wherever or whyever it is done. In Bosnia the murder and mayhem was done in the name of nationalist national self-determination. In London, that justification is just as repugnant and threadbare.

No political imperative which claims to flow from the so-called right of national self-determination can override the dictates of common humanity. No human cause justifies inhumanity and murder. No cause commands our silence in the face of such inhumanity. These words are not a form of self-indulgence or a ritual in the politics of selective condemnation. Any politician who finds himself or herself gagged by political circumstances from denouncing what happened last Friday should ask themselves this question "What greater cause do I serve that demands my silence when human beings are being murdered and maimed to satisfy my demands?"

Peace is not the gift of the gunman, it is our birthright. We must not be grateful to those who suspend killing. We should never confuse the end of fear with feelings of gratitude and admiration for those who no longer terrorise us. It is not the function of the IRA to bind this generation or the next to the use or non-use of violence.

My heart goes out to the families of those killed on Friday, and living victims and the families affected by that atrocity. It is particularly poignant that among the dead and mutilated are immigrant workers who never wished for anything except to be left in peace. A moment of reflection by those who supported, planned or executed the bombing would surely impress on them how utterly grotesque it is to kill and maim ordinary people to make a political point.

It is equaly grotesque if politicians become more flexible and conciliatory following bombings of that kind. There will be many, if they see a more conciliatory response after a bombing, who will think that violence pays. Sovereign governments and constitutional politics must never be seen to give or reward in any way violence. We must be flexible but we should have been flexible during the past six months. If something was wrong last week, it is equally wrong today.

It is not enough to look in anger and shock at the inhumanity of the London bombing. We must move away from the politics of the last atrocity. The peace process can be salvaged but only on the basis of reality. It will not be salvaged on the basis of wishful thinking or by surrendering to extremist positions, least of all to the extremism of violence. We must take careful stock of our current position. It is only on the basis of a realistic assessment that we can move forward.

The republican movement must take full responsibility for what happened on Friday last. That bomb signalled an end to the peace process and brought about today's despair. There was no justification whatever for what happened. The response by the republican movement was selfish and one-sided. Sinn Féin leaders and many other commentators have sought to understand why the IRA broke its ceasefire on the basis that it got nothing from the cessation of violence. They believe they have nothing to go to the IRA with to get them to reinstate the ceasefire. That is a travesty of the truth and a version of events which cannot, and must not, go unchallenged and uncorrected in this House.

Hear, hear.

I wish to outline some of the positive features which resulted from the ceasefire. In this Republic, section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was lifted. The broadcasting bans in Northern Ireland and Britain were also removed. IRA prisoners were released and Sinn Féin representatives were received by two successive Governments at the highest level. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was established to facilitate Sinn Féin. The Irish Government supported the granting of visas to the United States for leading members of Sinn Féin and they were received at the White House. In Nothern Ireland the Border roads were opened and there was a remission of the sentences of what are known as political prisoners. The British Army was withdrawn from the streets to barracks and some units were returned to Britain. Exclusion orders were lifted and British Ministers held talks with representatives of Sinn Féin at Stormont.

It must not be underestimated that these enormous achievements occurred in a period of 17 months following 25 years of horrific violence. That was what Sinn Féin received from the peace strategy. It got nothing from a campaign of violence that lasted for 25 years. I believe that these were significant achievements. In assessing what happened during the past 17 months, we must consider the response of the republican movement to the achievements.

In November 1994, a postman was murdered in Newry. More recently five civilians allegedly involved with illegal drugs were murdered. The vicious punishment beatings continued and numbered over 100 on the republican side. The republican movement refused to endorse the consent principle which every party in this House, and every other nationalist party on this island, endorses. It refused to surrender even one ounce of semtex as a gesture of its goodwill that it would forswear violence in favour of democratic politics. When the republican movement carried out these actions, the Sinn Féin leadership refused to condemn such thuggery. We are informed that Sinn Féin do not like the politics of condemnation and have a disdain for it. However, no party is more ready to condemn everyone from the British Government, the unionists, the RUC and more recently the Irish Government — than Sinn Féin. They condemn anyone who does not buy into their selective agenda.

Many of us found it difficult to work with Sinn Féin at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. We sometimes found it hard to accept their double-speak and linguistic somersaults. We did so, however in the interests of the greater good. We tried so hard to wean them away from violence and encourage them into the democratic political process. Many of us were prevented from expressing our real feelings in case we might upset the peace process in any way. We held back when we might have stated certain things. Lest Sinn Féin's representatives think we endorsed what happened, we did not.

The plain facts must be spelled out in this House if we are to move forward in a sensible political way. The picture is not black and white. The suggested scenario of a hard done by Sinn Féin and an intransigent British Government is far from correct. As Seamus Mallon stated last night, his community and party have attempted to have nationalism recognised in Northern Ireland for 23 years. Despite the slow, tedious and tortuous nature of politics they never resorted to or justified the use of violence. There are many decent people throughout the country who although they are repulsed by what happened in London on Friday last, they believe that we should still have meetings with Sinn Féin. It is important to realise that the peace process is larger than any party and that Sinn Féin and the IRA should not be permitted to take it hostage. There may have been many who were so mystified at the weekend that they believed a meeting between the Government and Sinn Féin might have put the peace process back on track and led to a renewed cessation of violence. I believe the Government's actions were correct. I respect and support its decision.

We must ask ourselves "Where do we go from here?". There must be a political settlement. We must create a society in Northern Ireland where Unionists and Nationalists feel equally at home. Northern Ireland must become a partnership, there must be parity of esteem for the two communities. Unionism and Nationalism are incompatible but it must be and is possible for both communities to live side by side if the appropriate structures are put in place. It is important that we understand there is no distinction between what are called the "peacemakers" in Sinn Féin and the IRA itself. It is correct to say perhaps that there would be no peace process without Gerry Adams. However, it is equally true that there might not have been a need for such a process without Gerry Adams and his allies in the IRA. Ordinary, decent people must not lose sight of that.

I believe that much more could have been achieved during the past 17 months. It is regrettable that the British Government and the Unionists dragged their feet and that various divisive diversions were introduced along the way. No matter what diversions were introduced, there can never be any justification for what happened on Friday. If, as Seamus Mallon stated last night, a bomb were placed at the Financial Services Centre in Dublin, we would not like to see the British Government meeting with the people, or their political allies, who planted it. Equally, if a bomb were planted at the Treasury Building in Washington I do not believe the American Government would like to see the Irish Government meeting with those responsible. It is important that we are not ambivalent in relation to these issues. We must realise that the hopes and aspirations of many people were destroyed on Friday. I recently met with an American investor who planned to build a major tourist facility on the Border. He asked me if thought the ceasefire would last. I informed him that I believed it would. I am sure he, and many like him, are re-examining their investment plans and making alternative arrangements. Many people will also be changing their holiday plans for 1996. That is what is so sad about the events of Friday last. Even if it was an isolated bomb, it will have enormous implications for investment and tourism. Many of us were looking forward to the official visit this year of President Mary Robinson to Britain and to a return visit of the Queen to this jurisdiction. We felt there was a new relationship evolving between our two countries. Much of that, and the goodwill that comes from visits like that and indeed the two royal visits that have already taken place, were shattered by a bomb detonated in the name of this country.

It is important that the two Governments unite in a common strategy. The failure of the two Governments to act together in recent times gave soccour to those who planted the bomb. They must have a positive, agreed political agenda. If the Government fail to unite in a creative positive response, they will play straight into the hands of those who prefer the lethal certainties of violence to the uncertainties and infirmities of politics. They must have a common approach and they must seek the support of the American Government for that common strategy because if they do not have it the Governments' efforts would be undermined.

Sinn Féin has isolated and marginalised itself; it has not been isolated by anybody else. The two Governments should be in a position to call talks of all those parties that renounce and reject violence, whether the talks are of the round table or proximity variety. It is important that those talks are held so that the widest possible support can be gained for the way forward. Whether it is an elective process, a referendum or immediate all-party talks among those parties committed to peace and democratic politics, it is extremely important that we agree on the way forward. If it is not possible now for those that believe in constitutional politics to meet in these circumstances, I despair about the future. It is important too that links are kept open with Sinn Féin and with those who influence the IRA. Whether those are national links, links within Northern Ireland or links from America, it is importnat that we encourage those links.

Last Sunday the Taoiseach said that if elections were to be held they would "pour petrol on the flames". If that was the Taoiseach's view on Sunday — and it has been the Government's view before the bomb on Friday — it is important that we do not change our strategy simply because of that bomb.

There are obvious problems associated with an elective process. They tend to make people more inflexible and less open to the views of others. There is no floating vote in Northern Ireland. I can think of nowhere in the world where elections do not make any difference than Northern Ireland; they do not change anything. Elections have a polarising tendency and unless we can reduce or overcome that, it could have a damaging effect on the process.

As elections are competitive it makes it more difficult to have conciliation afterwards. Elections are concerned with making choices between different parties, not with building bridges between them. It is important in the context of what has happened that we do not see a return to the extremism we have seen all too often in elections in Northern Ireland, to see people look over their shoulders at the more extreme element in their own community. Recent opinion polls clearly show that there has not been any major shift in opinion within Northern Ireland and, therefore, I do not believe elections will make any electoral difference.

John Hume has called for referenda North and South. Sometimes we are too inclined to dismiss the proposals advanced. In the context of Northern Ireland we have a duty to consider everything. He wants a referendum so that the people can exclude violence and give the participants to talks a positive mandate.

Perhaps other options could be put to voters in the context of a referendum. The people could decide the fundamental rules under which talks could take place. The people could give a direction to their political representatives of the ground rules that have to be followed in subsequent talks. In particular it is important that we understand and accept the consent principle. Ever since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Irish Governments have agreed that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless a majority of people there wish it to happen. It is important that Unionists are reassured on that point and the recent refusal of Sinn Féin to endorse with other parties the Forum report is a cause of great concern in this regard. Equally it is important that Nationalists know there will be no internal settlement and that their fears in that regard are addressed. A referendum could have a useful role in reassuring both communities on these two points.

I am not trying in the context of a referendum to advocate another fully crafted proposal or to make matters more prescriptive than they might otherwise be but it is time we all got real. We simply cannot engage in a pretence that dialogue will dispense with the principle of consent. The consent principle was enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement registered at the United Nations and it has been endorsed by every party in this House.

What is negotiable in the context of all-party talks is the kind of society that Northern Ireland can and should be. We can also negotiate the nature of the links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island, which are so important. It is equally important, in the context of negotiations, to decide on the links that will be maintained with the United Kingdom should a majority of the people in Northern Ireland opt to move out of the United Kingdom. Because of the kind of society Northern Ireland is, there will always have to be links with the Republic and with Britain. It is not possible that any substantial minority would not have their legitimacy recognised in that way. In the context of negotiations, the internal government and other arrangements can be decided.

Northern Ireland is a bipolar community. It has to become a partnership. We must accept that nationalism has to be as legitimate in Northern Ireland as unionism. Unionists may feel they have everything to lose by engaging in talks but it is not satisfactory for them to live in a society where over 40 per cent of the people do not have their aspiration, their identity and their legitimacy recognised.

In its very existence Northern Ireland represents unionism. Whether it is the flags and emblems, the British Administration at Stormont or the Parliamentary representation at Westminster, Northern Ireland recognises only the Unionist tradition. It has to equally recognise the Nationalist identity. That will not happen unless we have a political settlement. Their priority now must be to re-establish the peace process but, equally, no door should be banged shut. The practice of leaving a key in the door cannot be extended to those whose allies continue to get involved in atrocities such as that which occurred last Friday night. No party should have open access to Government which varies its tactics at will between murder and argument. It would be wrong for the Irish Government or for the rest of us not to differentiate between those who fully reject violence and those who cannot.

If some people's mandate is not respected, as Sinn Féin says its mandate is not, it is because it has placed itself on a different level to everybody else. Its continued association with the IRA and its support for the IRA's campaign automatically places it in a different position to all other parties. Violence cannot be coupled with politics and while contact must not be lost with anyone who can play a vital role, whether it is Senator Mitchell or whoever, it is important to ensure that the two sovereign Governments move forward together with a positive agenda and seek the widest possible support for it.

I would have liked to put questions to the Government this evening but obviously that is not possible. However, if the proximity talks are to go ahead, which I know the Government will maintain they should, is it envisaged that Sinn Féin will be involved in those proximity talks? It is clear to me that if the Government is refusing to deal with Sinn Féin formally, it would be inconsistent that it be involved in those proximity talks.

When the Taoiseach was asked on Sunday about my suggestion that the two Governments should call talks between all the parties committed to peace he said he did not favour that suggestion; he wanted all inclusive talks which must mean he wants Sinn Féin involved. That is inconsistent with the position adopted by the Government and perhaps the Minister for Social Welfare might clarify that matter in his contribution.

If the two Governments are united in a flexible strategy which does not stall or flounder simply because Sinn Féin is nobbled by the IRA, we can look forward with hope to a political settlement. If the moderate parties in Northern Ireland had come together in the past, the vacuum would not have been filled by the men of violence. The refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the SDLP to come together and reach a political agreement has led to the vacuum being filled by people like Sinn Féin and the IRA. We must push forward and challenge those who feel that if they do not get their way, they can use a bomb or a bullet to force change.

That is not acceptable, and the Irish Government would not accept such an approach. It is important to move forward on the basis of democratic principles. All the parties to all-inclusive dialogue must be committed to the six Mitchell principles and the decommissioning proposals outlined in the report. The time has come for the parties in Northern Ireland and the two Governments to sit down and engage in dialogue to ensure that Northern Ireland becomes the type of partnership and acceptable society we all want to see it become. Shakespeare said: "A peace is in the nature of victory where both parties nobly are subdued and neither party loser". Northern Ireland must become a society where both parties are subdued and where neither party becomes a loser. When that day comes we will have reached a political settlement, whether Sinn Féin and the IRA are on board. Democratic Governments can then use all the powers at their disposal to ensure that the settlement is not opposed through violence.

There is a duty on the Governments to give leadership and it is not acceptable for the British Government to maintain that it cannot command anyone to engage in talks. It must not stand helplessly by; rather it must encourage the dialogue to which it committed itself in the Downing Street Declaration. Equally, the Irish Government must continue to take its courage in its hands. It will have my support in doing this but if it seeks to negotiate or give concessions to Sinn Féin in order to get the IRA to again give us a ceasefire it will not have my support. It must remain firm, united and determined. If it does this we will have a political settlement even if it takes longer than some of us thought.

As a Member of the Government and the Leader of Democratic Left I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I also welcome the positive contributions by the Leaders of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and the strong support they are offering to the Government at this critical period in terms of the democratic institutions of this State.

On the question which the Leader of the Progressive Democrats raised about participation by Sinn Féin in proximity talks or the Taoiseach's comments about all-inclusive talks, obviously a direct question to the Taoiseach is the appropriate way to pursue this matter. If I was asked the question I would say my objective — and I assume it is the Government's objective — is to seek to ensure there are all-party talks. We have made it very clear that Sinn Féin can only have access to the process on the basis that there is no more violence, that the violence stops now and permanently. That is the fundamental underlying principle of the Government's approach to the current situation. There is no contradiction in what the Taoiseach has said about inclusive talks and our attitude to Sinn Féin.

The Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Bertie Ahern, made a very positive contribution. However, I was slightly taken aback when he singled me out for criticism of my attitude to the peace process. He questioned my right to be involved in the Government's approach to the peace process and Anglo-Irish relations. I am the leader of one of the parties in a three party Coalition Government and I am also Minister for Social Welfare. It would be extraordinary if all the parties in a three party Government did not have a direct involvement in the position being put forward by the Government or were not ad idem on it. I make these points not by way of argumentation but simply by way of clarification.

His second criticism was that my sniping at Sinn Féin was unhelpful. I do not snipe, which is perhaps one of my failings. Rather I speak my mind and I very often stubbornly stick to what I believe is the correct thing to do or say.

Stubborn is right.

Time and time again in the past 25 years I have challenged the right of Sinn Féin and the IRA to take life, to bomb the people of Northern Ireland, Britain or Germany, and I have often done so at personal risk to me and my family. On one occasion when I opposed attempts by Sinn Féin and the IRA to take control of my constituency of Dublin North-West through the so-called Concerned Parents Against Drugs I was threatened by an armed man at a public meeting. I did not back down then and I will not do so now in terms of my total political opposition to everything Sinn Féin and the IRA stand for. I oppose and abominate everything they stand for.

Ever since the IRA declared a ceasefire in August 1994, during debates in the House, at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and at private meetings with its members I have supported Sinn Féin and given it credit for the courage it has shown in negotiating and maintaining the ceasefire. Up until last Friday no one could claim that I sought to undermine Sinn Féin in terms of its relationship with the IRA and the maintenance of a ceasefire. Of course I criticised Gerry Adams' statement that the IRA had not gone away.

And he was correct.

Unfortunately, last Friday we saw the brutal evidence of this. I criticised that statement because I believed it frightened the people who had suffered for the past 25 years that the violence was about to start again. As a democratic politician I had an obligation to criticise it.

I have criticised Sinn Féin and the IRA for the failure to identify the whereabouts of "the disappeared", the bodies the IRA did away with over the past 25 years and to whom they never allowed their loved ones give a decent burial. I will continue to criticise Sinn Féin and the IRA for this but as long as they maintain a ceasefire and declare their absolute commitment to peace I will stand four square with them, and as soon as they do so again I will stand four square with them, but not until then.

The London bombing by the IRA cannot be justified under any circumstances. It was a cynical and vicious act designed to cause death and destruction. In this it was successful and it has left two people dead and many more injured. On behalf of Democratic Left I wish to express my condolences to the families of the dead and to sympathise with the injured.

What can one say about the bombing of Canary Wharf — the forethought, planning and strategic discussions that went into making and setting the bomb in place, its detonation, when, on what pretext and by whose orders?

The questions reverberate. The timing of the bomb on 9 February has no external logic. It cannot be related, for example, to the goal of the deadline for all-party talks set by the two Governments. Can it be related then to an internal logic of the republican movement, whether of a tactical nature or an infinitely more ominous struggle for ascendancy between the political and militaristic wings? That is quite possible. It would not be the first time it has happened.

Clearly, last Friday Gerry Adams and Pat Doherty appeared as shocked as other politicians and citizens in both Ireland and Britain, but this raises more questions than it answers. What of authority within Sinn Féin? What is the future of Sinn Féin? I accept that Sinn Féin does not claim to speak for the IRA, but it is self-evident that it has used its special relationship with the IRA in establishing its place in the peace process. The Irish Government accepted the good faith of Sinn Féin and welcomed it into the democratic family. With the agreement of the other parties in the Oireachtas, it set up the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation specifically to facilitate the transition to constitutional politics. The Alliance Party took a leap of courage and imagination and also participated. Gordon Wilson came to terms with history and magnanimously gave Sinn Féin his trust. Within the Forum and elsewhere the Government dealt circumspectly with those issues the republican tradition found most difficult — the principles of consent and of democratic endorsement of whatever settlement for Northern Ireland might emerge. I have to say that our collective trust has taken a hammering. If it is not the case now that the Irish Government has been betrayed by Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin itself as an organisation has been dealt a devastating blow by the IRA.

I accept that Gerry Adams believes he may have been double-crossed by John Major, although I think that belief is simplistic in the extreme. Does Gerry Adams not, at this juncture, believe he has also been betrayed by the IRA? It is not just a question of attributing blame or expressing outrage. Of course we express outrage. The IRA may regard Canary Wharf as a "spectacular", or an economic target, but what of the lives of people blighted by the bomb? What of the sense of foreboding engendered in the people of Dublin. London and Belfast as they go about their everyday lives? What about the reborn fears of men and women in Northern Ireland for their children? The people of Northern Ireland are faced with the possible return to the deadly and futile violence which caused great pain and suffering over 25 years.

The political aspect of the peace process has been thrown into disarray not by the dissembling of the British Government or the obdurate tunnel vision of the Unionists but by a planned operation by the IRA. Let us be very clear about the whispered or implied culpability of the British Government in creating the conditions leading to this bombing. There can be no moral equivalence between the conduct of politics — no matter how tedious, no matter how frustrating — and acts of terrorism. It is the IRA and the IRA alone which has devalued the currency of Sinn Féin and of republicans in the peace pocess. By the one act of aggression the peace process has been seriously wounded. It is now in intensive care, and we all have to work hard for its recovery. What cannot happen again is that the IRA switches off the respirator. That is a crude metaphor for the situation we find ourselves in, but it is an authentic one.

Where do we go from here? The big issue now is whether the republican movement — the IRA and Sinn Féin — will recommit themselves to a complete cessation of violence. No sovereign Government of Ireland, freely elected by the people in democratic elections, has ever dealt with the representatives of private armies as if they were statesmen. Sinn Féin is now confronted with the practical though not the moral dilemma of deciding whether it is merely proxies for the IRA or a genuinely political movement, representative of republican politics and responding to the slings and arrows of politics in a political way.

I believe those people in Sinn Féin who are genuinely committed exclusively to critical dalogue have the sympathy of the people of Ireland. They face the daunting task of asserting their position in the context of a movement which has always denied accountability and which will not even share power and decision making with its own political supporters.

I accept that Sinn Féin, or many people in Sinn Féin, desperately want the peace process to continue. In that aspiration it will find no more resloute protagonist than the Irish Government. The Government has made it plain that we will maintain dialogue in all quarters which would help repair and reconstruct the peace process. However, we will not accept Sinn Féin as a full player in the process if it abides only by the rules set for it by an unknown cabal of seven militarists. Of course, the republican tradition must participate in the peace process, but that can hardly be if the movement will do so only on its own terms.

Despite the delinquency of the IRA this Government will not allow the peace process to be blown to smithereens. We will also resist all threats to democracy and will defend the security of the State. The safety and security of all the people of this island are our primary concern — a concern that is shared by all parties in this House.

Certainly, this peace process has been much slower and more tortuous than people may have wished or anticipated, but it is no slower than other such processes on a global scale. It took Nelson Mandela four years from his release from prison until his election as President of South Africa. In the Middle East, how long has it taken the Palestinians to earn a modicum of self rule? The lesson is that we have to hang in there to secure a settlement — unless, of course, the IRA sees its future as a kind of born again INLA rather than seeing its membership move into productive occupations and interests and allowing them to live a normal life with their familes. That choice, as of now, rests with the membership of the IRA. That onus of persuasion for a future in the interest of all the people of Ireland rests, to a large extent, with Sinn Féin.

The IRA ceasefire facilitated Sinn Féin's entry into the democratic political process. Sinn Féin enjoyed access to Government at the highest level under both the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and the present Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation provided Sinn Féin with a public platform and an opportunity to engage with other political parties in addressing the problems of Northern Ireland.

There was progress on other fronts also. The process of demilitarisation in Northern Ireland got under way and broadcasting restrictions were lifted. A phased release of prisoners has taken place in the Republic. One of the bitter ironies of the IRA's action is that nine prisoners from a paramilitary background were due for release on 10 February. These releases are now stalled. Releases also followed the remission of sentences in Northern Ireland. Most importantly, the people of Northern Ireland demonstrated their support for peace in clear and unambiguous terms.

This Government has worked tirelessly — as did the previous Government — to advance the peace process, building on the good will and support of the European Union and the American Administration. At every conceivable opportunity we have engaged the British Government on the urgencies and imperatives of the process. Following on the work of our predecessors we brought the negotiations leading to the Framework Document to a successful conclusion.

If the IRA thought the Canary Wharf bombing was a useful tactic to push the peace process forward, it shows how tenuous its grasp of reality is. What it has done is to reactivate the political dinosaurs and give strength and succour to existing siege mentalities.

A political solution and a permanent peace will require far more flexibility and willingness to compromise than has been evident to now. Certainly there was frustration at the failure of the British to respond more positively to the new circumstances created by the ceasefire — and I publicly criticised the British response on a number of occasions. Where I and other democrats part company with Sinn Féin is that we do not regard frustration with the slow pace of political change as a justification for the detonation of a bomb in a busy city on a Friday evening at 7 p.m.

It is also important to understand that the reaction of the British Government has not been the only factor in the peace process leading to frustration. Sinn Féin has thus far failed to endorse the principle of consent and has declined to ratify the final report of the Forum drafting committee. I feel frustrated by the failure, more than two years on, to state unequivocally that it has accepted the Downing Street Declaration with its key principles of agreement and consent. I felt frustrated by Sinn Féin's failure to dissociate itself from the killings carried out under the umbrella of the Direct Action Against Drugs group, which we know was simply a flag of convenience for the Provisional IRA.

There was frustration on the Nationalist side at the continued refusal of the Unionist parties to take part in all-party talks, but there was also frustration among Unionists at the apparent unwillingness of Nationalists even to consider proposals they were putting forward for an electoral process. The blame for the failure to make more progress cannot be laid solely at the door of any one party. We must all accept at least a share of the responsibility for not making more progress. It is now more important than ever that the peace process should not only continue, but should be intensified. The peace process predates the IRA ceasefire and it will not end because the IRA has announced an end to its ceasefire. Much progress was made prior to the IRA ceasefire — for example, the Downing Street Declaration which was perhaps the single most significant political breakthrough on the Northern Ireland problem and Anglo-Irish relations for more than a decade. The IRA ceasefire allowed Sinn Féin to become a full part of the process. The process must continue and Sinn Féin can again play a full part when the IRA reverts to the position which applied from 31 August 1994 up to last Friday.

The statement by the British Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday offered reassurance that the peace process would continue and that the two Governments can find a common basis on which to move things forward. The clear indication by Mr. Major that an electoral process was just one option he was considering and that he was prepared to consider alternative proposals from others, including the Irish Government, was particularly encouraging.

The past few weeks have been difficult for relations between the two Governments. The indisputable fact is that most progress has been made on Northern Ireland when the two Governments have been acting in concert. The indisputable fact is that there can be no solution to the problems of Northern Ireland without the co-operation of the two Governments.

Certainly, there have been difficulties. When differences arise, the onus is on democratic politicians to persevere with negotiations. We do not need or want IRA bombs to concentrate our minds. The best thing the Army Council of the IRA ever did was to call the ceasefire in August 1994. The next best thing it can do is to restore the ceasefire now. Let Sinn Féin realise that a democratic agreement can only be arrived at by democratic means. There is no other way.

I will summarise my contribution to this debate as follows: peace is the sovereign right of the Irish people; a violent minority will not be allowed to dictate the pace of political progress; bodies in the streets of London will not keep the peace on the streets of Northern Ireland; talk of peace and acts of murder are incompatible; the door is open to Sinn Féin talks with the Government, but there is only one requirement — a requirement no democrat can quibble with: no more violence. You cannot have half a ceasefire, and you cannot be half a democrat; the Irish Government will not be deflected in its search for a just and lasting settlement, based on the principles of agreement and consent.

That is the commitment this Government is making to this House and I know it has the support of both the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties in that endeavour.

Deputy McDaid has some 20 minutes at his disposal and he may also share time.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This morning as I drove to this House from Donegal I crossed the Border as usual at Lifford and then recrossed it into County Monaghan. At the Donegal-Tyrone border I saw a group of workmen busily engaged in what I had learned to assume in recent times was the continued dismantling of all signs of what had been a major military check point. In the meantime I discovered they were, in fact, erecting ramps which had been removed previously. I sincerely hope this is not a nightmarish sort of déjà vu. Cardinal Daly described 9 February as Black Friday. I could not agree more. To plant a massive bomb in the heart of London is an act that must be condemned without the slightest hint of reservation. This act, which was meant to be a gesture on behalf of Irish nationalism, can only cause further heartbreak to everyone who had laboured so hard in recent years to create peace and justice in our land. To suggest otherwise is to approve of evil at its worst. Let me repeat what I have said here many times: no political aim is worth the shedding of one single human life, except strictly in self defence.

However, I refuse to join the chorus of unthinking people who leaped to the nearest microphone to put the blame for this bomb on Gerry Adams and his colleagues who, to my certain knowledge, have worked intensely during the past few years in the quest for peace. The process began as far back as the late 1980s and involved such people as Gerry Adams, John Hume, Charles Haughey, Martin Mansergh, Reverend Roy Magee, Father Alex Reid and, of course, Deputy Albert Reynolds. There were probably many others also of whom we have not heard. Whoever gave the orders to plant last Friday's bomb would not be fit to lace the shoes of any of these people — his place in history will be in the darkness to which he belongs.

I believe the leaders of Sinn Féin who say they were just as shocked as the rest of us by the news from the Provisional IRA that its ceasefire was over. We have got used to the repeated statements from a variety of quarters that Sinn Féin and the Provos are one and the same. I refer these people to an article by Gerry Adams in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times. Referring to the decision by the Government to suspend talks with Sinn Féin he said:

What of those whom we represent? Are they to be discriminated against by the Irish Government in a crude attempt by that government to pressurise an organisation for which Sinn Féin and our electorate have no responsibility or control?

Whatever may have been the case in the past I believe this statement is essentially true and comes from a man who certainly supports the Provisional IRA in a broad sense but who has long ago come to realise the campaign of violence is totally unproductive as a method of securing political progress in Ireland. Deputy Harney stated that many people admitted that Gerry Adams was essential to the peace process. She said, however, that without Gerry Adams and his associates, there may have been no need for a peace process. May I remind Deputy Harney that perhaps without the intransigence of successive British Governments, where Nationalists were impoverished by a Stormont regime and denied their civil rights, there may have been no need for the formation of the Provisional IRA?

Hear, hear.

I regret that Deputy Harney seems to believe that anyone who has sinned, in her view, should never be forgiven even if they have made a firm commitment of atonement. There would be very few saints on these islands if that were the case.

What Gerry Adams and his colleagues had achieved was their success in persuading the IRA to take the same view as them and we had the ceasefire of 18 months ago. Immediately spokesmen for both the British Government and the Unionist parties declared that a period of three months of peace would be a necessary precondition before talks could begin. From that day to this, the word "preconditions" has become one of the most familiar words in our everyday language. As far as the London bomb is concerned, the blame can be directed only at the people who planted it. Gerry Adams made that very clear. However, the excuse for breaking the ceasefire was handed to the hard men in the Provisional IRA by John Major and his Government. They had long ago come to the false conclusion that the ceasefire was permanent — not because they were determined to remove the root causes of the troubles in the first place but because they had a simplistic notion that a lack of support would prevent a paramilitary group from again starting a terror campaign.

Mr. Major and his colleagues saw no further need for urgency in pursuing the peace process. They resemble a football team that builds up a ten point lead early in the game and then sits back in the arrogant belief that victory is secure. That is a foolish attitude to adopt in any sport; it is nothing short of criminal when it affects the lives and well being of generations of people. If John Major's recent actions were solely because of domestic parliamentary problems I sincerely hope he soon realises he is in great danger of destroying something which he displayed a great deal of courage and skill in helping to create. Many people have said that his rapid dismissal of the Mitchell report was the last straw. That is not the case. The sense of frustration had developed long before that and it is clear that plans for the bombing had been prepared for some time. It may well be that the bombers would have hesitated had the Mitchell report been greeted in a more positive fashion but we will never know.

It was fairly clear as far back as 12 December that the British Government was not in any mood to accept anything remotely radical that Senator Mitchell might suggest. On that day Sir Patrick Mayhew said he would be one of the first people to meet the commission on their arrival in Belfast and he would remind them that they were there in the role of advisers only but the British Government would have the last word on decommissioning and Washington Three was carved in stone as far as they were concerned. This was a snub delivered in a style beloved of the days of Queen Victoria's glorious empire. We should not have been surprised that the distinguished Senator's work was dealt with in such a summary fashion.

Where do we go from here? My party leader has made it clear where Fianna Fáil stands. We will do everything in our power to keep the channels of communication open with all those who may have the slightest influence in persuading the paramilitaries on both sides to pull back from the brink and to let the peace process proceed once again. As regards formal talks with Sinn Féin, the Government may feel it is not a free agent at this time because of the importance of perception in these matters but I am glad to note that it is determined not to shut the doors completely.

My party leader has proposed that Senator Mitchell be brought back into the equation as quickly as possible. This is an excellent idea and has been widely welcomed. I hope Mr. Mitchell will be willing to do so because he has already shown a remarkable understanding of the issues in a very short time.

I hope John Hume's suggestion that a referendum be held on two very pertinent questions will be seriously considered. The two questions would have to be answered by everyone, including the extremists on both sides. If 90 per cent or 95 per cent of the people of all Ireland give a positive answer, then no minority from whatever side can challenge the result.

I appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution on such an important issue. I sympathise with the families of those who lost their lives in London last Friday in such a horrific incident. The scale of damage to property was in the region of £100 million. That is a huge loss by any standard and I do not like to see that happen in any society or country. I sympathise sincerely with the British people on this atrocity.

However, the writing was on the wall a few weeks ago. It appeared on the walls of Belfast, a city of realists enjoying peace while it lasted, hoping it would continue and knowing it was fragile. The street signs said simply: "Permanence — Decommissioning — Elections — WAR".

The Downing Street Declaration did not include these words, instead it presented promises that were meant to be broken and words that were not meant to be kept. Rather than make it too obvious, a policy of excuse and delay practised for generations once more slipped into a smooth operating mode. We were told we could not have all party talks because the peace was not permanent. Sir Patrick Mayhew could not speak with Gerry Adams in peace time but even The Economist found this surprising bearing in mind that he managed to talk, in secrecy, with the IRA in wartime.

More time was bought with President Clinton's very welcome and helpful visit. The international commission, chaired with distinction by Senator Mitchell, was dispatched to the House of Commons refuse bin when the report was hot off the printing presses. Such was the haste that even Sinn Féin was spared the embarassment of accepting or rejecting the report.

Everyone in Ireland could see that elections were the next delaying tactic. The next excuse would be guaranteed followed by a special relationship, followed by more permanence, a little more commissioning and all the imagination of devious minds which seem to enjoy an indefatigable capacity for endless and meaningless negotiations as long as the bottom line remains the same — no improvement.

One of the casualties is that the Taoiseach, in his honest approach and concern for peace, was dragged into this and the twin track approach and various communiqués were made more confusing, if not contradicted, at the press conferences at which they were presented. The IRA leadership gave Gerry Adams and his colleagues 18 months to see what they could do with peace. On numerous occasions Gerry Adams warned, as far as he could without being accused of making threats, that the peace was very fragile and he could not sustain it without help. The Government of the United Kindom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was and remains unwilling to give that help. Gerry Adams was joined in his warning by no less than the Chief Constable of the RUC and I have no doubt that the various security organisations in Britain and Northern Ireland were able to read the signs, even those written on the walls of Belfast.

It is fanciful to think, though it is given much credence here, that the governing party in the UK is dependent on Unionist MPs for its continuance in office. This ignores the fact that they recently voted against the Government in the House of Commons on the Nolan report. No one here suggested that any member of the Labour Party in Britain or the Liberal Democrats would vote against the Government for the time being on a matter relating to Northern Ireland. It is not for me to attribute motives to the Government of our neighbouring island — judge it by its actions, not by its words. Gerry Adams delivered on his side and, with style and daring imagination, Deputy Reynolds delivered on his side. The loyalist paramilitarits made their contribution to peace.

The people in Northern Ireland want peace. Some of their leaders have not been blessed with imagination. "Balance" is a word they would apply to a trapeze artist and they appear to remain in office by generating fear. The contradiction of Northern Ireland is that those who want peace and to live in harmony with their neighbours are the same people who, in the secrecy of the ballot box, vote in vast numbers for hard line politicians. This is not because middle ground candidates do not stand but they do not poll enough to make a dent in the approach of their elected representatives. One can hardly blame the elected representatives for lacking any trace of forward vision as they cling to the proven recipe for topping the poll.

It is worth noting the sad fact that many of Northern Ireland's future leadership classes have been completing their education away from home in recent years and will not return. This drain of educated people is a growing and serious loss to Ulster. There is no justification for segregating children at kindergarden on religious grounds and expecting them to integrate 14 years later. I know the leadership of the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland would not agree but segregation has not helped. The British Government may have many faults but it does not deny minorities funds for education.

The history of the former British Empire is littered with instances where Britain was forced at gun-point out of countries and the then terrorists became statesmen. The late President Begin won a Nobel prize. It does not suit the British establishment in terms of its army and various intelligence forces to vacate Northern Ireland. It will not go. It has never gone voluntarily. We are dealing with a fragile situation and if the Taoiseach seeks to measure those involved in the negotiations by his own high standards he will meet serious negotiating difficulties.

It may perhaps be forgotten already that Prime Minister John Major has never spoken to Gerry Adams. However it is disappointing and a serious error on the part of our Taoiseach that he now refuses to speak to Mr. Adams who made a sincere and honest attempt to deliver peace. It gives a very bad example to refuse to talk to people when we are encouraging others to do the opposite. I appreciate the strain on the Taoiseach due to recent events and I ask him to reconsider this matter. My party feels bound to support the Government line on this, but I feel confident that my party would reconsider its position if the Taoiseach reassessed his decision and decided to re-open dialogue with Sinn Féin. The people of Northern Ireland have spoken time and again through the ballot box. The British Government will do absolutely nothing to change that. It is unforgivable that in addition it enters into all these solemn declarations. It is time for the Republic to say more openly what our real position is on Northern Ireland.

The plantation of Ulster may have been three centuries ago but the descendants of those planters are still there and they have made it clear time and again that they do not want to integrate with the rest of the island. Quite a number of the remainder of the population of what is now known as Northern Ireland have made it clear that they want to remain in Northern Ireland and not be part of this Republic. That is their choice and we respect it, but they should be able to live in peace. It appears that many people would sign up to the aspiration of getting back the fourth green field and having the dream of a united Ireland made a reality. Those same people know it is only a dream and, indeed, do not want a united Ireland as the Republic cannot afford it. The great majority of the people of Northern Ireland do not want to be with us and we have stated on numerous occasions that we respect that right and view.

We should be much more clear in the message that we convey to the IRA. We condemn violence and we counsel peace. We should bluntly tell them that the people here do not want a united Ireland — the people here want peace. The people in Northern Ireland do not want the British and they do not want the people in the Republic, and their wishes should be respected. Many people here feel a responsibility for the nationalists in the North. These people are entitled to Irish citizenship and they are free to move here. A number of people have moved south in recent years, but it is clear that many more have not availed of that opportunity.

Our message to the people of Northern Ireland and the IRA should be more explicit. The people of Ireland hold their destiny in their own hands. The paramilitaries on both sides have offered peace, but the people's representatives have refused to negotiate with them. The people must decide whether these are the leaders they want. So far they have indicated that they are very happy with them and in 1997 they will have another chance to voice their views.

On his election as Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, Deputy Bertie Ahern made a historic visit to Belfast and met the two traditions there. My party is committed to the peace process and without the tireless efforts of Deputy Ahern we would not have made such progress. He has been diligent in his attendance at the forum and in recent times contributed to the Senator Mitchell peace process. With the involvement of Senator Mitchell we will see a move in the right direction.

Until the people decide on new leaders violence will continue, lives will be lost and time will be wasted. Violence may be condemned, but that will not save lives. The people of Northern Ireland should know that peace lies in their own hands and that any arrangements brokered in Washington, Dublin or elsewhere will be transient until they decide to talk to each other. Gerry Adams took a big risk. It did not work but I thank him for it. I reiterate, in one of the noblest democracies in the world, that we condemn violence, we want peace on this island.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Dukes.

That is in order.

The bombing of Canary Wharf last Friday is the most disappointing development to have taken place since I entered the Dáil in 1992. I would like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this horrific incident and to the many people who were injured. The Provisional IRA has engaged in a fundamental breach of trust with those of us who have been actively engaged in the peace process — much time and effort has been invested in that process by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the former Taoiseach, John Hume and many others. More importantly it is a breach of trust and betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain who are in full support of the process. The attack was barbaric and unjustifiable, but of course that is nothing new. The Provisional IRA has conducted its campaign in face of the overwhelming opposition of the Irish people since the early 1970s. Its view of self-determination in this regard has always been hollow. I agree whole-heartedly with John Hume and Deputy Bertie Ahern who stated umpteen times that if the Irish people have a right to self-determination they must also have a right to determine the means by which that self-determination is pursued.

The position of the Irish people on this matter is clear and unambiguous, it needs no clarification. I have discerned something new in the fall-out from last Friday's atrocity. In the past Sinn Féin has been an unapologetic supporter of the Provisional IRA. On this occasion, however, I detect a sense of desperation from these quarters, which is hardly surprising. Many Sinn Féin members have honestly pursued the peace process and worked hard on its development. The IRA has added a new dimension to its betrayal, its own political wing. Sinn Féin has failed to condemn the Canary Wharf attack — I wish it would do so — but I recognise the dilemma facing it.

Since August 1994 we have formally entered dialogue with Sinn Féin on the basis that, through it, we spoke to the IRA. That has been useful to the extent that any enduring settlement cannot be reached without accommodation of the republican movement, but to whom can we speak now? It appears Sinn Féin no longer speaks for the IRA. Its principal spokespersons do not appear to have known about last Friday's attack — at least that is the view of most political commentators. Gerry Adams stated that a continuation of the peace process remains his personal priority, and I welcome that statement, but it counts for little in the context of a resumption of the Provisional military campaign. We need to know, and only the Provisional IRA can tell us, whether Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin continue to speak for that organisation.

Unfortunately the resumption of the military campaign puts Sinn Féin outside the realm of normal political debate and exchange. Unless that position is reversed it renders useless almost two years of work by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and many others. It prevents any possible assessment by them of the Mitchell report, the basis on which the Irish Government worked to bring all-party talks to fruition.

It has left Sinn Féin with two options: to convince the IRA to recommence its ceasefire on a permanent basis or to disassociate itself from the military wing. I recognise the difficulties that would pose for Sinn Féin for personal and historic reasons, but unless the Provisionals can be convinced to call off their campaign, that is a decision it must make. I would be pleased if Sinn Féin were to take that courageous step but, as a solution to the current impasse, it is a poor second.

Much of what we have achieved thus far has been with the aid of a united republican movement. United organisations are easier to deal with and decisions reached by them are easier to uphold. Irrespective of whether Sinn Féin remains publicly within the republican fold, its capacity at present to speak on behalf of the IRA is severely damaged. What has taken place is a split in every sense of that word.

I support the Government's decision to break off ministerial contact with Sinn Féin. I do so reluctantly because I believe we were in sight of a settlement. I know republican involvement is central to such achievement, but it is essential that a message be sent to Sinn Féin and the IRA. That message should indicate that there can be no question of a resumption of a campaign of violence, be it tactical, strategic or otherwise, in conjunction with the peace process; it is all or nothing. Sinn Féin needs to clarify its position; it supports the democratic process or it does not. Neither is it fair to say, as some republicans have done, that the IRA has received little in return for its cessation of violence.

In a statement earlier today the Taoiseach outlined the progress thus far. He admitted we would like to have seen more, but he recommitted himself and the Government to continuing the search for further progress. I wish to add a few points to those made by the Taoiseach. He confined himself to political progress but, as we know, other benefits have been derived from the peace process. For instance, the improvements in the economy and tourism, brought about by the ceasefire, have been considerable. The Tánaiste outlined the extent of progress in those areas. They have added to the considerable improvement in the quality of life of everybody in Northern Ireland and south of the Border including and, perhaps, especially those who support the republican movement.

I wish to refer to the idea floated during the past few days that the IRA has embarked on a strategic campaign on the British mainland to invigorate the peace process. The inference is that any campaign can be confined to the British mainland, thus not interfering with the lives of Sinn Féin supporters in the North and the South. That is nonsense. The obvious retort, voiced during the past weekend and to me many months ago, if for loyalist paramilitaries to target the Republic in response. If that situation develops, and I fervently hope it does not, I do not envy those whose job it will be to explain that to the Irish people.

I commend the loyalist paramilitaries for the restraint they have shown since Friday and I appeal to them to continue to do so. I welcome the commitment of the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party to continue to argue the case for the political process with loyalist paramilitaries. The onus is on Sinn Féin to do the same.

There are two options facing us. We either return to the position of two weeks ago or that of two years ago, which would be unacceptable. I, like others, have been frustrated with the recent approach to the peace process taken by the British Government. I have also been frustrated at the Unionists' inability to do what is in their interests, to enter dialogue to lay to rest, once and for all, the divisions of Northern Ireland.

I welcome John Major's contribution to the House of Commons yesterday. He did not close the door on the peace process. I implore the Provisionals to do likewise.

I share the condemnation of Friday night's bombing expressed in the House today and I share fully the sentiments of condolences to the bereaved, the injured and their families. I have heard more common sense spoken about Northern Ireland today in this House than I have heard for a long time. It is sadly ironic that it takes an event like this to produce a debate of this kind in the House; we should have had it a long time ago.

I was particularly struck by what Deputy Bertie Ahern said about the substantive issues that face us and the people of Northern Ireland and the UK. He was clear, unambiguous and explicit. I refer to his comments on the substantive issues, not those about procedure or performance. I am delighted to be able to say that and to have witnessed it. Lest I appear to be following my usual political prejudice, I must also say that I was not surprised by what Deputy Harney said because I have always taken the view that she is very sensible on these particular issues.

It is not going too far to say that what has been said so far in this House today by and large would be supported by the SDLP. The odd man out in this process is Sinn Féin. It is clear that party has a different view from other parties in this House involved in the three stranded talks or in the Forum of what constitutes the principle of consent. That became clear on the day the Forum report was issued, and it did not surprise me.

The recommendations of the report of the Mitchell Commission on not only the process of decommissioning but the politics of the situation are interesting. Paragraph 61 of that report states:

Rigid adherence by the parties to their past positions will simply continue the stalemate which has already lasted too long. In a society as deeply divided as Northern Ireland, reaching across the "peace line" requires a willingness to take risks for peace.

I heartily endorse those sentiments. Today has shown that all parties in this House take the same view. The parties in this House and, I believe, the SDLP have shown a considerable willingness to move away from their past positions and to accept it is people they must serve, not the ideas of yesterday.

The Mitchell Commission identified two very different positions on decommissioning. I was about to say "extreme", but I am speaking only in the sense of a spectrum. One position holds that there must be complete decommissioning before any talks start. The other is that there will be no decommissioning until talks have been satisfactorily concluded. The Mitchell Commission concluded that neither approach could or would prevail. I agree, even though personally, emotionally, politically, ideologically and literally I would be a supporter of the first view. If we are ever to make progress, neither view can prevail. What happens must fall somewhere between them on the lines set out by the Mitchell Commission at a pace to be agreed between the parties to the negotiations.

The same logic would apply to a political settlement that would follow which is the aim of these talks. There are two diametrically opposed objectives — one is the constitution of a Thirty-two County Republic and the other is the maintenance of a permanent union with the UK under unchanged constitutional arrangements. Neither objective can prevail. One does not need to think for long before coming to that conclusion. As long as talks are seen to be aimed at achieving or making one or other of those objectives prevail, they are doomed to failure. It does not matter how much understanding, patience or willingness to accommodate we show; as long as it is seen that the aim of talks is to make either one of those two objectives prevail, talks are doomed to failure. We will not see either of those objectives prevail in the lifetime of anybody currently in this House, so we should stop trying to solve a problem that cannot be solved and trying to reconcile objectives that are fundamentally irreconcilable.

We should turn our attention to what politicians are elected to do, that is to resolve today the political problems of today, to deal today with the needs of people in a way which makes sensible, prudent and democratic provision for tomorrow. It comes from the logic of the Mitchell Commission. I quote that commission for one reason above all. It consisted of a group of people who are widely trusted for their judgment, who have heard all sides of the issues and who put forward what are to my mind a series of eminently sensible proposals. We do not all agree with every one of their proposals, we do not all agree even that any one of them is ideal, but we recognise the recommendations on decommissioning — as I think all parties in this House do — as being, in all the circumstances, a wise, acceptable and balanced way to go about dealing with the problem that confronts us. We must take the same approach to the resolution of, what we have called for so many years, the northern issue.

What can be realistically achieved? It is realistic to talk of an objective defined as the constitution of a democratic, stable, pluralist and prosperous polity in Northern Ireland guaranteed by two neighbouring Governments which each have a clear, incontestable interest in its stability. We should set as our objective the achievement of that kind of polity guaranteed by those two governments with each recognising, accepting and mutually respecting the burden of trust reposed on them respectively by the two communities in Northern Ireland. The two Governments should guarantee that polity in every appropriate way for as long as the people of Northern Ireland, want it to continue.

I say to the sincere, honest, peaceful and well-meaning people and Members in this House to whom I spoke in the last couple of days who "condemn the bombing in London on Friday but ..." and then go on to talk of their understanding of how people could be led to do it, that that is the most dangerous, specious nonsense and we should not fall into that trap. Frustration with the slowness of the political process is not an excuse for bombing. There is no excuse for killing or maiming in saying that we have not achieved what we would like to have achieved in 18 months.

Let us look back over the life of one of the people who was most involved in bringing us to this, John Hume. How much frustration has that man felt in over a quarter of a century of his work for peace? Has it ever led him to violence? How much frustration was felt by former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, who started the talks with the British in 1980, by former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, who went through a difficult period with Margaret Thatcher between 1983 and 1985, or by Deputy Albert Reynolds in all the work that he put into this. Every one of them went on through reverses, difficulties and frustrations for far longer than 17 months. If we have made any progress, as indeed we have and the Taoiseach outlined it here today, it has been because those people were firm in their resolve, they were committed to democratic, peaceful politics and they would not allow themselves to be deflected into violence. Surely, the lesson is clear. That is the only way.

With the permission of the House, I wish to share my time with Deputy Leonard.

That is quite in order.

I offer my deepest sympathy to the families of those killed in the bombing in Canary Wharf in London last Friday and, indeed, to the families of the 100 or so who were severely injured in this outrage. I condemn the IRA for the action it took last Friday, which has been referred to as "Black Friday". There will never be any justification for violence. Democracy is the route of discussion, discourse and debate in solving our problems. Those of us involved in the constitutional democratic process understand that democracy has many imperfections. Only in the context of a democratic society is there an opportunity for discussion, compromise and debate in resolving the problem.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of my party leader, Deputy Bertie Ahern, as others on all sides of this House have done, too. I thought it was a speech of great substance, a speech which will stand the test of time. It was challenging and direct but it was extremely balanced. It raised many difficult points but it got to the heart of the matter in posing questions for all sides. I congratulate Deputy Ahern. He served Irish politics and this House well with that contribution today. It was a privilege and, perhaps, a once in a lifetime chance, for people like me to be here for such a speech.

I subscribe to the view expressed in simple yet stark terms by the former Taoiseach. Deputy Albert Reynolds, when he wiped away all the waffle got down to the hard reality, and spoke about the choices. The bottom line choices are either violence or talks. Trying to keep the balance right is akin to balancing the scales of justice. We only want all party talks. Unless, as has been outlined, we speak to each other rather than at each other, there can be no way forward. One can identify when and where, over the past 17 to 18 months, people failed to grasp the opportunity to realise that the only possible way to begin to solve the many insurmountable obstacles confronting them was in getting all parties to participate in talks around the table.

One feature in all of this that must be highlighted for Unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland is how much Nationalist and republican opinion has changed in recent years. It has changed very substantially in one basic, fundamental way, exemplified by all parties in this House contending that the principle of consent must underpin any solution or way forward in Northern Ireland. While, as an Irishman, I would love to see the island of Ireland united I accept, as does everybody on this part of the island, that such an achievement can come about only with consent and, without which, we must seek alternative ways forward.

That same fundamentally changed opinion constituted a substantial contribution to the overall debate that has not been given the credence it deserves on either the British or loyalist side of the equation in Northern Ireland. I ask people to dwell on that. At the beginning of this peace process it was said that making peace was one thing but ensuring its long-term viability and stability would be very much harder.

I say directly to Mr. David Trimble, the leader of the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, who has been put on the spot, was involved directly in this process, and is perceived by his electorate as a man of ability who could lead and find a way forward while protecting them, "do not make the mistake of reaching into the rhetoric of the past to find your vision of the future". That is the direction in which he has been moving over recent months and it is to be regretted. I give that advice in the knowledge that he is a man of enormous ability, with huge responsibilities, representing the loyalist people of Northern Ireland in finding a way forward.

We must always remember that it is easier to be on the outside throwing the bricks, it takes a far greater person, one of stature, to lead, to find new ground leading to solutions and to be at the cutting edge. We have seen this more than adequately manifested recently in the Middle East, in former Yugoslavia and South Africa. People there had the capacity to sit down with their bitter enemies in the realisation and understanding that violence contributed nothing but that, instead, talking openly and honestly in a hard, precise, confident manner constituted the only way of finding a solution to their problems.

I appeal directly to Mr. David Trimble to seek a way forward in an honest, open fashion, by coming to the table to listen to what all sides have to say, forming his opinions first-hand. In addition it is vital that Sinn Féin, and its leadership, who have contributed so much to this peace process, should not be marginalised in any way. It is crucial that all means of communication, all doors be kept open to ensure that the blow to their credibility, wrongly dealt by the hard men within the IRA, is quickly remedied. If that does not happen, the way forward will be very difficult.

I shall conclude by making two points. I have grave doubts about some form of elected body constituting the beginning of the process. No matter how limiting or well defined, from what I witnessed in the past such a proposal would be divisive and lead to hard positions being adopted. Instead any electoral process must take place towards the end of discussions and negotiations.

I welcome the approach adopted by President Clinton's Administration and that of former United States Senator, Mr. George Mitchell. Representatives of all sides in the South, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom must and should have confidence in Mr. Mitchell's ability to help in finding a way forward. I hope he will be appointed in the immediate future, time being of the essence because this vacuum cannot be allowed to widen.

First, I offer my condolences to the relatives of those killed in the Canary Wharf bombing and wish those injured a speedy recovery. Last Friday was a black day for them but also for people on both islands and representatives and politicians were confronted with the task of restoring the peace initiative. There are but two options, violence or talks.

Those who listened to contributions today know the commitment by all concerned to a resolution of this impasse and the need to get back on the road to peace. While it is indeed a complex problem, with many obstacles to be overcome, there is sufficient commitment to ensure that all lines of communication are kept open, enabling all parties to move forward. In this respect I must compliment Deputy Bertie Ahern who, since assuming the leadership of my party, has made a constructive, responsible contribution and demonstrated his true commitment to the resolution of the problems of Northern Ireland.

Friday last was a black day for everybody, none feeling greater devastation than my constituents and others residing on either side of the Border. I learned that from discussions with them over the weekend. In that region people suffered much pain and grief from the atrocities perpetuated over the past 25 years. Since the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and on a smaller scale in Belturbet and Clones, residents south of the Border lived in fear of a recurrence whenever people attended functions or congregated. Such fear was revived over the weekend with statements to the effect that were there to be a return to loyalist violence the South would be their target. On return to normal conditions the authorities North and South reopened Border road crossings, thus ending lengthy detours and general hardship for farmers who own land on either side. Their closure undoubtedly constituted a breeding ground for the IRA. The way that matter was dealt with by the relevant authorities is to be commended. There was a reference to Senator Mitchell's report. It is regrettable that more was not made of it as it provided the best opportunity for a way forward. It would be a step forward if Senator Mitchell, as requested, made himself available as a peace envoy. The turn-out, North and South, over two days for President Clinton's visit, was an indication of the importance of the peace process and certainly he made a great contribution to it. It is regrettable that John Major did not make more use of the opportunity presented in Senator Mitchell's report.

Good work is being done in a number of areas, including the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. This has proved to be of great benefit as a platform for both parties and individuals. In the beginning there were 13 members on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation but this number has been reduced to 12 following the death of Senator Gordon Wilson. Individual members represent the Seanad, Independent Members and the different political groupings. Delegations from Church and State, trade unions, teachers' organisations and farmers made their contributions and were subject to strict questioning. It was a beneficial exercise, some useful discussions took place and many probing questions were asked. It had the effect of the Alliance Party, The Workers' Party and Sinn Féin intermingling and intermixing. The same could be said of the British-Irish parliamentary body which did a number of reports on North-South trade and transport. That body, with IBEC, CBI and the Chambers of Commerce, have organised conferences, as a result of which there was to be much networking between various companies.

Last week I asked the Taoiseach a question about trade North to South and South to North. Industrialists in the North grasped the opportunity and increased their exports to the South by over 20.3 per cent while we had a 9 per cent increase into the North for the period up to September 1995. There was a similar increase in cross-Border traffic and a big increase in tourism on both sides of the Border.

Because of the commitment here allowances have to be made for people such as Gerry Adams. I agree with the approach of the Government and the Opposition as far as bringing people into talks are concerned but the lines of communication must be kept open, if he has an influence — about which we were doubtful last Friday — on the IRA. It is important to keep our lines of communication open. We must do all we can. There is no future for violence but there is a future for peace. We have suffered long enough and hopefully the peace process will be brought back on the rail quickly.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Bradford.

It is with a sad heart I take part in this debate. We had all looked forward to a continuing peace process. We had all listened with interest to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and all the other Ministers involved in discussions with the British, the US and others that the peace would last. Unfortunately, the IRA godfathers decided otherwise. It is obvious Sinn Féin did not have the control over them to stop them. It is sad that John Jeffries and Inan Bashir died on behalf of Irish people in Canary Wharf. It is sad that people who had no contact or involvement with this country should die supposedly on the issue of Irish peace. I sympathise with their families and the hundreds of others, some of whom are badly injured, who are damaged for life, as a result of being in or near Canary Wharf on Friday evening. The IRA godfathers made that decision.

Some people think this matter can be sorted out easily and that the ceasefire happened overnight. Some previous speakers said this started in the early 1980s with the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles J. Haughey. It was carried on by the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, who signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was carried on again by the Taoiseach, Mr. Charles J. Haughey, and still further by the next Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, in whose time there was agreement for the ceasefire. I sat on the opposite side of the House at that time. At the conclusion of his speech I walked across the floor and congratulated him on the enormous role he played.

We must put this matter into perspective. Nobody thought on the night of the ceasefire that anything would be easy. There had and still has to be much discussion and negotiation. It is important that those who were involved give assistance to those who are involved but in such a way as to be helpful and to ensure that the issue is above politics.

I am satisfied from what I heard here today that all the party leaders are at one in not only their condemnation but in their ideas about the way forward. There has to be a way forward, otherwise we would be in a state of depression.

The Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, when he was in Opposition made every effort to get to know all the different groups in Northern Ireland who accepted democracy and talks as the way forward. I was fortunate to visit the North with him on a number of occasions during that period while he was trying to make every effort to try to understand and get to know the problems. Little did we know then that he would be Taoiseach within a few short weeks. It is important to note that he was and is able to deal with people. He carried on where the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, had to leave off.

In his contribution today, the Taoiseach showed his extraordinary commitment to ensure to get out of this dark hour. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, and all their colleagues are working night and day to ensure the peace process is brought back on the rails.

Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, played a major role in the peace process. Credit must go to people such as John Hume, the clerics and all those involved. If Gerry Adams is to be accepted as the leader he claimed he is, the IRA campaign must cease.

We wish him well in that role because it will not be easy. Once the ceasefire has been broken it will be more difficult to get it back on track but we must do so. All sides must act to move forward in the talks process, including Prime Minister John Major, the British Government and all the parties in Northern Ireland, including the Unionist parties.

We must work harder to make sure each group understands the needs of the others because talking is better than war. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and others have made it clear that those who consider the bomb and the gun have a role to play will have difficulty in sitting down at the talks table. As the Taoiseach said, doors remain open and will be kept open if it can help solve the problem. No doors have been shut but if people are not prepared to condemn acts of war, thereby condoning them, it is difficult for them to occupy a place at the table. It is paramount that another ceasefire is put in place quickly. Many ideas have been put forward in this debate and if Senator Mitchell or any other group can play a role they should be brought into the process.

The Taoiseach and others have spelled out the political benefits of the last 18 months of peace. I want to spell out the real benefits to the people of the Border regions and the Six Counties — the area where the greatest burden of the troubles has fallen. The Border roads have been opened. Tourism has bloomed. I was in a hotel on Friday night and the faces of the staff were as if at a wake. They had seen business boom in the last 18 months but now are desperate because they do not know what the future holds. Local enterprise began to boom and foreign investment became possible. There had been little foreign investment in the Border area because of the troubles over the last 25 years.

People gained a freedom to travel the by-roads and main roads. Social activities began to return to normal for sports and community groups, for example, where people could enjoy each other's company and talk freely to each other. There were no roadblocks and no army or police personnel evident. Some people tried to make out that nothing had happened, that there were still roadblocks and structures in place. I drove through Crossmaglen not so long ago using various roads to go in and out of the town and there were no army or police personnel evident. I talked to some of the people there and they were happy that life was becoming more normal.

The highlight of the process was the visit of the President of the United States, Mr. Clinton, especially his trip to Belfast. It was good to see people of all communities together in the centre of Belfast with a feeling of joy that the President of the United States, the greatest power in the world, was there and they could unite across political and religious boundaries. We cannot allow the IRA to undo it all in one fell swoop. We must give the people our leadership and call on the IRA and on Sinn Féin, if it has any influence on the IRA, to stop now before it is too late. We do not want the next generation to grow up without knowing peace. A generation of people now in their thirties and forties had not known a normal life before the cease-fire.

I appeal to everybody to bring pressure to bear on this group which decides for itself to bring the country back into the dire straits of the last 25 years. In the past Ireland was known abroad for the bomb and the bullet. For the past 18 months we have been recognised for the visit of President Clinton and public figures from Great Britain.

The Government must ensure that funding for the Border regions from the IFI, the Delors package and INTERREG is co-ordinated as quickly as possible to let people understand that there is a real peace benefit. The peace may have been broken but I was delighted the Taoiseach visited Cavan yesterday in the midst of the problems. He made it clear that a Minister of State will be given the task of making sure any delays or problems will be solved quickly.

I sympathise with those who have lost relatives. There is fear in the Border regions and the North. The Taoiseach, with the support of the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, and the Opposition parties, will lead the peace process back on track and lead the country to great things in the future.

It is tragic that this matter is before us for debate when we had hoped for the past 18 months that we would not have to do so. I am glad the tone and content of the statements has been positive. It is important that the House continues to be united against violence and terrorism and in favour of the need for all-party dialogue in a constructive fashion. The unity of the political parties in the South over the past 25 years has been in stark contrast to the North. It is more important than ever to keep a united front in our political approach.

I welcome the Government's response to the difficulties caused by last Friday's dreadful events. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing it would have been easy to have had kneejerk political reactions. The Government has sent strong signals of its disapproval as a minimum response. It has reacted in a positive fashion in ensuring that all doors remain open to the political parties who may be able to influence the IRA in calling another ceasefire. This is vital to allow dialogue recommence.

Friday night last was a black night not alone for the people of London and the North but also for Irish people at home and abroad. The joyous outpouring of emotion for much of the past 17 months, particularly during the visit of President Clinton last December, was suddenly replaced by much despair, doubt and fear. The political parties and the two Governments must firmly seize the initiative.

While we must always strongly condemn acts of violence and terrorism we should clearly indicate the alternatives. The only alternative to what happened on Friday night last is dialogue. There is a heavy onus on all political parties and the two Governments in particular to ensure that inclusive all-party talks commence at the earliest possible date.

We must send a clear signal to the IRA and all those who perpetrate acts of violence and terrorism, through the political parties close to them, that these acts must cease and that there is a better way. I hope, following this debate and the calm and reflective debate in the House of Commons yesterday, that it will be possible for the two Governments to clear up any misunderstandings and adopt a common position. That should be the priority. Everyone concerned must redouble their efforts in the days and weeks ahead to ensure talks commence at the earliest possible date.

Once inclusive all-party talks commence it is crucial that there be a place at the table for Sinn Féin. As it is part of the problem, it will have to be part of the solution. The Government responded in the only way it could on Saturday last when it indicated firmly that before dialogue could take place with Sinn Féin at ministerial level the IRA would have to call a further ceasefire. This needs to be done immediately. While one can knock walls by violence and destruction one cannot build bridges. In the politics of this island we must be clearly seen to build bridges. In this context, I call on Sinn Féin to use whatever influence it has to ensure a further ceasefire is called.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Dermot Ahern.

I extend my deepest sympathy to the families and relatives of the people killed or seriously injured in the London Docklands bombing on Friday evening last. On the 6 o'clock news this evening we saw the sad pictures of an old man in a community far removed from this country bury his son.

Following 18 months of peace in the North we are back at the crossroads. Were it not for the efforts of brave men, namely, John Hume and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, there would not have been a cessation of violence. Deputy Reynolds was berated in this House by those who now have responsibility in Government to resolve the difficulties facing us for giving a commitment to meet with Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin at Government Buildings if a ceasefire was called by the IRA. That was a high risk strategy which required an element of trust and goodwill.

Based on the attitude adopted by the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, since the ceasefire was called it is difficult to be optimistic that risks will be taken from that quarter. The best that he could do following his meeting with the leader of the most powerful nation in the world was to indicate what should be done to curtail the activities of Sinn Féin in the United States. On the 6 o'clock news this evening he dismissed the possibility of holding a referendum suggested by John Hume as a realistic option. If that is the only response he can give in trying to find a way forward, the outlook is stark.

We all gave currency to the Mitchell report, but the ink was hardly dry before the British Government cherrypicked its recommendations, with the result that the peace process was put into a tailspin. Unionist leaders have not been generous in their comments. They have given no indication that they are prepared to accept the British Prime Minister's proposal that all-party talks should follow elections. David Trimble has not confirmed that this would be the case.

Elections are being foisted upon the people of the North who do not know what the working arrangements in an elected assembly would be or to where it would lead. The Reverend Ian Paisley informed us following his meeting with the British Prime Minister that each party will receive a discussion document outlining the way such assembly would function. The British Government put the cart before the horse in making an elected assembly its prime response to the Mitchell report. If that was one of the six recommendations of the report, each political party might have believed there was something to negotiate at the table or that the British Government would act with the Irish Government in giving effect to the report's recommendations. Unfortunately, that did not happen and as a result the Provisional IRA changed direction, a move which was unacceptable and unjustified. We must deal with the reality of the horrific bombing in London last Friday which led to the adoption of entrenched positions; we must find a way forward.

Deputy Crawford, who represents a Border county, listed the positive effects of the ceasefire and I am sure Deputy Ahern could echo them. The number of foreign tourists has increased significantly. However, we are now faced with a complex situation. While we are obliged to highlight our reservations, with the practical and positive support of Members on this side the Government must ensure that the peace process is put back on line. The Prime Minister was very sombre in the House of Commons yesterday and the response from all sides of the House was welcome. The British Labour Party spokesperson stated on television this evening that whatever the British Prime Minister articulates by way of a discussion document on the assembly, it must be a joint co-operative arrangement between both Governments. Therein lies the slim hope for progress on this complex issue.

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs must come to grips with this dilemma. The holding of elections appears to have been decided before the workings of the assembly were thought through. In Strasbourg this evening John Hume expressed reasonable doubt about the complexity of holding elections. The issue demands a more generous Unionist response. It was Mr. Trimble who mooted the idea of elections, another way of unlevelling the playing pitch.

Sinn Féin has a political mandate through virtually every local authority in the North. Gerry Adams was once elected to the British House of Commons, but of course did not take his seat. It appears the British Government, through the promptings of the Unionist Party, wants to hold elections for an assembly. Unless the matter is clearly understood by all concerned, we will go down another cul-de-sac. I hope the Government will use its powers of persuasion to ensure that whatever emerges will bring about a possibility of a lasting peace and give the Nationalist community a sense of hope. Unless John Hume, the Sinn Féin leadership and others in the North are committed to embarking on this course of action, we will not see the progress we want.

I thank my colleague for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the debate, the importance of which can be gauged by the fact that as Chief Whip I have been inundated with requests from Members — approximately 35 — who wish to contribute.

I express my sympathy, and that of my constituents, to the people who were injured and to the relatives and friends of those killed in that awful event last Friday. Fianna Fáil abhors and condemns unreservedly the use of violence in that way.

As the constituency in the Twenty-six Counties that suffered most from the ravages of the past 25 years, my constituents are shattered by this event. Not only was London physically shattered and people injured and killed, the hopes and aspirations of the people of County Louth and other Border counties were also shattered.

At the outset the British doubted that the ceasefire would last. It is well known that British officials and politicians poured cold water on the question of a ceasefire in their negotiations with Irish Government officials at that time. There were many road blocks put in the way of the ceasefire. The word "permanence" was brought into the equation by the British Government and all efforts on this side of the water to get over that hurdle did not succeed until eventually the British Government accepted what is called "a working relationship". The question of clarification then presented another difficulty. I recall Mr. Major stating that there would be talks after a three months decontamination period, but 17 months later such talks had not taken place. Decommissioning was another huge hurdle and the Mitchell Commission and twin-track approach were launched by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister last November. Unfortunately, in all its dealings in Irish matters, the British Government endeavoured to divide and conquer and succeeded in that regard in the last number of months. To a certain extent it has succeeded in dividing and conquering the Nationalist consensus which had been painstakingly put together by Nationalist Ireland. It also, in a surreptitious way, tried to divide and conquer the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in recent weeks. That should be abhorred.

The purpose of the Mitchell report was to allow for decommissioning and all-party talks. It would arbitrate on the decommissioning issue and before its publication our party leader stated that Fianna Fáil would accept its recommendations. He exhorted all parties, particularly Sinn Féin, to accept the six principles. In November 1995 when the report was initiated he welcomed the twin-track approach and the fact that the two Governments had come together. He hoped that effort would not lead to another road block but, unfortunately, that is how it turned out. When the report was published the British did as they usually do, they binned it, as they did with a number of other important European decisions which went against them. They binned the decision of the European Court of Justice in the Gibraltar three case. They went on to other business and disregarded it. That is indicative of the British Government's attitude to matters relating to this country.

The Mitchell report referred to a number of matters but did not make a recommendation in relation to an elected body or elections. It merely commented on that and a number of other issues such as confidence building measures. These measures always seem to relate to the building of Unionist confidence. It is a two-way process. Confidence must also be built in the Nationalist community and this has not been manifest in the past 18 months. The events of Friday night are indicative of the feelings of some of those people.

Debate adjourned.