I propose to take Questions Nos. 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 30, 34, 36, 39, 42, 43, 44, 47, 50, 51 and 53 together.
Since the Tánaiste last answered questions in this House on 7 March, he has had four further meetings with the Secretary for Northern Ireland: on March 8, 14 and 20, and on April 3. At these meetings, the two Governments reviewed our consultations with the Northern parties, and discussed issues related to the launch of all-party negotiations on 10 June.
In particular, as was envisaged in the communiqué of 28 February, we considered the basis, participation, structure, format and agenda of substantive all-party negotiations. A consultation paper was issued to the parties on 15 March, and subsequently, on April 16, we published the Ground Rules for Substantive All-Party Negotiations. This paper sets out the best judgment of the two Governments on the most suitable and broadly acceptable ground rules for the basis, participation, structure, format and agenda of all-party negotiations, beginning on 10 June 1996.
As the House will be aware, the British Government published on the same day, 16 April, the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations etc.) Bill, which provides for elections to be held on 30 May leading directly to the all-party negotiations, and for the creation of a forum in Northern Ireland. This Bill is currently passing through the Houses of Parliament at Westminster and is expected shortly to become law.
As stated in the February communiqué, the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister agreed that details of this particular elective process were for the parties in Northern Ireland, with the British Government, to determine. The Government would not wish, therefore, to pronounce on the precise form of electoral system which is to be employed, although we are of course aware of the divergent views of the different parties, and urged the British Government to do the utmost possible to achieve the criterion of broad acceptability.
As Deputies will be aware, both the SDLP and Sinn Féin yesterday announced that they intended to take part in the elections on 30 May.
The interrelationship between the elective process and the negotiations is of direct concern to the Government. We were determined to ensure that the elections would lead immediately, directly and automatically into all-party negotiations with a comprehensive agenda. The ground rules paper, and the British electoral legislation, reflect this intent.
We were equally determined to ensure that there was a clear and rigorous distinction between the negotiations and the proposed elected forum. Paragraph 7 of the ground rules paper, accordingly, states: "The conduct of the negotiations will be exclusively a matter for those involved in the negotiations. Any reference to, or interaction with, the forum to be convened following the elective process held to determine which parties will participate in the negotiations may take place solely by agreement among the negotiating teams to this effect and only at their formal instigation".
The forum is to discuss issues relevant to promoting dialogue and understanding within Northern Ireland. It will be deliberative only and will have no legislative, executive or administrative functions, or the power to determine the conduct, course or outcome of negotiations. Within these parameters, the activities of the forum will be for its prospective members to decide. The possibility that it might hear submissions made by political parties in this jurisdiction is a matter for it, and those parties which might be interested, to explore in due course. The Government, for its part, would have no objection to the forum taking submissions in this jurisdiction, should the Members consider that this would contribute to dialogue and understanding within Northern Ireland.
As foreshadowed in the February communiqué, the Secretary of State and the Tánaiste considered on a number of occasions whether there might be advantage in holding parallel referendums, North and South, in conjunction with the elections to be held on 30 May. While the Government saw potential value in the proposal, and was prepared to support it, we accept that the electoral package put forward by the British Government changed the context from that envisaged when the proposal was put forward, and a referendum prior to negotiations will not now take place.
In the ground rules paper, however, both Governments reaffirm their intention that the outcome of negotiations will be submitted for public approval by referendums in Ireland North and South — before being submitted to their respective Parliaments for ratification and the earliest possible implementation.
The two Governments have, therefore, in accordance with the terms of the February communiqué, mapped out the route to substantive all-party negotiations starting on 10 June. The Government fully appreciates the concerns and reservations of the Nationalist parties in particular regarding the potential complications inherent both in the elective process and the creation of the forum. The Government will do all in its power to ensure that the safeguards which have been put in place, in particular the separation of the forum from the negotiations, are fully maintained. It is also important that the parties participating in the forum make use of its procedures in a manner consistent with its mandate to promote dialogue and understanding.
It will be for each party to take its own decision as regards participation in the elections and the forum. I would hope that in doing so all parties will consider carefully the wider picture, the overall package which has been achieved, and the need to promote the climate most conducive to the success of the negotiations, which must be the primary objective for all involved.
With regard to the agenda of the negotiations, the ground rules state that "The negotiations will,... in a full and comprehensive fashion, address and seek to reach agreement on relationships and arrangements within Northern Ireland, including the relationship between any new institutions there and the Westminster Parliament; within the whole island of Ireland; and between the two Governments, including their relationship with any new institutions in Northern Ireland." It is envisaged that a comprehensive agenda will be adopted at the opening session of the negotiations and that this should reflect impartially all the key concerns of the participants.
The ground rules also state that "Any participant in the strand in question will be free to raise any aspect of the three relationships, including constitutional issues and any other matter which it considers relevant." I expect that all parties will wish to advance their own analysis of the situation and argue the case for their own preferred outcome.
The ground rules state that it is common ground that any agreement, if it is to command widespread support, will need to give adequate expression to the totality of all three relationships. The paper recalls that the two Governments, for their part, have described a shared understanding of the parameters of a possible outcome of the negotiations in A New Framework for Agreement. We expect and intend that this key intergovernmental document will be on the table and fully considered in the negotiations.
The ground rules for the negotiations make clear that no outcome is either predetermined or excluded in advance. It goes without saying that the parties who aspire to the unity and reconciliation of the Irish people will be free to represent that viewpoint at the negotiating table and can be expected to do so.
The chairpersonship of Strand II of the negotiations remains to be decided. Strand I will be chaired by the British Government and Strand III negotiations are between the two Governments. The two Governments will be consulting with one another and with the parties with a view to reaching agreement on a suitable candidate well before the opening of negotiations. It is clearly important that the person chosen should have the necessary qualifications and authority for what will be a very challenging task.
The position regarding Sinn Féin has been made very clear in this House on several occasions. The ground rules repeat the hope of both Governments that all political parties with an electoral mandate will be able to participate in all-party negotiations. It is obvious that the prospects of success in the negotiations would be greatly enhanced by the presence of Sinn Féin. However, both Governments have also made abundantly clear that the resumption of ministerial dialogue with Sinn Féin, and their participation in negotiations, requires the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994.
Only the IRA can take the decision to restore the ceasefire and allow Sinn Féin to participate in the negotiations. If it fails to do so, it will mean that the republican viewpoint will not be represented in the comprehensive round-table negotiations for which Sinn Féin has been calling since August 1994. The single step of an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire would permit the entry of Sinn Féin to negotiations without further preconditions. I regret the placing of a large bomb in London last night which was intended to do serious damage. The restoration of the ceasefire and the entry of Sinn Féin to negotiations is primarily a matter for the IRA.
Both Governments recognise that in the climate of mutual suspicion and uncertainty which exists, confidence building measures will be necessary as regards both communities. This was acknowledged by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister in the February communiqué. The ground rules, therefore, state that the agenda for negotiations will need to be in accordance with the communiqué's treatment of these issues, which states in paragraph 12:
Therefore the opening plenary session will need to ensure that priority is given to these confidence building issues. The opening plenary session will also adopt, and commit the participants to negotiate, a comprehensive agenda which provides reassurance, both in terms of addressing the report of the International Body and ensuring that a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations is genuinely being offered.
The ground rules paper also lays stress on the determination of both Governments to ensure "that the structure and process of the negotiations will be used in the most constructive possible manner in the search for agreement. They will use their influence in the appropriate strands to ensure that all items on the comprehensive agenda are fully addressed in the negotiating process and commit themselves, for their part, to doing so with a view to overcoming any obstacles which may arise."
In my view, the balanced approach set out in the communiqué and in the ground rules should reassure all participants that the negotiations will be meaningful and should be engaged in fully and seriously.
The Government will continue to use the machinery of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to press for appropriate action on a range of other confidence issues, some of which were referred to by the Mitchell report. These include prisoner issues, the handling of parades, the review of emergency legislation, the normalisation and reform of policing and continued action to redress socio-economic disadvantage and inequality.
The involvement of the loyalist parties in the negotiations will also be crucial, and we would hope that they will be enabled to play a full and constructive role in them. On 6 February the Tánaiste had a very positive meeting in Dublin with a delegation from the Progressive Unionist Party. Members of the party, in a number of subsequent interviews and statements, expressed disappointment that at the meeting the Tánaiste did not personally brief them on the Government's proposals for proximity talks, which were at that time under discussion with the British Government. As was immediately explained to the PUP, these proposals had been made to the British Government on the understanding that they would be kept confidential to avoid the pressures of public debate until the resumed meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference on 7 February. While awaiting the British response, which was due the following day, the Government did not feel able to discuss our proposals with any party.
The Tánaiste subsequently conveyed to the PUP the full background to his decision not to go into this particular point at their meeting. He also made clear his concern both for continued constructive dialogue with it, and to ensure an appropriate role for it in the negotiations in prospect. I would hope this has helped to allay any inadvertent misunderstandings which may have arisen.