Other Questions. - Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

17 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the Northern Ireland talks and his assessment of the likely timetable for their completion; his views on whether a deadline of the end of May 1998 for a referendum will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8149/98]

I refer the Deputy to the answers I gave to Priority Questions Nos. 11 and 12. If there is agreement by next week's deadline of 9 April, it should be possible to hold referenda both North and South in May. We would certainly wish referenda to be held with no unnecessary delay. As the Deputy will be aware, there are various constitutional and statutory requirements to be met, in particular the need for a period of at least 30 days to elapse between the passage of a referendum Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas and holding a referendum.

Is it intended to hold two referenda on Articles 2 and 3 and a separate question on acceptance of the agreement? The Minister has expressed a personal view that he would prefer these referenda to be held separately from that on the Amsterdam Treaty. I also believe that, on balance, they should be held separately because there will be confusion about sovereignty issues which will arise in the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty and those on Articles 2 and 3 and the agreement.

I do not disagree with the Deputy on the latter question; we aread idem on that. On the question of the final peace package, in the South only Articles 2 and 3 will be put to the people in one package and the question will be asked on its own in the North.

Will the Minister indicate the thinking, if any, on the funding of such referenda in the light of the McKenna judgment? Is it his view, as it is mine, that the process proposed for the Amsterdam Treaty is inadequate in that an independent commission will present the case for and against it, that there is likely to be much passion involved in the debate on Articles 2 and 3 and that parties which support the agreement should be able to campaign effectively on these issues?

We are bound by the McKenna judgment and, to a greater or lesser degree, by the Hanafin judgment. I agree the referendum on Articles 2 and 3 will be emotional for some people and that the funding arrangement would in no way obstruct the Deputy or Government Ministers in letting their views be known on the direction or position which they would urge the people to take on Articles 2 and 3 in the event of an amendment based on a peace package. There is the difficulty which the Deputy pointed out and which will have to remain because we are bound by the Supreme Court decision.

We are not confined in complying with the McKenna judgment and obliged to go down the road the Government has chosen on the Amsterdam Treaty because there are alternatives and I ask the Minister to look at the Danish procedure on referenda.

I would be pleased to look at the Danish procedure and having examined it, I will let him have a note on our thinking if it would be of assistance.

I would appreciate receiving a copy of that note. The Minister will be aware that I do not support this idea of a referendum commission because we would have to fund arguments for and against the outcome of the Northern Ireland process and it was a mistake to introduce it in relation to the Amsterdam Treaty. On the proposal which presumably will be put to amend or delete Articles 2 and 3, what will happen if the referendum north of the Border is not carried? Will the wording allow for something to happen in the event of agreement north of the Border?

If any part of the package is not accepted, the whole package falls. If the question put in the North fails and the majority there find it, the package presented or the deal, process or arrangement concluded unacceptable, the structure falls — the house of cards will collapse.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.