The whole basis of the settlement is the recognition that we have to live together on this island and for that we need peace, stability and reconciliation. Neither tradition has the means to impose its will on the other. An accommodation is essential for the well-being and prosperity of all. Inevitably, this will involve for everyone changes in our ways of thinking, greater tolerance and generosity and a more sympathetic understanding of the needs of others. We have to foster confidence in all sections of the community.
This Agreement is first and foremost a balanced constitutional settlement that provides a peaceful method of resolving fundamental differences in the future while creating a basis for practical partnership and co-operation now. Real balance, which we have sought since 1992, has been achieved, with fundamental and important changes in both British and Irish constitutional law. We are reformulating Articles 2 and 3, not abolishing them.
If the Government had declined to enter into these discussions on our constitutional position there would have been no multi-party negotiations and nobody should fail to understand that. There would have been no agreement and, I am afraid, no peace. We took the same view as the Secretary of State, Dr. Mowlam, that thestatus quo is not acceptable and, therefore, some movement was required on all sides, including ourselves.
The purpose of the changes is to reinforce the principle that in Ireland, North and South, it is the people who are sovereign and who have shared ownership of the territory of Ireland. Any British territorial claim of sovereignty, made without reference to consent, going back to the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the Act of Union or, for that matter, to 1170, will be superseded in the British Act and becomes irrelevant for the future. The principle of consent is paramount. From now on everything will hinge on that. This represents a substantial change. Moreover, consent is now, for the first time, formally recognised to be a two way process. The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough.
The foundation stone of this State, as well as of the peace process, the right to national self-determination in its full political, social and cultural meaning, remains untouched in Article 1, to which de Valera attached most importance and which he would not let go even in the context of a united Ireland.
The reformulation of Articles 2, 3 and 29 reflects modern, progressive republican thought that is truly pluralist and keeps faith with the inclusive tradition of Irish nationalism stemming from Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. The nation is defined in terms of people, but people related to a specific territory, the island of Ireland. Henceforth, we do not insist on press-ganging those who are determined that they are not a part of the nation. As a consequence of that, we no longer say, or appear to say, that the territory is ours, not theirs, but rather that it is shared by all of us.
For the first time, we firmly anchor in the Constitution and, very importantly, in international law, the Irish nationality and citizenship rights of everyone born on the island who wants to avail of them. There is no question of anyone being made an alien in their own country. The nation is not territorially disembodied. It is defined in clear terms as a 32-county entity. The State remains as it was interpreted to be in the McGimpsey judgment in 1990, a 26-county one. On a different level, we also recognise for the first time the Irish diaspora which played its own notable part in the peace process.
A nation normally has, other things being equal, a right to statehood. Our position, as reiterated in the proposed Articles 2 and 3, is that the 32 county Irish nation has a right to statehood, but we recognise that for that to come about the consent principle must first be satisfied. The firm will of the Irish nation to unity is expressed in the language of the 1967 Constitutional Review Committee but it can only be achieved by consent, North and South. The words "in harmony and friendship" apply to the process of seeking unity. Whereas under the present Articles 2, 3 and 29, Northern Ireland and the unity of Ireland are treated as issues to be settled between the British and Irish Governments on their own, without necessarily any reference to the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland and, therefore, demonstrably lack effectiveness, the new Articles provide a realistic mechanism for bringing about Irish unity by agreement between the people of Ireland, North and South.
The consent principle reflects the political reality that we have long accepted for all practical purposes. As far back as August 1921, de Valera declared that "we do not contemplate the use of force", and in 1957 he told the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis that a forced unity would ruin national life for generations. What is contained at present in the Constitution was inserted in 1937 as a protest against the Boundary Agreement of 1925 and as a reassertion of the essential unity of Ireland in circumstances where Northern Nationalists had been entirely abandoned to the mercy of an unsympathetic and often hostile Stormont Government. In the opinion of many lawyers, it is questionable whether Articles 2 and 3 ever had much standing in international law, given that the 1925 agreement was registered at the League of Nations, but they were certainly a challenge to the legitimacy of Northern Ireland.
In the present negotiations it would have been illogical to seek fundamental changes in order to secure a new, fair and equitable political dispensation if we were still determined to deny the result of any democratic legitimacy. If we want civilised relations on this island, and the ultimate coming together of the people of Ireland, we do not need, nor is there benefit from, any claim of right to include the people of Northern Ireland in a united Ireland against the will of a majority there. Equally, however, Unionists now increasingly accept that the consent of Nationalists is needed for stable government in Northern Ireland.
The first Hume-Adams statement of April 1993 stated that while the Irish people have the right to self-determination, they are divided on its exercise. Article 1 of the new British-Irish Agreement, which will be binding internationally, recognises that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts but without external impediment, to exercise that right of self-determination. In the context of a new and fair dispensation, where jurisdiction is to be founded in rigorous equality, as stated in Article 1 of the new British-Irish Agreement, we are prepared to recognise the legitimacy of the right of the people of Northern Ireland to choose whether to belong to the United Kingdom or a united Ireland. As the late Mr. Paddy McGrory, the Belfast solicitor in the Gibraltar Three case, wrote to Gerry Adams in May 1994, there is a crucial difference between consent imposed by the British and consent freely accepted as a condition for unity by the Irish people themselves, as expressed in an act of collective and concurrent self-determination.
The new position is more in keeping with our dignity as a people and, if the people of Northern Ireland have the freedom to choose, a majority may some time in the future decide to become part of a united Ireland. None of us can pre-empt what decisions will be taken by people in the future and it is they, not us, who will decide if the present Agreement is to be a transition to a united Ireland or the basis for a continuation of the Union. For our part, we can work to make such unity as attractive a proposition as possible by developing our economy and improving our society in every way, including its pluralism and its respect for the diversity of identities and traditions on the island.
Article 3.2 of the Agreement provides for the establishment of North South bodies, which Article 3 of the Constitution as worded at present does not allow. The extraterritorial clause belongs more appropriately to Article 29 as it is of general, not specific, Northern Ireland application. Neither the Agreement nor the proposed constitutional amendment has any implications for our jurisdiction over fisheries or offshore exploration, which are governed by other international codes of law and which, in any case, mostly take place beyond territorial waters. We have never attempted to apply Article 2 in practical terms to the seas around Northern Ireland, so there will be no change in the situation. In the future, even if oil or gas were found, no selfish economic interest in defiance of Articles 2 and 4 of the British-Irish Agreement could be invoked by Britain to remain in the North in the absence of the consent of the people there.
There is a transitional clause written into Article 29, which ensures that the changes to Articles 2 and 3 will not come into effect, until the Agreement as a whole is ready to come into effect following the passage of constitutional legislation at Westminster and the various institutions are ready to be established and begin operating with their full powers and functions. This represents some significant safeguard against default by others.
The Irish Government did not participate directly in the negotiations on Strand One, about structures within Northern Ireland, but we were kept informed. The outcome on Strand One represents a remarkable negotiating achievement for the parties principally involved, the SDLP and the UUP, although I also pay tribute to the other parties that were actively involved in those discussions, particularly the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.
The institutional arrangements agreed for the internal government of Northern Ireland are light years away from the old Stormont. The new arrangements ensure that never again can one community in the North dominate another. This is ensured by a very extensive yet carefully structured system of safeguards, checks and balances and by the inclusive nature of the assembly and the pervasive operation of a rule of proportionality in regard to positions of authority and influence. Deputies will recall my emphasis in recent months that, for strong and effective North-South structures we needed a strong and effective administration in Northern Ireland.
While there will be an important role for assembly committees, the discharge of executive responsibilities will be through a cabinet-type executive committee composed of departmental Ministers, led by a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, drawn respectively from the Unionist and Nationalist communities. Provisions agreed in regard to this executive committee's role, responsibilities and operation, including a pledge of office and code of conduct for Ministers, the duties of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and an annual programme, with an agreed budget, should ensure the Ministers will operate with a high degree of cohesion and collective responsibility including in regard to external relationships with Ministers here in the North-South Ministerial Council.
The assembly and the executive committee will operate on a fair and cross-community basis. All posts as Ministers and the membership and chairmanship of assembly committees will be allocated in proportion to party strengths emerging from the assembly elections due to take place on 25 June. This means the parties representing the Nationalist tradition could, if they so decide, hold up to 40 per cent of all these positions. In the case of Sinn Féin, participation would call for an amendment of the party's constitution. Its members have been persistent advocates of fundamental change and have demonstrated their ability to effect such change through peaceful, democratic methods. I very much hope they will make the internal changes necessary to enable them to contribute constructively to effecting the radical change foreshadowed in the Good Friday Agreement.
I also look forward, with deep satisfaction and with high hopes and expectations, to seeing the remarkable vision and abilities of John Hume, Seamus Mallon and their SDLP colleagues, who have honourably and very effectively upheld the standard of democratic politics for 30 years now, at last applied to the betterment of the lives of all who live in Northern Ireland. I know I speak for the whole House when I salute those extraordinary men and women, not least for their negotiating achievement in the early hours of Good Friday, but also for the stamp put on this settlement by the concepts and principles they have unflinchingly promoted since their party's foundation.
The agreed pledge of office for Ministers includes a commitment to the Mitchell principles of non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and the Multi-Party Agreement provides that those who hold executive office should use only those means and those who do not should be excluded or removed from office, following an assembly decision, taken on a cross-community basis.
Reverting to the safeguards to ensure fairness, all key decisions will be taken on a cross-community basis. That means either parallel consent, that is, a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the Unionists and of the Nationalists present and voting; or a weighted majority of 60 per cent of members present and voting, including at least 40 per cent of each of the Nationalist and Unionist groups.
Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, but in other cases this requirement could be triggered by a petition of concern brought by 30 members of the assembly.
Key decisions and legislation will be proofed to ensure they do not infringe the European Convention on Human Rights or a supplemental Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. There will also be a statutory Equality Commission to monitor a new statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity in specified areas and parity of esteem between the two main communities.
Overall, the agreed Strand One arrangements represent, in many respects, a considerable improvement on those negotiated at Sunningdale 25 years ago. They should command our full support and co-operation.
The same is true in regard to the agreed North-South arrangements and structures. In the negotiations, we achieved all the objectives we had set out in recent years, while carrying with us not only the Nationalist parties but also all the participating pro-Union parties. There is agreement on a North-South Ministerial Council, with the repertoire of functions the Government has sought. The Ministerial Council is provided for in the British-Irish Agreement which will be internationally binding, and it will be established by legislation at Westminster and the Oireachtas, thus providing the assurance that we sought as to certainty of follow-up. An initial batch of associated implementation bodies will have clear operational remits and will implement on an all-island and cross-Border basis policies agreed in the North-South Council. These initial implementation bodies — at least six of them — will also be rooted in Westminster legislation. The two Governments will make necessary legislative and other preparations to ensure, as an absolute commitment, that the agreed initial batch of bodies will function at the time of the inception of the British-Irish Agreement.
Another assurance that these will proceed is the combined effect of paragraph 3 of the validation, implementation and review section of the Multi-Party Agreement and of Articles 2 and 4 of the British-Irish Agreement, with the result that the latter will not come into effect and the assembly will not receive its legislative and executive powers unless the Ministerial Council and implementation bodies have been established legislatively.
This is important because in the negotiations in Holy Week the Government responded positively to the proposal by the Ulster Unionists that the precise selection of domains for the initial batch of implementation bodies for areas where the Ministerial Council decisions on co-operation would be implemented through existing bodies in the separate jurisdictions, would be agreed by 31 October next through the work programme of the two Governments and the transitional administration in Northern Ireland. A list of 12 areas is set out in the Agreement and includes such significant areas as tourism, animal and plant health, strategic transport planning, environmental protection, urban and rural development, and inland fisheries. This list is not exhaustive and under the Agreement, other areas could also be identified and agreed for inclusion.
In the negotiations the Unionists and the loyalist parties have acknowledged that North-South bodies are needed, not only for their undoubted practical benefits in the economic and social spheres, but also because they present a vital institutional expression of the Irish identity of Northern Nationalists and of their associated identification with Ireland as a whole and with this State.
After the establishment of the bodies, every step to be taken by the North-South Council, that is as regards policy directions, funding and all other matters, must be by agreement between the two sides, North and South. If any change is needed in the original charters of bodies as set out in their founding legislation, this will have to be agreed between the representatives of North and South on the Ministerial Council and will have to be endorsed by the assembly and the Oireachtas.
Thus, what we have in regard to the outcome of Strand Two of the negotiations is a carefully balanced package that is clearly traceable to and inspired by the Joint Framework Document and the Propositions on Heads of Agreement, and that gives Nationalists the strong and meaningful North-South links they have legitimately sought in a manner consistent with vital Unionist interests.
I will deal more fully with the agreed Strand Three arrangements in my speech in Seanad Éireann tomorrow. I merely draw attention to the fact that, first, we have a British-Irish Council, not a council of the isles, and the North-South Council is in no way subordinate to it; and, second, there is agreement to a British-Irish intergovernmental conference, with a standing joint secretariat, which will replace the conference and secretariat established under the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. While these will deal with the totality of relationships, they will have a particular focus on Northern Ireland, specifically the areas that will not be devolved, such as policing, prisons and justice and rights, with a similar role for the Irish Government as at present.
I do not have time to expand at any length on other important sections of the Agreement, but other Ministers will do so. However, the Agreement contains major advances in regard to the equality and rights agenda — in the political, economic, social and linguistic spheres — the administration of justice and normalisation in a peaceful and stable society, including important provisions on prisoners and security de-escalation, as the level of threat reduces, and on decommissioning.
The provisions for policing involve a set of principles, endorsed by all the participants, which should govern policing in Northern Ireland and agreement to establish a broadly representative independent commission, with international representation, to report by the summer of 1999 with recommendations on future policing in the light of the agreed principles and on the basis of very tightly drawn terms of reference. The provisions agreed open the way to a transformation of policing in Northern Ireland, including its composition and ethos, so that the future police service can enjoy widespread support from the entire community.
I urge everyone to have the courage to embrace a new and peaceful future. History is in the making, there are benefits for everyone. The settlement needs strong public support, North and South, to get off to a good start which will lead to a bright future. We cannot afford one response in the North and another in the South. I expect and I am calling for a united, not a partitionist, approach. Everyone must rise to the occasion if we are to obtain the full benefit of the Agreement.