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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 May 1999

Vol. 505 No. 4

Declaration under Article 29.7 of the Constitution (Extension of Time) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The legislation has its origins in the British-Irish Agreement and the subsequent amendment of the Constitution effected by the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1998. The signing of the Act by the President, following its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas and its approval by the people, added a new section – section 7 – to Article 29 of the Constitution. This provides that the State may agree to be bound by the Agreement, contains consequential provisions to enable the institutions established under the Agreement to function and, critically, provides for the insertion of a mechanism whereby new Articles 2 and 3 can be substituted for the existing Articles and a new section 8 inserted into Article 29 on the entry into force of the Agreement.

Article 29.7.5 contains a mechanism whereby, if the British-Irish Agreement does not enter into force and the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution are therefore not made, the whole of the new section 7 ceases to have effect after 12 months. As the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act was enacted on 3 June 1998, the amendment would not be effective after 2 June 1999 in the absence of legislative action by the Oireachtas. However, there was provision in section 29.7.5 for an extension of the 12 month period by legislation "for such longer period as may be provided by law".

As Members will know, the British-Irish Agreement has regrettably not yet entered into force and it is clear it will not come into force by 2 June. Consequently, it will not be possible for the Government to make the declaration envisaged in Article 29.7.3 within that timeframe. Accordingly, the Government now considers it necessary to seek the approval of the House for the extension of the 12 month timeframe by an additional 12 month period. Such an extension is necessary if Article 29.7 and consequently the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 is not to lapse thereby making it impossible to implement the Agreement, the constitutional and institutional aspects of which are interlocking.

The Government has opted for a clearcut 12 month extension. It might be possible to make a case for a one month extension by reference to the 30 June deadline, but this would be very tight and would involve a risk of having to return to the Houses again before the summer recess. The incidence of the recess argues against a three month extension, so the Government has taken the view that a 12 month period is preferable. It is the normal roll-over period for any temporary provision. There are other provisions in the Agreement which involve periods of two years, the expiry of which would broadly coincide with the expiry of the extension now proposed.

This promised extension is not an indication of failure of the Agreement. The possibility of needing it was part of the Agreement. Nor is it to be taken as a signal that the Government believes 12 months will be needed to overcome current difficulties. On the contrary, our efforts are focused on a much shorter timeframe. The extension is rather a way to facilitate further dialogue with all parties to reach an all-inclusive settlement in Northern Ireland and put an end, once and for all, to the violence and political instability with which we have lived for so long. As Deputies will know, the deadline of 30 June has been set for devolution of power to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are working to achieve this.

All parties are being asked to go as far as they can and then a little further to reach agreement on issues which are difficult for them and those they represent. For the Agreement to work, it is critically important that they have the backing of their constituents in Northern Ireland. I am heartened by the genuine efforts being made to achieve this, but further strenuous efforts need to be made. In presenting this legislation providing for an additional timeframe of 12 months, the Government is ensuring there will not be legal impediments to bringing the Agreement into force as soon as the current intensive efforts are successful.

It is important to understand the Bill will not delay for 12 months the entry into force of the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 and the addition of the new paragraph 8 to Article 29. The Bill proposes an extension of time within which the Government can make the declaration envisaged in Article 29.7.3. Once the basis was established for making the declaration through the entry into force of the British-Irish Agreement, the Government would be obliged under the Agreement to make the declaration without delay and the relevant amendments to the Constitution would then enter into force forthwith.

What we propose fully preserves the conditionality and link which was incorporated in what the people approved in the referendum last year. An additional 12 months is provided for the Government to make the relevant declaration, but it can still only be made when the Agreement enters into force, triggering the operation of all the institutions and bodies for which it provides, including the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies.

In recent weeks and months on a regular basis I have kept the House informed of developments and the situation regarding the formation of the Executive. I did so most recently in the House yesterday and there is little I can add to that. Rather I want to focus on the advances which have occurred. Deputies will be aware of the progress which has been made regarding the implementation of the institutional and other arrangements provided for in the Agreement. The necessary legislation regarding constitutional change and the establishment of the institutions and bodies provided for in the Good Friday Agreement has been enacted at Westminster and in the Oireachtas. This includes the legislation on implementation bodies following the agreement reached last December on the areas for these bodies and also the areas for co-operation using existing mechanisms for implementation and the subsequent agreements on the detailed remits and structures of the implementation bodies. More recently, work has been advanced on other aspects of the functioning of these bodies and also on the modus operandi of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.

Progress is being made on a number of human rights areas which are important to confidence building in the divided communities in Northern Ireland. A human rights commission has been appointed in the North headed by a highly and widely respected chairperson. The Bill to establish a human rights commission in this jurisdiction, which is being drafted on a priority basis, based on proposals approved by the Government, will take account of the views of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights. The Bill, which in some respects will go further than the provisions of the British Northern Ireland Act, 1998, establishing the Northern Ireland Commission, is expected to be published soon.

In regard to equality legislation, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has set September next as the target for implementation of the Employment Equality Act, 1998. The Act prohibits discrimination in employment on nine distinct grounds: gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community. In March, the Minister announced arrangements for the equality infrastructure being put in place to underpin employment equality and equal status legislation. The equality infrastructure which he announced and which was established under the provisions of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, consists of two new bodies: the Equality Authority which will replace the existing Employment Equality Agency and the Office of Director of Equality Investigations to provide a forum of first redress. The Equality Authority was appointed by the Minister on a designated basis in March.

After enactment of the equal status legislation, the remit of these two bodies will be broadened beyond the employment equality area to cover matters under the Equal Status Bill. The Bill, which has completed Second Stage, is a comprehensive measure to promote equality and tackle discrimination in our society in the non-employment sphere. In February, the Government approved proposals for the ratification of the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities – it has now been formally ratified – to coincide with ceremonies relating to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Council of Europe. We are on target for the publication of the Irish nationality and citizenship legislation in this session.

In the Good Friday Agreement, the Government agreed, taking account of the work of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and the Report of the Constitution Review Group, to bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights. These proposals will draw on the European Convention on Human Rights and other international legal instruments in the field of human rights. Follow-up on these commitments has been taken forward by an interdepartmental working group and the question of incorporation of the ECHR is being further examined in this context.

In both jurisdictions, large numbers of prisoners have been released. In the North the Patten Commission on the reform of policing is well advanced in its work, as is the separate review of the criminal justice system. The process of normalisation of security has progressed significantly, with the dismantling and evacuation of forts and other installations and the discontinuation of army patrols over large areas. I am particularly pleased that following representations from the Government, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and other sources, the British Army and the RUC will vacate the GAA grounds in Crossmaglen, the occupation of which has for so long been a running sore.

We should acknowledge the valuable contribution the ceasefires of republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations have made. I also welcome the IRA's willingness to facilitate the return of the bodies of the 'disappeared' to their families, where results should now follow the enactment of the relevant limited immunity legislation in both jurisdictions. The British Act is expected to become law tomorrow and our own legislation is already in force. I hope there will finally be closure for the families in the cases which may be near to resolution, these families who have suffered for far too long. Also welcome are the efforts to replace the barbaric system of punishment beatings with a new system of restorative justice and the support this has been receiving from America.

These are real changes which will assist the people of Northern Ireland in breaking down the barriers of sectarianism, while recognising the rights of each community to respect its traditions and ethos. In addition , there has been substantial change in the political atmosphere across all parties. Meetings between Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party are now routine. Meetings to consider North-South matters are no longer viewed with the same suspicion by Unionists. Political contacts and dialogue are taking place in a better atmosphere than ever before and there is a better understanding on all sides of the pressures that each side faces.

Difficulties remain, however, and difficult issues which could exacerbate the situation subsist. There is a very worrying pattern of sectarian violence against Catholics across northern and eastern parts of Northern Ireland. There has been the horrific murder of Rosemary Nelson and the issues of concern to which it gives rise. The continuing sectarian harassment and intimidation of the people of the Garvaghy Road is entirely unacceptable. Direct dialogue between residents and the Orange Order is the obvious way forward, but, whether direct or indirect, dialogue is essential. The sense of threat and of siege that arises from sectarian attacks on the Nationalist communities must be lifted, with a focus on the conditions needed not only to restore normal rights of freedom of movement and freedom from harassment but also to improve community relations.

If dialogue can take place between Unionists and Nationalists, republicans and loyalists at all levels, then the Orange Order can speak to the communities, through which it desires to march. The principle of consent applies to that situation as much as it does to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. The principle of equality, so central to the Good Friday Agreement, must also apply. There are many decent members of the Orange Order and the Church of Ireland who have taken a principled stand against the unacceptable behaviour of some elements in Portadown and I welcome the resolution passed at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. No genuine cultural identity should be aggressive or threatening towards those who do not share it.

The Good Friday Agreement offers a truly historic opportunity for a beginning of new relationships on this island and between Ireland and Britain. It is also the realisation of many years of commitment and effort by many people to the cause of peace. Constitutional change is part of that comprehensive settlement and the necessity for it has been fully accepted by the people North and South. The Agreement is a balanced settlement, involving agreed changes in both Irish and British constitutional law, based on the principles of self-determination and consent. These changes reinforce the principle that in Ireland, North and South, it is the people who are sovereign. The Agreement provides for a peaceful method of resolving fundamental differences in the future, while creating a basis for practical partnership and co-operation now.

As I stated in the past, 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 which stems from Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. The Bill before the House is necessary to maintain the State's capacity to give effect to the reformulated Articles, which, as approved by the people, remain a vital element in the interrelated whole that is the Good Friday Agreement.

I reiterate that the full implementation of that Agreement in all of its aspects remains the key priority of the Government. We are working closely and unremittingly with the British Government and the pro-Agreement parties to achieve this objective. It is the duty of everyone who supports the Agreement to ensure that it works. While we must recognise and accept each other's difficulties, our focus must remain on the implementation of the Agreement and all its provisions.

The Government appreciates the support received from all parties in this House on Northern Ireland matters, including the expeditious passage of this vital legislation. This is a measure of how well our democracy has developed since independence. We, as members of different parties, have individual policies and aspirations, but we can come together to support initiatives which are critical to the common good of our people, North and South. This is the same co-operative spirit which is now emerging in Northern Ireland. I am confident that we will bring an end to the conflict and make a reality of the new dispensation that the Good Friday Agreement heralded.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I am concerned at the upsurge in loyalist violence against Catholics. The day before yesterday, security forces were quoted as linking the UFF to the Friday night gun attack in which a Catholic community worker was shot as he left a 14 year old girl back to her home in the Shankill Road area. The Irish News reported that the man targeted in the failed attack, 49 year old Frank Pettigrew, claimed that six months ago RUC officers threatened that he would be killed by loyalists unless he agreed to inform on IRA members. That claim has been denied by the RUC.

There is a sense within the community that individuals or elements of some, if not all, of the loyalist paramilitary organisations are now involved in attacks upon vulnerable Catholic communities and on the Nationalist community in general. The way the RUC deals with this threat will have considerable influence on the attitude of the minority community to policing matters. There is a responsibility on the Irish and British Governments to give their full security assessment with regard to the nature and significance of these attacks.

The reform of policing in Northern Ireland is an urgent issue and it forms part of the Good Friday Agreement. Police reform is not a pre-condition to any other part of the Agreement. However, it is an integral part of the Agreement as a whole and also of the political obligation that underpins it. The choreography of the Agreement must include substantial progress on RUC reform.

I welcome the legislation before the House. The extension of time by 12 months is a prudent measure. The negotiators have worked hard and although agreement has not yet been reached, a level of trust has been built up between individuals which few would have thought possible several months ago. A solution can be found. The longer the guns remain silent, the more manageable the decommissioning issue becomes. In that sense, the passage of time is a positive and not, as sometimes presented, a negative.

I understand the impatience of prime ministers, but I warn against the false hopes and fears that could be engendered by artificial deadlines. I hope the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister know exactly what they intend to do and say if the recently announced 30 June deadline is not met. I am concerned that they may not have an adequate contingency plan. I address these remarks directly to the Taoiseach. Without an adequate contingency plan, it would be better that a deadline such as the proposed 30 June deadline, were not made.

The legislation provides for an extension of 12 months for the constitutional change. There can be an outcome to the talks, yet the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have decided on an extension of a little over a month, up to 30 June for the talks. How do these two different extensions of time or deadlines interact with one another? This question must be asked and, if possible, the Taoiseach must answer it. The talks participants should know exactly their options and choices. Uncertainty is not positive in this situation and the contradiction between the 12 month deadline in the legislation and the 30 June deadline for the talks has not been explained adequately by the Taoiseach either at Question Time yesterday or in his speech today. I do not know why there is one deadline of 12 months and another of one month.

One respected newspaper columnist, Mr. Paul Bew, yesterday, reflecting on the change in Irish Government policy that took place when the Hillsborough Declaration was replaced by the more recent Downing Street formula said:

The problem is that the world is beginning to believe that we are witnessing a radical policy reversal and that the possibility of any IRA decommissioning is fast receding. Why was such an impression allowed to gain ground?

Last Sunday another columnist asked:

And what are the political players to make of the Governments who in the space of a few weeks have veered from the certitudes of Hillsborough for an uncompromising demand for some form of IRA decommissioning to a proposal at Downing Street which appears to have all but removed that issue from the agenda?

I wonder if the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister have been prudent to allow such an impression to be created in the minds of intelligent observers, such as the two columnists I have quoted.

While canvassing in Dublin's inner city for the local elections last week I met a woman who told me she had been intimidated by a paramilitary organisation not to be a witness in a particular court case. She still lives in fear for her children and herself. She asked me to help with rehousing because of her fear of the activities of this paramilitary organisation here in Dublin, less than two miles from this House.

Did she name it?

She named it and the individuals involved. Those who think that putting the guns and bombs of the IRA, the UVF and the UDA beyond use is an artificial hurdle created by malicious Unionists or meddling Tories simply to torture Sinn Féin might reflect on the example I have quoted of what I was told last week within two miles of this building. They might also reflect, as they brush decommissioning aside as some artificial issue invented to cause trouble, on what happened in South Africa where paramilitary weapons were not decommissioned at the time of the political settlement and decommissioning was not part of the political settlement.

In South Africa a demoralised police force stands aside while a vigilante organisation with 10,000 paid-up members stages savage public beatings of suspected criminals. The Director of Public Prosecutions of South Africa has said "Our people live in agony, tormented by criminals and thugs who have taken over our townships and suburbs". If parties enter the Executive in Northern Ireland without decommissioning being committed to in a firm and believable way this will be interpreted as the political system giving de facto legitimation to private armies.

It is a fundamental element of democracy that democratic and constitutional authorities alone should have a monopoly of the legitimate use of force. Indeed, that is provided for explicitly in the Constitution. The idea that bodies such as the IRA, the UDA and the UVF controlling commercially valuable stocks of bombs and guns will fade away in a mist of goodwill, that would be created by Executive power-sharing and North-South bodies, seems a trifle naive to me. Yet, it is an assumption that is being made increasingly by intelligent people, not just writing in the columns of our newspapers but elsewhere. Is there a real basis for this assumption that these organisations with their valuable stocks of guns and bombs will gradually disappear in an atmosphere of political goodwill? If there is a basis for the assumption I would like to know what it is. I would like to hear the evidence for that assumption because those who advance it, or make proposals based on that assumption, should be explicit.

It is fair to point out that a gesture of decommissioning is meaningless in itself. It is a commitment to a process of putting bombs and guns beyond use that is really important. Such a commitment is part of the Good Friday Agreement no matter how it is read. Would Martin McGuinness as a Sinn Féin member in a Belfast government be better able to deliver such a commitment to putting bombs and guns beyond use than Martin McGuinness as a leading member of Sinn Féin in the Assembly, who is apparently unable to do so? If the proposition we are asked to accept is that as a minister Martin McGuinness will be able to get the IRA to do things that he cannot as an Assembly member, I would like to hear the evidence for the assumption. If Sinn Féin cannot speak for the IRA now when Sinn Féin is out of government will Sinn Féin in government be able to do more? If that is the proposition we are asked to believe we should hear the evidence.

This issue is the nub of the current negotiations being undertaken by the Irish and British Governments. The issues at stake are important to the fundamental quality of Irish democracy in the new millennium. It is not just a northern issue, it is fundamental to this State also and I have given an illustration from this city to indicate so.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that in putting forward the Hillsborough Declaration the two Governments had gone, as he put it, outside the Agreement. I do not accept this interpretation by the Taoiseach of the Good Friday Agreement. I ask him to explain it in his response to this debate. As a precursor to their admission to the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, all parties, including the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party and Sinn Féin, solemnly signified their acceptance of the Mitchell principles. One of the Mitchell principles they signed up to before the talks began is that the parties affirm their total and absolute commitment to "the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations" and "that the parties give their total and absolute commitment to agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission". A similar passage in the Hillsborough Declaration states:

There is agreement among all parties that decommissioning of weapons is not a precondition but is an obligation deriving from their commitment in the Agreement and that it should take place within the timetable envisaged in the Agreement and through the efforts of the independent international commission on decommissioning.

That is almost an exact reproduction of the sentiments of the Mitchell principles. At Hillsborough the Taoiseach said that decommissioning was an obligation on the parties deriving from their commitment in the Agreement. Yet, yesterday in the Dáil he said that this was outside the Agreement. How can something which derives from a commitment in the Agreement also be outside it?

The Taoiseach should reread the Mitchell principles. I ask him to confirm what status he believes the Mitchell principles have in reference to the Good Friday Agreement. Is it his view that the Mitchell principles no longer apply and are completely erased by the Good Friday Agreement or does he agree that the principles are the cornerstone of the entire political process and the Good Friday Agreement can only be read in conjunction with them? If the Mitchell principles are integral to the Good Friday Agreement, how can the Taoiseach possibly argue, as Sinn Féin does, that there is no obligation to start decommissioning in the Good Friday Agreement? There is such an obligation, but it has not been met. It has not even been accepted by Sinn Féin, the Progressive Unionist Party or the Ulster Democratic Party. They are washing their hands now of the Mitchell principles and the absolute commitments they gave when they signed up to them. This is not good enough. For me and all democrats, the Mitchell principles are fundamental.

These are difficult questions. The Taoiseach and others have a difficult job to do in the negotiations. I accept the Taoiseach is doing his best. Hindsight is a more exact science than practical politics and I freely admit that I am applying hindsight to the difference I see between the Hillsborough Declaration and the Downing Street formula. However, that is my job and I would not be doing it if I did not draw attention to the fact that the Downing Street statement and the Hillsborough Declaration are radically different. I am doing my job without in any sense questioning the Taoiseach's commitment or talent with regard to this matter to which he is applying himself 100 per cent.

As we seek a diplomatic solution to a real difficulty, we should not forget that since 1969, nine members of the Garda Síochána have been killed by paramilitary guns. Many more members of the Garda Síochána have been killed by paramilitary guns than by any other method or motive. The requirement to get those guns, which could kill more gardaí in the future, out of harm's way is not a mere verbalisation that can be dissolved by linguistic sophistry. We need to be rid of these engines of death once and for all.

This responsibility and concern is shared by all the major parties in the House. It is not something that we as democrats can sub-contract to any political leader or Prime Minister outside this jurisdiction because, ultimately, we in this House must live with the use to which guns in the Thirty-two Counties might be put. The guns and bombs are there; they are not in London, the north of England or the Continent of Europe. This democracy is threatened more than any other by the existence of large valuable and commercially saleable stocks of weaponry on this island.

Responsibility for getting rid of those guns cannot be sub-contracted by us to Prime Minister Tony Blair or Mr. David Trimble. It is a matter for us. The Taoiseach accepts this point; his article in The Sunday Times indicated that was the case. However, the Downing Street formula, in the way in which it departs from the Hillsborough Declaration, does not appear to reflect that as clearly as perhaps it should. This has nothing to do with Unionists or the British, it has to do with us and the quality of our democracy.

Guns, bombs and private armies of whatever political colour or sectarian origin have no place in our democracy. This is a fundamental point, not a sophism. We must speak clearly about this point in the House. I always do so and I wish others who comment on the Northern issue would speak as clearly. We cannot take this for granted given that, since 1969, nine gardaí have been killed by paramilitaries. It is our business as democrats.

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that none of us in Government or Opposition is pleased to be debating this issue today. Unfortunately, the proposal before the House arises directly from the failure of the political leaders in Northern Ireland to ensure the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement within its first year. However, such a situation is not calamitous. Neither I nor my party believe that the bringing forward of this Bill needs to reflect on the ultimate prospect for success of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The proposals are necessitated by the legal mechanisms contained in the proposals endorsed by the people by referendum. Consequently, the Bill does not and cannot recognise how much work has been done between the passing of that referendum and today. It cannot recognise the progress made on issues such as the election of the First and Deputy First Minister, the agreement on North-South bodies or prisoner releases and human rights. I am glad the Taoiseach put on record some of the progress that has been made. However, I share Deputy Bruton's concern about the issue of guns and policing North and South, but particularly in the North of Ireland, and our expectations that are vested in the Patton report.

The peace process appeared to run aground before but at each stage it has been rescued by last minute agreement and initiatives. Let it be so in this case also. However, there is little use pretending that the current difficulties are not among the most difficult we have faced since the beginning of the process. As such, I commend the intense efforts being undertaken by the two Governments and the Northern political parties to resolve the outstanding issues. We should never take that effort for granted.

However, the hard work undertaken since, including the preparations prior to the Hillsborough Declaration, only serve to indicate further the difficult situation in which we now find ourselves. I do not mean to be critical but as the Governments alternate between applying pressure for movement on Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionists Party to the current impasse, the focus and united direction which epitomised the work of the Governments at their most influential have been lacking. I share Deputy Bruton's concern that the Governments know exactly what they will do in advance of doing it and that the briefings, statements and public support from spokespersons on behalf of the Governments show that they are singing not only from the same hymn sheet but also in harmony. For my part, I find that what I have said about the situation has not changed over the past month. I would rather we had moved on.

Some months ago the problem was defined as there being on one side an attempt to insert into the Agreement a clause which is not there, namely, prior decommissioning, and on the other an attempt to deny the existence of the clause which made decommissioning necessary by May 2000. The problem has not changed. Trust, or more precisely, a lack of it, is at the heart of the problem. However, I wonder too if there is a lack of political nous. Given the history of the past 30 years, it is perhaps too much to expect trust between the major players on both sides.

However, I detect a resistance among some politicians to their fate. This fate is one of mutual reliance and dependence. If Mr. David Trimble needs Mr. Gerry Adams to make the Agreement work and vindicate decisions he made this time 12 months ago, and vice versa, so too do the Ulster Unionist assembly party require the assembly party of Sinn Féin and the other pro-Agreement parties. Such mutual dependence is now a political reality.

From such an acceptance could come two things: on the republican side, an appreciation why – for party political reasons and to develop the trust in their community to take the difficult steps ahead – the destruction of weapons that they perceive as having been used against their community is so symbolically important to Unionism; on the other side, Unionists might come closer to understand the difficulties already encountered by the republican movement in selling this process to their supporters, however unreasonable their position might be.

They might understand too why it is so important that the republican movement acts as one on this issue. We have already seen to our cost at Omagh the extent to which dissident republicans are prepared to go to destroy this process and the current republican leadership with it. Dissident republicans are not alone – loyalist extremists seem increasingly taken with a strategy the sole design of which seems to be to provoke a reaction from mainstream republicanism, with the desired outcome of the destruction of the Agreement. The murder of Rosemary Nelson, the continuation of punishment attacks and increased targeting by paramilitaries are all reminders that we cannot afford this process to fail. A return to the nightmare of the last 30 years cannot be contemplated. Politics would be seen and be deemed to have failed. The democratic vacuum that gave rise to this conflict in the first place would return, with all the consequences we deplore and fear.

There is light on the horizon. Recent opinion polls have seemed to suggest that support for the Agreement is now running at even higher levels than when the North and South referenda were held. The durability of that desire for progress and the final chapter on the Northern troubles remains palpable. However, the same polls indicated pessimism that the current impasse could be resolved. It seems to me that in effect the public were putting it up to their politicians. The people continue to support the politicians' work but they do not believe they have the capacity to deliver. Will any of the Northern politicians have the courage to prove them wrong?

The respective positions of the UUP and the republican movement have remained unaltered and I referred to the work of the two Governments earlier. There are two separate proposals on the table from the SDLP, both of which centre on its support for the removal of Sinn Féin from the Executive if the republican movement's obligations on decommissioning by May 2000 are not fulfilled.

What has been noticeably absent, however, is suggestions from the two parties to the impasse as to how they see the difficulties being resolved, although there seems to be a chink of light from the Unionists this morning. Until now, in public at least, Sinn Féin, the IRA Army Council and the Ulster Unionist Party remain wedded to their original positions. I can only hope a more constructive attitude is being adopted behind closed doors.

The imposition of the end of June deadline represents an attempt on behalf of the two Governments to concentrate minds. It no doubt represents the difficulties in sustaining the direct and personal involvement of the British Prime Minister over a further protracted period of time and the impending problem at Drumcree and the marching season. Again, we cannot take for granted the continued high level of personal involvement by the British Prime Minister on this issue. There may come a time when Mr. Blair decides that if the parties to the problem are not interested in a resolution, he is not in a position to pursue it further. That fact and the not unreasonable fear that if the Agreement is parked for a few months there may be no Agreement to return to, has obviously concentrated minds. Either way it is a high-risk strategy.

As I see it, two events are creating most of the problems. No one underestimates the tension surrounding the Drumcree stand-off. I welcome the recent attempts to bring the two sides together. The refusal of the Orange Order to enter into dialogue directly with the residents is inexcusable but not surprising. Drumcree and the overall political position are inextricably linked. Those who support the Agreement and who recognise the threat posed to it by a repeat of last year's events have a particular obligation to resolve the issue.

Understandably there is some concern within the Unionist camp, in particular about the outcome of the European elections. On that issue, Dr. Paisley may win a battle or two but he cannot be allowed to win the war; while that terminology is perhaps inappropriate to the history of these islands, the meaning is clear. Dr. Paisley's politics offer nothing to the people of Northern Ireland or the future of this island.

However, neither do guns and central to the current impasse is the fear that guns used before can be used again. The important element is that guns remain silent but if the intention is to keep them silent what happens to them should not be important. Their destruction, in a fashion compliant with an Agreement endorsed by an all-Ireland election for the first time since 1918, should not become an obstacle to the single biggest achievement of the republican movement in its history.

Reports in this morning's newspapers and radio programmes quoting a statement from the UUP Assembly party are welcome and should be taken up constructively by Sinn Fein, the IRA Army Council and the two Governments. Assuming the reports are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt them, the statement seems a reasonable advance on previous UUP positions. I await further developments on this issue and per haps the Taoiseach, in his reply, could update us on any information the Government may have about the statement attributed to the UUP, in particular, Mr. Dermot Nesbitt.

My party will support this Bill and in line with our overall support for the Government on Northern Ireland we will not table amendments. I take this opportunity to set out my one reservation to the Bill, namely, the extension of the period for the coming into force of the new Articles 2 and 3 by a year, side by side with the 30 June timetable for agreement between the parties on a scenario in which the d'Hondt mechanism can be triggered. Deputy John Bruton referred to this matter and it is the subject of an amendment to come before us in due course. In his reply on Second Stage I ask the Taoiseach to outline more substantially than in his opening contribution, the reason why the option of a full 12 months is being taken, as it is in marked contrast to the 30 June deadline. He addressed the issue in part but greater elaboration is required.

In any event, the Taoiseach can be assured of my party's continued support for the resolution of this issue, bearing in mind the work done by my party since the onset of the Troubles in 1969, particularly in formulating the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, more recently, the work done by my immediate predecessor, Deputy Spring.

This legislation has become necessary because the Government finds itself unable to declare, in accordance with Article 29.7 of the Constitution, that the State has become obliged under the Good Friday Agreement to give effect to the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 Constitution contained in that Agreement. While such a situation was anticipated in the wording of Article 29.7, adopted by the people in a referendum held in the 26 Counties a year ago, few anticipated that 12 months on we would be faced with the scenario now before us in the closing days of this month.

This time last year a tide of hope and expectation swept the country in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. Having watched the tortuous progress of the negotiations there was a great sense of achievement when they concluded on Good Friday. There was a sense that a new era had begun.

A year later the Good Friday Agreement is stalled and its future is in question. The process of stalling began soon after the conclusion of the Agreement. Once the referenda and the assembly elections were over the Ulster Unionist Party dug itself into a trench from which it has yet to emerge. Indeed, it has kept digging. The UUP has successfully blocked the implementation of the Agreement, allowing only the establishment of the assembly and the appointment of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but preventing the establishment of all the other key institutions agreed on Good Friday 1998.

This crisis for the Agreement did not begin last week. We need only look at the series of dead lines which have been missed because of the obstruction of the Ulster Unionist Party. The shadow Executive was to have been established in July 1998; the all-Ireland Ministerial Council was to have met and completed its work programme by 31 October 1998; the d'Hondt mechanism was to have been triggered on 10 March, it was then to have been triggered on the week beginning 29 March and Good Friday, 2 April, was yet another missed deadline. The assembly is in a state of limbo and can only meet when told to do so by the British Government. There is no shadow Executive, no all-Ireland Ministerial Council and the d'Hondt mechanism has yet to be triggered.

We are in this crisis because the Ulster Unionist Party has attempted to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement, inserting the precondition of decommissioning of IRA weapons prior to Sinn Féin's entry to the Executive. Sinn Féin has repeatedly made clear this is a precondition which we cannot deliver. More importantly, it is a requirement we should not be asked to fulfil because it does not form part of the Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement has been correctly described as a contract between political opponents. There is an absence of mutual trust and confidence and it is vital, therefore, that the letter of the Agreement is applied. The application of the letter of the Agreement is the contractual obligation entered into by all parties to it. This obligation was endorsed by referendums in both jurisdictions a year ago. The only way to build trust and confidence between the political opponents who concluded the Agreement is for them to fulfil their contract with each other and with the electorate.

Contrary to what some speakers would have the public believe, Sinn Féin has fully honoured its part of the contract. We have fulfilled all our obligations under the Agreement. Our party and the republican electorate is, therefore, very angry and dismayed that the Agreement freely entered into by the parties, and endorsed by the people, has been virtually dismissed.

Tá gach dualgas ar Shinn Fhéin faoin gComhaontú seo comhlíonta againn. Bhí orainn ár mBunreacht a athrú, agus polasaithe bunúsacha a bhí againn le blianta fada, a chur ar leataobh chun tacú leis an Chomhaontú. Rinneamar sin mar bhí dóchas againn – mar a bhí ag muintir na hÉireann – go mbeadh dul chun cinn ann, go mbeadh an Comhaontú seo i bhfeidhm go luath agus go mbeadh deis againn uile polaitíocht nua a chruthú ar an oileán seo. Bliain ina dhiaidh sin táimid fós ag fanacht. Tá toil mhuintir na hÉireann á shéanadh ag na hAontachtóirí.

Sinn Féin amended key sections of its constitution to allow our elected representatives to participate in the Six County assembly. We never wanted such an assembly. It was not a demand of Nationalist Ireland; it was certainly never a demand of republican Ireland. We also urged a yes vote in the referendum, which made funda mental changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. They were issues on which we had campaigned for many years and to which others had more than a warm regard over a prolonged period of time. For many republicans, both inside and outside our party, the amendment of these Articles was repugnant to their beliefs. However, Sinn Féin took a collective decision. We abided by it and implemented it.

We did all this in good faith because we believed the Good Friday Agreement was the route to political progress on our island. The Agreement falls short of what republicans desire, even in the short-term, but it is nevertheless a historic accommodation which we reached in good faith with our political opponents. When we made fundamental compromises we had every right to expect that the Good Friday Agreement would be implemented in good faith. That has not happened. David Trimble put the compromises made by republicans into his pocket and then tried to rewrite the Agreement. Sinn Féin is not prepared to see the compromises we made in good faith pocketed or binned and the agreement we reached in good faith turned on its head.

The context in which the Good Friday Agreement has been allowed to wither could hardly be worse. The siege of the Garvaghy Road community has been continuous and unrelenting since last summer. There has been a long series of attacks by Loyalist paramilitaries, including the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson, the legal representative of the Garvaghy Road community. The latest was a bomb attack last week on a pub in the Falls Road which could easily have caused multiple deaths and injuries.

There is no doubt that sectarian loyalism is poised to fill the political vacuum caused by the failure of mainstream Unionism to implement the Good Friday Agreement. It is vital, therefore, that what was agreed on Good Friday is put in place. Sinn Féin continues to deal in good faith with all the parties and both Governments to find a viable way forward within the terms of the Agreement. This we will continue to do in the days and weeks ahead. What we cannot and will not do is to return to the politics of broken agreements and broken promises. We have been down that road as a nation too many times before.

Turning to the Bill, I have put down an amendment which seeks to delete the cited period "of 24 months" and substitutes "up to an including 30 June 1999". That is the deadline now set by the Governments for definite progress on the implementation of the Agreement. I do not agree that the period during which the Governments' declaration can be made should be extended beyond that date. The amended Articles 2 and 3 were adopted by the people in a referendum last year on the basis that the Agreement would be implemented in due time. Are we to wait two and possibly three or four years for that to happen?

I have outlined the context in which I am taking this position. The compromises made by republicans and Nationalists to achieve the Good Friday Agreement have been taken for granted, including by voices in this House. Not least of those compromises was the adoption by the people in this jurisdiction of fundamental changes to the Constitution. Those changes were not made unconditionally. They depend entirely on the implementation of the Agreement within a specific timeframe. The time period was included to guard against just such a scenario which now faces us, that is, obstruction and delay which, if allowed to continue, will set at naught the efforts and accommodations made over the past few years. While I have tabled an amendment and believe that if the new deadline set by the two Governments is to be taken seriously, that the Government here should adopt and support same, I will not, however, in the event of the Bill as tabled being put, oppose it, but do now record my decision to abstain for the reasons already stated.

I recognise and emphasise that it is not only a personal statement but one representative of my party leadership and our activists at all tiers of Sinn Féin throughout the length and breadth of this island, that we must proceed at all times in a spirit of political accommodation.

This proposal is as significant in its own way as the original proposal to give effect to the Good Friday Agreement. It is significant in the sense that it enables all sides of this House to demonstrate once again that we are united in a common cause based on no other interest or concern than a constant and continuing goodwill and commitment to bring about not only a resolution of the problems that may still need to be resolved but, much more significantly, to open up the major potential of a new era of opportunity and progress within the north of Ireland.

It is significant that the tone of this debate, just as the tone of the debate introducing this matter more than12 months ago, is one of measured concern and impatience. We are not impatient with those who may have problems to resolve because that is not the way we would like our view to be understood, although we may be impatient about that as well. Our impatience is born of something deeper and more vital. It is the impatience of political representatives who recognise the major potential for all of the people of Ireland, particularly the besieged people in the north of Ireland who have not been allowed over the years to enjoy the challenge and opportunity domestically and externally, that we have had the privilege to enjoy since this Parliament was established.

I have attended many debates here in the past 34 or 35 years and have seen a welcome change of mood. That mood has been born of an understanding that did not exist 34 or 35 years ago and a confidence that from now on we want to share with all on this island the future prospects for this island, in whatever fashion and through whatever structures can be agreed between us.

I had the privilege this week of meeting some students from an American university, who had been in the North of Ireland and came South for a briefing from people who might have some comments to make to them. It was clear that they, too, shared what I call a positive impatience about this matter. They saw the dynamic that is affecting our community now. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly but that is another day's work. They saw the vigorous confidence of our young people and that they are competing with others in the world in their fields and beating the best of them, but they are also making a significant contribution towards resolving some harrowing human problems throughout the world. That is what gives a society balance – a balance based on the fact that we should not concentrate only on our immediate, but legitimate and understandable interests, but that we should recognise that, sé i scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine go léir – we all live in each other's shadow. Our role is to release the young people from the North, to discharge that same role, to give them that balance, confidence and opportunity to make contributions to solve even more deeply entrenched problems than they have inherited from those who went before them in the North.

The indications at this stage are hopeful. The Taoiseach hit the nail on the head when he said:

This, I think, is a measure of how well our democracy has developed since independence. We, as members of different parties, have individual policies and aspirations, but we can come together to support initiatives which are critical to the common good of our people, North and South.

That statement could not have been made here 30 years ago. We might have liked to make it but we could not have made it.

Not even 15 years ago.

It is fair to say that we could not have made it even 15 years ago. As a measure of the commitment and purpose shown by the Leaders of all the parties during their times in Government, we can believe that no person is waiting to set a trap for another person or waiting to demonstrate that he or she is more republican than another person. Everyone is waiting for the opportunity to release the great energy that must be bubbling over in the North and to give the it a new role and status, such as we have been privileged to enjoy here. They should enjoy that role and status whenever the North is mentioned or people think of the North. That is why it is important to demonstrate today our readiness to extend the time for implementation.

I understand the concern that perhaps the time extension is too long and perhaps it may give the wrong signal. Those reservations were expressed legitimately and are well based. What is being done here is a formal clear indication, in the first instance, by the Government and by this directly elected Oireachtas that, however impatient and dissatisfied we may be, we are still prepared to give every opportunity to those engaged in the political process in the North to resolve this issue in common cause and to open up the avenues to which I referred.

I agree with what the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, said about the statement made and attributed to Dermot Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party, and I have no reason to doubt it. I have had informal discussions with him from time to time. My only reservation in saying that is that I practised the discipline over the years, particularly when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, of not referring to such informal discussions. As someone said "some of my best friends are Unionists". I could mention those people now and unfortunately one of the them, Harold McCusker, is dead. I was concerned that, if I mentioned that I had had a reasoned discussion and understanding with them or said I had met them or they had met me, the fact that they had met one of the awful Fianna Fáil tribe, as it is seen, would undermine them. I hope we have reached the point that I can say I believe what Dermot Nesbitt said about a formula that would give them the scope to bring about the agreement and understanding on the decommissioning issue. He made a very statesmanlike and courageous statement. I hope it is reflected and supported by those within that party, who have consistently taken difficult steps, and difficult steps must be taken. I remember over the years those who wanted to take that step, whether it was Terence O'Neill, Chichester-Clark, Faulkner, Porter, McIvor, Ferguson or Long. That is a litany of forgotten men who were isolated because they were prepared to step forward. I hope that day is also gone.

They can be sure of one thing now. Whatever threat, lack of understanding or selfish preoccupation they felt existed here is gone. There is no threat now – let them be assured of that. There is no selfish preoccupation or attempt to take over and, as some said, "bring them into a united Ireland". I always hated hearing that term. There is no such intention. Every step of the way towards this historic Agreement was based on agreement between Governments, between North and South and in the North itself. It hardly needs to be said that agreement by definition must be subject to full consent. There is no attempt to deceive, much less to undermine. This Bill demonstrates that we are waiting for the agreement to be put into place.

I visited the House of Commons for the first time in the mid 1960s, when Seán Lemass, that most far-seeing of men, sent some of us youngsters to make contacts and establish relations. The Speaker's convention was rigidly in force. We have a written and detailed Constitution. However, the conventions in England, which does not have a written constitution, were as binding as our detailed written provisions. The famous Speaker's convention meant one could not raise any issue relating to Northern Ireland in the House of Commons. We have come a long way since.

I pay tribute to those of that period who were as impatient, if not more, as us. Some of them, such as Kevin McNamara, Stanley Orme, who recently retired, Jock Stallard and many others always felt this was an abrogation of their democratic responsibility. Together, we gradually changed that. In those days the only contacts between Taoisigh and Prime Ministers were irregular and bilateral and they were not formalised. Current contact is not just based on formal structures, it is much stronger than that. It is based on a real, deep and personal commitment on the part of our Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister who have a close personal working relationship based on that confidence and trust which is so vital. Nevertheless, I think they would both acknowledge that those who went before them, perhaps in more difficult times – all Taoisigh in this House during that period and nearly all the Prime Ministers on the other side – helped in their way to build a framework which now forms a solid foundation. Neither Government is trying to make it more difficult for the other, to gain advantage or to proclaim or promote at the expense of the other. They are both trying to reassure and lay a firm basis for the future to which I have referred.

Another great feature of the process, which does not have the same profile – we are happy about that and would never claim it does – is the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, the representative body of elected representatives of Britain and Ireland. This has also changed dramatically. I was not a founder member as I was in Government then. However, I know from those who were Members then and still are, that a dramatic change, about which we joked at our last discussion at Dromoland, has taken place in that body since the days when members viewed each other with suspicion, apprehension, and serious misgivings. There are now likely to be differences among the Irish representatives, among British representatives and even among representatives from the same party. This highlights the common purpose among representatives of both Parliaments.

Whatever arrangements are to be put in place that will affect the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, as the Taoiseach said this morning in terms of the Government, all we want to make clear is that we are ready to play a role. There is an understanding, a common purpose and commitment as well as the practical arrangements that affect a range of areas not confined to the North but to Europe and elsewhere. We stand ready to play that part and to be fully effective when this agreement is put in place. At our last meeting we were asked to convey to the Government, which I already conveyed to the Taoiseach, that we are ready to play whatever role the Government thinks the body can play in the new phase when the Good Friday Agreement comes into full effect. I hope that will be interpreted as a signal borne of understanding, concern and confidence.

I know John Hume since we were students together. We were good friends and neither of us was aware that he would subsequently play such a magnificent role. We just happened to become friends for one reason or another. However, the sacrifice the SDLP has made over the years and its consistent commitment to democracy, despite the most appalling barriers, intimidation and threats, which I witnessed on some occasions in their homes, must now be honoured in an effective and practical way by putting those structures into place so the next generation in the North will have the same prospects as us.

It is worth noting that about a month ago the IDA and the IDB in the North simultaneously issued their reports on developments in 1998. It was significant that the growth in investment in this jurisdiction was dramatic. At the same time, in the North, where people are as intelligent as us – if we were honest we would say more so in that they have a sharper wit and perhaps more ability – there was a fall-off, although it was not too serious. That is the kind of scene we do not want to see continue.

I have no doubt that, just as this debate is a demonstration of our generosity, borne of confidence, when these agreements are in place there will be constant negotiations in the future on the narrow ground in the North, which is where the constant focus is. It is very difficult to get to the full reality when one is confined to a table about who says what, who gets what, when it was said, etc.

The only way to guarantee and nail down that future is to take the argument to the wider world. For example, we are part of the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the Court of Justice but they are not. Why should that be? I have no doubt that when it comes to putting the final stages in place, whoever is in Government here will be generous, confident and tolerant in regard to their representation in Europe, at the United Nations, the IMF and elsewhere for the first time. We will ensure these avenues and this huge potential will be made available to our fellow Irishmen in the North. I hope that opportunity will arise sooner rather than later.

It is regrettable this legislation is necessary because it underlines that, despite the optimism which was consequent on the signing of the Agreement, the massive endorsement in the referenda and an encouraging election result in Northern Ireland, the putting together of the many pieces of the jigsaw of the Agreement laid down in the table has not happened. If there had been a greater level of progress we would not be debating this legislation to extend the timeframe for the constitutional provisions to take place.

The sense of excitement and anticipation which followed the signing of the Agreement has faded somewhat over the past 12 months. We are left now with a difficult and demanding situation. There has not been a lack of commitment on the part of the Irish or British Governments. Their willingness to examine all possible avenues is to be commended. However, it is not easy at this stage to see a way through the impasse which, in my view, is the decommissioning issue.

The basic principles of democracy must not be undermined in the efforts to find a way forward. If a democracy is to be preserved, those who wish to participate in Government must abide by the principles of democracy. Before Sinn Féin is given seats in the Northern Ireland Executive, the republican movement must make a clear and unambiguous statement that its campaign of violence is over for good. That has not happened over the past 12 months. Various statements of intent, circling around the issue, have been made but there has been no unequivocal statement that the campaign of violence is over for good. Such a declaration, even now, coupled with a public commitment to exclusively democratic means, would make it easier for all to find a resolution to the decommissioning issue.

It cannot be ignored or denied that decommissioning is an integral element of the Good Friday Agreement. There has been significant progress in all other aspects of the Agreement but progress in this area has been almost non-existent; at best, it has been minimal. Statements by the IRA to the effect that there never will be decommissioning do not inspire confidence. It is a year since Mr. Padraig Wilson, speaking on behalf of the republican prisoners in the Maze, stated that voluntary decommissioning will be a natural development of the Peace Process. Where stands that statement a year later? It has been followed by three statements on behalf of the IRA which have said there will be no progress on decommissioning now or ever.

Responsibility for breaking the political logjam that now exists in Northern Ireland rests primarily with Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party. Both Governments and all the other political parties have made tremendous efforts to find a way forward. It seems there are people in the republican movement taking the view that decommissioning is an optional extra, that it is not in the Agreement, it is not fundamental to a peace process and it can be considered at some future stage. That is wrong. As various solutions are put forward by the Government, they are rejected either by Sinn Féin or the Ulster Unionist Party. Perhaps, the time has come for the two Governments to invite these two parties to meet separately in intensive discussions and to come forward with a joint proposal.

As every Member of this elected assembly knows, the people in Northern Ireland want peace through this Agreement, which is over a year old. That was underlined in the recent Daily Telegraph poll, which showed quite clearly that a massive 93 per cent of the Protestant population wants a start to be made on the decommissioning issue now, and 68 per cent of Catholics believe the Provisional IRA movement and the loyalist paramilitaries should start to decommission now. Only 12 per cent of Sinn Féin supporters in that survey were of the view that decommissioning would never take place. I cannot understand how a situation can be allowed continue where those in charge of arms and ammunition dumps can ignore yet again the overwhelming view of the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland.

The rejection of the Hillsborough document is regrettable. I would have thought that document would have been seen as a form of progress report or mid-term statement rather than a rewriting of the Agreement, as it was regarded in certain circles.

It may be too much to expect any resolution of present difficulties while we are in the course of yet another round of elections. Elections, by their very nature, make politicians somewhat nervous – one need only look at the degree of trembling on the Government benches in this House in recent months. That is because political parties are reluctant to take risks with their core electorate in the period immediately prior to an election. I hope it is only the election factor that is delaying political progress now. Once the European elections are over, in a few weeks' time a further round of intensive dialogue will be required if the new deadline of 30 June is to be met. Unfortunately, the election results may be used as an excuse for further delay. Any further delay in establishing the political structures in Northern Ireland carries, as we know, enormous risks.

Last year, the momentum of goodwill behind the Good Friday Agreement carried the people through the horrors of Omagh in August and the sectarian hatred surrounding Drumcree which lasted throughout the summer. That goodwill has been frittered away. There is no momentum in the ongoing round of fruitless talks.

It is significant that the shadow of Drumcree looms once more on the horizon. An open wound in Northern Ireland society, it continues to leak its poison into the community. It is welcome that the Church of Ireland has started to take seriously its responsibility at Drumcree. As well as examining the religious and moral questions surrounding Drumcree, the Church of Ireland might consider the legal avenues available to prevent church lands at Drumcree from being used as a gathering place for law breakers. An injunction against the Orange Order might be considered, or the use of the laws of trespass might be an avenue worth pursuing to address the matter.

Certainly, the time has come for the Ulster Unionist Party to break its formal links with a sectarian organisation which is working to undermine it. The time is also right to make it a rule that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or any future police force cannot be members of sectarian organisations. This rule applied to the RIC and had much to commend it. The Patten report will be published in the summer or early autumn. It is hoped that document will chart the way for a police force which will enjoy the confidence of all sides.

Unless the 30 June deadline is met, the future may be bleak. Paramilitary and sectarian groups are once again stepping up their vicious campaigns of intimidation and violence. The marching season will cause further tension. Peace and a commitment to democratic politics are not sufficiently established in Northern Ireland to make one confident for the future. Significant elements of the political culture still find the politics of violence an attractive option. Those who believe in the politics of democracy and a peaceful resolution to conflict must ensure that the men of violence are not given an excuse or opportunity to return to their evil ways.

In spite of the present impasse on decommissioning and the establishment of the executive there has been great progress. The reintegration programme for prisoners, both pre and post-release, is under way and working well. Victims' issues are being addressed, and those issues will always be difficult. Housing, job training and re-employment and education of released prisoners are being addressed.

In other areas it is worth reminding ourselves of the progress made: the human rights commission; the equality commission; the scaling down and removal of military installations; the reform of the RUC giving rise to the Patten report; the economic, social and cultural issues; the economic investment in areas of high unemployment where discrimination was, all too sadly, a feature of society.

The one area where little or no progress can be reported is decommissioning. How could we envisage a situation in a democratically elected government where members of the executive of the Assembly could, by dint of pressing a button, call upon 588 AK-47 assault rifles, 300 other assault rifles including armalites, 12 general purpose machine guns, 38 other machine guns, 6 SAM-7 surface to air missiles, 100 pistols, 60 revolvers, 265 grenades, 2.5 tonnes of semtex, 1,200 detonators and more than 30 shotguns? How could people in a democratic state have confidence in a government where there are parties within the government and within the assembly which have close associations with those who have such arsenals?

Those involved in the negotiations must keep the faith. I commend the Taoiseach and his Ministers for their work. They must not be disheartened by the snail's pace at which events are moving. We should take courage from what has already been achieved and realise that the scale of the problem is not beyond a solution. Northern Ireland does not compare in any way to the horrors we are seeing in the summer of 1999 in Kosovo.

If we wish to be optimistic we can reflect on many of the statements made by powerful politicians over the years. I can think of no better statement than that made by President Clinton in November 1995 when he visited Mackies engineering works in Belfast. Urging all parties in the conflict to start peace talks, he said that honest dialogue is not surrender but is an act of strength and commonsense. He stated that the time had come to sustain the momentum and lock in the gains of peace. He said that people who define their lives by what they are against will not ever escape the dead end street of violence. He urged the vast majority to ensure the ship of peace does not sink on the rocks of old habits and hard grudges.

Regrettably, in the summer of 1999, the rocks of old habits and hard grudges are still very much in evidence. The work of building a normal political and civil society may be slow and tedious and at times it may appear that the results do not justify the effort. Continued intensive engagement, however, by both Governments is necessary. Violence has deeply damaged Northern Ireland and it still requires political intensive care. By continuing to act together, both Governments have shown a capacity to manage a complex political situation to the benefit of both communities in Northern Ireland. This mutual co-operation has also contributed to a richer and more effective relationship between Ireland and Britain, as Deputy O'Kennedy said. The close co-operation between the two Governments is a model of politics which could be usefully applied to other areas of conflict around the world.

I support the Bill and commend the Taoiseach and his Minister. I wish them well in the days that lie ahead.

I welcome the opportunity presented by this debate to record some of the measures which have been taken by my Department in the course of the peace negotiations in the North of Ireland. I also wish to have recorded the measures which it is intended to take in due course.

Respect for human rights is an essential feature of the Good Friday Agreement. In this jurisdiction we have enjoyed the protection of what amounts to a bill of rights contained in the 1937 Constitution which has been enforced by the courts. While some may argue that the Constitution is now out of date, it is worth recalling that the Constitution Review Group chaired by Dr. T. K. Whitaker found, as recently as 1996, that in many respects the human rights enshrined in the Constitution exceed those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the Good Friday Agreement there are commitments to improve the protection of human rights. In so far as my Department is concerned, the following measures have been taken. The Taoiseach has already outlined in his contribution to the debate the position regarding the establish ment of a human rights commission. The Human Rights Commission Bill, which establishes a human rights commission in this jurisdiction with a mandate and remit at least equivalent to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is currently in the process of being drafted in the Attorney General's office. Extensive consultations have taken place on this including the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, non-governmental organisations and committees of the Oireachtas. As the Taoiseach indicated already, I hope it will be possible to publish the Bill in the coming weeks.

As part of the Good Friday Agreement the Government committed itself to further examination of the question of incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Irish law. This question, which was also examined by the Constitution Review Group to which I already referred, is being examined in accordance with that commitment. The issues involved, for the reasons set out in the Report of the Constitution Review Group, are complex and raise difficult legal and constitutional issues which require further in-depth consideration.

Soon after the Agreement the Government established a Victims Commission under the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson. His report is due to be presented soon.

Employment equality has already been provided for in the Employment Equality Act which was enacted in June 1998. The Act outlaws discrimination on nine distinct grounds. The grounds are gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the traveller community. On 8 March last I announced a new infrastructure for equality which will comprise the Equality Authority and the office of Director of Equality Investigations. I also appointed the members of the Equality Authority Designate. The Act is set to come into operation on 1 September 1999.

The Equal Status Bill, which is awaiting Committee Stage in this House, will prohibit discrimination outside the workplace on similar grounds to those which apply in the area of employment, as I have just outlined.

A Bill to amend the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 to 1994, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement is being drafted in the Attorney General's office. It is hoped the Bill will be published during this session.

In addition, in relation to prisoners, there is the Criminal Justice (Release of Prisoners) Act, 1998. The Act provides for the establishment of a commission to advise the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with regard to the exercise of his powers in relation to prisoners who are considered to be qualifying prisoners for the purpose of the Good Friday Agreement. Since then a total of 24 prisoners has been released following consideration by the commission.

The Good Friday Agreement also obliges the Government to initiate a wide-ranging review of the Offences Against the State Acts with a view to both reform and dispensing with those elements no longer required as circumstances permit. Following approval by the Government, I established a committee under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Anthony Hederman, to carry out the review and to report to me with recommendations for reform. The committee, which also includes a number of independent experts as well as representatives of Departments, offices and agencies, has already begun its work. The review will also cover the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998.

An important body under the Good Friday Agreement is the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. The commission was in close contact with the participants in the Northern Ireland multi-party negotiations, which included the two Governments, while the negotiations were taking place. It put to the participants, proposals for schemes which would enable decommissioning to take place. These were accepted by the participants. The Good Friday Agreement provided that these schemes would be brought into force by the two Governments by the end of June 1998. This commitment was honoured. In addition, the Commission has been working on the detailed arrangements which will be necessary to enable the schemes to operate. Since the Agreement, it has maintained constant contact with the parties and the Governments with a view to making progress on the issue of decommissioning. To date, one decommissioning event has taken place. In December 1998, a small quantity of LVF arms was decommissioned.

I, along with the Northern Ireland security Minister, Mr. Adam lngram, meet the commission regularly for the purpose of receiving reports from the commission on its work and to discuss relevant issues. We will continue to do so as necessary. Officials of my Department are also in regular contact with the commission.

While these measures reflect positive developments, there are two other legislative measures, which are also the responsibility of my Department. These are the amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, 1998, passed following the atrocity in Omagh last summer, and the legislation passed last week to assist in the recovery of the remains of victims of paramilitary violence. Reflection on the need for this type of legislation, bearing in mind the pain and suffering endured by victims of violence, should surely act as an incentive in the search for a resolution of the remaining problem.

Security was mentioned by a number of speakers. Obviously the continued attacks on Nationalists, the murder of Ms Rosemary Nelson and attempts to burn the homes of Nationalists are matters of the gravest concern. Those concerns have been raised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mo Mowlam.

On security co-operation, the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the RUC are in regular contact and I am assured that co-operation remains at a high level. In addition, the Garda Commissioner provides regular briefings on overall security.

The timeframe decided on by the Government represents a prudent course for the reasons outlined by the Taoiseach and to suggest a shorter period would be wrong. In general terms today's debate has been a most constructive one. The Leaders of both Opposition parties have put forward in general terms sound and constructive proposals. That is the way in which politics should operate in our democracy. Today's debate on the peace process is of immense importance to all of the people of this island. It is perhaps a timely reminder to everybody involved in the body politic that there are matters of pressing concern which are of deep interest to all of the people of this island. No amount of politicking with local elections in mind should deflect us from the objective of securing a peaceful future for all on this island.

I think the Minister has persuaded the gallery of that important point.

It is also a timely reminder that the politics of Opposition by innuendo is not the best way to proceed. We should discuss policy in this House; we should discuss what is best for the people and we should do so in a constructive manner in the same way as this debate has been conducted. I firmly believe that politics by smear, innuendo or misrepresentation does no service to those who engage in it or to the people.

This legislation is both welcome and unwelcome. It is probably bitterly disappointing for most people in this House that we must introduce this kind of legislation. When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, there was an expectation that the situation on this island would be transformed within a matter of months, resulting in a new and agreed Ireland, one where Unionists, Nationalists, republicans and loyalists could negotiate their own future secure in the belief that the use of force, the threat of resort to force and moral blackmail was removed from the picture. As we can see from the increasing frequency of loyalist attacks, that is not the case. The guns are not silent and the death squads continue to operate. It strikes me now, as it did when the Agreement was signed, that a significant block of people within the Unionist community still adhere to the unyielding instinct Kipling captured so well in his poem about 1912. Andrew Bonar Law, the then Conservative Leader, spoke about the existence of stronger forces than parliamentary majorities. We are now witnessing that being played out in the landscape of the politics of this island, namely, the easy recourse to violence or the threat of violence.

We have an unhealthy obsession with decommissioning in this House. Deputy Flanagan's contribution was a worthy one but he seemed to presume that decommissioning was something which could be easily achieved. That is one of the pervading myths and weaknesses of the peace process, that somehow, in some magical way, the IRA and other paramilitary groupings will surrender their weaponry and fall on their swords. The demand for decommissioning is often made without a corresponding and simultaneous demand being made of the panoply of State control by British forces and the Unionist majority in the Six Counties not merely to reform the RUC but to eradicate it in its current form. We daily witness, from the revelations in regard to the Rosemary Nelson case, the unhealthy level of collusion that exists between the RUC and loyalist paramilitary groupings. The evidence is damning.

If one were to believe the revelations in Mr. Mc Philemy's book, The Committee, one might assume that such levels of collusion are not merely confined to the RUC, but extend far wider throughout the political process in the Six Counties, possibly even to the highest level of the Official Unionist Party. The book, which is banned in the UK, suggests that Mr. Trimble may even have sat on particular illegal committees. I do not know whether that or any of the other assertions made in the book are true but I am rather alarmed by them. It would be very difficult for someone to write a book today which made similar allegations about a Member of this House. It would be difficult to suggest that any Member of this House had participated in some illegal, shadowy committee which orchestrated the deaths of members of the Nationalist and Catholic community in the Six Counties.

That such allegations have been made and are being taken very seriously in some quarters is very alarming and represents the extent to which this process has been sundered because of an unyielding instinct within the Unionist community. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Trimble and other members of his party are hostage to such unyielding elements, people who not only voted against the Good Friday Agreement but want to destroy it. That is very dangerous.

We must maintain the careful bipartisanship cultivated by many political leaders from all sides of this House, among them Deputies Bruton, Quinn and Spring and former Deputies FitzGerald and Haughey. The people of Ireland will not thank this generation of political leaders if it becomes divided and presents a weak negotiating team to face down this unyielding resistance on the Unionist side.

History is being rewritten here.

Bipartisanship has been one of the great strengths of this process, together with the mathematical fact of the large parliamentary majority in Britain. Recent allegations in regard to financial scandals are weakening our political process and making it very vulnerable. It appears to people outside this House that the political class is tearing itself apart in the Republic, tearing itself apart, as the Minister stated, by a daily diet of conjecture and pseudo-revelation about people's past involvement in the running of this country. That is a dangerous point from which to proceed. Perhaps it will require a general election to cure that attitude and ensure we can move ahead in a positive way.

That is constructive thinking. The Deputy must be hearing those views on the doorsteps.

Members on all sides are really only interested in building prosperity for the people of Ireland. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency to rule the country by tribunal. This country cannot be run by a tribunal based in Dublin Castle, it can only be run by the elected, mandated Government of the country of which Deputy Bertie Ahern is the leader. The peace process is not being assisted by the kind of political opportunism we are witnessing in regard to the tribunals. The tribunals should be allowed do their work and the Government should get on with its work.

Our political system is weak and vulnerable at the moment. That weakness will be ruthlessly exploited by the traditional enemies of peace on this island. Such exploitation will do no service to the cause of democracy in this House or in the wider context of the island.

The fact that this legislation is going through the House is bitterly disappointing. The promise of the Good Friday Agreement has yet to be fulfilled. I hope it is fulfilled and that the envisaged changes to Articles 2 and 3 are enacted. However, there is nothing much to encourage me on that front at the moment, precisely because of the obsession with decommissioning in the absence of a corresponding obsession in regard to the raft of allegations levelled against the RUC about its collusion with paramilitary groupings. These are very serious matters.

Let us recall the memory of 1969 when the Provisional IRA came into existence essentially because of a perception among an element of the Nationalist community in the North that it was defenceless and needed guns. Those guns were supplied – some people suggest that Members of this House may have supplied guns for that cause. That is recent folk memory and not one which can be easily eradicated. When I hear people speak about decommissioning as something which can be easily achieved, I reach for my volume of Thomas Davis. In his poem "The Dungannon Convention" he wrote:

So they give as a boon what they dare not withhold

And Ireland a nation leaps up as of old

With a name and a trade and a flag of her own

And an army to defend both people and throne

But woe worth the day if to falsehood or fears

She surrenders the guns of her brave volunteers.

That is the kind of attitude Deputy Proinsias De Rossa sometimes depicts as ‘the pike in the thatch' mentality. That mentality still exists. The almost obsessional desire that it should will itself away is rather unrealistic.

We need to implement the Good Friday Agreement as quickly as possible and the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, is the right person to do that. He will implement the Agreement with speed and in co-operation with those members of the Unionist community and the Unionist political parties who are interested in compromise. It must be emphasised, however, that when the Taoiseach put his name on the Good Friday Agreement he pledged the support of this party and a number of other parties in the House. He went to those negotiations confident in the knowledge that his own party would support him and that the bipartisan approach that exists in this House would hold up. Unfortunately, the Unionist community does not have the same strength and that is debilitating the process immeasurably. At a time when the Republic is so prosperous as a result of our successful economy, there is a danger that the electorate may become bored or disillusioned with the process and, inevitably, that political leaders might become bored also. If nothing else, we are in touch with our electorate.

In recent years, the Republic has been involved in the peace process in a unique way that perhaps may not continue in the future. The political establishment in this House has been engaged with the North. There is a strong partitionist mentality in the country and that mentality could yet get a grip of public opinion here and we could become disinterested again. That would be unfortunate.

This legislation is regrettable but we must enact it so that we can honour our commitments to Articles 2 and 3, but we do so with a proviso. Every aspect of the Agreement must be implemented. There cannot be trimming of the Agreement and those who seek to do that or move away from the Agreement negotiated by the Taoiseach are moving away from democracy. They are cutting away the fabric of what has been the only true referendum in which the Irish people got an opportunity to speak with one voice about their own destiny. That is the referendum that followed the Good Friday Agreement. That was the only occasion in our long and troubled history that the Irish people, as opposed to the various factions, were asked to give their opinion on what represented an agreement between them. To try to diminish that agreement is an act of profound indifference and negativity towards democracy. I hope the members of the Unionist community who are resisting will change their attitude, realise this process does not thre aten them and that the process is inclusive and democratic.

I had the privilege of meeting Yasser Arafat when he visited Dublin recently and I was struck by the fact that he looked so weak. This person was involved in a process which was delayed for years because of a change of Government and the assassination of a prime minister. He is a very tired man, as are many of the people engaged in the Middle East peace process. That is a tragedy but it would be an even greater tragedy if there was a similar long delay in implementing this Agreement. Such a delay would take its toll on the leading participants who have made such an enormous contribution to this process. If that happens it will be a tragedy. I commend the Bill to the House.

The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue dealt with many of the points concerning prisoners, security and human rights so I will not repeat them. I will answer the questions put to me. I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate. I thank also the leaders of the Opposition parties for their ongoing support. Deputy Bruton queried my statement yesterday that the draft Hillsborough Declaration was outside the broad Good Friday Agreement. I was simply expressing a view put forward by all the pro-Agreement parties. Both I and Prime Minister Blair were berated by everybody, with the exception of the UUP, on the basis that this was outside the Agreement. We argued our own case but all the parties, the Women's Coalition, the Alliance Party, the SDLP – perhaps not Seamus Mallon but he was annoyed with us on that occasion—

It is not outside the Agreement. It is entirely consistent with the Mitchell Principles.

Deputy Bruton is aware of the statement I made on that day which I suggested was a limited one but—

The Taoiseach endorsed the Prime Minister's statement.

On that day.

At Hillsborough.

I made a statement at Hillsborough.

Was he not speaking for the Taoiseach as well as himself?

We made a joint statement at Hillsborough. I was very supportive of that but the point has been made here by two or three Deputies that the argument against the declaration concerned the unnecessary preconditions being put into it. The pro-Agreement parties, with the exception of the UUP, were adamant that we should have followed the proper sequence. Deputy Quinn explained the matter this morning when he said preconditions were put into it, as did a number of my colleagues here. Whether we like it or not, I have to continue to negotiate but the reason we have had so many deadlines over the period was because people put in preconditions. That does not take away from the fact that we also have to solve the problem of decommissioning but that is the reason for so many delays.

Deputy Bruton also referred to the widespread attacks on Catholics across large areas of Northern Ireland. I referred to that in my opening contribution today and also yesterday. As Deputy Bruton said, there are concerns about the main loyalist paramilitary organisations. At this stage we know the names of about ten relatively small groups.

Different groups or just ten accommodation names?

The information I have, which is not the best, is that they are small groups, some new, others breakaway. I understand they are all small groups, although I have heard that since last autumn. They may be small but they had the capability to assassinate Rosemary Nelson with sophisticated armaments. I worry about small groups in cases like that. The same happened in Newry last year with what was meant to be a small group. On the other hand, it appears that already there are new splinter groups emerging. This is a murky area.

The Government has made strong representation calling for effective protection for Catholic families and communities but that did not get much publicity. I get information on a weekly basis about families who are being intimidated and forced out of their homes. About 20 families have been forced out of their homes on Garvaghy Road. Two weeks ago, an 84 year old man who had lived all his life on the outskirts of Garvaghy Road was intimidated and forced out of his home. That man remained living there during the 30 years of the troubles. I inquired whether he was intimidated or if he left of his own accord but the security reports from the RUC indicate he was forced out following intimidation. Unfortunately, this is continuing to happen and at this stage – although I get no satisfaction from saying this – it is exclusively the Nationalist community which is being intimidated. As I said yesterday, my concern is that people will begin to retaliate and the cycle of intimidation will begin again. We want to avoid that and that is the reason I have put so much pressure on the RUC and the security forces to deal with this issue. Recently, in south Antrim, the RUC asked the British Army to go back on the streets to deal with these problems. The newly elected Assembly member in south Antrim, Danny O'Connor, has made strong representations about this issue. I do not know him personally but I understand he is a genuine person.

Deputy Quinn expressed the hope that the two Governments would sing from the same hymn sheet and continue to convey to same message to all the parties in the negotiations. The Deputy need have no concerns on this point. We meet the parties collectively 90 per cent of the time to ensure we avoid that. We sometimes agree but what happens when we get outside the door of No. 10 can be slightly different. There is not much I can do about that. The presentations of what did or did not happen a fortnight ago would stretch anyone's imagination. However, I understand why these things have to happen. We are all realistic enough to understand the difficult situations which party leaders and others can get into. The best course of action is not to comment.

All commentators agree the key element of the process is the close working relationship between the two Governments. This relationship has been remarkably close regarding the positions put forward by the Prime Minister and me. The same applies to our colleagues, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Secretary of State and other Ministers. The two Governments have put forward joint positions on all aspects of the Agreement and that will continue to be the case.

Deputy Bruton inquired about the current status of the Mitchell Principles vis-à-vis the Good Friday Agreement. I spoke on this matter not long ago. The Mitchell Principles stand on their own right and continue to have the Government's support. I regularly cite them to the parties in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement stands on its own, but the essence of the Mitchell Principles is reflected in parts of the Agreement, such as the declaration of support at the beginning of the Agreement. The Government supports and stands over everything in the Agreement and in the Mitchell Principles on an ongoing basis.

Deputy Flanagan referred to the way in which Sinn Féin and the UUP rejected proposals at different times and raised the possibility of the two Governments inviting the two parties to meet intensively to come up with a joint proposal. I thank the Deputy for urging us to continue, but I share his view that there is a tendency for the parties to move too slowly as if we had all the time in the world. It is past time for the parties to respond to what the Deputy rightly said is the wish of the majority of the people, North and South, and to implement the Agreement.

There have been many meetings involving Sinn Féin and the Unionists. More recently there have been round table talks with Sinn Féin, the UUP and the SDLP to try to reach agreement. Any party which takes upon itself the responsibility of letting go the promise and the prospects of the Good Friday Agreement will have to answer for that decision. All the parties are being asked to go as far as they can and then to go a little further. We have to reach an agreement and we are all determined to do so.

Deputy Quinn asked me to say a little more about the extension of time. The British Government will devolve powers to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly on 1 July. Influenced by this measure, the Prime Minister set the deadline of 30 June for completion of the Northern Ireland talks with a view to devolution by 1 July, concurrent with Wales and Scotland. That is logical. Deputy Bruton is slightly critical of this move but the Prime Minister's logic was that the three should take place together.

There is no real connection between them.

There is from Westminster.

That was the logic he set down. In fairness to Prime Minister Blair, he spent two hard years working on all three areas. I do not think it is unreasonable that he should try to bring the three areas to a conclusion at one time, if possible. He could be criticised if he did not set a date. People who are not of a Nationalist or republican tradition would say he should have been doing this.

Was the date set by Mr. Blair or by the two Prime Ministers?

He set the date at the outset and I agreed as he was determined to put in a huge timetable. He set the date based on that logic.

The tyranny of neatness.

That is unfair.

One could hardly cite the British Constitution as an example of neatness.

What are we going to do on 1 July?

I have already said what we will do on 1 July. If the parties have not reached agreement the two Prime Ministers will sit down to see what we will do. We should not predetermine what we will or will not do. The House has to be mindful of the fact that there are 55 million people in Britain who have wide interests in many international issues. To put it mildly, they are engaged in a fairly serious war.

That is not an answer.

Time considerations are an issue. Tony Blair has put an enormous amount of time into this matter every day. He does not complain or protest but he cannot put in endless hours and endless weekends. This commitment is acknowledged by all the parties. Not only does Mr. Blair meet the political parties, he also meets many organisations, schools and groups which travel to London.

As I indicated on Second Stage, extensive efforts are being made to reach an inclusive settlement by that date, if possible. There are difficult issues to overcome and compromises will have to be made. To be sustainable, a final settlement must have the backing of all the communities in Northern Ireland. The two Governments will assist in developing and delivering the various commitments in the Good Friday Agreement.

I appreciate the frustration of those who feel the negotiation process has been too long and who wish to see 30 June as a final date for the Northern Ireland Assembly and all other matters. The two Governments share the position that matters must be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. However, in coming to a decision to extend the period for a further 12 months, the Government had to balance a number of considerations and make the best judgment possible in light of the difficult circumstances.

The Government's primary concern is to ensure there are no legal impediments to the bringing into force of the Agreement as soon as full agreement emerges. We have to take account of the fact that Drumcree comes four days after the deadline and of the signals coming from the parties which will cast a shadow forward. These signals are coming from the parties on the ground and I cannot ignore that.

Amendments to the Constitution are given serious consideration by the Government before being put to the people in a referendum. The 19th Amendment of the Constitution enacted on 3 June was particularly significant in respect of the substitution of new Articles 2 and 3 which had been a contentious issue for the Unionist community for many years. The amendment has the backing of all the people of this island and the Government could not, and will not, let it fall without due consideration of the implications of all of this which could involve our inability to fulfil the integral part of the Good Friday Agreement with the adverse consequences which would flow.

Intensive efforts to reach a settlement will continue up to 30 June and beyond, if necessary. We must be cognisant of the summer recess, the proximity of the 30 June deadline and the prospects that, even if an executive was up and running by that date with full powers, further time would be needed to put in place the remaining parts of the British-Irish Agreement. I hope they can happen concurrently, but we cannot be certain about that, given the experience of the last 12 months. In this context, it is sensible and prudent to seek the extension of a period for one year rather than one month.

If everything happens in the short-term we can then move – we do not have to wait for a year. That was the reason for the Government's decision.

Will the Taoiseach confirm the Hillsborough Declaration was a joint declaration of the two Governments and not just a British declaration?

It was a joint declaration. We did not release the full details about it because it did not work. We issued a short simple two page statement about it, but we had worked on it for five or six weeks in the belief that it was a reasonable compromise. It did not work and pro-Agreement parties then took the view it was perhaps not the best way to proceed. However, we believed it could have worked.

Question put and agreed to.