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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Dec 1999

Vol. 512 No. 2

British-Irish Agreement: Announcement.

Before we come to the Order of the House, I call on the Taoiseach who, I understand, wants to make an announcement.

I wish to inform the House that the British and Irish Governments have today completed the requirements, as specified in Article 4 of the British-Irish Agreement, for the entry into force of the Agreement.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have this morning exchanged notifications of the completion in each jurisdiction of the requirements for entry into force of the Agreement. Accordingly, as prescribed in Article 4 (2) of the Agreement, following the exchange of the notifications, the Agreement has now entered into force. So also have the supplementary Agreements establishing the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the North/ South Implementation Bodies.

The Attorney General confirmed to the Government earlier that the British-Irish Agreement had entered into force and that the Government was immediately thereafter obliged to ensure that the amendments to the Constitution of Ireland set out in Annex B to the section entitled "Constitutional Issues" of the Multi-Party Agreement take effect as required by Article 4 (3) of the British-Irish Agreement.

The Attorney General also advised on the manner in which the amendments to the Constitution are to take effect, through the declaration provided for in Article 27.7.3WP extended char 1,14 of the Constitution, indicated that he had seen the form of the proposed declaration and advised that it should be made by the Government. This was done. The Government has made the declaration that the State has become obliged, pursuant to the Agreement, to give effect to the amendments.

It is a momentous day. Even though it is not ordered, a Cheann Comhairle, I ask you to allow the representatives of the party leaders to say a brief few words.

This is a momentous day, as the Taoiseach has said, for the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic and Great Britain, many of whom have suffered down the years and continue to suffer.

It is appropriate that we would congratulate the Government today for what it has done. I have just come from Iveagh House where the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Mandelson, signed the necessary papers to bring into force another element of the Good Friday Agreement.

We must now build on what has happened today. We must build on the economic, social and political arrangements and agreements which we are setting in place. This is a great day for Ireland and I am mindful of the fact that this Agreement has come into force without the bloodshed, civil war and fighting which my granduncle, Michael Collins, faced when he came back from Downing Street in 1921. I hope all of us here will benefit from what has happened, that the young people of Ireland will realise the work of all who have played their part down the years in bringing about this peace, the Governments, Ministers and people who have gone to their reward. I hope that as we move into the new millennium we have seen the end of violence.

I sincerely and warmly congratulate the Taoiseach for his part and the part played by members of his Government and congratulate his predecessors and members of former Governments also on bringing us to a day which really is momentous. We use the words "historic" and "momentous" too freely in this House but nobody could deny the correctness of the use of those words today.

For most of us it was unthinkable just a short number of years ago that Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution would be amended with such little fuss. Today we have triggered a number of significant developments – a devolved Administration for Northern Ireland truly representative of all the communities and peoples in Northern Ireland; the establishment of North-South bodies linking the national synergies which exist on this island and the removal of a territorial claim on Northern Ireland which was offensive to a large section of the people there. That was achieved without rancour or difficulty. That in itself is significant as it signifies the state of maturity we have reached on this island. I share the hope for peace and prosperity as expressed by Deputy Owen, which every Member of the House harbours in their hearts on this historic day. We reflect the huge optimism and expectation of the people, North and South, for everybody to work through the institutions, to bring about prosperity and to ensure that never again will we see the hurt and harm that has wreaked such havoc across these islands over the past 30 years.

I dteannta leis na ceannairí eile agus i dteannta le leanaí scoile, muintir eaglaise, lucht gnó, polaiteoirí agus státseirbhísigh, bhíos i láthair ag Teach Uibh Eathach ar maidin. Ba mhaith liom comhgháirdeas a ghabhail leis an Taoiseach, leis an Rialtas, le Rialtas Shasana agus le Rialtais roimhe seo as an sárobair atá déanta. agus le daoine ar an talamh a bhí ag fulaingt agus ag obair go tréan le fada an lá chuige seo.

Is ceart dúinn féachaint siar agus ar aghaidh inniu – siar de bharr go bhfuair go leor daoine bás, agus tá go leor daoine gortaithe fós agus beidh ar feadh tamaill eile, agus ar aghaidh mar tá sampla againn don domhan anois ar chonas coimhlintí a réiteach gan cogaíocht agus chun dóchas a thabhairt don am atá le teacht.

Dá bhrí sin tá mise fíor-bhródúil gur éirigh linn san Oireachtas agus gur éirigh leis na rialtais éagsúla san oileán seo an socrú seo a dhéanamh. Gura fada buan é.

(Dublin West): May I say a brief word?

It is not usual, but if the Deputy wishes to do so briefly.

Lá stairiúil.

(Dublin West): On behalf of the Socialist Party, which is a registered political party on this island, both North and South, I welcome the fact that the futile 30-year paramilitary campaign is at an end. Now that the Northern Ireland political parties – most of which are conservative parties – have entered a power-sharing executive, I hope the divided working class communities in the North will come together to build a new and radical working class alternative to the politics of conservatism and sectarianism that have divided them and allowed poverty and suffering to continue for so long.

I thank Deputies Owen, Howlin, Sargent and Higgins for their comments. I agree very much with Deputy Owen when she said that this has been achieved without more violence. We have had enough of that. In recent weeks I was reading reports of deaths in Northern Ireland over the past 200 years. Sometimes we forget that when considering the 30 years of conflict in our own generation. When one considers the period from 1798 onwards, the recorded death toll is horrific, even though I am sure that not all such deaths were recorded. Today is a day of enormous significance but we must remember all the people who died and those who suffered, including the families of those who died. We are thinking of them, in particular, today.

I thank the Irish people for supporting the constitutional change. From today, the new text of Articles 2 and 3 are substituted for the previous Articles, and the new paragraph now stands part of Bunreacht na hÉireann. I hope politicians, both North and South, can make all the insti tutions work. Government and Opposition parties will have an opportunity to do so through the British-Irish Agreement in its various forms. We pledge to use our political skills to do our utmost to ensure that the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement, that have now been institutionally and constitutionally enacted, will be successfully implemented for the benefit of the people in peace and on the basis of consent.