Ceisteanna–Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Higgins

Question:

1 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings with the parties in Northern Ireland. [12751/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

2 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12759/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

3 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the First Minister of Northern Ireland on 4 May 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13493/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

4 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent progress in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13499/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

5 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13590/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

6 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting on 4 May 2001 with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. David Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13637/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

7 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the status of his discussions with the political parties in Northern Ireland regarding the prospects for political progress in Northern Ireland. [13638/01]

Austin Currie

Question:

8 Mr. Currie asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent discussions with the Northern Ireland political leaders. [13650/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

9 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the Government's view of the decision of the Northern Ireland First Minister to lodge a post-dated letter of resignation with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which would come into effect on 1 July 2001 if no progress is made on decommissioning; if he has had, or plans to have, any talks with either Mr. Trimble or other political leaders in Northern Ireland regarding the implications of the letter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13651/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

10 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has had discussions with the British Prime Minister on the implications of the post-dated letter of resignation from the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. David Trimble, which he has lodged with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13652/01]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

11 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has had, or plans to have, talks with representatives of the republican movement regarding the possibility of progress being made on the decommissioning issue, having regard to the post-dated letter of resignation lodged by the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. David Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13653/01]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

12 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings and contacts with the parties in relation to the peace process. [13815/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

13 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach his views on the statement on 8 May 2001 by the First Minister of Northern Ireland indicating that he will resign on 1 July 2001 unless IRA decommissioning occurs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14357/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

14 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he was given prior notice by the Northern Ireland First Minister of his intention to make a statement on 8 May 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14358/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

15 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he has contacted the British Prime Minister regarding the statement on 8 May 2001 by the First Minister of Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14360/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

16 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14112/01]

Michael Noonan

Question:

17 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet the First Minister of Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14116/01]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

18 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will comment on the announcement by Mr. David Trimble that he will resign as First Minister within eight weeks if the IRA does not begin to disarm by 1 July 2001. [14665/01]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

19 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any recent meetings or contacts he has had with the parties in relation to the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15044/01]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 19, inclusive, together.

Accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I met an Ulster Unionist Party delegation, including the First Minister, David Trimble, and the Minister for Arts, Culture and Leisure, Michael McGimpsey, on Friday, 4 May. Our discussions ranged over the outstanding issues on the agenda, including decommissioning, policing and the exclusion of Sinn Féin Ministers from attendance at meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. Discussions also covered the excellent work being done on North-South co-operation, including our joint intensive efforts to contain the spread of foot and mouth disease.

I also met representatives of Sinn Féin on Friday, 11 May, including the Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, the Minister for Health, Bairbre de Brún and the Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness. As well as covering the outstanding issues in the negotiations, we discussed the action taken by David Trimble in lodging a post-dated letter of resignation with the Speaker of the Assembly.

As I said in the House the week before last, the Government was surprised by Mr. Trimble's statement as, when I had met Mr. Trimble on the previous Friday, there was no indication that such a course of action was under consideration.

Over recent weeks and up to the calling of the British general election, officials have sought to make as much progress as possible, especially with a view to intensive negotiations involving the two Governments and the pro-Agreement parties getting under way immediately after the British elections.

A high profile meeting took place in Dublin Castle today between members of the Government and members of Sinn Féin who are Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. Does the Taoiseach realise this could be construed as an interference by the Government in the election process in Northern Ireland? Will he comment on the objections made by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, to the meeting? Will he also comment on the coincidence of the meeting being arranged on the day John Hume, leader of the SDLP, meets the former United States President, Bill Clinton, in Derry?

The meeting which took place this morning was a low-key breakfast meeting which lasted 40 minutes and included four Mini sters, Deputies Woods and Martin and Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún. It was followed by a separate meeting involving the Ministers for Education and Health which lasted for 30 minutes. The meetings went well. The breakfast discussion was informal and short and included a number of issues.

Sinn Féin again registered the difficulty it has with the ban on North-South Ministerial Council meetings in that it cannot follow through in the normal way on the agenda on which it had been working prior to those meetings running into difficulties at the end of October. That causes problems for the Sinn Féin Party. My colleagues expressed the hope that the matter would be resolved in the context of the intensive negotiations following the elections.

There was little media interest in this meeting until David Trimble's protest against it broke. No formal press conference was arranged for the reason that it was to be kept low-key, although the Ministers were doorstepped as they emerged from the meeting. The line taken by all the Ministers was low-key and constructive, stressing the meeting was simply part of the ongoing process of North-South co-operation, which is what it was, and to ensure momentum was sustained. They noted the complementarity between the health services and education sectors, especially where child welfare is concerned, which was the issue discussed this morning. When asked if the meeting was meant to be in any way embarrassing to David Trimble, Martin McGuinness replied: "Absolutely not". He wished David Trimble well and stressed his support for the opinion polls in the Belfast Telegraph which showed strong support for the Agreement. He also stressed his party's strong support for the Agreement.

An official from the First Minister's office rang an official in my Department who gave him more or less the outline I have given. Our view is to meet any of the parties or individuals over the period of the elections but to conduct those meetings without press conferences and in a low-key fashion. I have already done that with a number of the parties and will continue to do so at their request. I do not intend to initiate any meetings.

Being the consummate politician he is, the Taoiseach knows how sensitive parties can become at election time and that this is especially true in Northern Ireland, not only across the Nationalist-Unionist divide but within the Nationalist community itself where there is intense competition between Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Does the Taoiseach not realise that certain people in Northern Ireland will interpret the meeting this morning as a political act by the Government to give a high profile platform in Dublin Castle to representatives of Sinn Féin in the middle of the election? To allay any fears, will the Taoiseach state clearly when this meeting was arranged and what was the process which led to it occurring today?

It was not a high profile meeting. There was little or no press interest in it and that would have remained the case if Mr. Trimble had not made his comments. I still do not consider the meeting of any great significance.

I was to have a low level meeting with Mr. Trimble a few weeks ago which turned into a very high level one. It was meant to happen without the press being informed but it was informed by people in Northern Ireland. However, I do not wish to involve myself in that one way or another.

The meeting this morning was requested several weeks ago. It was to have taken place before the previous meeting I had with Sinn Féin but was delayed until after it. I stated the meeting should be low-key, short and on an issue and that was the case on all three counts.

The SDLP was aware the meeting would take place. I spoke with John Hume yesterday and the day before and perhaps we will speak with SDLP members again in the next week. There is no connection between this meeting and the high level meeting which will take place in Derry tonight with John Hume and others and at which the Government will be represented by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke.

I specifically asked the Taoiseach when this meeting was arranged. Given that he said the process was ongoing for a number of weeks, will he say when this meeting was confirmed? I have another question to ask which departs from this topic.

The meeting was requested a long way back. It was confirmed at the last meeting I had with Sinn Féin. The date of that meeting, which I gave in my reply, was 11 May.

Was it confirmed or requested on that day?

The meeting was arranged and confirmed on that day. I confirmed the meeting at the meeting of 11 May.

The Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. David Trimble, recently gave a postdated letter of resignation to the Chairman of the Assembly, Lord Alderdice. Subsequently, when he briefed the press he said that at a meeting he had had with the Taoiseach some days previously he had intimated to him that he would be following that course of action. A certain amount of confusion has arisen in the Taoiseach's replies to requests to clarify the matter. Can he clarify it now? Did he know in advance that Mr. Trimble was going to do what he did? What degree of knowledge did he have? Was there a hint which he did not pick up or was he told specifically of Mr. Trimble's intention to resign by way of postdated letter?

The short and long answer to all those questions is no. I was not told and there was no hint.

Mr. Trimble says there was.

I do not think he does.

What is the Taoiseach's version of events? Mr. Trimble remarked that he had indicated his intention in advance, at the meeting he had with the Taoiseach.

He did not.

When speaking to the press the First Minister, Mr. David Trimble, indicated that he had intimated when speaking to the Taoiseach that his intention was to resign by 1 July if progress had not been made on decommissioning. He also qualified this. He made it clear that while he did not put the matter in blunt terms, as I am doing now, he suggested that the Taoiseach could have been in no doubt as to what his intentions were. Is the Taoiseach saying that is not correct?

Precisely.

Can the Taoiseach explain the divergence of opinion?

There is no divergence of opinion. We had no discussions whatever about these issues. At no time was there any question that he might resign. There was no discussion whatever of that matter or anything surrounding it. We had no such discussion.

(Mayo): Or no hint?

No hint whatever.

The Taoiseach is saying, therefore, it was a total surprise.

I have already dealt with this matter in the House. The Government was surprised by Mr. Trimble's statement. I met Mr. Trimble at some length on my own and then with his colleagues on 4 May. He made no mention of this in any form. We spoke about the campaign and about how it might go. I understand from the British Prime Minister that he heard about the matter five minutes before it was announced. The Deputy First Minister, Mr. Séamas Mallon, heard about it two minutes before the announcement. As I undertstand it, Mr. Trimble's position is very clear in all this. He did things that way in order that presssure would not be brought to bear on him or any of his colleagues. This was his stated position made absolutely clear on the morning he made the announcement. There is no ambiguity whatsoever. Never have I heard of any ambiguity about the issue. It is absolutely clear. I have spoken about it with all the parties in the North. I do not want there to be any doubt about it.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that following the successful re-election of the British Labour Party after 7 June, for which we all hope – on this side of the House anyway – there will be an opportunity, lasting probably not longer than two weeks, in which the vexed question of policing can finally be addressed? Will he further confirm that there is broad agreement on the shape that resolution might take? Will he share with me the concern expressed by many in relation to the revelations today that punishment beatings, another form of vigilante independent policing by paramilitaries on the loyalist or republican sides, have increased by up to 40%? Will he express with me a concern articulated in an extraordinary way by the President of Sinn Féin when he effectively admitted that Sinn Féin is directly involved in paramilitary punishment beatings? He states, and I quote—

It is not in order to quote.

Does the Taoiseach share my concern at the comments attributed to and not refuted by the President of Sinn Féin that because Sinn Féin is not doing enough in terms of punishment beatings it may lose votes? Does he agree that the real solution for those afflicted communities, be they green or orange, is a proper and acceptable form of community policing? Will he particularly condemn Sinn Féin, the only party within the Executive as distinct from the Assembly – I refer to loyalist parties with paramilitary connections – which has direct links with paramilitaries? The President of Sinn Féin has clearly indicated that its activities on the ground are directly related to the party's ability to win or retain support in west Belfast?

I agree with the Deputy that the period immediately after the election will be crucial. I also agree that it will be short. It will last until Drumcree Sunday. That period of the year starts the traditional holiday, the Orange festivities and all the good and difficulties which surround them. That is the traditional holiday break for people in Northern Ireland. For all those reasons it will be difficult to make progress after it. That has been my experience and that of my predecessors in recent years.

I agree that policing is the key issue locking the others. All the parties are adamant that none of these issues is related. I do not say they are.

They are interconnected.

In one way or another they have an impact, and progress must be made on all of them if everyone is to feel satisfied and a comprehensive agreement reached. Everyone shares this view. We have made substantial progress on the policing issue, but not enough. There are clear lines of understanding of what we can achieve, how far the British Government would go, what can be handled by the RUC in its reform agenda and how close we can get back to the Patten recommendations from the moves that have been made. Certain compromises would have to be made by everyone, including the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the UUP and the other pro-Agreement parties to achieve closure on the issue. They have all made their positions clear on the legislation. The question has been well and truly teased out since last July. We did our utmost in March and since to progress the issue.

I also share the Deputy's concern about punishment beatings. The latest figures are accurate. I condemn in the strongest possible terms all punishment beatings and attacks by paramilitary groups. Today's figures are worrying. I have consistently urged, privately and publicly, that all such activity should cease immediately. I have been urged in this House to do so, most consistently by Deputy Currie, down through the years. At the meeting before last with Sinn Féin I spent some considerable time discussing the matter on which I have already reported to the House. I have discussed these attacks with all parties in the Assembly which have links with paramilitaries. I note that Sinn Féin and other parties which have links within their communities have continually said that what is now happening is a move towards gangsterism, banditry and drug related crime. That is not an excuse for any kind of punishment, not to mention the horrendous punishments we have seen. I think it is an excuse for sorting out the policing issue.

In all of these matters in Northern Ireland I have tried hard to understand why people carry out or condone such things as punishment beatings. I understand that if people – both loyalists and republicans, and nationalists and unionists – are under threat from public order breaches, they become frustrated about the difficulties that creates for their people. I do not understand the barbaric methods they use to deal with that. That is the reason we need a successful police recruitment campaign. That is the very argument for reform of the RUC, the implementation of the Patten proposals and for moving forward with policing matters. That is what I have said time and time again. It is the essential issue which I will raise again as soon as the parties are in negotiating mode after the British general election.

Would the Taoiseach agree that paramilitary groups closely allied to political parties, who have not only added the intimidation of communities to their menu of horror but also illegal activities relating to drugs and other forms of gangsterism, including protection rackets, are an essential financial lifeline to those political parties? In the Taoiseach's view, is there a sense in which the political parties associated with paramilitary groups, including Sinn Féin and the loy alist parties, depend on that link in order to obtain the necessary funding to keep their activities going?

It is not easy to prove that position, as Deputy Quinn knows. There is no doubt about the existence of certain criminal activity, including counterfeiting, smuggling animals and fuel, and the sale of unlicensed drink – although the latter activity is not as evident nowadays. Whether such activity is also the backbone of financial support for political parties from paramilitary groups is less evident, although as we know from the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak, both issues arise – some involved criminals and some were linked to paramilitary organisations.

Exactly.

Whatever about what has happened, what has developed and what has gone on for decades, the essential point is to end that. The way to do so is to have proper policing in the Border and other regions by a police service that has cross-community support, and that has Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists, republicans and loyalists within that force who can work together to overcome such criminal activity. I do not see any chance of defeating that kind of crime other than by a respected and accepted police service. As we know, if a police service goes into certain areas that have no affiliation with it, it will not work. That is what the Patten report was all about. The way to deal with these issues is to have an acceptable police force that is as close to the Patten model as makes no difference. Such a force could have special units, not like the ones that are detested in the past, but which can deal with these difficulties in future. That makes sense and I hope it will be agreed by everybody soon.

I welcome the Taoiseach's response. Since he was aware that the so-called informal meeting was taking place this morning with the North's Ministers for Education and Health – both Sinn Féin members – did he request his Ministers to convey directly to their opposite numbers the concerns of this House and of the Government about the damage done to the health and educational prospects of young people who have their knee-caps blown away in the name of some self-appointed vigilante group who, apparently because they are not active enough, according to Sinn Féin, are costing that party votes in West Belfast?

This morning was not the appropriate time for that. They were talking about children's issues.

I think blowing one's knee-caps away is a children's issue.

I have made those points before to all concerned. I have made my position on this issue very clear and it is well known. I will do so again when I have the opportunity.

The Taoiseach did not ask him to raise it?

This morning's agenda was clearly concerned with health and education issues, around the areas of child welfare. It was not—

Would the Taoiseach not agree that every survey in his Department on deprived areas says that anti-social behaviour has a combined health and educational impact? If there is any commonality of concern it should be in relation to those two matters. It is incredible that the Taoiseach's Ministers did not raise these matters on the morning when the newspapers carried photographs of a victim of a punishment shooting, and we have statistics concerning paramilitary links to two Ministers from Northern Ireland.

I am not privy to what went on at the informal breakfast session; maybe they raised some of those issues. However, they were dealing with child welfare issues today which do not come directly within the ambit of what we are discussing here.

Would the Taoiseach agree that while in this House we are all pretty sceptical about opinion polls, particularly when they are against us, theBelfast Telegraph poll is welcome in so far as it seems to indicate that the tide has turned in support for the Good Friday Agreement? The referendum on that Agreement had 71% support, the Belfast Telegraph poll indicates 77% support. In the Protestant community support for the Agreement was measured at 61% according to the latest poll, while last October it was only 47%. Would the Taoiseach agree with what many of us have felt for some time – that when ordinary people saw members of the Northern Ireland Executive grappling with common problems, support for the Executive would increase? One of the reasons for the increase in support for the Agreement could be that the North's Minister for Agriculture, Bríd Rodgers, has been so successfully grappling with the foot and mouth disease problem on behalf of all the people of this island.

There has been some criticism of David Trimble for his, what I might describe as, frozen resignation. Would the Taoiseach agree that it is a bit strange for politicians to criticise other politicians for being politicians? If Mr. Trimble comes out of the election badly, many people in this House and elsewhere will say he should have done something to improve the situation. In current circumstances, I, for one, am not being critical of him, although I believe that in most cases the common interest should come before the interests of one's own party.

As regards the Deputy's first point, the figures in that comprehensive poll are encouraging. Not alone have the poll figures in support of the Agreement recovered their position over the last year, but on the referendum, the straight question indicated that if the Agreement was being put to the people now it would be carried by 77% as opposed to 71% on 22 May 1998. That figure is very high. While I do not like the classification of the Catholic-Protestant divide in all of these issues, I understand why it is done.

That is the question the poll asked.

I am not referring to what the Deputy said but the way the question was put, and I understand why it was done. It shows an enormous increase in support for the Agreement from the Protestant community, back to one of its highest positions. Also, in both Nationalist parties it is now at 85% and 86% respectively. All that is extremely good. I entirely agree with the Deputy that people can see devolution is working well across a range of areas. It has worked well in health, education, industry and enterprise.

Agriculture.

It has worked well in all areas, particularly in agriculture. Across the island of Ireland people have seen the superb job that has been done by Bríd Rodgers. It was probably the best example of devolution working there. This is also shown through health policies, including cancer strategies, which are extremely good. However, the foot and mouth disease outbreak had a high profile during a difficult period when the public and the economy were under strain. The economy has been turned around. The night before last Mr. Trimble pointed out in regard to his constituency that the economy has never been better, the number of debts has never been lower and unemployment is at an all-time low. These are positive facts which have emanated from the Good Friday Agreement in a strong and successful way.

When I replied to Deputy Noonan earlier about Mr. Trimble, I outlined a factual position. I have avoided criticising the tactics of any of the parties because that is their call. They must make a call on one thing or other. The usual criticism of ourselves or the British Government is why somebody did something without telling the other. There have been many instances and I am sure they will continue. I understand that.

I had an opportunity last night to talk to a number of the party leaders at another function about how they see things. They all expressed disquiet but these are political calls that are made when people must examine what is best for them. The UUP has criticised other parties andvice versa, but tactically people must do what they wish.

The difficulties in regard to North-South Ministries, not finalising policing, not having more progress on demilitarisation or decommissioning and setting a date for that are concerns. These issues must be addressed.

However, as Northern Ireland approaches the upcoming Westminster election, by comparison with the previous election, there is an IRA ceasefire and a power-sharing Executive which is working well, North-South bodies, which are working well with one exception that has led to a serious difficulty since last October, but we must find a way to deal with it, and the economy is doing much better. The situation in which the Northern Ireland people find themselves is probably the best they have been in going into an election since the early 1960s. That has been pointed out in election literature, manifestos and documents which have been sent to the people there. We should be glad that is the position.

I reiterate so-called punishment attacks are not an answer to anti-social behaviour, a point I have made on numerous occasions. Let me reaffirm there are no links between those who carry out these attacks and the party I represent in this House.

Prove it.

I am deeply disappointed at the thrust of the questions that have been directed at the Taoiseach. Deputy Quinn spends his time misrepresenting the Sinn Féin position for reasons that have nothing to do with the reality on the ground in Belfast but everything to do with the reality on the ground that he is facing in the city of Dublin and elsewhere.

On 4 May the European Court of Human Rights made one of its most significant judgments ever in relation to Ireland when it judged that the British Government was guilty of abuse of human rights in the killing by its armed forces of 11 Irish people in the Six Counties. Will the Taoiseach back the call of the relatives who won this case for an international UN-led investigation into British state killings? Does he agree this should include assassinations by British forces and loyalists in the Twenty-Six Counties, such as the killing ten years ago of my party colleague and very dear friend, Donegal county councillor, Eddie Fullerton, in whose case there is compelling evidence of collusion between loyalists and British forces?

While the court did not reach a judgment on the lawfulness of the legal force used, it raised serious questions about the adequacy of the subsequent investigation, specifically in regard to the independence of the police investigations, the scope of the inquests and the proceedings, and the Director of Public Prosecutions. All those issues were spelt out in the investigations into Loughgall and other human rights issues. I have met several human rights action groups over the past six or seven years. They fought on this issue and were satisfied that they had made a substantive issue of this.

The awarding of damages by the court underlines the view of the court regarding the adequacy of the investigations. With regard to the Government's position, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been asked to meet a representative of the groups to discuss the human rights issues that arise from the judgment and he has fixed a meeting following the British general election.

The Taoiseach referred to the human rights commission. Grave concern has been expressed that the commission in this State exists only in shadow form and the chief executive has yet to be appointed, which is preventing the commission from getting up and running. Is the Taoiseach aware the commission in the Six Counties is significantly advanced in its work by comparison and is preparing to go into the realm of a public consultation phase on a proposed Bill of rights? How does he respond to the criticism of his Government's approach to the European Convention on Human Rights Bill by the president-elect of the Human Rights Commission, former Supreme Court judge, Donal Barrington? Does all this not represent a serious setback to what should be an all-Ireland approach to human rights?

The legislation will, I hope, be passed shortly and the resources are already in place. There were difficulties late last year regarding the make-up and formation of the commission. That will happen and we will move very quickly to make up whatever ground has been lost. The Department has not lost all that time because it has continued to progress work over the past five or six months. As soon as the legislation is passed, the staff are appointed and the resources are expended by the Department, the commission will be up and running quickly.

I wish to put two supplementary questions. The incidence of punishment beatings has increased by 40% since the start of the year to a total of 73 in the first five months. Does the Taoiseach's Department or the Department of Foreign Affairs log and examine these incidents? If the information is available, will the Taoiseach indicate how many are attributable to the republican movement and to loyalist paramilitaries? Does he think the increasing incidence of attacks is connected to the election campaign and that there is an attempt to intimidate for electoral purposes? What plans has he to ensure during the general election here in the next 12 months the republican movement will not intimidate, impersonate or try to attack our democratic institutions by subterfuge?

The figures are logged and monitored. Many groups continually raise these issues with my Department or the Department of Foreign Affairs and come in for meetings several times a year. A keen interest is taken in the figures. I do not have the figures but I was informed this morning that the figures inThe Irish Times were correct. It stated that loyalist paramilitaries had been blamed for 48 of the incidents, with republicans responsible for 25.

On the question of ensuring that progress is made on these issues and that they are not used for electoral purposes, I understand that in many of these communities there has been an enormous amount of pressure by people because public order has diminished, presumably due to the fact that things were done differently in the past. I do not have particular information on whether that has increased recently but the resolution of this problem, both in terms of those who are receiving punishment beatings and those who are meting out this kind of treatment, is to have proper policing on the ground. That applies here as much as in Northern Ireland. When there is an acceptable police force which is doing its job, with the proper powers and laws, these issues can be controlled. That is the resolution. I know that can only happen when the outstanding issues are resolved but it is the way forward and that is why people have to be determined to do it.

In relation to intimidation or the misuse of any of the voting procedures, that is not an issue on which I have had discussion but clearly it is a matter of concern which has been raised with me by many public representatives.

I understand that the United States Government has included the Real IRA in its list of terrorist organisations. Why did it take this Government so long after the atrocity at Omagh to make representations to the US Government to have the Real IRA included in this list? Almost two years elapsed before the Taoiseach made diplomatic representation to have the Real IRA included in the terrorist list in the United States.

As we have always made the case, these dissident groups are acting against the express wish of the Irish people. From the time that organisation was set up in the autumn of 1997, representations and discussions took place with the American administration to assist in every way to thwart its activities, and those continued. The action that has taken place has gone on for the past year or so. The decision was not Government to Government alone. It was based on the best advice of the police authorities in the United Kingdom and here that that recommendation be made.

A case was made at an early stage that dealing with the Real IRA in this form may not have the desired effect on the ground. In the early period it was felt that it might be the wrong thing to do and, while the organisation has been listed for a considerable time, it was not on the current classification. In terms of the additional effects of designation, it was listed as a terrorist organisation but it is now unlawful for a person in the US to provide funds or other material support to a designated organisation. Representatives and certain members of the organisation can be denied visas or excluded from the United States. I understand there are 27 organisations worldwide which have that designation. It also means that US financial institutions can block funds from designated organisations and their agents. Many of the organisations from Northern Ireland had not received that designation and it was only the consideration of the information from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform over the past 18 months, based on the reports of the British and the Garda intelligence, that led it to go all the way. The American administration is not anxious to put everybody on that separate list. It had listed the Real IRA as a terrorist organisation but this is a distinct identity as a designated terrorist organisation.

In respect of Question No. 11 in my name, which refers to the issue of decommissioning, yesterday we put through the order to extend the regulations under the Decommissioning Act to make them operative until February of next year in line with the United Kingdom authorities. In the course of his recent meetings with the leadership of the republican movement, has the Taoiseach sought from it an indication as to why it has not yet initiated, in any significant way, the process of decommissioning beyond the point of contact with the de Chastelain Commission in light of the extraordinary progress that has been made on all other fronts in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including the increase in popular support for it from both communities in Northern Ireland, as evidenced in the opinion polls published today? If he has raised the question of decommissioning with the republican movement and its leadership, what response, if any, has he got from them?

I have raised this issue endlessly, including in the last two meetings which I referred to in my original reply. Some ongoing progress is being made with the de Chastelain Commission but we have not reached the desired situation. I hope those deliberations will lead to action. It is important that they do so and that we continue to make progress.

The ultimate resolution of this issue is linked with the other issues in one form or other. We can make progress and we have had inspections and discussions between John de Chastelain and the head of the independent commission body. We have also had dialogue on a number of fronts but that still has not been sufficient. That effort is continuing and will continue even during the election period.

Sinn Féin would say it is using its best efforts to keep guns silent in the first place and to try to find a resolution of this issue, not just in terms of the Good Friday Agreement but all the discussions which took place since. Sinn Féin has made that very clear and since May last year the republican movement has been committed to putting arms beyond use in a way that is acceptable to the public at large. That is what we still have to achieve.

Is it fair to say it still cannot persuade itself?

Not persuaded to achieve what we would all like to achieve.