1 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process. [20913/01]
Vol. 541 No. 5
1 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process. [20913/01]
2 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the Northern Ireland First Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20914/01]
3 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20915/01]
4 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20916/01]
5 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. [20917/01]
7 Mr. Shatter asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the reported involvement of three members of the republican movement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, FARC, and the implications of their arrest in Columbia for the Northern Ireland peace process. [21108/01]
9 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the outcome of the discussions at Weston Park, England, with the British Government and the Northern Ireland political parties; the progress made in implementing the proposals agreed in those talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21399/01]
10 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the British Prime Minister regarding the implementation of the new policing arrangements for Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21400/01]
11 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the Ulster Unionist Party since the conclusion of the Weston Park talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21401/01]
12 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the SDLP since the conclusion of the Weston Park talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21402/01]
13 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with Sinn Féin since the conclusion of the Weston Park talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21403/01]
14 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his views on the IRA statement of 14 August 2001 withdrawing the offer it had made to put weapons beyond use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21404/01]
15 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he raised at his most recent meeting with Sinn Féin the issue of the three reported members of the republican movement who were arrested in suspicious circumstances in Columbia; if so, the response he has received from Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21405/01]
16 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting on 11 September 2001 with President Bush's adviser on Northern Ireland, Mr. Richard Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21406/01]
18 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the British Prime Minister regarding the situation in Northern Ireland since the Weston Park talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21436/01]
19 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21437/01]
21 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his role in developments in the peace process since the adjournment of Dáil Éireann for the summer recess. [21448/01]
23 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions in London on 19 September 2001 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21715/01]
24 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in Downing Street on 19 September 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21782/01]
25 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting in the margins of the special EU summit on 21 September 2001 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21783/01]
26 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with the parties in Northern Ireland during the 2001 summer recess of Dáil Éireann. [22145/01]
27 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, during the 2001 summer recess of Dáil Éireann. [22146/01]
30 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the British Prime Minister since 4 October 2001. [22963/01]
31 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting on 2 October 2001 with the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. David Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23014/01]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, 7, 9 to 16, inclusive, 18, 19, 21, 23 to 27, inclusive, and 30 and 31 together.
The possible withdrawal of the Unionist parties from the Executive following Monday's votes in the Northern Ireland Assembly clearly represents a most serious threat to the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement. The two Governments will obviously continue in their efforts but at this testing time I urge the maximum flexibility on all sides and the use to the fullest of all the time available, which clearly is narrowing.
It is vital that confidence and momentum be restored if we are to get the process back on track. That means moving forward on all of the outstanding elements of the Agreement as set out by the Governments following the discussions at Weston Park. It means ensuring that the question of arms is progressed and all parties working to ensure the full and stable operation, on an inclusive basis, of all of the institutions created under the Agreement.
In the course of our discussions with the political parties at Weston Park in July, considerable progress was made on the outstanding issues in relation to policing, the stability of the institutions, security normalisation and decommissioning. Our objective was to put together a comprehensive package that would achieve the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We put that package to the parties on 1 August.
There have been a number of significant developments since then and it continues to be the aim of both Governments to bring about the full implementation of the Agreement. A new beginning in policing is a central dimension of the Agreement. The decision in mid-August by the SDLP to make nominations to the new police board and the district policing partnerships was clearly an important step by that party and one which the Government welcomed. I also welcome the decision by Unionist parties to nominate members to these bodies. The chairman and vice-chairman of the board, Professor Desmond Rea and Denis Bradley, working together, have a pivotal role in directing the work of the board in its crucial start-up period when many key issues will have to be addressed. I hope Sinn Féin will in time also find it possible to participate and contribute to this new beginning in policing.
Putting arms beyond use is an indispensable part of implementing the Agreement. The agreement of a scheme for putting arms beyond use was confirmed in the IRA statement of 8 August. I was naturally disappointed by its later statement of 14 August, when this offer was withdrawn. The more recent statement by the IRA of 19 September confirmed that the IRA would intensify engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) with a view to accelerating progress towards a comprehensive resolution of the arms issue. This statement is an indication of renewed progress and a step in the right direction.
Over the summer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have been actively engaged in seeking to move the process forward. I met bilaterally the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, most recently in Downing Street on 19 September and in the margins of the special EU summit in Brussels on 21 September, and with the leaders of the pro-Agreement parties. I also maintain frequent telephone contact with them, including with the Prime Minister on Monday last. I had the opportunity to meet the Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, yesterday. I will meet a deputation from the SDLP later this afternoon. On Tuesday, 2 October, I had a very useful meeting with Mr. David Trimble who was accompanied by Acting First Minister Sir Reg Empey. The Minister for Foreign Affairs also kept in touch with the pro-Agreement parties and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. John Reid, and met with him on 11 August in Belfast to discuss the restoration of the devolved government in Northern Ireland and also on 21 September in Brussels, following the expiry of the six week period and the further suspension which was announced earlier that day. The Executive and the Assembly were subsequently restored for an additional six weeks.
All these discussions were focused on advancing progress on the outstanding issues. The situation is obviously difficult and we are all very mindful that time is pressing. We, and all the parties that support the Agreement, must continue our efforts to find a way forward. I urge everyone to avail of the limited time now available and not lose sight of the considerable progress that has been made in recent years. If we can work our way through the current impasse we can continue to build on this progress.
Among the issues which I discussed with Mr. David Trimble was the motion tabled by the UUP proposing the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the Executive. From the very beginning of this process, the Government considered that a crucial strength of the process was its inclusiveness. We continue to take the view that any departure from that risks serious damage to the process as does any failure to fully implement the various elements of the Agreement.
In my contacts with Sinn Féin, I raised our concerns regarding events in Colombia and their effect on confidence in the process. The Department of Foreign Affairs' consular service is maintaining contact with the people concerned and their representatives.
I take this opportunity to condemn in the strongest possible terms the vicious and cold blooded murder of Martin O'Hagan on Friday, 28 September and to offer my deepest sympathy to Martin's family and his colleagues at the Sunday World. Press freedom is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society. Investigative journalists like Martin serve the people and the democratic process by fearlessly investigating and impartially reporting on events and situations, without fear or favour to any person or party. The evil people who seek to serve their own agenda by the use of violence and intimidation must be stopped and they must not be allowed to deflect the will of the people for a peaceful society.
I also condemn the recent violence in north Belfast and the ongoing protest at Holy Cross school, Ardoyne. I call on all public representatives and church leaders, particularly at local level, to ensure that tensions are lessened and that inter-community dialogue takes place in a calm and reasonable way. No community's interests are served by violence and no one should be led down the cul-de-sac of sectarianism and violence.
I met Ambassador Richard Haass on Tuesday, 11 September. As the meeting was about to commence, we learned of the terrible events that were happening in the United States. Naturally, while we focused on matters relating to Northern Ireland, our discussion was largely devoted to the attacks on the United States.
I take this opportunity to express my own and the Government's deep appreciation to the leader of the SDLP, Mr. John Hume, for all of his magnificent public service. It was with a sense of sadness that I learned of his decision to step down as leader of the SDLP. For more than 30 years John has laboured tirelessly in the search for lasting peace on this island. Throughout difficult, dark days he did not falter in his insistence that dialogue was the only way forward and he did not tire in his efforts to persuade others to come around the table. While the award of the Nobel Peace prize was a fitting recognition of his commitment to the achievement of lasting peace, an even greater recognition of his contribution is the esteem and affection in which he is held by the people of Ireland. To John and his wife, Pat, I extend our deepest gratitude for the many years of tireless, selfless endeavour.
I pay tribute too, to Seamus Mallon, who announced his decision to step down as Deputy Leader of the SDLP. Seamus has also played a central role in the political life of Northern Ireland over many years.
In his role as Deputy First Minister he has worked and will continue to work tirelessly for all the people of Northern Ireland. He played a pivotal role in the work which is leading to the achievement of a new police service for Northern Ireland.
I remind Members we are dealing with Questions Nos. 1 to 31, excluding Nos. 6, 8, 17, 20, 22, 28 and 29. These questions will be taken with the next group. They relate to the USA and President Bush, and supplementaries on these matters should be held over until we reach that group of questions.
(Dublin West): The Taoiseach dealt exclusively with his discussions with the British Prime Minister on Northern Ireland, but the questions are more embracing, and I wish to ask him in particular the discussions he had regarding the horrific events of 11 September and the subsequent war.
Those supplementaries can be asked under the next group of questions. The questions have been divided to deal with the matter and I understand this is at the request of Members.
(Dublin West): So I should hold my supplementary questions on the Taoiseach's discussions with Mr. Blair on the war until we reach the next group of questions.
Yes. This group of questions refers to Northern Ireland.
I wish to be associated with the Taoiseach's tributes to John Hume and Seamus Mallon, and I also wish to include Seán Neeson in the complimentary remarks. There is a changing of the guard in Northern Ireland and I hope the new generation will be able to build on the very solid foundations established by these great Irishmen.
Does the Taoiseach find recent reports suggesting the UUP is delaying its disengagement from the institutions encouraging? Will he give his view on whether the current slightly more positive atmosphere is likely to yield enough progress to save the institutions from collapse?
I also want to include Seán Neeson, a very fine person, in my comments.
Regarding the Deputy's question, it is too early to say. The tone of Monday's meeting in terms of Northern Ireland debates was not as bad as it could have been, and many useful things were said in the course of it. The extension in time, while only a matter of days, is clearly helpful. However, it is too early to say if that will assist the situation. There have been useful dialogue and meetings, but I cannot report that anything substantive is about to happen which will solve the problem. We have to maintain our efforts. The tone of the debate over the past week or ten days has moderated to a more helpful level which may allow us to have a more reasoned debate, and I am thankful for that.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave a formal role to the Irish Government to put forward views and proposals about matters in Northern Ireland and which put an obligation on the British Government to deal with those views and proposals, no longer applies. In a worst case scenario and if the Good Friday Agreement collapses, is it the policy of the Government to negotiate a new formal arrangement with the British Government so Governments in this jurisdiction may continue to put forward views and proposals to which the British Government would be statutorily obliged to listen?
There is no question but that the old bunker and fortress arrangement which previously operated has been replaced by a more civilised and useful arrangement which is accepted by all sides. However, it has not changed our involvement. The British Government totally accepts the position of us communicating our views and of them communicating their decisions for discussion. Satisfactory replies are not always received, but it operates effectively and I see no change being made to that position. Mutual trust has been built up over a long number of years which effectively means any new proposals brought forward by the British Government or any appointments they make are communicated to the Irish Government giving us an opportunity to express a considered opinion. I do not think that will change regardless of what happens.
On the basis of the information available to him, is it the Taoiseach's understanding that the Provisional IRA continues to store, train in and use weapons and to organise paramilitary beatings in this jurisdiction? Does he share the view of the Garda Síochána, in accordance with numerous newspaper articles, that the Provisional IRA has been behind a number of murders in this jurisdiction since the renewal of the ceasefire in 1997?
The security reports available to me from the Garda and the North indicate lesser activity and involvement by the Provisional IRA than existed over the years. Clearly the movement is still in place, intact and organised. I am not quite sure about the extent of its training or targeting. The structure of the army council of the Provisional IRA, if not its actions, still appears to be in place.
In the discussions he has had recently with the republican leadership arising from the expectation following the Weston Park meeting, and in view of what he has just said, namely, that to all intents and purposes the Provisional IRA is alive and well in this jurisdiction, albeit at a lower level of activity, does the Taoiseach think they will ever decommission? Have we all been fooling ourselves? Has this just been a charade, given they are maintaining an organisation on a semi-active footing on one hand and on the other are refusing to give effect to the clear understanding we have? After the Weston Park discussions with the republican leadership, specifically Gerry Adams, his deputy leader,
Martin McGuinness, and others, does the Taoiseach agree that all we have had are weasel words and that in reality we will never have decommissioning?
The Deputy has raised a number of questions. My clear understanding after the meeting in Weston Park was that we were going to have progress on a number of fronts, namely, the stability of the institutions, policing and decommissioning. In the first week of August it seemed as if what we all described as an historical move forward would occur within a relatively short period, and the fact it did not happen was a disappointment. The republican movement and the leadership of Sinn Féin have explained that the issues were taken off the agenda because of the negative reaction of the British Government and the UUP which did not embrace their statements or actions. More positively, the speech by the President of Sinn Féin last week acknowledged that since 11 September the world is a different place and that national and international opinion has changed. He has also emphasised that terrorism, violence or paramilitarism are not compatible. That is a significant statement. Over the past number of years we have also seen the Sinn Féin leadership endeavour to move those who would be associated with them away from a campaign of violence. We have had a number of years of more peaceful times even if there have been breakaways from that.
However, there are still difficulties, including that which occurred over the summer. There are issues relating to the republican movement and what people thought would happen after the Weston Park meeting. An enormous amount of time and effort went into that meeting and I continue to bore people by saying that it was not just the week we spent in Weston Park, but it was a process which began on 11 January. From that date to 1 August is a long period in anyone's life and considerable effort was put into it only to see it fritter away over a few hours. However, that is the reality.
I still believe that point is still where it has to be picked up. That process set down clearly what everybody has to do in all areas. As I have previously said to the House, I cannot think of any better resolutions than those we have set down. We are now dealing with the stability of the institutions. We set down precisely how we believe the stability of the institutions should be dealt with. We set down how we believed the issue of policing would be dealt with and even though it has not moved on fully, it has moved on substantially. We set down where we thought demilitarisation would go and what should happen on decommissioning. The two Governments are working with the parties to that.
Since then we have had the terrible difficulties in the Ardoyne, intimidation of young children, attacks on Catholics' homes and the extension of violence by the UDA and other paramilitary elements. Any killing is one too many, but there could have been even more. There has been an escalation of violence on the streets. The ferocity of the sectarian violence over the past few weeks has been quite horrific because we are not making progress on the political front.
There are so many other good initiatives. On the North-South bodies we have had things like Coolkeeragh, the road network between Dublin and Belfast and issues relating to gas as well as enterprise and trade issues being dealt with by the Tánaiste and Sir Reg Empey. A number of positive things have continued right up to now. To jeopardise all of that by not moving on does not make any political sense especially for Northern Ireland.
We should look at how far we have moved rather than issues that have not been addressed. That is what the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, Secretary of State, Mr. Reid, along with my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and I have been painfully trying to explain every day to the various parties and delegations that we meet. However, we cannot do that unless the process gets the impetus it requires. Everybody knows what is required to inject life into the process – it is hardly necessary for me to outline it. If there is not life in it, then there will be violence, negative reactions and people on the streets. We cannot point to violence coming from just one area. The intimidation of the children going to the Holy Cross school in Ardoyne or any of the other acts are bad for everybody. Trying to blame one group or another will get us nowhere.
In his recent meetings with the British Prime Minister did the Taoiseach raise the issue of sectarian attacks by loyalist paramilitaries, particularly in Belfast? There have been in excess of 150 pipe bombings, attacks on people's homes, murders and attempted murders. Has he received a security briefing revealing the view of the security forces in Northern Ireland about whether this campaign will continue? What are the grounds for the statement he has just made that these attacks are simply filling a vacuum left by the lack of political progress and if there were political progress these attacks would cease? Is there not equal evidence that if there were political progress not alone might these attacks continue, but they might even increase? Can the Taoiseach share the information he may have with the House? These matters are of great concern to many people in this jurisdiction and their frequency and virulence are beginning to undermine the agreement.
The evidence shows they are contrived and organised on a very sophisticated level. When strong efforts were made by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and me to ask the Secretary of State, John Reid, to act, this led to the almost total cessation of the acts on Friday, 28 September, when he issued a warning to the UDA. Up to then there was speculation that splinter groups were involved but this changed when he made it clear he would declare that the UDA was no longer on ceasefire. The change in the position was evident overnight. He also said that daily monitoring is desirable so that there will not be a drifting back, but the ferocity of activity, most notably in north Belfast and the Ardoyne school shows how vicious people can be in orchestrating the intimidation of young children and their parents, mainly mothers, on the way to school every day.
Over the past six or seven years, violence has been linked to periods when there was a political vacuum. There are people involved in criminal activity and people who do not want to see any political progress – I believe this is what Deputy Noonan was alluding to. These people fear that political progress would affect their illegal activities. However the turning on of paramilitary activity is different.
In light of the Taoiseach's comments regarding the excellent contribution made by both John Hume and Seamus Mallon – not to mention Sean Neeson, but particularly the SDLP leader and deputy leader, one of the most courageous things they did, prior to the announcement of their retirement, was to recommend that Nationalists in Northern Ireland join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. This is a key element in making an acceptable society a reality for all in Northern Ireland, including those suffering from sectarian hatred. Has the Taoiseach anything to say about the comments attributed to the President of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, that Nationalists of the republican movement would extend to the new police service the same treatment that they had extended to the RUC? This is a chilling reminder of the number of RUC members killed by the Provisional IRA in previous times. Has he raised this matter with the republican leadership in recent times?
I have, and it is well known that
I disagree entirely with Sinn Féin's view on policing. It is clear it equally disagrees with mine. However, if we look back on this issue, policing could not be resolved in the six months run up to the Good Friday Agreement. We agreed that we would need to get an independent body to look at the issue. Regardless of what was said about the chairman of that body, Chris Patten, when he was appointed – there is a report on the record of the House to the effect that we were not consulted about that – he did a very fine job. We had an input in regard to many of the individuals involved and they got together an outstanding team that worked from just a few months after the Good Friday Agreement right up until September 1999. Many eminent people were on that body. They travelled throughout the North, held public sessions, met the political parties and met the victims of violence.
It was generally believed when it issued a report in September 1999 that it was a balanced report. We then moved on to try to get full implementation on that. We had difficulties with the Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, on that issue because he rowed back from what was in the
Patten report. We took a strongly pro-Nationalist line on that because the understanding was that the Patten report would be implemented in full; I know all parties in the House took a similar view on that. We then engaged in a protracted 12 month period when the legislation went through up until the summer of 2000 when we differed with the British Government.
Last autumn we started to go back through the sections on which we believed there were differences or disagreements. I am not saying we solved every issue but the implementation plan for policing, which we then came to, was a major step. We passionately believe that we covered as many issues as was reasonably possible. We got a commitment that the oversight commissioner would carry out a review over this winter, and we got an agreement that the British Government would bring forward a further Bill to deal with these issues. While the policing board and the district policing committees would perhaps like all of these things to be in place now, at least an agreement was reached. I take that as a solemn agreement that the British Government will not break because the details of it are written down, and the obvious thing to do is move on. It will take about another year, perhaps even to the end of next year, for the review by Tom Considine and the legislation to be passed but at that stage we will be back to where we wanted to go originally. Rather than wait until then, however, it is better that we move on, so I fully agree with the Deputy's comment that the SDLP did the right thing. It was a brave thing to do. It is always easier to sit on the fence and not make a decision but the SDLP was brave to move forward. With the new chairman and vice-chairman, I believe we can make progress on policing.
The Deputy's last point is the most important one. Do not the events of every summer, but particularly the events of September, show that when we have a cross community policing service, everybody feels safer and we move away from the past? I would like to be able to say to any of the parties in the House that we can change all this in three months, but that is a nonsense. It is impossible. We are trying to change something that has existed for 70 or 80 years but we now have a blueprint to do that, and it is far better that the people who want to see that change are on the inside trying to direct it. The sad event of last week is that by Sinn Féin not taking up its seats it has given those seats to Unionist members. That is not a good idea but on a constructive note from Sinn Féin's point of view, I hope it will realise in time that we have achieved a great deal and that it will join in this process because that appears to be the logical thing to do.
Does the Taoiseach recall the letter from Mr. David Trimble to the members of the Ulster Unionist Council almost 12 months ago, 26 October 2000? In that letter, Mr. Trimble outlined his strategy to increase pressure on republicans and Nationalists progressively to place responsibility on republicans and "only that way can suspension be achieved"? Surely what we have now is the out-working of this Unionist strategy for suspension of the Good Friday institutions. What is the Taoiseach's view and the response of the Government to Mr. Trimble's statement to his colleagues 12 months ago? Also, does the Taoiseach not agree it is time the British Government ceased pandering to the Unionist veto?
The answer to that question is contained in the judicial findings of both the High Court and the Supreme Court in Northern Ireland. They have said that what Mr. David Trimble did on that occasion was wrong. We said that from the start and we all agreed with it. Trying to undermine the institutions or operate vetoes in them is clearly unhelpful and the legal process has answered that question. As we go forward, that ruling is now there. I remember well the morning that happened. It was the last Saturday in October. The Deputy and I will remember the reason Mr. David Trimble played that card on that morning, and I do not need to say any more. I disagreed with it but, in fairness, he is not here to answer. I remember why he did it.
Real and substantive progress will continue to be made on all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. That is the commitment of my party, but recognising that all of us have obligations to ensure the Agreement is fully implemented, does the Taoiseach agree that the difficulties that have to be resolved can best be resolved within the institutions? In his meeting with Mr. David Trimble last week, did the Taoiseach ask him to withdraw his threat to pull down the executive and effectively collapse the institutions, which he is now doing? Will he share that information with us?
Yes, that was the purpose of practically the entire meeting. The Irish Govern ment believes that it is only by an inclusive arrangement that we will ever make progress. That requires that decisions be made within the institutions. The institutions should try to carry out the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all respects. Taking a very broad approach to all of the issues raised is the only way forward. That means that the executive, the Assembly and the North-South bodies have to work effectively as well as the other arrangements that involve us on the interparliamentary tiers, both between here and Westminster and the Council of the Isles. That is the way forward. For that to happen effectively, however, we have to get a clear understanding, as outlined by the two Governments on 1 August, of what needs to be done and then remove the obstacles to those issues. Otherwise we will go around in circles until we crash into each other, and crash into the institutions, before we resolve these issues. Unfortunately, the agenda will not change. There are outstanding issues that have to be dealt with and neither the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, me or anybody else – I always appreciate the support of this House – can resolve those matters until the issues that are obvious and understood by everyone are dealt with. Only then can we move forward.
(Dublin West): I also condemn the brutal murder of Martin O'Hagan and other innocent victims shot by reactionary sectarians in the past months. I have criticised the structures set up under the Good Friday Agreement on many occasions for institutionalising sectarian division. It appears to be the case that the main parties, which are based on one side or other of the sectarian divide, are showing themselves to be increasingly incapable of bringing the situation forward and bridging the gap which, according to those who established them, the institutions negotiated under the Good Friday Agreement were supposed to do. Does the Taoiseach agree that there is an increasing and alarming separation of communities and territories along sectarian lines throughout the North and not only in north Belfast, and that this is a very dangerous development?
The appalling and reactionary events in Ardoyne, involving the intimidation of schoolchildren, is condemned by all, as are the pipe bomb attacks by loyalists. Does the Taoiseach agree that, unfortunately, intimidation and sectarianism are not only a one-way process and that many Protestants also feel intimidated in certain areas? In view of this, does he agree that a new movement among communities is required to try and establish some form of people power? The majority of people do not want what is happening where, however many constitute a minority, sectarian bigots are allowed to have the upper hand? Does he agree that a new movement of communities, including workers and their trade unions, which fortunately still remain united, is needed to mobilise people and sweep aside the increasing grip of the sectarian bigots on both sides and thereby avoid the danger of the North sliding into a Bosnia type situation?
Unusually I agree with much of what the Deputy has said. If the institutions are working well the public, whom they serve, will see the advantage, especially if every day issues are progressing and if there is confidence and trust that they will be resolved. This will happen even where people may be critical, as they are in the case of our institutions or any other parliament. From talking to those involved in agriculture in the North, I am aware how pleased they are that agriculture committees, involving Sinn Fein and other parties, have been chaired by Dr. Paisley, without fear or favour and in a fair way. It may be difficult for Sinn Féin and DUP representatives but Dr. Paisley is working very well with all parties.
When the institutions do not work well people become involved in the difficulties. We know why the situation in Ardoyne arose; it did not appear out of the blue. It arose because the Glenbryn Estate, which is adjacent to it, contains new residents who left the Shankill last year because of the difficulties arising from the feud among loyalists. They find it difficult to operate in a community that contains a Catholic school. That is the underlying problem. They have never had to live with this and it is very difficult for them.
The problem exists on both sides of the divide. Protestants are being intimidated out of Catholic areas and vice versa. It depends on where the line is drawn. None of us is foolish enough to believe this will be resolved overnight but if people believe that the normal democratic, policing and community structures are in place and working, including the involvement of the Civic Forum, change will take place. Only structures of that kind will move people on. In this process there is also room for the involvement of trade Unionists and others but I do not see that successfully happening if the main democratic structures, involving people in positions of influence, are not working. A close analysis of divisions along religious, ethnic and race lines in the North or elsewhere shows this to be the case. A fair and democratic structure must be seen to be working. That is the issue that must be quickly resolved, otherwise we will be in a worse position.
Last week the Taoiseach gave a commitment to the House that he would make urgent contact with the British Prime Minister regarding the decision to open a MOX plant at Sellafield. Has he obtained any commitment from the Prime Minister regarding future developments and where does the Government's campaign for the full closure of Sellafield stand?
It is not a campaign but the legal arrangements, both at EU level and under the terms of the OSPAR Convention, will proceed and are being intensified. The meeting took place last Friday involving the third party arbitrator. Most of these issues were agreed between Irish and British Government officials last week. I discussed the situation with Prime Minister Blair and gave him a full flavour of the views of the Government, the House and the public. He understands them but whether he acts on them will be seen in due course. He gave me a commitment that he would consult with his Minister and officials involved. He also explained the legal process, about which I was aware, and the statutory agency that has operated on the Sellafield plant for many years in the context of an independent structure. I told him I understood the legal structure but pointed out that a Minister continues to be closely involved. He said he would examine the issue more closely and talk to me again, which I intend to do.
Three Deputies have indicated supplementary questions on Northern Ireland. I will allow them to raise their questions briefly – Deputy Deenihan, Deputy Currie and Deputy Flanagan.
In the context of the Taoiseach's welcome for SDLP support for the new policing arrangements and the statements attributed to him by the media, has he approached the GAA with a view to the removal of rule 21 to allow members of the security forces to play Gaelic games, given that, I hope, a number of Nationalists will now apply to enlist in the new policing arrangements?
I join in the tributes to my former colleagues in the SDLP. Does the Taoiseach agree that whatever political points might be made about who is responsible to the threats to the power sharing institutions in Northern Ireland, it is clear now, as it has been for some time, that the threat is from the republican movement that has refused to decommission? While there is some hope at present, let us hope that if there is movement it will be meaningful and will not be dictated by temporary arrangements. Would the Taoiseach further agree that while it is a colossal disappointment that Sinn Féin has not even agreed to ask its supporters to take up their positions on the policing board, the reality is that there was never any hope of that happening and that remains the position? Let us hope it changes in the future but let us recognise the current reality and not fool ourselves.
It is almost three and a half years since the people, North and South, ratified, by way of referendum, the Good Friday Agreement. With regard to the holding of illegal arms in this jurisdiction, is a Garda unit actively pursuing the discovery or uncovering of arms dumps or has it been disbanded? Recent intelligence reports indicate the existence of significant arms caches and dumps throughout this jurisdiction, especially in my constituency. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Garda is in active daily pursuit of the location of these dumps with a view to bringing those responsible to justice immediately?
I have not been actively involved in asking the GAA to move on rule 21 but I am aware of its efforts in this regard.
Matters are best left to the organisation.
Regarding Deputy Currie's question, the issue of decommissioning is the central one. It is not, in fairness, the only issue. Many others were mentioned and the Supreme Court decision is one of them. That which relates to the policing issue was perhaps inevitable but it does not make much sense. The reality is that if there is to be a major change and if there is to be a move away from punishment beatings, community beatings and vigilante activities, the way forward is to have a police service which everybody can support and respect. After the legislation is introduced, after the implementation body's report and after Professor Tom Considine's review, the grounds for Sinn Féin's concerns will be removed. Even if it is a year on, it is logical for Sinn Féin to move.
That still will not do it.
Deputy Flanagan raised the question of arms. The position of the Garda has been stated by the Commissioner many times. All gardaí, all of the time, including the special task force, are continually involved in the search for illegally held arms. They have been rather successful on a number of occasions in the past year in terms of at least one of the paramilitary organisations. They seek illegal arms held by anyone.