Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Gay Mitchell


1 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. [15043/02]

Following the talks at Weston Park last summer, the two Governments published a package of proposals on 1 August to address the key outstanding issues of the Good Friday Agreement – policing, decommissioning, demilitarisation and the stability of the institutions. Since then, we have been able to make progress across the range of issues.

The new Policing Board has been established since November and has made encouraging progress in tackling a number of difficult and sensitive issues. It has also appointed the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, Hugh Orde, as the new Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Government congratulates Mr. Orde on his appointment and looks forward to working closely with him when he assumes duty later this summer.

I cannot stress enough the importance of achieving the Agreement's goal of securing a police service which attracts the support of all sections of the community. It is encouraging that new recruitment to the PSNI is representative of both communities. Against the background of recent violence in interface areas across Northern Ireland, the PSNI also needs to demonstrate that it can deal in a proactive, consistent and impartial way with events on the street in order that it can develop and retain cross-community support and confidence.

The Government remains committed to the full implementation of the Patten report. We welcome the continuing role of the oversight commissioner, Tom Constantine, in benchmarking that process and look forward to the time when all parties in Northern Ireland support and participate in the new policing arrangements.

Two acts of IRA decommissioning have been carried out since last August, the most recent in April when the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported it had witnessed an event in which a substantial and varied amount of weapons was put beyond use. Progress is also being made on security normalisation, including the undertaking of the demilitarisation measures specified in the Weston Park package. In January, additional measures were announced, including the closure of Ebrington Barracks in Derry and the dismantling of the observation tower at Glassdrummond in south Armagh. In May a significant financial package was announced by the British Government which will allow regeneration of specified former military bases for local investment and community purposes.

In regard to allegations of collusion by the security forces, the Government's position remains that a public inquiry into the murder in 1989 of the human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane, is necessary. The Irish and British Governments have recently appointed Canadian judge, Peter de Cory, to investigate this and other cases, including those of Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill. Both Governments have agreed to implement his recommendations, including where he recommends that a public inquiry be established.

The institutions of the Agreement are continuing their important work. The North-South Ministerial Council will meet again in plenary session tomorrow in Armagh, bringing together representatives of the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The British-Irish Council held its third summit in Jersey on Friday, 14 June with the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair in attendance.

The Secretary of State and I jointly chaired a meeting of the pro-Agreement parties at Hillsborough yesterday. This implementation group provided a valuable forum for the parties to review the progress that has been made, address the current strains within the process and renew our collective determination to achieve the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects.

There are issues of confidence on all sides, which need to be addressed. This is primarily the reason the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair are planning a visit next week to Northern Ireland to meet all the parties and renew our collective commitment to the process. We now need to focus not only on implementation, but also on the consolidation of the Agreement. We need to find positive and creative ways to demonstrate to people that the Agreement works for them and is delivering for all parts of the community. We will continue our efforts, together with the British Government and the pro-Agreement parties, to ensure the Agreement is implemented in full and its institutions, which represent its democratic core, are further consolidated and secured.

I take the opportunity to welcome the progress made in implementing the Good Friday Agreement and join the Minister in wishing the new Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland well. In relation to the recent Panorama programme on BBC, which alleged collusion between the security services in Northern Ireland in the death of Mr. Finucane, has the Minister raised the matter with his counterpart in the British Government, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, since it was broadcast and, if so, when?

Does he expect that the Canadian judge, Peter de Cory, will be able to get to the bottom of these allegations? Does he agree that if both sides of the community in Northern Ireland are to be encouraged to continue to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland and develop such support, the serious allegations of the nature of those broadcast by Panorama need to be fully and thoroughly investigated and that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done?

The Deputy, whom I congratulate on his appointment as spokesman for foreign affairs, will be aware that we have been dealing with this issue for a long time, nearly 13 years now. While the Government retained its stated position of seeking a public inquiry at Weston Park, as a result of discussions it held there, it obtained the agreement of the British Government to appoint Mr. Justice de Cory to examine all papers. Both Governments have given a prior commitment to implement his recommendation, whatever that may be.

The matters referred to in the recent television programme add to the legitimate concern many people have expressed in relation to this and other cases. We await also the publication of the Stephen's report on this matter. I assure the Deputy that the British Government is totally aware of the Government's position. As I said, in the past week or thereabouts we have formally appointed Mr. Justice Peter de Cory as part of the Weston Park proposals. I am delighted to have met him and I am very satisfied he will deal with this matter in a very professional and conscientious way. I am glad a person of his international repute, who has experience in human rights law, will be given this task. He has indicated to both myself and the Taoiseach that he intends dealing with his task as quickly as possible given the complexities involved. The Deputy can be assured that these matters are a priority for the Government.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I seek to have a matter clarified. I am aware that it has been the practice in the past that questions which are elsewhere on the Question Paper can be taken, provided they relate to issues raised on Priority Questions. I tabled Parliamentary Question No. 75—

This has not been the case in recent times. At the time the Standing Order was that only Deputies nominated for the priority question were in a position to ask supplementary questions, which was very unfair to Deputies who had questions which were not priority questions. For this reason, they were separated.

So, it is the case that one cannot—

I call on Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

I wish again to express my disappointment at not having access to priority questions.