Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

46 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date in implementing the Weston Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13115/02]

Question:

113 Mr. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the Weston Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15094/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 113 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, since the Governments presented the parties with a set of proposals aimed at resolving outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement on 1 August, significant progress has been made across the range of issues. David Trimble and Mark Durkan were jointly elected First and Deputy First Minister in the Assembly on 6 November and, in the period since, the institutions have been working on a full and inclusive basis.

A recent Summit of the British Irish Council took place in Jersey on 14 June where the knowledge economy was the lead item for discussion. A plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will take place in Armagh on 28 June. In addition, the Human Rights and Equality Commissions established under the Agreement continue to take forward their important work.

Yesterday, the Government and pro-Agreement parties met for the second time in an Implementation Group to take stock of progress, following our first such meeting on 28 March. In October, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning under General John de Chastelain reported the first act of decommissioning by the IRA. In April, the IICD reported that it had witnessed a further event in which a substantial and varied amount of weapons was put beyond use. In addition to the measures taken towards demilitarisation identified at Weston Park, the British Government has also announced the closure of Ebrington Barracks in Derry and the removal of a tower at Glassdrumman, South Armagh. Furthermore, a £200 million financial package has been created for Northern Ireland, which includes plans for the re-utilisation for local investment and regeneration purposes of Long Kesh – the Maze Prison, Crumlin Road Jail and the army bases at Magherafelt and Malone Road, Belfast.

The new Policing Board, comprising ten political members representative of the SDLP, UUP and DUP along with nine independent members, received its powers on 4 November, the same date on which the name change to Police Service of Northern Ireland took effect. The first PSNI recruits completed their training on 5 April. On 29 April, the board announced the appointment of Hugh Orde, formerly Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, as Chief Constable. Since it was established the board has dealt effectively with some sensitive issues, including the design of a badge and uniform for the PSNI and the report of the Policing Ombudsman into the Omagh investigation. It will, however, continue to face challenges in the period ahead, including the report of the Stevens inquiry into the Pat Finucane case in the autumn.
Reviews of the operation of the new policing arrangements, including by the Oversight Commissioner, Tom Constantine, and the review of Special Branch operations and procedures arising out of the Omagh investigation, are under way and reports are expected in October 2002, and before the end of the year, respectively. The British Government is committed to introduce legislation as soon as practicable thereafter to amend or clarify some provisions to reflect more fully the Patten report.
On 29 May the two Governments announced the appointment of a Canadian Judge, Justice Cory, to investigate allegations of collusion in six cases of concern, including Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. I believe this to be an important step along the road to truth and justice for the families of the victims. Justice Cory has said that he hopes to have his work completed in 18 months.
Despite this record of progress, sectarianism and paramilitary activity continues to be a serious cause of concern. Last autumn, loyalist protests around Holy Cross School in Ardoyne gave rise to inter-community tensions and violence in north Belfast, the repercussions of which continue to be felt. More recently, there has been serious violence and rioting in east Belfast around the small Nationalist enclave of Short Strand.
The Government believes that people with influence on all sides must work to calm matters down and to find long-term solutions to difficulties at interface areas. However, it is also vital that such situations be policed in an effective and fair manner if Nationalist confidence in the new beginning in policing is to be underpinned.
Despite the occasional stresses and strains in the process, good progress is being made in implementing the package of 1 August last. The two Governments will continue to work closely with the parties to maintain that forward momentum.