Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

74 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent appointment of a new Chief Constable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland; his views on the rate or progress towards broadly acceptable policing in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14818/02]

The Government welcomed the decision on 29 May to appoint Mr. Hugh Orde, the Deputy Assistant Chief Constable of the London Metropolitan Police, as the new Chief Constable for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In publicly congratulating Mr. Orde, I stressed the significance of the Chief Constable being chosen for the first time through open competition by representatives of the community which he will serve. Mr. Orde will take up duty at a challenging and potentially rewarding time. Dealing with public order situations in a fair and effective manner, earning the confidence of the whole community and establishing a positive working relationship with the Policing Board are key objectives. Overriding these is the central challenge of making the vision outlined in the Patten recommendations a reality for the people of Northern Ireland.

There have been many positive policing developments since the inauguration of the Police Service of Northern Ireland last November. The Policing Board has demonstrated its professionalism and strength of purpose in being able to craft skilful solutions to a host of issues. These included the decisions on the new emblem and the considered response to the Omagh reports. The first batch of new police officers selected on a 50-50 basis graduated on 5 April. North-South policing co-operation has been enhanced with the signing on 29 April of an intergovernmental agreement covering all areas of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as recommended in the Patten report.

Upon gaining his new position, Mr. Orde promised that his tenure as Chief Constable would be as open and transparent as possible. The Patten proposals for restructuring special branch and amalgamating it with criminal division need to be implemented fully and without delay. The role of Tom Constantine, the independent oversight commissioner with responsibility for overseeing the full and effective implementation of the Patten recommendations, is crucial in this regard. He has already signalled concern at a lack of progress in implementing the relevant Patten recommendations on special branch restructuring and he is expected to return to this issue again in his next progress report, due in September.

I also look forward to the establishment in the near future of the district policing partnerships, as recommended by Patten, which will assist the process of building local confidence in policing. Overall, the Government looks forward to continued implementation of the Patten recommendations and the creation of new policing structures in Northern Ireland. I would like to take this opportunity to condemn the despicable bomb attack on a Catholic recruit to PSNI which occurred recently in Ballymena and call on everyone in the community to give the new Chief Constable, the new recruits, and the new police service as a whole, the support they need to provide an effective, impartial and accountable policing service to all the people of Northern Ireland.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

75 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations made to him, the meetings he has held and action taken, in relation to the siege of Short Strand in Belfast. [14516/02]

Finian McGrath

Question:

76 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that most of the recent sectarian violence is coming from one section of the community, particularly in Belfast and Larne; and the practical steps he will take to ensure that this breach of the Good Friday Agreement is dealt with in a sensitive and realistic manner. [14671/02]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

114 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with the British authorities regarding the continued outbreaks of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland; the steps being taken to ensure that all people in Northern Ireland can enjoy the right to freedom from sectarian harassment as set out in the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15095/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 76 and 114 together.

Intense and continued sectarian violence has blighted a number of areas of Northern Ireland, particularly over the past year. Areas of Belfast and several towns and villages, particularly in County Antrim, have been affected by sectarian attacks. These have ranged from sectarian pipe bomb campaigns to individual assaults and, last January, Danny McColgan, a postal worker, was murdered as a result of sectarian hatred. Last weekend a nationalist pensioner, a taxi driver and a group of students suffered vicious attacks in Belfast. In Larne, where officials from my Department have been in contact with residents, a campaign of sectarian attacks targeting Catholics continues unabated.

There has been a pervasive sense of siege in the Short Strand area of east Belfast in the past six weeks. Residents have been attacked by pipe bombs, blast bombs, paint, petrol bombs and ball bearings and have been denied access to essential amenities such as post offices, pharmacies and doctors' surgeries. There have also been attacks on loyalist homes in the area. The Government is gravely concerned about the intensity and frequency of sectarian attacks and their devastating impact on those targeted. The Taoiseach raised his concerns about the Short Strand and other areas of sectarian violence with the British Prime Minister on 14 June. I have met political representatives from the Short Strand and, during a meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I stressed the need for effective and impartial policing and increased security measures to protect the residents of Short Strand and the interface areas.

I have said on many occasions that concerns about policing and security measures apply equally to nationalist communities in north Belfast, Larne, Ballycastle, Carrickfergus and elsewhere in the North where residents have suffered as a result of sectarianism. It should not be overlooked that nationalist youths have also subjected the Protestant Fountain estate in Derry to sectarian attacks. Officials from my Department and the Government's representatives at the Intergovernmental Conference in Belfast have been in regular contact with local elected and community representatives in north and east Belfast, Larne and elsewhere. They have visited these areas a number of times to assess the situation at first hand. Delegations of local residents have also met with officials of my Department to outline their concerns. The residents' concerns have been raised with the British authorities on a number of occasions, including through the framework of the Intergovernmental Conference.
It is important to acknowledge that nationalist communities are not the only ones under attack. As I said earlier, sectarian attacks have occurred in the Fountain area in Derry. They have also occurred in areas near the Short Strand, such as Cluan Place where Protestant pensioners have been forced to leave their homes, and Protestants have suffered at certain interfaces in north Belfast. A call for impartial policing means, of course, that those who attack Protestant communities should be brought to account. I know Deputies will join me in condemning sectarian attacks, irrespective of the constituency from which they emanate. As the marching season unfolds, officials of my Department will continue to maintain close contact with local political and community representatives and will liaise on an ongoing basis with the British Government to ensure that the right to freedom from sectarian harassment and attack, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, is upheld.

Finian McGrath

Question:

77 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Holy Cross primary school is in danger of closing due to recent sectarian strife and the proposed building of a so-called security wall; and if he will intervene in a positive way to save the school. [14672/02]

The protest at Holy Cross Girls' primary school in Ardoyne was suspended in late November, following a series of meetings between the First and Deputy First Ministers and representatives of the protesters and the Ardoyne parents. These meetings, together with proposals aimed at addressing local concerns about security, traffic and community development, helped to create the context for a discontinuation of the protest. Since then, officials have been involved in efforts to finalise the proposals and reach cross-community agreement on their implementation. In mid-May and again in early June, the First and Deputy First Ministers wrote to the involved parties proposing a programme of action covering three elements: community dialogue, community safety and agreed principles for building trust and confidence. However, the Glenbryn and Ardoyne communities have yet to reach agreement on this package of measures.

Although there was broad agreement on many aspects of the package, the proposal to erect a 2m high wall around a number of houses at Alliance Avenue-Ardoyne Road as part of the community safety measures has become a source of contention between the two communities. In the absence of local agreement on the package, work has not proceeded on the erection of the proposed wall. Despite the disagreement over the wall, the agreed principles for building trust and confidence proposed by the First and Deputy First Ministers were acceptable to both communities. These principles stated,inter alia, that both sides will work to discourage attacks, that a contact mechanism will be put in place on a 24 hour basis to enable both sides to defuse incidents, that community facilities such as leisure centres, health centres and post offices will be safely accessed by all residents, that the respective communities hold Holy Cross and Wheatfield primary schools in special regard and that the future of both schools should be recognised and protected. Agreement on these principles was an important step forward and can form the basis for future agreement.
A number of community representatives have stated that dialogue between the two communities may represent the best way out of the current disagreement. Given the levels of hurt and distrust between the two communities – which clearly existed prior to the school protest but were greatly exacerbated by it – efforts must be made to build contacts and relationships across the community divide. I encourage political and community representatives to take this work forward as a matter of urgency.
Concerns have been expressed about the possibility of the school protest being reactivated by the Glenbryn residents in response to the disagreement over the wall. Therefore, the assurances given by the Glenbryn residents at a meeting on Monday night last that they would not reinstate the protest are most welcome. That protest and the tensions surrounding it were deeply wounding to the children and parents and were not in the best interests of the residents of the area. There should never be a repeat of the dreadful scenes witnessed outside the school last autumn. Since last June, when the protest began, the Government has followed developments in Ardoyne very closely. Officials of my Department have maintained ongoing contact with those directly involved in the Holy Cross situation and with political and community leaders in north Belfast. I have asked them to continue to monitor the situation in the coming weeks and to report to me on developments there.