I wish to share my time with Deputies—
Private Members' Business. - Northern Ireland Issues: Motion (Resumed).
I thought I was to share it with Deputy Fiona O'Malley.
Deputies Fiona O'Malley, Brendan Smith, Devins and O'Connor.
I will work it out for the Minister, a Chathaoirligh. He is lost already.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I rise to support the Government amendment. I will focus in this debate on policing and criminal justice, particularly that part of the motion urging the Government to "promote all-Ireland policies and strategies across the full range of governmental responsibilities, recognising the benefits of an island-wide approach to public affairs for all the people of Ireland." In Northern Ireland, policing has changed more in the past 18 months than in the previous 80 years with the continuing implementation of the Patten reforms. The work of the policing board, the Police Ombudsman, the Oversight Commissioner, Chief Constable Orde and the Inspector of Constabulary has ensured that the vision of new policing set out in the Patten report is being made a reality.
In this jurisdiction I am in the course of introducing measures towards implementing the policing principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement. The Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland was set up pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement signed in Belfast in April 1998. That commission produced its report, known as the Patten report, in September 1999. The Patten report contained 175 recommendations. Nine of these related specifically to co-operation with the Garda Síochána. An intergovernmental agreement between Ireland and the UK on police co-operation was signed in Belfast on 29 April 2002. This agreement provides the basis for the Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Bill, which in turn provides the legal framework for the implementation of certain Patten recommendations, in so far as they involve the Garda Síochána, as well as providing for ongoing enhancement of police co-operation.
The Bill provides for the implementation of articles 1 and 2 of the intergovernmental agreement. Members of each police service are to be eligible to apply for certain posts in the other police service and a programme is to be put in place to enable members of each police service to be seconded with full police powers to the other police service for periods not exceeding three years. A further provision of the agreement provides for a programme of placements to be put in place to enable the transfer of experience and expertise, including in the area of training. This provision does not have any legislative implications as officers participating in that programme will not be exercising any police powers in the other jurisdiction. A formal protocol on these placements will be signed by the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable as soon as consultations with the Garda associations are finalised.
In addition to these provisions of the agreement, I should also mention the ongoing strengthening of co-operation between the two services, which is exemplified in the holding of the first annual conference in our national Garda training college in Templemore in March of last year. The convening of annual conferences between the Garda and the PSNI is provided for in article 4 of the intergovernmental agreement and a follow-up conference is planned for later this year. Last week, under article 8 of the agreement, a joint emergency planning exercise by a joint Garda-PSNI major disaster team took place on the Fermanagh-Leitrim border under the auspices of a European Union project co-funded by my Department. This practical exercise simulated an air disaster and responses by the appropriate agencies from the two jurisdictions and was observed and analysed by experts from participating EU member states.
Article 9 of the intergovernmental agreement provides for measures to be taken to facilitate joint investigations between the Garda and the PSNI, having regard to EU developments in this area. In this regard, Deputies will be aware that the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill has passed all stages in the Seanad and will be debated in this House shortly. The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the requirements of an EU Council framework decision which provides for the setting up of joint investigation teams by mutual consent of member states for a specific purpose and for a limited period. The teams will carry out criminal investigations with a cross-border dimension in one or more of the member states setting up the team. Effective co-operation is of increasing importance in our efforts to combat transnational crime. Law enforcement agencies must actively implement measures agreed by Governments to ensure boundaries do not militate against effective co-operation. The establishment and operation of joint investigation teams represents such a measure.
I have just returned from County Cavan, where a joint conference between the Garda and the PSNI has been in progress. The conference dealt with organised crime. I addressed the conference and spoke about the changing and evolving situation in policing in Northern Ireland. I indicated to the delegates at that conference that what we intend to produce in both parts of this island is a seamless dedication to the rule of law. I look forward to intensifying our relationship of co-operation with the PSNI with a view to ensuring that the rule of law applies right across this island and that organised crime cannot avail of the opportunity posed by the Border to defy the rule of law and the will of the people of this island, North and South.
Will that include MI5?
I also indicated to the conference that at official level, there has been agreement to explore, in the context of the full implementation of the legislative programme of which I speak and the protocols I have also mentioned, the possibility of further deepening the relationship by investigating whether aspects of the Schengen arrangements which apply between other states in the EU could also be applied in North-South policing co-operation. Officials will shortly meet to discuss issues such as cross-Border surveillance and hot pursuit, as well as the circumstances under which, with public support, those measures can be brought into operation in the fullness of time.
The provisions of the EU framework decision interact with a number of the recommendations in the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland, such as that the PSNI and the Garda Síochána should have written protocols covering key aspects of co-operation; that there should be a programme of long-term personnel exchanges between them in specialist areas, to which I have referred previously; and that consideration be given to establishing a provision for an immediate exchange of officers and pooling of investigative teams after major incidents with a substantial cross-Border dimension.
Deputies will recall that the Good Friday Agreement provided for "a wide-ranging review of criminal justice (other than policing . ) to be carried out by the British Government through a mechanism with an independent element, in consultation with the political parties and others." A comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, CJR, was carried out on foot of this commitment and published in March 2000. Areas the review recommends for consideration include personnel exchanges, mutual recognition of qualifications, information sharing – for example, on the misuse of drugs – dangerous offender registers, reciprocal arrangements for victim and witness support programmes, cross-Border facilities for youth conference orders and widening access to services such as forensic science and pathology across jurisdictional boundaries.
In the three years since publication of the review, its 294 recommendations have been taken forward on a step-by-step basis. It is considered that now would be an appropriate time to begin making substantive progress on structured co-operation. To that end, a joint group of criminal justice policy makers, as specifically recommended by the review, comprising senior officials from my Department and the Northern Ireland Office, has already formed and met on anad hoc basis – indeed, its first meeting was yesterday in Hillsborough Castle. This group will consider the advancement of co-operation in the areas identified in the review and will identify in due course new areas in which co-operation could be developed. The group will report back to the Ministers on a periodic basis. It has been tasked with the development of a formal work programme for approval by Ministers and will take this work forward over the summer.
Nobody regrets more deeply than the Government that the agreement which was in our grasp a few short weeks ago eluded us. However, nobody is more determined than the Government that the progress of the Good Friday Agreement, although it encountered a setback in that falling out, should not be derailed or set aside. Of course the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and its outworkings involves the devolution of policing and home affairs matters to Northern Ireland on an agreed basis, if this can be worked out among the parties there. Nobody will be more active than my Department and the Government in ensuring the necessary momentum to bring that about is restored to the process. We believe, and we have made this clear in the past, that it was a major mistake to postpone the elections in Northern Ireland. We believe, notwithstanding that, that it is important the two Governments maintain their complete dedication to the principles of the joint declaration and not allow it to become a stalled agenda and that they should get on with implementing all the parts that can be implemented in the absence of the representative and executive institutions functioning as envisaged by the Agreement.
The agenda on policing, security and criminal justice on both parts of this island is something which requires solid work. I am confident the democratic process will be restored, that the proper basis for its restoration will be put in place and that the parties in Northern Ireland who represent the will of the majority of people north and south of the Border and who support the Agreement, will have the opportunity to seek afresh an electoral mandate to get on with the job of rebuilding the representative and executive institutions. In the meantime, regarding the preservation of life and limb and the strengthening of co-operation between the two police services, I stress to the House that I am determined that there be no hiatus and that we should go from strength to greater strength, deepening the co-operation that now exists. We will not walk away from that agenda because not only do life and limb depend on it, but, in my view, the momentum of the Good Friday Agreement depends on the determination of the two Governments to sustain the process in practical ways such as those envisaged by the joint declaration.
I support the Government amendment.
What could be more damaging to a democracy than the postponement of an election? It is a serious step to deny people a say in the make-up of their representative assembly. The elections, and through them accountability to the people, is a cornerstone of civilised society. A dangerous vacuum and void has been created by their postponement. No doubt there will be further entrenchment in the heat of the summer season. It is more in the calm of an autumn that free and fair elections should be held and I look forward to them being held. Something equally damaging to a society, and in many ways a more serious threat to democracy, is the prevalence of paramilitary activity. It is a menacing threat that overshadows everyday life.
Last week I visited Colombia and witnessed how damaging a tolerance of paramilitary activity can be. That society has been ravaged by violence. In an attempt to bring peace to the troubled land, governments in the past declared something of an amnesty for groups conducting vicious and sustained rampages throughout the country. The result is a society where people are constantly terrified and threatened by groups such as FARC. Bombings, murders and kidnappings are commonplace. Conservative estimates put the number of murders at upwards of 40,000 per annum. People are coerced into joining paramilitary groups. Countless women and children have been raped. Many flee rural areas into the squalor of the shanty towns of Bogota and other urban areas in an attempt to survive paramilitary activities.
Clearly the situation in Colombia demonstrates the devastating consequences of allowing paramilitary activity to continue in society. There can be no toleration of violence. Butchering somebody's knees is intolerable. Tacit allowance of so-called punishment beatings by paramilitary groups is a slippery slope down which we should not descend. Authorities in Bogota, in an attempt to secure a lasting peace, have tolerated a certain amount of paramilitary activity while at the same time engaging people in a political process. That process did not work in Bogota and it will not work in Northern Ireland. Only a one-horse strategy, the single pursuit of democracy through the political process, can work. The complete embracing of the political order through elections is the only way forward.
I call on Sinn Féin to denounce violence in simple terms which will be understood by those who will vote for the first time in these elections when held – the average 18 year old who will understand, by interpretation of its words, its denouncement of violence as it takes the single strategy towards peace, democracy and representative politics.
The issue of representation for citizens from Northern Ireland in the Houses of the Oireachtas, which is part of the Agreement, can be taken up with Seanad reform. We are all aware it will soon take place and have been requested to make submissions in that regard. We should explore the issue of an allowance for citizens from the North in our Seanad. That is how we can achieve representation for people from the North.
I fully agree with the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the Good Friday Agreement is a democratic imperative and that the primacy of politics must be respected if the peace process is to prosper. I am conscious of the sense of anger, hurt and frustration which is widely shared across the broad Nationalist community in Northern Ireland as a result of this postponement of the elections.
For Nationalists, postponement is not a mere technical exercise that can be reinstated at a more convenient time. The Assembly elections which should have taken place tomorrow were about renewing the mandate of those who were entrusted as the representative custodians of the Good Friday Agreement. It was this Agreement, solemnly endorsed in referenda in both parts of this island, which allowed many Nationalists, for the first time, to feel at ease with the political status of Northern Ireland. The Agreement and its endorsement was the act of self-determination that, in Nationalist eyes, legitimised the current constitutional arrangements.
If elections to a key institution of the Agreement can apparently be so lightly dispensed with, some Nationalists are questioning the democratic value of the wider process. This confusion and frustration is potentially destabilising and needs to be quickly dispelled. That can be done in two ways. First, by the two Governments proactively implementing their joint declaration, regardless of the political comfort zones of any party. If the joint declaration is a blueprint for implementing outstanding aspects of the Agreement, then there is no legitimate reason it should not proceed forthwith. Second, by making it clear and certain that elections will proceed as soon as possible and, in any event, no later than 15 November, as mentioned in the recent British legislation. Until the political parties in Northern Ireland are assured that elections will take place in the near term, they are unlikely to seriously engage and will not make the kind of fundamental moves that are required if the Assembly and Executive are to be sustainable. To those who ask what needs to be done, I paraphrase a US political slogan, "It's the elections, stupid."
I am reassured by Deputy Cowen's remarks yesterday that, despite continuing suspension, the North-South bodies continue to carry out their important public functions. For far too long, both parts of this island lived with their backs to each other with wasteful consequences for economic and social development, as well as for normal human contact and understanding. I know from personal experience on the ground that the situation has been positively transformed over recent years. Much of this is due to the long-term pioneering work of the International Fund for Ireland and the various EU cross-Border programmes,
As co-chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I am aware of the significant goodwill that exists for the peace process among parliamentarians from England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. I am, therefore, disappointed that the Ulster Unionist Party has thus far declined to take its seats on a body which, by its constitution and ethos, ought to be a comfortable fit for Unionists. The body would be delighted to welcome the UUP on board and I am open at any time to enter into dialogue with that party to advance such an outcome.
I was struck yesterday by the thoughtful remarks of the Minister, Deputy Cowen, on dealing with the painful legacies of the past. My friend, colleague and former Tánaiste, John Wilson, did an excellent job in his work as victims' commissioner, which, of course, also included the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I commend the work of the inquiry of the former Chief Justice, the late Mr. Hamilton and, latterly, Mr. Justice Henry Barron on these atrocious bombings. I also pay tribute to the courage and commitment of the Justice for the Forgotten Group, whose members have vigorously pursued the truth over many years and have offered advice and support to the victims and relatives of victims of the bombings. The inquiry has to address the cross-jurisdictional aspects of these cases. It is extremely important, therefore, that all of the relevant material in the possession of the British authorities should be made available to Mr. Justice Barron and I know that this issue has been pursued by the Taoiseach at intergovernmental level.
I look forward to the publication of Mr. Justice Barron's report. I hope that it will be published soon and that the Oireachtas committee which considers it will also be able to make a significant contribution to establishing the truth of what happened. Finding out the truth about these bombings will help bring some form of closure for the families and victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. After nearly 30 years, they deserve no less.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Government's amendment to the motion, and I propose to address a number of key issues which are dealt in the motion, in particular, the Cory and Stevens inquiries and the blight of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Deputies will be aware that, arising out of a commitment made at Weston Park in August 2001, the two Governments appointed Mr. Justice Peter Cory in May of last year to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion. The Cory investigation covers the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, Pat Finucane, Lord Justice and Lady Gibson, Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright. All these cases are a source of grave public concern, having given rise to serious allegations of collusion in both jurisdictions.
Mr. Justice Cory is a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge and is highly regarded by the international legal community and by his peers. The Government greatly appreciates his commitment to completion of this important task and his willingness to commit considerable time and energy to it. The Government must be ready to provide any further help or guidance which he may require in connection with his work. Mr. Justice Cory has been working intensively to complete his task and I understand he will have completed his investigation by October of this year. I welcome the fact that both Governments are committed to publishing each of the final reports and, in the event that a public inquiry is recommended in any case, the relevant Government is committed to implementing that recommendation.
The findings of the Stevens inquiry, as published by Sir John Stevens on 17 April last, are of the utmost gravity. He reported that there was evidence of collusion between members of the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the murders of Pat Finucane and Adam Lambert and that he believed that the murders could have been prevented. His conclusion that "Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected", is gravely disturbing. The Stevens report reinforces the Government's view that a public inquiry is required to investigate all the circumstances surrounding Mr. Finucane's murder.
It is important that the Government continues to closely monitor developments regarding all such allegations. They must be determined to deal with these issues. Only by a thorough, impartial and prompt examination of all the facts can confidence in the state's willingness to enforce the rule of law be restored, and the public assured that collusion is a thing of the past and that the necessary steps have been taken to guard against any possible recurrence.
Over the past number of years, sectarian violence has blighted communities throughout Northern Ireland. This House is well aware of the grim succession of pipe-bomb attacks, assaults and murders which have been perpetrated solely for sectarian motives. The names of the communities who have suffered are all too familiar to us – Holy Cross school, the Short Strand, the Fountain area of Derry. The problem has been particularly acute during the marching season, a time when inter-community tensions are already running high. As we enter another marching season, therefore, it is in everybody's interests that we have a peaceful summer free of the type of sustained sectarian violence we have seen over the past couple of years. As it has in the past, the Government must continue to work closely with the British Government, the political parties and community representatives to address the issues surrounding sectarian violence.
The real impetus for peace comes from the communities themselves. I know of much work that local community leaders on all sides have done to calm tensions and to limit the extent of violence. In that context, I welcome the initiatives which are currently being taken on both sides of the divide to address the challenges that will undoubtedly arise over the next few months. I ask the Government to continue to assist these efforts and to assist reconciliation.
I know the House will therefore join with me in commending all those who carry out such important work and in urging all those who have influence in their community to work to secure a summer free of sectarian incidents and violence. A summer free from violence is of course a goal in itself, but it would also be a positive step in creating the optimum conditions for renewed political engagement and the holding of elections in the autumn.
The Government amendment represents a full and balanced representation of the key issues, of which I have considered only two, which arise in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, and I therefore commend it to the House.
I was anxious to take the few minutes afforded to me and I thank my colleague for helping me in that regard because I want to speak briefly in this matter and to commend the Government's amendment.
Members will know that one of my constituency colleagues, Deputy Crowe, gave us the opportunity this afternoon of meeting colleagues from the Northern Ireland Assembly and, indeed, from Westminster. I welcomed that opportunity and I have taken the opportunity in the past, even recently, to speak to other colleagues. It is important that we do so. It is interesting for those of us privileged enough to be elected to Leinster House, and to political life generally, to share our experiences as we can discover that we are quite alike in many ways. We hear the same problems and the same observations from our constituents, and I made the point to our colleagues today that they also must tolerate other difficulties, which, to an enormous extent, we do not understand. We do not understand having to run the gauntlet around our constituencies. We do not understand having to suffer abuse and, indeed, intimidation to that extent.
It is important that we are open enough to share these experiences and to meet colleagues at every opportunity. I hope that we, here in the Dáil, will have the opportunity soon enough to visit Belfast and Stormont. I would hope at that stage, as other Deputies, certainly on this side, have stated, that we would support the strong view that elections would take place. In that regard, I absolutely support the Taoiseach, my party leader, when he stated that he disagreed with the British Government's decision to postpone the elections because he said at the time that he believed that yet another postponement "causes more problems for the process than it solves". He also stated that despite disagreement "the strength and critical importance of the partnership between the two Governments will endure" and he added that the two Governments will continue to implement those aspects of the joint declaration which come within their competence.
The Taoiseach also met Prime Minister Blair and he made the point again, reiterating the joint commitment to the peace process and stressing that there would be no re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. He also made it clear that progress has been made in recent weeks by the republican movement but it is essential, as he stated previously, that "we have clarity". The Prime Minister, on the occasion, stated "whatever the differences about the decisions that we took last week, we are absolutely united and determined to work together to bring this process forward."
It is a good sign of the open Ireland of today that we have such a debate. I welcome it and I also welcome the presence in the House of our political colleagues from the North.
The amendment in the name of the Labour Party Members states:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
conscious of the universal desire for a genuine, just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland and throughout this island:
– acknowledges the role of political parties, present and previous Governments and of many others who have made possible a peaceful evolution from a condition of continuing conflict, that cost over 3,000 lives and caused enormous damage and disruption, to one of paramilitary ceasefires, inclusive multi-party negotiations and a comprehensive political settlement;
– its support for the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed in referenda by the people of Ireland,
– its commitment to the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect enshrined in that Agreement, and
– its determination to ensure the success of the Agreement process;
– restates the primacy of the principle of consent set out in the Agreement as the agreed basis for the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and for any change to that status;
– recognises both the political progress already brought about by the peace process and the Agreement, benefiting all the people of Ireland, as well as the continuing high priority that must be attached to promoting reconciliation and mutual respect and understanding between the communities in Northern Ireland and between North and South on this island;
– records its appreciation of the work done and undertaken by the all-Ireland implementation bodies;
– reiterates that the Agreement remains the agreed template for political progress in Northern Ireland and the sole sustainable basis for fair and honourable accommodation between unionism and nationalism;
– maintains that an inclusive executive and assembly, grounded on trust in the commitment of all other participants, offer the only means whereby Northern Ireland can be governed in the best interests of both communities;
– acknowledges that devolved government cannot be made to work effectively in circumstances where there has been a breakdown of trust between those involved and where commitment is seen to be either conditional or partial;
– acknowledges the shared responsibility of the Irish and British Governments and of all other parties to the Agreement to ensure its success and to make the maximum effort to overcome all obstacles to full implementation, as mandated by the people;
– fully supports the role of both Governments, in consultation with the parties, in establishing the conditions in which devolved government can be restored as soon as possible and where provision for its future suspension is removed from the Statute Book;
– recalls the progress made in talks aimed at such restoration of the political institutions and at full implementation of all aspects of the Agreement, as spelled out in the Joint Declaration of April 2003;
– emphasises that each community must have confidence in the commitment of the representatives of the other to the full operation and implementation of the Agreement;
– believes it is not open to anyone to overturn the Agreement and block or frustrate the will of the people, as expressed in the first collective act of Irish self-determination since 1918;
– recalls that the Agreement reaffirmed a ‘total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving difficulties on political issues';
– restates its belief that the disavowal of armed force or the threat of force and the removal of the causes of conflict are necessary and concomitant objectives and that the full rigours of the law must be used impartially and without hesitation to counter the destructive agendas of paramilitarism and sectarianism;
– expresses concern at the continuing illegal activities of paramilitary organisations and believes those activities are an obstacle to political progress and an affront to the will of the people, democratically expressed;
– wishes to see the transition from violence to exclusively democratic and peaceful means brought to an immediate, unambiguous and definitive conclusion and calls therefore on paramilitary organisations to bring to an end all activities inconsistent with the peace process, the terms of the Agreement and the rule of law;
– welcomes the steps that were proposed to be taken by the IRA in this regard and encourages further concrete and specific development along these lines;
– notes with grave concern the allegations of collusion in the commission of criminal acts, including murder between State security forces and paramilitary organisations and calls on both Governments to ensure that these claims are fully investigated and that wrongdoers are brought to justice; and
– urges the two Governments to continue to work closely together both to maintain momentum in the ongoing political talks, to secure the earliest possible holding of elections for the Assembly and to bring about those acts of completion required from all sides to achieve full implementation of the Agreement.
I have heard commentators say recently that the postponement of elections signals the end of the Good Friday Agreement. Such sentiments must be dismissed immediately. The best way to do so is for the Governments to bring the parties in the North back around the negotiating table at the earliest possible opportunity to agree a common way forward. It is the view of the Labour Party that using the Joint Declaration as the basis for finding common ground between the pro-Agreement parties is the best way to start. After all, the declaration itself was the result of talks between the two Governments and the parties. It addressed the outstanding issues of concern on paramilitarism, demilitarisation, criminal justice and further reform of policing.
As such, it should be the starting point for any new initiative. Achieving agreement between all the parties on these issues will pave the way for progress. However, a month after the election postponement, it is worthwhile reflecting on why that decision was taken. Postponing the elections which were scheduled for tomorrow was regrettable. The long-term consequences of the postponement are impossible to gauge at this stage.
The British and Irish Governments worked tirelessly with all parties in the North since last October to reinstate the institutions ahead of the May poll. Accusations from certain quarters that they were let down by the efforts of the Irish Government to resolve the deadlock are opportunist and seek to deflect attention away from the bad faith demonstrated by republicans over the past eight months.
I am encouraged by comments from the Minister for Foreign Affairs last night that even though the Government disagreed with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair's decision, their focus is not on the blame game. Instead, they recognise the larger goal and the need to work together with the British Government to secure elections at the earliest possible opportunity.
Even so, as my party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, said during the Dáil debate following the breakdown of the negotiations:
It is hard to find any normal reason that would justify the postponement of the elections. It is unacceptable that people can be arbitrarily deprived of the right to vote.
I recognise that the situation in the North is one of fine political balance, but nothing can justify such a radical decision as the postponement of elections. If we support a proposition that the assumed outcome of an election becomes justification for not proceeding with it, we are on a dangerously slippery slope.
Stalemate resulted from the lack of good grace on the republican side and the lack of courage from Unionists. A historic moment passed us by. Further recourse to put the blame on Government, Unionists or anyone else will get us nowhere. The danger is that we are now playing into the hands of the opponents of the Agreement. The onus is therefore on the Governments and the pro-Agreement parties to work together to retrieve the situation.
However, we should not forget how close it was to a deal a little over a month ago. Optimism that a clear indication that paramilitary activity was at last at an end was lost in weeks of apparent procrastination and lack of clarity by the republican movement about its future intentions.
Sinn Féin is a key element in the success of the peace process. It is both sad and surprising that it failed to convey, with the clarity that people throughout Ireland expect and are entitled to, the confidence that paramilitary activity is a thing of the past. People everywhere continue to be deeply frustrated at their failure to do so. The manner in which words had to be extracted from them in the final few weeks of negotiations contributed in no small measure to the erosion of confidence.
It is my firm belief that should republicans confirm that paramilitarism is a thing of the past, should they agree to commit as full participants in the policing structures of the North, support for the Agreement and its institutions will surge. This view is supported by a recent poll in theBelfast Newsletter that put current support for the Agreement among the Unionist community at 35%, yet this figure jumps to nearly 75% when respondents are asked if they would support the Agreement if decommissioning and the acts of completion envisaged by the Agreement were concluded.
Following the signing of the Agreement in 1998, thousands of middle class Unionists and Nationalists came out and voted in the referendum specifically because it promised an end to violence. Due to disappointment in the way things have developed in the North since then, they have stayed at home ever since rather than come out and supported those parties aiming to make the Agreement work.
These people have a responsibility to engage in the political process and the key for all of us who support the Good Friday Agreement and want to see it work is to regain the confidence of these voters who have stayed away from the polling stations ever since and allowed the extremes to prosper.
Similarly, should republicans declare a permanent end of paramilitary activities, Unionists must reciprocate. A commitment not to pull down institutions that the majority of people North and South have endorsed is the least we should expect from them in such circumstances. They must also commit to work all the institutions wholeheartedly in a spirit of partnership both within the North and between North and South. The failure of Unionist leaders to outline fully the benefits of such partnership has contributed to scepticism in the Nationalist community about their true commitment to working the Agreement.
I welcome the fact that the British Government is already proceeding to implement some measures contained in the Joint Declaration. The dismantling of watchtowers is a sign to republicans and all others that they mean what they say about creating an entirely demilitarised society. This should not be a one-off symbolic act. If the British Government is serious about the declaration it should proceed with the revised criminal justice implementation plan.
Sinn Féin has achieved nothing for the community it represents by staying off the Policing Board. Its seats have been taken by the DUP and the UUP and until it commits to helping to create the new beginning to policing in the North, it will be contributing to the hostility felt towards the police in certain areas rather than overcoming it.
Given that elections have been postponed, the obvious question is what is to be done now? I believe that the bona fides of all parties in the North must be tested. Now that we all have it, the Joint Declaration represents the best way of doing so. In getting the pro-Agreement parties to reach a common understanding of, and common response to, the declaration we will have made substantial progress on policing, including the agreement of Sinn Féin to join the Policing Board, criminal justice, demilitarisation and a final and unambiguous commitment to an end to paramilitarism.
The two Governments must convene all-party talks on this basis. The Joint Declaration was negotiated between the Governments and the parties in the North and represents the best way to find common ground for a way forward. We are heading into what is traditionally the danger period in the North, where a political vacuum stands a good chance of being filled by a variety of sectarian voices, activities and attitudes. Though there have been extremely welcome low-profile efforts to minimise the potential for disorder, we cannot allow this to squander all that has been achieved in the past decade.
The implementation of the Joint Declaration now stands as the best hope of progress in the North. By convening all-party talks, the Government would be taking a step in the right direction that is fully inclusive rather than dealing separately and privately with republicans and Unionists and trying to stitch together an agreement between the two. The time for this bilateral approach is over – it has not worked. The move to multilateral talks must be the priority.
The appalling revelations of collusion as revealed in the Stevens inquiry, combined with media allegations about Stakeknife, demand that both Governments fully investigate these claims to ensure wrongdoers are brought to justice. As the truth of what went on in the North over the past 30 years drips out, the public have the right to know of all measures taken by the State during that time. There are extremely delicate moral and political issues involved, but that should not be used as an excuse to hide what actually happened.
Too often in recent times, the rights of the victims of the Troubles and their families have been forgotten in favour of maintaining the politicalstatus quo. If we are to put to bed all outstanding issues, the truth in relation to past atrocities whether they were committed by paramilitaries or State agencies must be revealed.
Turning to the motion tabled by Sinn Féin, I recognise that the issue of northern parties achieving representation in the Oireachtas periodically arises in the House. Efforts have been under way to review the situation since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement five years ago, recognising the new context it created for political structures throughout Ireland. It is the Labour Party's view that the relationship and interaction between elected representatives in the North and in the Oireachtas should only be considered alongside full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In the present context, such consideration serves only to distract us from the main issue of re-establishing the institutions created under the Agreement and using them as templates for future political structures North and South. This does not mean that accommodating elected representatives in the North in some fashion is out of the question. The terms in which Sinn Féin has chosen to present the issue in this debate do not recognise the efforts made through the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, of which I was a member. We held hearings and heard from a number of political parties, including Sinn Féin and the SDLP, which presented cases to the committee. This was a recognition that a new kind of relationship should be explored and considered by the committee. Recommendations were published and presented to the previous Government after consideration of the issues was completed.
I can recall the discussions in the committee very clearly. There was cross-party agreement that the fact that cross-community representation was a significant factor should be recognised. We could not disregard the fact that the mandate that exists in Northern Ireland does not belong to any one community, but is instead a cross-community mandate. We had to take that factor into account in our deliberations about any proposals we were bringing forward. The Seanad is revisiting the issue of Oireachtas representation for northern politicians. I welcome the Seanad's explicit efforts, as part of its internal review, to explore ways of accommodating representation for people in the North. I anticipate that a way of resolving the matter will be found that is to the satisfaction of parties in the Oireachtas and in Northern Ireland. In the meantime, work must be done to revive the institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement – this must be the priority of all parties.
I welcome the fact that a debate is taking place on the issues that have been raised. I am somewhat concerned, however, that the motion put down by the Sinn Féin Deputies, who are quite rightly in this House because they have been elected to it, is too narrow in its focus. It is too party political to encompass the requirements that are on all of us to try to ensure that the principles and objectives of the Good Friday Agreement are lived up to and realised for the benefit of all people living on this island. The amendment tabled by the Government is more comprehensive. It recognises the different dimensions that need to be addressed, as well as the political imperative to try to ensure that there is movement forward, despite the fact that there is universal disappointment and regret that the elections have not been called. There is a recognition in all parts of the House that the elections should have gone ahead, as there is something undemocratic about the idea of not holding elections even though they are due because one does not like the possible outcome that might arise from them. I recall that Governments chose to postpone local elections because they were able to do so. Local elections were delayed for up to 13 years at one time because their likely outcome was not desired by the Government. It is a practice that we cannot support, regardless of the circumstances.
I would like to refer to the long amendment, which deserves support, that my party tabled to this motion. Its length results from its comprehensiveness, as it attempts to cover all aspects of the political challenge that is faced by all of us, particularly the parties in Northern Ireland that want to realise the Good Friday Agreement. My party's amendment states that the Labour Party:
– expresses concern at the continuing illegal activities of paramilitary organisations and believes those activities are an obstacle to political progress and an affront to the will of the people, democratically expressed;
– wishes to see the transition from violence to exclusively democratic and peaceful means brought to an immediate, unambiguous and definitive conclusion and calls therefore on paramilitary organisations to bring to an end all activities inconsistent with the peace process, the terms of the Agreement and the rule of law;
– welcomes the steps that were proposed to be taken by the IRA in this regard and encourages further concrete and specific development along these lines
These important points need to be introduced into this debate. One should consider that close family members are in a state of desperate anxiety following the disappearance of Gareth O'Connor from County Armagh. As we try to establish true peace in Northern Ireland, we should recognise that people are still being affected by serious illegal activities that can lead to terrible wounds being inflicted on families, many of whom have suffered already and should never have to suffer in the same way again. Their hurt and pain has to be central to our concerns. People have suffered terribly across the communities in Northern Ireland as a result of many factors, particularly the fact that paramilitarism, from all sides, has not yet been put firmly and totally into the past. We should all unite around such an objective. On behalf of the Labour Party, I would like to state that its members will support the Government's amendment.
I would like to share time with Deputies Harkin and Sargent, with the agreement of the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Good Friday Agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed in referenda on both parts of this island as the greatest hope in almost a century for both Governments to resolve a conflict that has divided the peoples of this island since 1169. Five years on, the Agreement, having survived numerous storms, setbacks and crises, still represents the outstanding vehicle for enabling conflicts to be resolved with the agreed and inclusive co-operation of all parties in the North, based on the democratic mandate bestowed on it by a popular vote. The unlimited potential for success of the peace process was clearly demonstrated by the smooth and efficient functioning of the institutions. Devolution worked extremely well and achieved strong support and respect from people in both communities. The limited experience of the Executive and the Assembly also provided clear evidence of the undoubted flair for the operation of the institutions of government on all sides in the Executive. Notwithstanding their apparent reluctance to operate the institutions, the participation of DUP Ministers was of particular significance.
A month ago, the various political parties in the North had revved up their machines in preparation for the Assembly elections, published their literature and manifestos and incurred considerable expense in planning their election campaigns. The edict which came from the Secretary of State on 1 May, with the tacit approval of both Governments, scuttled the elections and delayed indefinitely the restoration of the North's democratic institutions.
Five years to the day from the Good Friday Agreement, the parties came tantalisingly close to a sounder and firmer restoration of the institutions, to be followed by elections to a renewed Assembly. Mere differences of semantics together with a lack of trust proved to be the stumbling blocks on which the hopes of everyone foundered. Thus the people of Northern Ireland were prevented from exercising their right to vote, making a mockery of any pretence of democracy in the North, and putting the embattled peace process in greater jeopardy.
The political vacuum thus created will be filled by right-wing extremists, marching season backwoodsmen and anti-Agreement dinosaurs, with the democratic process seriously compromised to prevent the implosion of mainstream unionism and its meltdown and humiliation by DUP hardliners. Mainstream Unionists looked likely to receive a hammering at the polls had they gone ahead on 29 May as previously planned. Moving the political goal posts to a new autumn deadline will put a virtually unbearable strain on democracy, and perhaps terminally damage the peace process.
There is also the concern that the political vacuum could be filled by a resurgence of sectarian violence and politically-motivated tensions during the marching season, if previous summers of discontent are any guide. The peace process could thus conceivably be in even greater jeopardy from the latest deferral of the Assembly elections until the autumn in an effort to save the Agreement than if they were to proceed as previously arranged in late May.
There is deep resentment and palpable anger among the Nationalist community, and across a much wider political spectrum in the North, that the integrity of the elections has been undermined with the sole purpose of preventing an outcome unfavourable to official unionism.
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has shown a marked preference for Official Unionist Party dominance in a restored Executive and Assembly, but elections cannot be deferred indefinitely. The Good Friday Agreement, devolved institutions and the electoral process will eventually have to prevail, together with the will of the electorate.
Full across-the-board political participation in the policing board will be a prerequisite of establishing confidence in the North's new police service and achieving a truly representative cross-community Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, recent revelations about collusion with paramilitaries will have set such a situation back considerably.
The Good Friday Agreement has been described as the only game in town. The cross-Border bodies have worked well, as all sides have acknowledged, and much useful work was accomplished by the Executive and Assembly during their sporadic terms of office. Assembly elections are necessary to clear the air and the sooner the better. That is preferable to permitting the vacuum to persist throughout the long, hot summer and marching season.
Most people in Northern Ireland would prefer to see fresh elections in the North at the earliest date, preferably before the end of June. The viability of the entire election process and participation by a wide variety of parties should not be made conditional on a declaration of intent by any individual party.
It is past time for the people to be consulted again and for the parties to be given a fresh mandate, irrespective of the outcome.
It would be difficult to disagree with any of the sentiments contained in the motion before the House or with any of the amendments put forward by the Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. In many cases the language is similar and while the emphasis is different on specific issues, the general thrust is the same, namely, reaffirming support for the Good Friday Agreement as endorsed in referenda by the people of Ireland.
As with almost everything involving the relationship between the communities in Northern Ireland and the political elements North and South – and east and west – very little is susceptible to simple solutions. I do not propose any solutions, just a few personal reflections. As I have said in other fora, sometimes it is easy to talk the talk on Northern Ireland but the real test is to walk the walk. One of the proposals in the Sinn Féin motion which is not mirrored in any of the amendments is to provide for representation in the Dáil for citizens of the Six Counties. This is an interesting proposal and while most of us would abide by the maxim – no taxation without representation – the proposal has a great deal of merit. I am not sure what formula could be found to allow all public representatives to put forward their views in the Dáil and Seanad. As Deputy Fiona O'Malley suggested, it may be possible in the context of Seanad reform, which is worthy of consideration.
Recently, the vice-chairman of the policing board, Mr. Denis Bradley, expressed his anger at the Government's perceived lack of action following the decision of the British Government to defer elections to the Assembly. He was right to be angry – as were all constitutional democrats on the island – at the unnecessary and harmful erosion of democratic politics in Northern Ireland. Whatever the perceived problems of the Ulster Unionist Party – and we recognise that Mr. Trimble faces continuous internal harassment – the elections should not have been deferred. It is difficult to understand how the British Government could have taken the decision, bearing in mind its constant urging of the people of the North to seek a solution to problems through the democratic system. The British Government cannot have it both ways. Justice delayed is justice denied. We can apply the same principle here; democracy delayed is democracy denied.
Speaking of Mr. Trimble's problems, it is interesting to see one of them, in the form of Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, responding to a speech by the President of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, in which the hand of friendship was extended to Unionists. Mr. Donaldson responded by challenging Sinn Féin to support a move to permit the Orange Order to parade down the Garvaghy Road. I consider this to be a possible opportunity for generosity and practicality; generosity in having a reason to respond positively to Mr. Donaldson and practicality in finding a solution to the annual hotspot of the marching season. Who wins if the Orange Order asks to march down the Garvaghy Road and the Garvaghy residents allow it if it complies with certain reasonable conditions? Both sides win. I am not advocating this as a simple stroke of a pen solution but I believe some such outcome would represent an important gain in that, if permission was requested and given, the norm could be established that if one wishes to walk through a certain community then one may do so, but one cannot walk on that community.
A second good reason to react positively to Mr. Donaldson would be an opportunity to throw back a challenge to him in regard to the imminent move to separate the Orange Order from the Ulster Unionist Party. The manipulation of the UUP by the Orange Order is one of the primary negative forces acting against peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Jeffrey Donaldson, in addition to challenging Sinn Féin, should be prepared to challenge the elements in his party and among the loyalist community to separate church and state and to follow the lead set by the Republic.
In the interests of ensuring an equitable and transparent administration of justice in the North, and in the interests of further eroding the position of obdurate Unionists, I suggest that Sinn Féin joins the policing board. The party could have a positive influence on the development of the PSNI and despite the difficulties – and I do not minimise them – that decision should be taken before the marching season gets under way.
In this House and in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I have spoken on some of the long-term measures that must be taken to secure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Foremost in this regard is achieving integration between the communities and the important role that integrated education can play. I commend Sinn Féin for its enlightened policy on integrated education and suggest that others should take it on board.
Tá mé buíoch do mo chomhghleacaithe as a gcuid ama a roinnt. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht. Ba cheart dúinn a bheith ag súil le toghchán ó thuaidh amárach. Tá cúig bliain caite ó bhí na reifrinn ann agus tá sé in am dúinn an cheist a plé agus dul chun cinn éigin a dhéanamh.
The motions before the House are very similar. There is little to distinguish them except the differences of emphasis and, in the case of Northern Ireland, differences of emphasis can make the difference between agreeing something or not. This is a time of log-jam and there is a need to progress issues. It is important that we progress issues that build bridges rather than divide.
In that sense, the Government amendment takes that matter into account more wholeheartedly than the Sinn Féin motion, which deals, understandably from the point of view of their policies, with an all-Ireland dimension to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is important to bear in mind the need for balance as well as clarity. On many occasions in this House we have spoken about the need for clarity and for all paramilitaries to say that their paramilitary activities are over. Those on the republican side wonder why the IRA is being picked out when the loyalists have been as ruthless, if not more so, in their history. The reality is that Sinn Féin has been given the trust and honour to represent the people in the Executive and there is, naturally, a big onus on accountability in that regard. That being said, there is a need to emphasise the cross-community nature of paramilitarism at every opportunity. The Governments also need to come clean about the level of collusion, however, which is an aspect that concerns not only the British Government but also the Irish Government. We need reassurances that the intelligence services are operating within the rule of law and both Governments have a responsibility to be clear about that. Similarly, the Unionists, who at this stage have a reputation for dragging down the institutions, need to make it clear that they are prepared to sustain the institutions and ride the political storms that inevitably tend to arise from peace processes anywhere in the world.
In the current set of circumstances, it would be unwise to take initiatives that go beyond the immediate provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, notwithstanding the enthusiasm for putting them in place. We are still a long way from having the Good Friday Agreement fully implemented. Furthermore, any such extension to North-South initiatives should follow consultations with all the parties represented in the Assembly, rather than as a unilateral move on the part of the Dáil. While it may be tempting to deliver such a tit-for-tat response to the UK Government following its unilateral suspension of elections, it is difficult to see how it would help to get us out of the current impasse.
An area of the Good Friday Agreement which has not been acted upon is the commitment to explore the interparliamentary North-South body. We already have a British-Irish Interparliamentary Body which meets to debate areas of common interest. I understand that interest will be extended to the football field at Old Trafford where a team comprising representatives of Dáil Éireann will play against Westminster. To that extent at least, things are alive and healthy in sporting terms, whatever about politics. I wish our colleagues, including Deputy Finian McGrath, well in that regard.
He had better win it.
The Green Party has no objection in principle to MLAs having speaking rights in the Dáil but now is not the right time to proceed with such an initiative. We must be careful to build up trust, particularly at such a difficult time with the marching season coming upon us. That will really be a test for each side, as well as being a test for the police and the security forces generally. I pay tribute to those people from Nationalist backgrounds who have taken the brave step of joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I know they are in a minority and have to face considerable odds in terms of their role within the community they serve but they are displaying a level of service to their fellow citizens and a trust in the process of democracy and law that is needed at a difficult time. People living in the North know much better than those in Dublin about the difficulties involved.
It is not often that we turn to a publication such as theNew Scientist to help us through a log-jam. A recent edition of that magazine contained an article on what brings about human trust within a community. We are used to hearing about Machiavellian traits of intelligence in trying to outwit rivals, whether in seeking a mate, food or political status. It certainly seems to preoccupy our thinking in politics but there is an equally important factor of research into what brings about trust in a community. A new field of science called neuro-economics has identified a human trust chemical in the brain, called an oxytocin. I wish we could bottle it for sale or even give it away to many people.
Send some of it over here.
Send some of it over there.
Unfortunately, however, it has to be created by human activity. It is generally created by what could be called generous acts of trust, which means taking risks. People have taken many risks concerning the Good Friday Agreement but obviously much more needs to be done.
It is intriguing, as theNew Scientist article tells us, that the urge to respond positively is there when someone shows trust to us and it is largely outside our control. I would like to believe that but in regard to the North one tends to be sceptical even about research of this nature. We will have to examine every avenue to see how we can move forward. The article states that trust is one of the most powerful factors affecting a country's economic health. Where trust is low, individuals and organisations are more wary about engaging in financial transactions so there is a huge knock-on effect in a community where trust is lacking. The article makes comparisons with Scandinavia where they have measured what is called the stranger-danger phenomenon, which is present in a community where trust is low and people are suspicious of those they do not know – they assume the worst in terms of their motives. Northern Ireland would be a fascinating case study for the New Scientist magazine to see where a society that is so lacking in trust is going.
This is not a good time for generating a climate of trust, given that the unilateral decision by the British Government to suspend elections has brought about a political vacuum which is so dangerous. In the current impasse, it is important for the policing issue to be advanced and for the Stevens and Cory inquiries to be addressed and their recommendations implemented. Until the policing issue is sorted out we will, unfortunately, be faced with that level of mistrust, which will prevent progress.
I appreciate the thoughtful and considered contributions to the debate, which have been made on all sides of the House, both today and yesterday. The commitment on all sides to the full implementation of the Agreement will strengthen our resolve as we continue with our work to address the current impasse.
Returning to the issues raised by Opposition speakers, I would like to respond to some of the key points. I wish to tell Deputy McManus that there is no question mark over the Government's commitment to the complete cessation of all forms of paramilitary activity and violence in society. Paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration refers to such activities in great detail. The emphasis the Government lays on this requirement was clearly demonstrated in the recent negotiations during which, regrettably, we failed to achieve the required clarity.
On the erroneous suggestion that the Government in some way acquiesced in the postponement of the elections, I will do no more than refer Deputies to the statement made by the Taoiseach on 1 May, in which he made it abundantly clear that the Government did not agree with the British Government's decision and that the postponement of elections caused more problems than it solved. Our disagreement was expressed frankly, both in private and in public. The Government can only do what is within its power. If the Government had been legally required under the Good Friday Agreement to agree for elections to be deferred, it would not have done so.
Moving on from that fundamental disagreement was never going to be easy. However, we remain fully committed to mapping a way forward, together with the parties and the British Government. I welcome the fact that the recent legislation in the British Parliament has effectively provided a target date for the holding of Assembly elections because, in our view, the best way to restore political momentum is for elections to take place. Our amendment calls for those elections to take place, "quickly and, regardless of any other considerations, no later than the autumn".
With regard to the Fine Gael proposal that the Government should immediately convene round-table talks, I fully recognise that the Good Friday Agreement was the result of a process of collective engagement, and also that a vital role is played by continuing collective engagement in the process. In the months before the publication of the joint declaration, we all took part in a full round of collective meetings, some of which I co-chaired with the Northern Ireland Office Minister, Des Browne, addressing such issues as human rights, equality, victims and disadvantage. The tangible result of that engagement is to be seen in the joint declaration published recently.
Following that strong collective engagement, we are, as a first step, now taking part in a series of bilateral meetings, including recent contacts with the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party. Following these bilateral contacts, we will consider what the most appropriate and conducive method of moving the political process forward will be – mindful of the two key issues which remain to be resolved – the need for an end to paramilitarism and for the stability of the institutions to be guaranteed. With regard to the latter issue, this evening's report that a further UUC meeting may be convened in June is reflective of the continuing strains within unionism.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs did yesterday, I recognise the constructive purpose underlying the motion tabled by Sinn Féin and welcome the opportunity to have had this positive and useful debate. Similarly, I appreciate the approach and helpful nature of the amendments tabled by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It is clear that there is a broad degree of agreement throughout the House on these issues and the areas of divergence between the motion and those amendments are not ones of serious import.
However, I believe the Government amendment represents both a reasonable and wide-ranging expression of attitudes in the House as a whole. I commend it to Dáil Éireann and ask others who have tabled amendments to consider supporting the Government's motion.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Caoláin.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
David Trimble is on record as saying that the northern state was a cold house for Nationalists since its foundation. Working class people living on the Shankill, Sandy Row or the Waterside know only too well that it was not much warmer for them. All the parties and Deputies in this House espouse the notion of an Ireland based on equality, justice and peace. The Good Friday Agreement attempted to put that concept into legislative form. I do not believe that the historic comprises contained in that document would have been possible without all those groups and individuals seeing beyond their own concerns and accepting the new potential the Agreement opened up. It is true that we have more in common than divides us.
The peace process was kick started by dialogue, complemented by the historic cessations and overwhelmingly embraced by the Irish people, North and South. It gave a sense of hope to people not only in Ireland but also throughout the world. From day one it has been bedevilled by crisis after crisis but, despite all the difficulties, the process of dialogue has and continues to move us forward and away from conflict.
Republicans on this island have had to make painful and difficult decisions in order to support that process. We acknowledge that we have inflicted great hurt on many from the Unionist tradition and continue to articulate and, more importantly, demonstrate our understanding of that reality. All of us are emerging, slowly maybe, painfully certainly, but we are emerging out of a 30-year conflict that has affected and lessened each one of us. We all want to see a just society and the fault lines of sectarianism removed forever. We have gone from the bad old days of Unionists disinfecting council seats, from refusing to sit in the same room to negotiating face to face, to even sharing power. I want to see change brought about by exclusively democratic and peaceful means. We want to see the conflict over and done with. That is what the motion before us is trying to do. It is about the primacy of politics which involves removing all of the guns out of the equation.
There are still fault lines in the process. The Good Friday Agreement is not and has not been implemented fully by all sides. The potential for conflict is still with us. The cancellation of the democratic process, because of the possible outcome, does not augur well for the future. Sinn Féin understands that we need to reach out to the Unionist community, and we are doing so quietly on a daily basis. Alex Maskey in the first 12 months of office has confronted the prejudices that existed about him. He has begun to build what he called a city of equals in his acceptance speech. As Lord Mayor of Belfast he handled, in an inclusive manner, the Remembrance Sunday commemorations. He demonstrated vividly the lengths to which republicans are prepared to go to show that parity of esteem, equality and inclusiveness are not merely words, but must be acted on.
Unionism and its leaders need to understand that equality is not a concession, it is the right of everyone. Justice is not a concession, it is a right. A police service acceptable to all communities is not a concession, it is desirable and necessary for everyone. The removal of the weapons of war, the intrusive watchtowers and the armed patrols is not a concession to republicans but a necessity if we are to move to a peaceful society. Sinn Féin is ready to move forward. We are ready to bridge the gap but we need to know from unionism and the British that they are prepared to work with us towards that new Ireland.
As most speakers have agreed with the substance of this motion, it is disappointing that parties in this House did not feel comfortable supporting the Sinn Féin motion. I am disappointed that there is not a genuine effort to move the situation forward. I welcome the focus the motion creates on what has to be done to bring peace with justice to this island.
Ba mhaith liom, ar dtús, ár mbuíochas a ghabháil le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt san díospóireacht seo ar rún Shinn Féin. B'fhiú an díospóireacht í agus tá súil agam go bhfuil tuiscint níos fearr againn uile mar thoradh uirthi.
I would like to welcome my Sinn Féin colleagues who have travelled from north of the Border to be with us. I welcome in particular our party president, Gerry Adams, MP, the MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew, the MP for Mid-Ulster, Martin McGuinness, our party chairperson, Mitchell McLaughlin, and the former Minister for health in the Assembly, Bairbre de Brún. There are other colleagues also in the Visitors Gallery. We regret that our MPs, or Deputies, from constituencies north of the Border, are unable at this point to join us in this important debate on the floor of the Chamber. It is something we have pursued actively and we welcome the stated intent of the Taoiseach to have this matter expedited and addressed in the autumn session.
While regretting that our colleague MPs are unable to join us this evening, I want to make it abundantly clear that we also regret the fact that all 18 MPs for the northern constituencies are unable to be with us here today. I want to put on record that we look forward to the day when all 18 MPs will have the opportunity to represent their particular analysis and outlook in a debate on this issue or on related matters. I hope and expect that day is approaching, which is something I hope to be here to welcome.
It is important to acknowledge at this juncture the Government's agreement in its amendment to our motion that the issue of northern representation in the Oireachtas should be taken forward by agreement in both the Dáil and Seanad and that that should happen before the end of this session. I ask the Government to adopt motion 54a on the Order Paper, in the name of the Sinn Féin Members, which, inter alia, states:
Members of Parliament elected to constituencies comprising in whole or in part Counties Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone shall have the right to speak in the Dáil, subject to the foregoing Standing Orders as they apply to Teachtaí Dála.
I refer the Taoiseach and the Minister to this text, which is offered as a proposition to facilitate them in something they will have to address, either by that or some other formula they will present. I hope they will move on this matter with the speed to which the Taoiseach is committed.
I welcome the Sinn Féin Assembly Members who are present in the Visitors Gallery. We are on the eve of what should have been a very significant day for them and for all democrats on this island. Tomorrow, 29 May 2003, should have been polling day and these colleagues should have been at eve of poll activities tonight, something with which we are all familiar. However, not for the first time, the British Government has intervened and violated the democratic rights of the Irish people.
There is cross-party agreement in the Oireachtas, as reflected in this debate, that this decision was wrong. The decision of Tony Blair and the British Government to cancel an Irish election is offensive, not only to the Irish electorate in the Six Counties, but to Irish democrats throughout the island. I repeat the call I have made to the Taoiseach over the past couple of weeks that the election should be rescheduled for the end of June. I again ask the Minister to use this opportunity to press the British Government to bring it forward and not to leave it until "no later than the autumn", as stated in the Government amendment to the motion. While I welcome this firm and emphatic statement, we appeal to the Minister to use his position to have the election brought forward to the coming month. Either way, it is the overwhelming opinion throughout the island that the British Government has intervened in an unacceptable and unilateral way and that the elections should take place as soon as is practically possible.
There were one or two contributions to this debate I would reject, in whole or in part, and but for time restrictions I would respond to them directly. I will resist the temptation to make an exception with regard to some of what Deputy McManus had to say because I will later refer to the Labour Party amendment.
When the Minister addressed the issue of the election during this debate, he stated: "If the Irish Government had been legally required under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to sign for elections to be cancelled it would not have been done." I welcome that. The Minister went on to state: "We can only do what is within our power." That is a revealing remark. It shows that the Government has been placed in a totally unacceptable situation by the British Government. The logical political conclusion is that the power to unilaterally cancel Assembly elections, and to not only suspend but collapse the institutions, seems to rest solely with the British Government. This is something Sinn Féin roundly rejects. I believe Irish and international opinion would also reject it.
The Government is a co-equal partner in the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish people expect that it has co-equal responsibility and say in all matters pertaining to the Agreement. I urge the Government to push for the removal of that power from Westminster and the hands of the British Prime Minister. It is an imperative that this be addressed and that we do not see repeats of this now oft-repeated slight on the part of the British establishment. The Government and the Dáil must give leadership. We must stand united in opposition to the decision of the British Government to cancel the democratic elections that were scheduled to take place tomorrow.
There is much common ground in the Sinn Féin motion and the amendments moved by the Government, the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party. That includes a reaffirmation on the part of all of us of our support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. The essential role of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and the all-Ireland bodies is also affirmed.
Very importantly, there is a growing recognition of the role of systematic collusion between the British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the conflict and the need for truth and justice to emerge. That systematic collusion has never been confined to the Six Counties and there is a growing body of evidence that British state forces were involved in all the attacks perpetrated by loyalists in the Twenty-six Counties over the period from the early 1970s. The purpose was clear. It was not to target republicans, as it may first have seemed, but to intimidate the Irish people in general and the Government in particular, and to deter them from fulfilling their proper role in vindicating the rights of Nationalists throughout this island. Therefore, I must again urge for a stronger stand by the Government on this, recognising that the British under-cover effort is continuing and needs to be challenged at every opportunity.
The vote tonight will be taken on the Government amendment. While I repeat my welcome for the predominantly positive tone and content of the amendment, reflecting as it does all the issues raised in the Sinn Féin motion, I say with regret that the Sinn Féin Deputies cannot accept it. In drafting our motion, we sought to present a common approach, realising the great importance of having a united House on this issue. Regrettably, while the Government amendment recalls the progress made in the recent talks, it also recalls "the disappointing failure to achieve the required clarity on the completion of the transition from paramilitarism to exclusively peaceful means." The Minister is aware that the Government drafters of this amendment know that this is something we can neither accept nor agree to.
Of whom is clarity required? I and many people on this land believe there was sufficient clarity and that the initiative on the part of the IRA was unprecedented. The IRA leadership made clear in its statement that it is determined that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict. Our party president, Gerry Adams MP, made clear that the IRA leadership is determined that there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. With regard to the thoughtful contribution by our colleague, Deputy Harkin, Gerry Adams has responded positively to Jeffrey Donaldson but, regrettably, to date,The Irish Times has yet to report the response.
We in Sinn Féin have fulfilled our obligations under the Agreement. We will not accept special strictures on our party over and above those which apply to any other and outside the terms of the Agreement itself. The current, very serious impasse in the process will be overcome. I wish to finish on that positive note. That can only be done, of course, on the basis of equality. The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement represent the way forward for all our people. While we will take up different voting positions when the Ceann Comhairle calls for the vote here this evening, I state our determination to go forward in the interests of all the people, facing the challenges of today and tomorrow and embracing together our shared future on this island.
Ahern, Noel.Allen, Bernard.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Boyle, Dan.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Breen, Pat.Brennan, Seamus.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John.Bruton, Richard.Callanan, Joe.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Collins, Michael.Connaughton, Paul.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Costello, Joe.Coughlan, Mary.Coveney, Simon.Cowen, Brian.Crawford, Seymour.Cregan, John.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Deasy, John.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Devins, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Ellis, John.English, Damien.Enright, Olwyn.Fahey, Frank.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Fleming, Seán.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Gilmore, Eamon.Glennon, Jim.Gogarty, Paul.Gormley, John.Grealish, Noel.Hanafin, Mary.Harkin, Marian.Haughey, Seán.Hayes, Tom.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Higgins, Michael D.Hoctor, Máire.Hogan, Phil.Howlin, Brendan.Jacob, Joe.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Kenny, Enda.Kirk, Seamus.
Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.Lynch, Kathleen.McCormack, Padraic.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McDowell, Michael.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGinley, Dinny.McGuinness, John.McManus, Liz.Martin, Micheál.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Murphy, Gerard.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Nolan, M. J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Parlon, Tom.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Perry, John.Power, Peter.Power, Seán.Ring, Michael.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Eoin.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Treacy, Noel.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wilkinson, Ollie. Woods, Michael.
Cowley, Jerry.Crowe, Seán.Ferris, Martin.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.
McGrath, Finian.McHugh, Paddy.Morgan, Arthur.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.