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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 18 Dec 2003

Vol. 577 No. 5

Independent Monitoring Commission Bill 2003 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank Deputies for their willingness to take this legislation today. That is what I am supposed to say, but at this late stage I thank the Deputies for their willingness to take the legislation at this stage today. This reflects the Dail's continued support for attempts to bring peace and political stability to Northern Ireland.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide in our law for the establishment of the Independent Monitoring Commission which has been the subject of an agreement between the UK Government and ourselves. It may be helpful if I set out in some detail the background to the establishment of the commission.

Members of this House, who follow developments in Northern Ireland very closely, will undoubtedly be aware of the broad background to the creation of the Independent Monitoring Commission. I will revisit some of the main points in that genesis in order to show where the commission fits into the overall pattern of political progress in Northern Ireland.

The early months of this year saw a great deal of political engagement between the two Governments and the pro-Agreement parties in Northern Ireland. Our intensive engagement continued through the months that followed, and after much painstaking effort and slow grind, a full and complete audit of all areas of the Good Friday Agreement which remained to be implemented was developed. This engagement included a two-day set of talks at Hillsborough, involving the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair, as well as the parties and a range of Ministers.

The result of our engagement was the Joint Declaration, published on 1 May. The Joint Declaration is the two Governments' comprehensive assessment of what remains to be implemented from the Agreement and the most positive way of ensuring that this takes place. Published alongside the Joint Declaration, the agreement on monitoring and compliance sets out some important principles on how confidence and stability in the political process can be sustained and developed, principally through the creation of a new independent body. That new body would monitor and report on the carrying out of commitments regarding the ending of paramilitary activity and the programme of security normalisation in Northern Ireland, as set out in the Joint Declaration. It would also consider claims that any party within the Assembly was in breach of its commitments under the Agreement. In the agreement on monitoring and compliance, the UK Government has undertaken, where such claims are made, to resolve those matters in line with the commission's recommendations and in consultation with the Irish Government.

The text of an international agreement setting up this new body, now known as the Independent Monitoring Commission, was published in September, and signed in Leinster House on behalf of the two countries by myself and the British ambassador on 25 November last. Members of the commission had been appointed earlier and they have been doing some preliminary work in what I might call "shadow" format.

Membership is broadly based. It comprises Lord Alderdice, the former speaker of the Assembly and leader of the Alliance Party, Mr. Joe Brosnan, former Secretary of the Department of Justice, Mr. John Grieve, a former senior officer with the London Metropolitan Police, and Mr. Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

The commission, whose members are all individuals of the utmost integrity and standing, visited Dublin recently and discussed the broad political situation with the Government and its Ministers, including myself. We shared with them our view that the commission can act as a confidence-building mechanism on a wide range of issues, particularly by offering reassurance that the activities which destabilised the institutions in the past will not be allowed to recur.

While it did not prove possible to reach the agreement that we had hoped for in advance of the elections to the Assembly last month, and while that election has created a number of new imponderables, we must set our minds to managing our way through them.

I cannot tell the House exactly how the political situation we face in light of the Assembly elections will evolve in the coming weeks and months. Deputies will be aware that a series of discussions has taken place, including discussions at Downing Street yesterday between the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, Ministers including myself and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and members of the pro-Agreement parties. We now face into an early review of the operation of the Agreement. For its part, the Irish Government will do all it can to help agreement to be achieved among the parties, but this must be in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a fair assessment at this stage that the Independent Monitoring Commission will play a key role in future developments.

I will now deal in some detail with the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 defines certain terms used in the Bill. Section 2 provides that the commission will be independent in the performance of its functions and will have the legal capacity of a body corporate. Section 3 deals with the objective, functions and membership of the commission, as well as the appointment of its staff and the proper keeping of accounts by the commission. Section 3(1) provides that the objective and functions of the commission are those set out in Articles 3 to 7 of the agreement.

The objective of the commission is to carry out certain functions with a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society and stable and inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The functions of the commission as set out in Articles 4 to 7 of the agreement are to monitor any continuing activity by paramilitary groups, assess whether the leaderships of these organisations are directing or seeking to prevent this activity, and report to the two Governments on its findings. All that is provided for in Article 4. The second function, provided for in Article 5, is to monitor the British Government's adherence to its agreed programme of security normalisation in Northern Ireland and report its findings to the two Governments. There is also a mechanism for the commission to examine normalisation in the absence of an agreed programme.

The third function, as provided for in Article 6, is to consider a claim by any party in the Northern Ireland Assembly that a Minister or Assembly party is not committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, or that a Minister or party is failing to observe any other terms of the pledge of office. In so far as a claim relates to the operation of the institutional arrangements under strand one of the multiparty Agreement, it shall be considered by those commissioners solely appointed by the British Government and any findings reported to the British Government only. As provided for in Article 7, the fourth function is to recommend any remedial measures considered necessary,

Section 3(2) deals with the membership of the commission, as well as with the appointment of its staff and the proper keeping of its accounts and privileges, immunities and inviolabilities as set out in Articles 10 to 14 of the agreement.

Membership of the commission shall be as set out in Article 10 of the agreement. It shall have four members. Two members, one of whom shall be from Northern Ireland, are to be appointed by the Government of the United Kingdom. These are, respectively, Lord Alderdice and Mr. John Grieve. One member is to be appointed by the Government of Ireland, Mr. Joe Brosnan. One member, to be appointed jointly by the two Governments, shall be a nominee of the Government of the United States of America, Mr. Richard Kerr.

Section 4 deals with the provision by me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of such moneys, premises, facilities and services, including staff, necessary for the proper functioning of the commission in line with Article 12 of the agreement. Section 5 deals with immunities and privileges afforded to the commission. This is similar to the arrangements in place for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the Commission on the Location of Victims' Remains.

Section 5(1) provides that the commission and its property shall be afforded certain immunities and privileges in the performance of official functions. Sections 5(2) and (3) deal with immunities and privileges afforded to members of the commission, its staff and agents or persons performing functions assigned to them by the commission.

Section 6 provides that the commission shall not do anything which might prejudice the national security of Ireland or of the United Kingdom, endanger the safety of any person, or have a prejudicial effect on any present or forthcoming legal proceedings.

Section 7 deals with the disclosure of information to or by the commission and ensures that the commission is in a position to obtain all relevant information to enable it to fulfil its mandate. In particular, it specifically permits the Garda Síochána to provide information to the commission. The section also provides that the commission and its agents will observe confidentiality in respect of material received.

Section 8 provides for the formal dissolution of the commission in an orderly manner in line with Article 16 of the agreement. The section allows for the winding down of the commission in a manner which would allow for such transitional or consequential provisions as are necessary or expedient.

Section 9 provides that applications under the Freedom of Information Act for disclosure of information relating to communications between the commission and public bodies may be refused. This is necessary to protect communications between the commission and public bodies. The commission itself is outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended, as it is not a public body under the Act and it is not intended that the Minister for Finance would make an order declaring it to be such a body.

Section 10 provides that a copy of each report submitted to the Government by the commission or its members, under Articles 4 to 6 of the agreement, shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 11 is a standard provision which provides for the payment of any expenses arising under the Act out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Section 12 provides that the Act will come into operation by order on such day as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stipulates, following consultation with the Secretary of State.

It is in the nature of things that when this House is asked to enact legislation in the context of giving effect to an international agreement, the form of the legislation is to a large extent determined by the terms of that agreement. The agreement, included as a Schedule to the Bill, is the culmination of detailed negotiations between the Irish and United Kingdom Governments. I ask Members to understand that such a process inevitably involves compromises on both sides. I believe the agreement which the House is being asked to approve formally today is balanced and has the potential to make a significant contribution to the quest for political stability in the North. People acting in good faith who are attempting to implement the Good Friday Agreement should have nothing to fear from the establishment of the commission. That is the context in which I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deasy. This is important legislation. In the autumn I called for its early publication and I am pleased it has been introduced by the Government at this time. I am equally pleased to state that the Fine Gael party is happy to co-operate with the Minister in its speedy passage through the House.

The Bill provides for the establishment of the Independent Monitoring Commission to oversee the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It was originally promised last May in the Joint Declaration of the British and Irish Governments as one of a number of important confidence-building measures which the two governments had committed to bringing forward. At that time it was hoped the establishment of this monitoring commission would act as an encouragement to the Ulster Unionist Party to agree to the restoration of the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland. While the result of the Assembly elections may not have been anticipated at that time, it is still very worthwhile to proceed with the enactment of this legislation.

The Independent Monitoring Commission has the potential to facilitate the re-establishment of the power sharing Executive after the forthcoming review of the Agreement, in the event that the Democratic Unionist Party, which has made clear that it does not object in principle to the concept of power sharing, might agree to the restoration of the Executive. This monitoring commission should prove an additional comfort to them and to other parties as it will provide for sanctions against any party which breaches its obligations under the Agreement.

The institutions are quite fragile and I welcome any mechanism which will be seen to support and protect them. In that context I am very pleased that following their meetings with the pro-Agreement parties, the British and Irish Governments have concurred that the review of the Agreement should be short and focused because that is best for all. It must recognise the enhanced mandate and the new reality of that mandate received by the Democratic Unionist Party. Equally, the DUP must recognise that well over 70% of the Northern Ireland electorate voted in the recent elections for pro-Agreement parties. Their wishes for the process to continue must be respected.

The review must take place on the basis that the fundamental principles underpinning the Good Friday Agreement – devolution and inclusive power sharing – must be adhered to. In the spirit of the Agreement and for the sake of moving the process on for the benefit of all communities, I call on the republican movement to work to improve the political climate. If the movement is serious about the future of Northern Ireland, it must take further steps towards the required acts of completion.

On a related issue, I am pleased that later today the Government will publish the Cory report. In the interests of integrity and trust I call on the British Government to honour its commitment to publish Judge Cory's report into allegations of collusion north of the Border. The truth is required so that the necessary political trust can follow. It seems that the model of preliminary inquiry carried out by Judge Cory has been very effective. I urge the Taoiseach to consider such a model to deal with other unresolved allegations.

I repeat my serious concerns about the Nally report. I refer in particular to the statement issued yesterday evening on behalf of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. It is clear from the statement that Ms Nuala O'Loan, who had carried out significant preparatory investigative work which formed the basis of the Nally group report, received no feedback on how her work was carried forward and dealt with. It was also clear from her statement that she views the allegations made in a far more serious light than does the Nally group. She stated that investigative material corroborated 23 of the allegations made to her office. I appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to furnish the ombudsman with a copy of the Nally report on a confidential basis and invite her comments on its findings. I also urge the Taoiseach and the Minister to consider the adoption of a similar approach to the Omagh bombing as it did to the Cory report. The appointment of a person of the calibre of Judge Cory would be of considerable comfort and hope to the families of those murdered in the bombing. These people need the truth.

I reiterate my commitment and that of my party to the Omagh families. The reason any of us in this House are involved in politics is to attempt to make people's lives better. I suggest to the Taoiseach that in the case of Omagh and the Nally report, he has an excellent opportunity to do that. These people need our help. They are understandably upset at the Government's handling of the Omagh aftermath. Their concern can only have been heightened by the revelation that the Taoiseach had been less than truthful about the contacts between the Government and the Real IRA after the Omagh atrocity. If we fail to use the power and the privilege of this House to do good and to do our best for these families, then we must ask ourselves what we are doing here at all. This matter is not just about politics; it is about humanity.

In conclusion, I reiterate my party's support for the Bill and for the establishment of the Independent Monitoring Commission. I repeat my hope that it may help to facilitate the restoration of inclusive government in Northern Ireland.

I wish the Minister and his family a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.

I wish the same for the Deputy and his family.

As the Minister stated, this Bill is a result of a great deal of political engagement and activity between the Governments earlier this year which resulted in the Joint Declaration published on 1 May 2003. Agreements on monitoring and compliance were also made along with the Joint Declaration, the intention being to monitor commitments given with respect to paramilitary activity and to follow up on the security normalisation programme in Northern Ireland. The intention is to act on any claims made against certain parties accused of breaking the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. I regard it as a very worthwhile and necessary initiative. Four people have been chosen and their expertise is impressive.

I believe the commission will act as an important support for the entire peace process. People in the North need to know that there are structures in place to strengthen and secure the peace process. This is an important confidence-building measure as we try to reinstate the institutions that have been badly destabilised in the recent past. It is difficult to predict what will happen with regard to the Assembly in the coming weeks and months.

As my party leader, Deputy Kenny, stated, Fine Gael will support the Bill. If it had been initiated three or four years ago, I believe it would have borne fruit. The situation in the North at present might not have happened if the commission had been established earlier. It is worth noting that the two parties most vociferously opposed to this measure are Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party. That is not surprising, given that Sinn Féin has breached its commitments under the Agreement. Sanctions will be imposed on those parties which flagrantly violate the terms of the Agreement. Unfortunately, the DUP has successfully used attacks on the Agreement to bolster itself politically. Sinn Féin has used the issue of IRA weapons to make headway with the electorate both north and south of the Border. The commission's role is important because the political extremes in the North have capitalised on the increased polarisation there. Considering Dr. Paisley's declaration a couple of days ago, the commission's work has become more important. It is not only a monitoring agency, but a safeguard against people who have brought mayhem and misery to this island for 30 years.

Only one year ago many sources were telling us that the IRA would comprehensively act on weapons decommissioning and on issues such as punishment beatings, targeting of individuals, surveillance and other violent activities. Paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration calls for an immediate full and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity, including military attacks, training, targeting, intelligence gathering, acquisition or development of arms or weapons, other preparations for terrorist campaigns, punishment beatings and attacks and involvement in riots. However, that has not happened. That failure to follow through with so-called acts of completion and to meet the requirements of paragraph 13 is one of the main reasons Dr. Paisley now has a Unionist majority. If the commission had been in place for the past year and had been working effectively, the situation might be different.

Unfortunately, the commission's role was seized upon by the DUP and the anti-Agreement Unionists. Initially, the body was a reaction to David Trimble's call for an independent body to monitor paramilitary activities. However, the two Governments expanded that role, which was seized upon by the anti-Agreement Unionists who made the charge that it diminished British sovereignty and breached strand one of the Good Friday Agreement, which relates to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. Jeffrey Donaldson memorably said that the hermetic seal of strand one had been broken. Unwittingly, it became an issue on which extreme Unionists could campaign. No one in the South has any interest in meddling in the affairs of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sinn Féin's dubious reason for not supporting the commission was that it was being set up outside the terms of the Belfast Agreement and that it constituted a concession to the anti-Agreement Unionists, who then campaigned against it. That did not make sense, given that for years Sinn Féin asked for a programme of demilitarisation and then when a body was set up to scrutinise that process, it opposed it. One of the reasons Sinn Féin refused to support it was that the commission would have a key role in determining sanctions, if necessary, for Sinn Féin Ministers in any Executive if the IRA was judged to have been engaged in paramilitary activity.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said last week that there was little difference between the IRA and Sinn Féin and that illegal IRA activities were funding Sinn Féin's political activities. He was right to say that. The IRA is involved in ongoing paramilitary activities and money is being siphoned to a political party represented in this House. I am sorry I did not say it first, but I am not privy to that information. I fully agree with the Minister's comments last week.

Last week's hijacking of a lorry on the Border bore all the hallmarks of a Provisional IRA operation, according to the Garda and the PSNI. It follows on the heels of the discovery of a building construction scam by the Provisional IRA. For decades it has been involved in such activity and nothing has changed. It is no wonder this legislation is opposed by the party which represents those people. The only regret I have about the legislation and the commission is that we did not set it up sooner. As my party leader said, we fully support it.

The Labour Party will not oppose this Bill, although we have some reservations about aspects of it, which we will discuss on Committee Stage.

It seems premature, if not fatuous, to wish the Independent Monitoring Commission well in its work since the background against which it will operate has undergone such a radical change since the idea of a commission was first mooted and agreed. There is, nevertheless, a certain timeliness about this debate. Later today the Government will publish a section of the Cory report, which deals with murderous activities of the Provisional IRA and the allegation of collusion between it and some members of the Garda. We await the Government's recommendations on the matter but, on the basis of reports, it seems certain there will be a continuing spotlight on the campaign of murder carried out by that organisation over many years.

In the past week we had the Nally report, which also dealt with the heinous crimes of the Real IRA, particularly the atrocity it committed in Omagh. The Taoiseach told the House recently that he has been briefed about security concerns relating to the continuing activities of the Provisional IRA in a variety of criminal matters, in respect of some of which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently elaborated. Notwithstanding the new environment, it appears that "they haven't gone away, you know".

There remains a strong argument for seeking to ensure that the operations of democracy here as well as in Northern Ireland are not subverted by underhand, illegal or criminal activity. There is an added dimension when it comes to Northern Ireland. All of us support the development of devolution on an inclusive basis and we all want to see a Northern Ireland that is not only at peace, but that is able to move forward economically and socially and that is confident about dealing with us on matters of mutual interest. The three strands of the Good Friday Agreement, as we have always agreed, are intertwined and when one breaks down, the others are immediately in trouble. However, each strand depends on a degree of trust or at least on the capacity to build trust. The absence of that trust and the apparent absence of mechanisms to build it have led to a situation where the politics of Northern Ireland in the wake of an Assembly election are more polarised than ever.

Only yesterday, as we know, it was necessary for the two Governments to carry out a sober assessment of the present state of the peace process. Although it remains the case that a majority of the people elected to the Assembly support the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there does not seem to be any immediately apparent way in which the Assembly can meet to elect a First and Deputy First Minister. Until that happens, there does not seem to be any prospect of progress towards an inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland. Although the Governments have promised a short sharp review, at this stage it seems impossible to predict a way forward within the terms of the Agreement. As we know, any change to the Agreement, fraught as that would be to secure, would have considerable constitutional implications in this jurisdiction, to say nothing of the unpredictable consequences in Northern Ireland. I will return to that subject later.

The original purpose of the commission we are discussing is to monitor and report on certain types of activity with a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society and stable and inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland. It seems we are much further from the notion of a stable and inclusive devolved Government in Northern Ireland than we were when the idea of an independent commission was first mooted.

Although the commission being established under this Bill will report on certain activities on a six-monthly basis, the purpose to which that information will be put, once it is published, may be somewhat dubious. At least it seems clear that, under the Act, and unlike another commission, there will not be a level of secrecy regarding its operations or in respect of its assessments of a kind that appears to have contributed to the collapse of the last negotiations before the Assembly elections.

It remains one of the great mysteries that the de Chastelain commission was seemingly in a position to make a major contribution to the development of confidence in Northern Ireland, and indeed to the promotion of a stable and inclusive government, but was prevented from doing so by an obligation of secrecy. That obligation, and the unwillingness of the IRA and its interlocutors to countenance any departure from it, may well be at the heart of the political difficulties we now face.

In October last, as we all remember, we witnessed on television what was meant to be a series of orchestrated events but in the end it turned into something of a fiasco. In the early part of the day, Martin McGuinness made it clear on radio that he had seen, apparently with approbation, the contents of a detailed statement by David Trimble. Not only was the content of that statement made aware to Sinn Féin but it was said that the party was ready to welcome it. Then Gerry Adams made a statement that contained a strong commitment to wholly peaceful means, seemingly on behalf of all strands of the republican movement, and the IRA endorsed that commitment. Everyone welcomed the progress made so far, and we waited for word from General John de Chastelain. What we saw, however, was a haggard and tired man confirm that he had witnessed a further act of decommissioning. He was unable, however, to convey in any convincing way a sense of its magnitude, the degree to which it represented real progress towards the overall stated aim of removing the gun from Irish politics, or the timescale within which he might complete the job. His demeanour and body language was such that it jarred immediately with the whole expectation that we would be witnessing major progress.

So it proved to be. We can infer that David Trimble was ready to announce, based on the de Chastelain report and the earlier statement by Mr. Adams, that in the aftermath of an election, he would work with other parties, including the republican movement, to re-establish and sustain democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. That statement was put on hold and has never been made.

We also awaited detailed statements from the British and Irish Governments. We know that those statements would have brought a good deal closer the devolution of policing, and the full participation of all the parties in the management and control of policing, to the newly re-established institutions in Northern Ireland. That, too, would have represented significant progress and would have been widely welcomed as a further buttressing of the peace process.

The jarring moment in the choreography went on to affect the dynamic of the election. The election should have taken place in an atmosphere in which we, and especially the people of Northern Ireland, could bank on the emergence of a post-IRA Ireland. Instead, however, it represented another battle for the hearts and minds of both sides of a still-divided community. The winners on both sides were those who had taken the harder line. The losers were those who had endeavoured to apply reason but had seen that reason thwarted. In the case of the SDLP, the only one of the four main parties to have consistently championed every aspect of the Agreement without reservation, its difficulties were compounded by the fact that it had been effectively marginalised by the two governments in the essentially failed process that preceded the elections.

The result of the election is, of course, the outcome of a democratic process and we have to accept that. However, it is out of sync with the deeper yearning of the people of Northern Ireland for a future in which both politics and people can work together. We have always been told that in Northern Ireland a political vacuum is the most dangerous thing. We only have to remember the fact that this past summer has been one of the most peaceful in the recent history of Northern Ireland, in spite of the political vacuum that existed, to realise the hunger for peace and progress that is still a feature of daily life throughout all the former troublespots there.

The difficulties that face us now derive in part from the earlier point I made about trust. In the context of considering the relationships in and between these islands, and the institutions that have been established throughout them, the Good Friday Agreement is a special case. It is not just an overarching text of constitutional significance that spells out binding rules for the fundamental institutions of government. It is different because it demands of those who are party to it a continuous commitment to its working, rather than simple observance of its rules.

Potentially, this is the Agreement's greatest weakness because, ultimately, any party that is unhappy can just walk away. If a significant player walks away, those left behind cannot just carry on because without that one element there no longer is an agreement and its institutions cannot function.

However, the Agreement could not have been reached on any other basis. We in the Republic knew we were taking a risk when we alone were asked to amend our Constitution unconditionally, as part of a process which would succeed only on condition that all others would thereafter maintain their commitment to its success. We believed it was worth this risk. Along with many others involved in this process, the Labour Party has always pointed to the text of the Agreement as the point of first reference. If something is contrary to the Agreement, it should not be done; if it is an obligation imposed by the Agreement, then it must be done.

As a statement of general principle, this still holds true but we have to recognise that this approach is qualified in at least two respects. First, there is a tendency to treat the text as sacred, as if it contained the correct, for-all-time answers to every conceivable question that might arise. No account is taken of the fact that some questions were not anticipated. There is no point in such a case in quoting Scripture to suit one's own end. In addition, the parties to the Agreement all know that some answers were deliberately fudged. To the very end of the negotiating process, they disputed the form of words which would eventually be agreed as the Agreement's text on decommissioning, the interpretation of which now is such a cause of friction.

The reason the text is ambiguous is that the parties to the Agreement decided it should be. It was the best that could be agreed at the time and it is written in a form of words that is not capable of being forensically parsed and analysed. We know what the decommissioning provisions require but it is not a case where one can ask the simple question as to whether or not those requirements have been satisfied. Instead, the question that can be answered is whether real and substantial efforts are being made – with due regard to the need of parties both to lead their followers and to reflect the limits of their mandates – to ensure that these requirements will, eventually, be satisfied. That requires difficult and careful assessment and constant reassessment. In view of this, constant reference back to the wording of the relevant provisions of the Agreement is necessary but it is not sufficient.

Second, when it comes to the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions, claims about the legality of the actions of various parties at various times, by reference to the original provisions of the Agreement, are of only limited relevance. Of course, people can be excluded but if one leg is removed from a chair, it will collapse. Most people, therefore, only remove a leg from a chair if they are confident they know how to turn it into a stool. The truth is that no matter what institutions are established under or alongside the Good Friday Agreement – and this applies, also, to the independent commission established by the Minister in this Bill – the Agreement still stands or falls by the willingness of key parties to work together to find solutions to problems. As long as the parties devote more of their energies to finding problems to fall out about, rather than finding solutions, the Agreement will not find its full expression. The reality is that the peace process was and still remains in too fragile a stage of development to withstand constant forensic scrutiny of every adverse step taken along the way.

That is one aspect of a wider reality. A lawyer looks at the structures of new institutions and the rules that will apply to them, and asks what provision has been made if something goes wrong? For a lawyer, there must always be a fall-back position whereby an authoritative pronouncement can be made on what can or cannot be done, and how one may carry on in the light of what has been attempted. An inability in a crisis to give an authoritative and binding answer to the question of what happens next points to a fundamental defect in the rules and, for want of an applicable rule, there may be nothing that can legally be done. A lawyer hates a vacuum. For the proper operation of the Good Friday Agreement, there is no fall-back position. The whole arrangement, in all its three-stranded complexity, is subtended by an assumption that all of the parties necessary to its proper functioning are willing to see it function and will do what is necessary to achieve that end. If they are not, and if they will not, then it will collapse.

The continuation of these institutions to a stage where they can be taken for granted requires continued commitment by the participants, to an extent that is not matched in terms of any political party operating in assemblies in Dublin, London, Edinburgh or Cardiff, and no one can, under any machinery that is thought up in a process of review, institutionalise this commitment or, within the terms of the Agreement, create alternative machinery to cope with its absence.

The drafters of the democratic programme of the first Dáil Éireann asserted that permanence of government could be secured only in the willing adhesion of the people. I could perhaps add that it needs to be secured too in the willingness of legislators to listen and understand the real needs and desires of the people they represent. The hunger for peace and progress is still alive on the streets of Northern Ireland. When it permeates into the hearts and minds of the politicians of Northern Ireland, we will begin to make real progress.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin agus Ball den Grúpa Neamhspleách.

In general terms, the Green Party welcomes this Bill. It provides for a form of parallel disengagement which the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, recommended to George Mitchell at the time of the first International Commission on Decommissioning. If followed through on its provisions, it will make an important contribution towards demilitarising society in the North, thereby providing the conditions best suited to the building of trust.

The Bill is not without its difficulties, however. The paramilitary threat in the future will come, presumably, from the anti-Agreement loyalists and dissident republicans. It will be in the interests of these groups to scupper the demilitarisation agreements. However, the seeds of mistrust are evidently present, even in the wording of the Bill which refers to aspects of secrecy in the interests of national security and private individual security. There is a risk that these types of terms will be abused.

We know there has been a parallel implementation of this legislation on the British side but the legislation as it pertains to this jurisdiction and the North will need to go beyond the legislation we have here if it is to be effective. Section 6 is interesting. It states: "In performing its functions the Commission shall not do anything that could reasonably be expected to prejudice the national security interests of the State [that is this State] or the United Kingdom".

In that regard, with the publication of the Barron inquiry report, there is a strong suggestion in that document that what goes as national security in the United Kingdom does not necessarily go as national security in this jurisdiction. That is an important issue that needs to be addressed. It is a question of trust, not just between both sides of the tribal divide in the North but also in both jurisdictions and between the Governments in London and Dublin. The Barron inquiry report suggested that the UK Government did not do all it could to divulge documents that were necessary for Mr. Justice Barron's inquiry. Having listened to people who claim to have been very knowledgeable about the inside track speaking on programmes such as Vincent Browne's radio programme, with damning references being made to spies and espionage, there appear to be a considerable number of hidden agendas.

In that regard also, there is the prospect, although to do it would be pressing a nuclear button, so to speak, of excluding a party from the Assembly and not giving any reason on the basis of national security. That would not help to build up trust, and that has to be borne in mind. This legislation will not be sufficient to build up the necessary trust, although I hope it will go some way towards that goal.

Section 7 states:

The Commissioner of the Garda Síochána or any member of the Garda Síochána designated by him [or her, presumably] for that purpose may disclose to the Commission any information in the possession of the Garda Síochána which in the opinion of the Commission is necessary for performing its functions.

Nothing in any other enactment prohibits disclosure of relevant factual information either to or by the Commission.

If we are requiring disclosure to the commission by the Garda Síochána, we know from the Morris tribunal and various other incidents and investigations that there is a need to have an independent ombudsman for the Garda Síochána. There is a need for some mechanism which is above reproach and not seen to be biased. That is a matter which needs to be resolved but this legislation will not do that. Parallel measures are needed in that regard. The Garda will argue, understandably, that there are many difficulties in terms of resources. We all have our own constituencies to speak about but having gone through a number of deaths, retirements and turnover of staff, the gardaí in the area where I live now find themselves in a position where they have one extra garda since 1988, yet the population has increased by approximately 50%. If we are asking gardaí to engage with this process above and beyond what is happening currently, they would argue that even to set up an extra checkpoint would be a burden.

That being said, it is important that the legislation be passed and that some measure of trust is established which can bring back the Assembly and the institutions which were at the heart of the reason it came about in the first place. The organisation which, ultimately, has a good deal to contribute in terms of building up that trust is the IRA, which has been a large spectre in the overall determination of Northern hostilities as well as the politics that have evolved. Full IRA decommissioning is the bottom line in terms of restoring trust on the Unionist side. Equally, and I mean that in every sense, there needs to be an ending of not just paramilitary activity but also British Government demilitarisation, but we are still not at that point.

We must not take our eye off the ball when it comes to this legislation. It is important but it appears to be a referee without a whistle, so to speak. Those who have the whistle will not just have to rely on this legislation but they will have to trust each other. That is something for which legislation is no substitute and the sooner we can get to a position where people have the courage to trust, the sooner we will start to see real progress.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann noting that the proposed Independent Monitoring Commission is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that it has the potential to be used as a mechanism to block political progress declines to give a second reading to the Bill."

Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the Independent Monitoring Commission Bill 2003, which, as my colleagues and I have stated in this House and other fora, is completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. This is an enabling Bill for a British Act of Parliament which is not only outside the Good Friday Agreement but undermines it. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act 2003 was not even referred to by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he spoke on the Bill in the Seanad or in this House.

It is my guess that few Members of the House have ever heard of this British legislation, or are aware of its serious implications for the peace process. This Bill effectively endorses that legislation and ratifies the agreement between the Irish and British Governments signed by the Minister and the British ambassador, Stewart Eldon, in this House on 25 November. The British Act is disgraceful legislation and the agreement signed by the Minister is, with respect, a disgraceful agreement, which should never have been entered into by an Irish Government. Sinn Féin, as the representative of republican opinion in this State and of the largest body of Nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties, will not accept this so-called agreement which, sadly, so many Deputies seem willing to do without question. The Dáil is being asked on the last day of the session to rubber-stamp serious legislation which has profound implications for the peace process and under a guillotine of all Stages.

The very name of the Bill is a falsehood. The commission will not and cannot be independent. Politically, it was established as a sop to the Ulster Unionist Party dissidents, the very group since made politically irrelevant by the result of the Assembly election. The commission will, in effect, be a creature of the British Government and will rely on information from British intelligence, the British army and the PSNI to fulfil its functions. This is the effect of the Bill and the British legislation to which I have already referred.

The McDowell-Eldon agreement, this legislation and the British legislation will be open to constitutional challenge as being in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It is often forgotten that as well as amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1998, the people in this jurisdiction amended Article 29 to state that the State may be bound by the Good Friday Agreement and that any institution "established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland", notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution. This important change in the Constitution was made on the basis of the Agreement as signed by the two Governments and the institutions as set out in the Agreement. The McDowell-Eldon agreement, as implemented by the British legislation and now proposed to be endorsed by this enabling legislation, undermines the Good Friday Agreement, on the basis of which the people voted to change Articles 2, 3 and 29.

Strand one, Article 25 of the Good Friday Agreement provides that the Assembly, voting on a cross-community basis, may remove a Minister from office. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act, the British equivalent of this legislation, allows the British Secretary of State unilaterally to remove a Minister from office when a motion for exclusion cannot attract cross-community support. This is in clear breach of both the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. The British Act goes further and allows the British Secretary of State to exclude someone from office in "exceptional circumstances".

The so-called Independent Monitoring Commission is designed to facilitate this undermining of the Agreement by the British Government. It is unacceptable that an Irish Government should be party to this through the McDowell-Eldon agreement. The so-called independence of this commission is glaringly exposed in Article 6 of that agreement, which lays down that the mechanism by which the commission considers claims of misconduct by Ministers only involves the members of the commission appointed by the British Government. The only shared position is the 50/50 sharing of the cost of the commission's work. Let us make no mistake, the British Government is in the ascendancy and has overall control.

This legislation is a recipe for the continuation of the British and Unionist serial collapsing of the institutions and postponement of democratic elections. As we speak, the Assembly remains in suspension by order of the British Government at the behest of unionism, despite the renewed democratic mandates secured at the recent Assembly elections.

I do not intend to waste time addressing the detail of the functions of the commission, except to state they are a sham. There is not even the pretence that the activities of the British Government and its armed forces will be monitored in any way. The British Government will face no sanctions, nor will the Irish Government for any failures on its part. I will not address the personnel of the commission as established in shadow form. Suffice to say that if it was composed solely of Nelson Mandela, it could not be independent.

Article 5 of the McDowell-Eldon agreement purports to address the issue of demilitarisation, or "normalisation" as it is described. It is a legislative trick because it is entirely negated by section 15. The commission shall monitor any programme undertaken by the British only after they decide to undertake such a programme once "satisfied with commitments that have been given on an end to paramilitary activity". Otherwise the commission can only monitor so-called normalisation at the request of the British Government – so much for its so-called independence.

The Bill and the shabby agreement come before the House on the very day the Government proposes to publish its section of the Cory report and while the British Government continues to refuse to publish its section, and one week after the Barron report exposed the British Government's refusal to co-operate with the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, yet we are being asked to establish a commission which will rely on the same British military, police and intelligence services for information. Such information will be supplied to the British Secretary of State who may use it to expel a Minister without a cross-community vote in the Assembly.

The British refused to co-operate with Mr. Justice Barron, citing national security interests, yet the McDowell-Eldon agreement enshrines British national security interests in Article 13. The so-called Independent Monitoring Commission will not decide what those interests are. If the British say no to any request from the Commission on the basis of national security, that will be the end of the matter.

The Irish Government has stated that it is against any renegotiation of the Good Friday agreement. Regrettably, this Bill and the British legislation that preceded it are rewriting that same agreement and without negotiation. I urge Members to reject this Bill and the associated agreement that bears the Minister's signature and that of the British ambassador, on the basis of the valid concerns I have outlined. I urge the House to support the amendment tabled by the Sinn Féin Members in the interests of ensuring that the Good Friday agreement, that had the endorsement of the overwhelming volume of opinion on this island, has the opportunity to flourish and deliver the hope and expectation that so many of us have placed our trust in.

I support the introduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission Bill 2003, which is designed to monitor and report on paramilitary ceasefires. It will also have the task of ensuring that pledges on commitments in this regard under the Good Friday agreement are carried out. The various parties are just about coming to terms with the results of last month's elections for a phantom Northern Ireland Assembly.

At this point, I would like to congratulate Dr. Kieran Deeney on his election as a hospital candidate and for topping the poll in Omagh. Sometimes people leave politics aside and put health first.

This week's succession of meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, constituted the first testing of the water by politicians in the North's new political landscape. We may yet be in for a few surprises as political pragmatism takes over from the outdated and outmoded battle cries of "No surrender", "Not an inch" and "Ulster says no." I am reassured by the Minister's emphasis on the part that the Irish Government, in tandem with the British Government, will play in seeking agreement among the various parties in context of the Good Friday agreement.

Prior to this the development of monitoring was ad hoc and depended upon different interest groups. However, the Good Friday agreement introduced a range of new political structures for Northern Ireland. As well as the Northern Ireland Assembly these included the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The Patten Commission on Policing examined the operation and role of the RUC and produced reforms of that police force. In the course of its public consultations the Patten Commission took note of the fact that community policing and public accountability were of significant concern in many areas. The Parades Commission was given statutory powers to make determinations on parades and demonstrations. In recent years there has been much progress in this area.

The work of the monitoring commission will, in the first instance, largely consist of confidence building, together with the nurturing and restoration of a stable political process in the North. Part of the process will be to rebuild the trust and confidence necessary to restore stable and inclusive devolved government to Northern Ireland. It will be a function of the commission to report every six months on the status of both the IRA and loyalist ceasefires. This will be welcome.

The Independent Monitoring Commission is designed to promote the transition to a peaceful society and a stable and inclusive government. In response to Nationalists who frequently express frustration and anger at the level of security force armaments, the new commission will monitor the British Government's programme of demilitarisation in the province. The prominent display of security posts indicates a continuing policy of dominance and is offensive to many people. More vigorous initiatives should be employed towards removing these structures.

The level of weaponry retained by paramilitaries of all political hues in Northern Ireland is comparatively greater than in most liberal democracies. The commission should be instrumental in reducing this level significantly. As far as devolved ministries and the Northern Ireland parties are concerned, the British Government representatives will examine how they were honouring their commitments under the Good Friday agreement. The commission will have the function of scrutinising the British Government's programme for the scaling down of military bases, long a serious source of contention among the Nationalist population. Commission members can probe accusations that some political parties were threatening the stability of devolved institutions. Prior to this there was a major deficit in the independent monitoring of paramilitary activity. This will be more than adequately remedied by this commission. It will redound to the benefit of the peace process.

It is in the interests of all that a monitoring commission should provide an accurate and dispassionate evaluation of the situation. It will certainly be in the public interest and a major contributory factor to the common good that the public will be enabled to distinguish allegations and accusations from fact. The success or otherwise of the Independent Monitoring Commission will rest on its degree of independence from the North's institutions and whether it can take a critical position on State agencies.

Experience in jurisdictions such as South Africa during a period of political transition revealed the powerful role that a monitoring commission can play if it remains independent. It must engage closely with the structures of the formal political process, however. Retaining its critical independence and engaging in conflict resolution has proved an important factor, as in the South African example, and should be in Northern Ireland as well. This is not naively to suggest that a monitoring commission is a panacea or a replacement for State agencies, political parties or other interest groups, but to acknowledge the contribution it can make when conditions are right, which is not always the case.

A number of questions remain to be answered about the new commission. What powers will it have to obtain information from Irish and British security forces? We have had a recent example of the level of co-operation to be had from the British forces in the North, as regards the Barron report. That was a poor report. The impression the report gave was that they did not want to know. What will its relationship be with the Garda Síochána and the GOC of the British army in the North? How much will it cost? Where will it be based and how will it be staffed? Will it be able to investigate past and current alleged violations of the Good Friday agreement?

An independent commission already operates in Northern Ireland, namely General John de Chastelain's Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. That commission operates with a considerable degree of secrecy and its achievements are difficult to evaluate. The onus will be on the Independent Monitoring Commission to work in a much more open and transparent manner. There will need to be reassurance that intimidation is ending and that paramilitaries in both communities have ceased to stockpile arms.

There is no doubt that Northern Ireland is an infinitely safer place today than before the Good Friday agreement. However, abuses continue daily, adversely affecting the lives of many innocent people. A limited number of people with disruptive agendas are still determined to undermine progress and stability in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement committed all participants to the total and simultaneous disarmament of all paramilitaries and major demilitarisation on the part of the security forces. The Independent Monitoring Commission will have a major part to play in the process in parallel with the de Chastelain Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Time is limited and we are operating under the shadow of the Order of Business agreed earlier in the House. I do not want unduly to prolong this debate. I welcome the wide support across the House for this measure. It is an encouraging sign. I thank Deputies Deasy, Rabbitte, Kenny and Connolly for their warm words of support for this agreement. The Sinn Féin contribution, of course, is discordant and is in a tiny minority. It is swimming against the tide not merely of history and logic but also against the tide of truth in this matter.

The Good Friday Agreement was founded on one proposition, that the participants acknowledge that they would not only abstain from the use of violence but also oppose the use of violence by others. That is in the preamble to the Agreement. Opposition to the use of violence is not an empty formula. It means one takes every step to use one's influence to prevent the use of violence or the threat of the use of violence by anybody with whom one has any influence.

The Sinn Féin Party has come to the House yet again with the threadbare distinction between what it says in public on this matter and what happens on the ground. That threadbare distinction has become even thinner. Deputy Ó Caoláin dubs the agreement between the Irish Government and the United Kingdom Government as "the McDowell-Eldon agreement" to satisfy a Sinn Féin propaganda desire to personalise this matter but this is an agreement between two sovereign Governments and, as is evident from this debate, it has the overwhelming support of the parties in this House. It is not a personal choice of mine. On behalf of the Irish Government, I am doing the job the Irish people and the vast majority of its elected representatives have asked me to do and are endorsing as appropriate in this debate.

It was implicit in the Good Friday Agreement that there would be an end to paramilitarism in Northern Ireland and that all involved would use their best endeavours to bring about that end. In that context, it is time we acknowledged one problem. What I found particularly distasteful during the debate was the assertion by Deputy Ó Caoláin that he spoke as a representative of republican opinion in this House. I deny him that status. He is not the representative of republican opinion in this House. The vast majority of Members of this House are republicans and I am one of them. My intuition as to what real republicanism stands for is as good, if not much better, than Deputy Ó Caoláin's.

The Deputy dubbed this agreement as disgraceful. He said it is, effectively, in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. If Deputy Ó Caoláin believes that, let he and his colleagues go to the Four Courts and make that case before the independent Judiciary of the State. If not, he should abandon the proposition that it is in breach of the Agreement. The Government is acting in support of the Agreement and is taking the steps necessary to ensure the Agreement prospers. It is not seeking to breach or undermine the Agreement or to kick at its foundations but to ensure that some people in Northern Ireland deliver on the implicit and explicit commitments they gave in connection with the Agreement.

The provisional movement, consisting of the IRA and Sinn Féin, comprises people who constantly mask one truth about themselves. Far from regarding the institutions and Constitution of this State as legitimate, they state, on the contrary, that the Army Council of the IRA, the executive of that body and the convention, which is another attribute of IRA organisation, have democratic legitimacy and enjoy a continuous thread of legitimacy that dates back to the 1918 general election. That is the provisional position. It carries the implication that such legitimacy is denied to this Parliament, the will of the people in this State and the Constitution. The mythology of the provisional movement is that its members, and a few people who are unknown to the great majority of Irish people, carry within them a moral legitimacy and mandate which is superior to the laws and Constitution of this State and any agreements made by the Irish people.

The truth, and this must be constantly repeated, is that Sinn Féin Members owe a deeper loyalty to this mythological view of Irish history than to the democratic organs of the State. They never deny that when it is put to them. If I am wrong, I ask them to deny it during the remainder of this debate. We will not hear it denied because that is the subservient, illogical, unhistorical and undemocratic yoke that sits around their necks.

The time has come for the people of Northern Ireland to be released from the threat of paramilitarism. That time came when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The time has come and gone for some people to resile from moral ambiguity, ambivalent language and the practice of speaking from both sides of their mouths on where legitimacy resides in this State and in Northern Ireland. I remember with cringing clarity Deputy Ó Caoláin being asked, on the Vincent Browne radio programme, whether he would recommend people who had any information on the Omagh bombing to bring that information either to the Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I recall the obfuscation and deliberate evasion. It does not lie in the mouths of those who deny legitimacy to the Irish State even to advise those who know something about the murderous atrocities carried out by people claiming to be republican to bring those people before the Bar of justice North or South of the Border. The Deputy can now say what he wishes about that event but the tape exists.

It is that fundamental moral ambiguity, writ large and infecting a series of issues, that has bedevilled progress on this island in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. It is this incapacity to deal fairly and squarely with the issues that has brought lack of trust and ill-feeling to the centre of Northern Ireland's politics. It has poisoned all the efforts of those who believe in the Good Friday Agreement to bring about renewed progress. I do not claim that all blame lies with the Provisionals—

That is new for the Minister.

—but it is a significant portion. They have short-changed everybody else in the process because of the fundamental intellectual and moral contradictions at the centre of their movement.

I listened carefully to the comments of Deputies Kenny, Deasy and Rabbitte on the outcome of the election. Of course, it presents new difficulties. However, let us remember other aspects of the result. One is the fact that 70% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted for parties which support the Good Friday Agreement.

Including Sinn Féin.

Including Sinn Féin. Those parties are now entitled to have, within that 70%, the requisite degree of trust to bring about the reinstatement of the Executive and the institutions in Northern Ireland. They are entitled to look to Sinn Féin to make the necessary moves to bring about a clear and unequivocal state of affairs within Northern Ireland and on this island, to indicate that paramilitarism is over, that it has no future in Northern politics and that the paramilitaries are no longer pulling the strings behind the scenes. This is what people want to hear. It is what the provisional movement in its entirety can deliver when and if it chooses.

I agree with Deputy Rabbitte that the Good Friday Agreement is an agreement of constitutional importance and validity. It acknowledges that there must be a capacity to change and a process of review. We have arrived at that review but much more should have been achieved beforehand. Yesterday in Downing Street, the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister made it clear that the governments intend to set about the review with energy, focus and a sense of urgency to bring it to an early and fruitful conclusion. It is possible within that process to make such changes as are necessary to bring about the full implementation of what everyone thought they were voting for in the referenda held North and South of the Border.

In that context, the onus is very much on Sinn Féin, as the largest Nationalist party in Northern Ireland, to address the real issues of polarisation which have been magnified by the outcome of the election. It must undertake to address these issues with a sense of responsibility, having regard to what was the party's explicit and implicit commitment throughout the process. This was not merely to have nothing to do with violence, but to oppose the use and threat of violence by others, including the IRA.

The two governments set out in paragraph 13 of the joint declaration what they believed this meant. Their view on the matter is shared by 95% of Irish people in regard to what violence or the absence of violence does or does not entail. It certainly means the ending of paramilitary activity, punishment beatings and preparation for operations of a paramilitary or unlawful kind. It is for Sinn Féin to convince the entire provisional movement that this is what it signed up to and it is what must be delivered.

On the other side of the equation, there has been a polarisation in Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland. There are many good men and women among the Unionist community who are looking to this House, this State, and even to this debate for some indication that there is a reciprocal sense in this State of what they want most of all, namely, to bring about democratic and constitutional politics in Northern Ireland, not politics which run in parallel with paramilitary activity and the activities of paramilitarists.

It has been said on occasion that the unity of the provisional movement must be carefully conserved in all these matters, which is correct. I see the political logic in this. However, I say equally forcefully that the unambiguous demands of the Good Friday Agreement are that the provisional movement in its entirety should take on board what it purported to sign up to, which is the end of paramilitarism.

The commission threatens no one. It does not, even within its own terms of reference, carry the seeds of unfairness. It merely provides to those who want to see the end of paramilitarism some objective yardstick as to whether everyone in the Northern Ireland process is or is not abiding by the terms to which they agreed in public. The strong opposition being voiced to the agreement by a small minority of Members of this House is nothing compared to the expectations of the great majority of Irish people, North and South of the Border, that the Good Friday Agreement should finally be made to operate in accordance with the peaceful democratic and constitutional mandate which the people of Ireland have given to all the Members of this House, and public representatives in Northern Ireland, to bring about the working of the Agreement on a day to day basis.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main Question."



Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Ó Caoláin, Ó Snodaigh, Crowe, Morgan, Ferris, Gregory and Finian McGrath rose.

As fewer than ten Member have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 119, paragraph (2), I declare the Bill to be read a Second Time.

Question declared carried.

On a point of order, the vote just taken was on an amendment I proposed. I do not believes that constitutes the passage of the Second Stage of the Bill which has yet to be addressed. If I heard you correctly, I thought you said Second Stage had now been adopted.

Second Stage has been carried. I also read out, and do on occasions such as this, that in accordance with Standing Order 119 (2)(i), I declare the Bill to be read a Second Time. I refer the Deputy to the Standing Order.

I wish to record that I am opposed to the passage of Second Stage.

We have already voted on the matter.