1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12847/05]
Vol. 602 No. 7
1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12847/05]
The code of conduct for office holders was drawn up by the Government following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission. It has applied since 3 July 2003. As I have stated previously, I have no plans to amend it.
Can I ask the Taoiseach about the recommendations that were made in respect of the awarding of Government public relations contracts? Five or six recommendations were made about invitations to tenders, the EU Journal, an inventory of work to be carried out by whoever gets contracts, the areas of work involved and the fact that there are risks to Ministers if they do not adhere to these tight guidelines. In that context has the Government decided to examine whether the recommendations issued in that report are now being adhered to in respect of conduct by office holders in so far as public relations are concerned?
Yes. The recommendations in that report have been made known to all office holders. I think we have had just one case since. It now applies that the recommendations in the new codes have to be followed in communications contracts or anything relating to the public relations domain.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions in regard to the code of conduct. First, has he any plans to reconsider and review the code of conduct to ensure that no office holder can use this House to make a racist slur?
We cannot have a debate on what the Deputy might like to see either in the code of conduct or out of it. The question is quite specific. We cannot have a debate. Otherwise we would be here all day.
I am very succinct in my question and it does relate to amendments.
It does not arise from this particular question. The Deputy will have to find another way of raising it.
The question is about amendments. I am asking the Taoiseach if he intends to make any amendments to ensure that the public good is protected in regard to an office holder making a racist slur.
It is not appropriate. The Taoiseach has answered the question. It is not appropriate to ask about amendments the Deputy would like to see in the code of conduct or what she might like to see taken out of the code of conduct. If we were to allow that, every Member on each side of the House would ask such questions. The question was if the Taoiseach intended to amend the code of conduct. We cannot have a debate on what the Deputy would like to see in it or not.
I am not looking for a debate.
The Taoiseach has already answered the question.
If the answers are just going to be "Yes" or "No", we will not get very far. A new situation——
The question does not allow for the type of debate Deputy McManus is seeking.
The Taoiseach may consider responding since I am sure he understands the spirit in which this question has been asked. In regard to the code of conduct for office holders and Members of the Oireachtas appearing before tribunals of inquiry or Oireachtas committees carrying out inquiries of investigation——
That does not arise under this question.
——is the Taoiseach satisfied that all of us are governed by the code of conduct, that it is not in need of amendment and that it works?
That does not arise. I call Deputy Sargent.
I find this very difficult. The two questions I am asking the Taoiseach are perfectly reasonable.
They do not arise. The purpose of questions——
I hardly imagine the Taoiseach will have a problem. I am sure he will be asking comprehensive questions before this session is out.
The Deputy should submit questions in order. I have called Deputy Sargent.
I think that is wrong, a Cheann Comhairle. I really do.
I appreciate the Deputy's point of view.
The Taoiseach has been asked two reasonable questions and I am concerned that he is not being permitted to answer them.
I have called Deputy Sargent. The Chair must obey Standing Orders the same as the Deputy.
Can I put a reasonable question to the Taoiseach?
These types of questions arise and they are very confined. The Taoiseach has answered the question that was put to him by Deputy Kenny. We cannot allow a broad debate on what might or might not be in the code of conduct.
The Opposition putting questions to the Taoiseach may inform him in his approach to the code of conduct. All I ask for is his response.
Deputies should table the questions they wish to have answered. That question is quite specific. I have called Deputy Sargent.
It is a shame the Taoiseach is prevented from answering two perfectly reasonable questions——
That is a point of view.
They are important from the point of view of the public.
In response to the question to the Taoiseach on whether he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct, he answered "No". When I and perhaps others ask that question again, will he at least think about his response before saying "No" so quickly? Does "No" mean "No" for today or forever? Will the Taoiseach take on board the question put by Deputy McManus in——
We cannot allow the Deputy to raise that question given that I ruled Deputy McManus out of order.
I am not going to raise it. I was simply asking the Taoiseach if saying "No" is for today because he has not finished his deliberations following the outburst of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan.
I call on Deputy Ó Caoláin.
I am just asking whether the Taoiseach is saying "No" for today.
It is a kind of "No, no".
I will allow the Taoiseach to respond to the Deputy's legitimate question.
That is all.
The Deputy has made his point. He is being repetitive.
Is the Taoiseach taking on board the question of whether the process associated with code of conduct pertaining to lobbyists is still under way? Is he saying "No" until that has concluded?
It is "No, no".
Allow the Taoiseach to respond.
Will he give a different answer when that process has concluded? What progress has been made on the lobbyist issue? It is clarified in the Bundestag and the European Parliament, but in Ireland we still do not know what the position will be.
I am saying the code of conduct has only been in place for two years. We went through long and detailed consultation over two or three years with the Standards in Public Office Commission. The code of conduct has applied for the past two years. Obviously, a code of conduct must always be kept under review in case an issue arises in connection therewith.
I can say without breaking the Ceann Comhairle's ruling that the code of conduct deals with all aspects of an office holder's position and applies to elected representatives, Ministers and Ministers of State. It is focused on taking decisions, the uses of resources and the furtherance of the common good. It is not drafted to deal with individual statements or utterances. There is another process for dealing with these which is and was used recently.
The lobbyist legislation has not worked as legislation anywhere. The two countries that tried it abandoned it. A question arises in respect of having a system in which outside lobbyists would register. It is not part of the code of conduct because it is a different issue. It only relates to the code of conduct when an office holder, including an adviser, Minister or Deputy, leaves office. In this case they are duty-bound for the initial months after their leaving not to engage in any area of work in which they would have had a vested interest or of which they would have had knowledge. In the case of advisers, the applicable period lasts for 12 months. If they get involved in a company or business, they must inform the Secretary General of the nature of the business in which they are involved.
If the Taoiseach does not intend to amend the existing code of conduct, can he advise the House if, given the number of serious breaches, not least of which includes the utterances regarding asylum seekers by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he is determined to have it enforced as it stands?
That does not arise out of this question.
Will the Taoiseach indicate——
I suggest that the Deputy submit an appropriate question.
Enforceability is very important.
We will proceed to ceist a dó on Northern Ireland.
I have a brief question. Will the Taoiseach describe the people to whom the code of conduct applies? Who are deemed to be office holders? Does the code of conduct extend to people who might have access to information also possessed by office holders?
The code of conduct applies to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers, Ministers of State, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and their deputies. We have not passed resolutions to extend it to include the Chairmen of committees. That is ultimately a matter for the House to decide. That is what the code of conduct is but, as I mentioned, there are guidelines under the ethics Act. A code of conduct is not taken in isolation. It is part of the wider ethics framework established by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The legislation provides that due regard must be taken of the code of conduct, but there are regulations in place which must be followed by advisers and others, and they must comply strictly with the 2001 Act.
What sort of regulations?
2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14071/05]
3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14072/05]
4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he plans to meet the Northern Ireland political parties after the Westminster elections of 5 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14073/05]
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the family of the late Mr. Robert McCartney; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14074/05]
6 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent political developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15031/05]
7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when he next plans to meet the British Prime Minister, following the British general election of 5 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15032/05]
8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if, following the outcome of the British general election of 5 May 2005, he has plans to meet the political parties from Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15033/05]
9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the implications of the outcome of the British general election of 5 May 2005 for political developments in Northern Ireland. [15034/05]
10 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach when he expects to meet the British Prime Minister and the political parties in connection with the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15071/05]
11 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the family of the late Mr. Robert McCartney. [15206/05]
12 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [15209/05]
13 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15211/05]
14 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet the political parties in Northern Ireland following the Westminster elections of 5 May 2005. [15212/05]
15 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet the British Prime Minister following the Westminster elections of 5 May 2005. [15213/05]
16 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the US administration. [15220/05]
17 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the fringes of the Victory in Europe celebrations in Moscow. [15896/05]
18 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister on the margins of the VE Day ceremonies in Moscow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15969/05]
19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with members of the family of the late Mr. Robert McCartney. [15978/05]
20 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any recent contacts with the US administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15981/05]
21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when he expects to meet the Northern Ireland political parties following the Westminster elections of 5 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16068/05]
22 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when he will next meet the British Prime Minister regarding the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16069/05]
23 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the family of the late Mr. Robert McCartney; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16070/05]
24 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent contacts he has had with the US administration regarding the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16071/05]
25 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he will kick-start the peace process again by demanding that all parties meet and proceed with talks following the recent elections. [16881/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 25, inclusive, together.
Since the results of the British general election became known, my priority has been to renew contacts with a view to getting the peace process back on track.
I did not have the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, at the VE celebrations in Moscow, but I spoke with him shortly after his re-election and I extended my best wishes to him as he begins his third term in office. I hope he and I can meet in the coming weeks. I greatly value the close personal friendship and working relationship the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I have established, particularly in our common efforts to advance the Northern Ireland peace process. This real and stable partnership between the Irish and British Governments has been vitally important in recent years and it will remain so, as we seek to bring all outstanding issues to successful finality. Together, and as joint guarantors, we are committed to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In the aftermath of the elections, it is important to get on with this vital project, to resolve the crisis of trust and confidence and move beyond the current stalemate.
The general and local elections have brought change to the political landscape in Northern Ireland. When the results became known, I congratulated all those who were elected and wished them well as they serve the community over the coming years. The Westminster election saw the end of an era with the retirement of Mr. John Hume and Mr. Seamus Mallon. Their service to the people of Ireland has been of truly historic proportions. They showed that politics can work and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. I also paid tribute to Mr. David Trimble when he resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Now, we must look ahead. For its part, the Government will continue its efforts to achieve an inclusive, comprehensive peace settlement.
Yesterday, I met Mr. Mark Durkan and his SDLP colleagues. I had the opportunity last week for some brief discussions with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, first in Dublin, when he had a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Subsequently, I met him, along with Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Prescott, in the Isle of Man at a plenary session of the British-Irish Council. I spoke briefly with President Bush in Moscow during the VE celebrations and I had a useful meeting with his Special Envoy Dr. Mitchell Reiss, last week on a range of topics. All of these discussions have focused on overall political developments in the aftermath of the elections, with an emphasis on the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement and the continued partnership between both Governments.
The peace process has been damaged by a number of high profile incidents over the past six months, including the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Mr. Robert McCartney. I had a meeting with Mr. McCartney's sisters and partner in Government Buildings on 11 April, when I reiterated our continuing and full support for them. Their campaign has the support of the Irish people and of political leaders around the world. The family has shown great courage and I continue to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the intimidation it is enduring. As I have said before, a tangible way of showing that the republican movement is committed to making progress in the peace process would be to see his killers brought to justice.
The latest report of the Independent Monitoring Commission is published today. It shows, as I have indicated to the House in recent weeks, that paramilitary and criminal activity continues on both sides of the community in the North. This places an unacceptable burden on ordinary people who want to get on with their lives, as well as posing a broader threat to the peace process and all our hopes for a prosperous future. If we are to make progress, this issue needs to be addressed once and for all.
Mr. Gerry Adams's appeal to the IRA will ultimately be judged on the basis of the IRA's actions in response. I understand that an internal consultation process is under way within the IRA. The outcome must be a clear and decisive end to paramilitarism and criminality, and the completion of decommissioning. If that happens, both Governments will expect Unionists to fully accept partnership politics and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including an inclusive Northern Ireland Executive and North-South co-operation.
The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with a full commitment by all involved to purely democratic and peaceful methods, is the only basis on which we can all move forward.
This is a day of tragedy and depression. The fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission was published today. It makes for grim reading in respect of Northern Ireland. In regard to the Continuity IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the Provisional IRA, the Real IRA, the Ulster Defence Association, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando, the commission states clearly that all these organisations are active, intent on continuing criminality and continuing in the ways of terrorism, and it points out incidents in respect of each case. In the case of the Continuity IRA, it makes the point about threats being issued to district policing partnerships and a taxi driver being forced to take a bomb to the PSNI station in January. In respect of the Irish National Liberation Army, it believes that group was responsible for the robbery of €100,000 worth of goods from Debenhams in October 2004. In the case of the LDF——
A question, please.
I am coming to the question. The commission believes that the LDF is deeply involved in drug dealing. In respect of the Provisional IRA, the police discovered 10,000 rounds of ammunition suitable for use in assault riffles in September 2004 when elements of the Provisional IRA were involved in negotiation with both Governments about concluding a peaceful agreement, and so on.
I note the Taoiseach said if the IRA responds to Mr. Adams's call both Governments would treat this as positive and would get on with the business. Has the Taoiseach had time to consider the report? Does he believe that the call from Gerry Adams to those in the IRA to cease their ways is genuine and made in good faith? Having said that they are two sides of the one coin, does he believe that this call is real and genuine?
What are the concerns of the Taoiseach and the Government about the continued terrorist activities of these groups? How soon does the Taoiseach intend to talk to Prime Minister Blair and the police authorities on both sides to ensure that such activities are in some way countered?
Will the Taoiseach comment on the call by the DUP leader that the Good Friday Agreement is dead? I do not believe that. There is a sense of urgency to have this matter dealt with. Obviously the DUP wants to play a very long game here and does not appear to have any intent in moving forward at an early date. Will the Taoiseach comment on that?
The recommendations of the IMC report are as Deputy Kenny stated. The report states that a number of the paramilitary groups are, as I said previously in the House, continuing to recruit and train people in the use of firearms, explosives, intelligence gathering and becoming involved in criminal activity. There is no evidence of paramilitary groups ceasing their activities. All those issues are factual.
For the most part, the downward trend in criminal activity and crime has continued, with the number of paramilitary murders more or less the same as in previous periods. Loyalist groups remain responsible for most of the violence, but there are also some worrying issues about ex-prisoners being involved in either paramilitary activity or criminal activity. All these issues are mentioned in the report. However, they must be set against the general overall position. There is an attitude of getting on with life in most parts of Northern Ireland, but we have still not reached the position we want to reach.
On the Deputy's second question about the genuineness of Gerry Adams's call, the position is, as I stated previously, that we believe the statement he made is significant and has potential but we need to see what the IRA does on foot of it. The best information I have is that a live debate is happening within the IRA which, in itself, is important. I hope that debate will be fruitful. When the Government met Sinn Féin at the beginning of the year we made it clear we needed to reflect on the key issues which had to be addressed by the republican movement if the peace process was to be put back on course. Nothing has really changed since then. That is still the position. Mr. Adams said the republican movement has reached a defining moment.
For so many years, we have had many false dawns and dashed hopes in that regard and the last few months have crystallised the challenges which must be addressed. The crisis of trust and confidence is profound and will not be easily repaired. Only complete transformation of the situation will generate the energy needed to move beyond the current stalemate and realise the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement. Fudge and ambiguity will simply not work. It must be clear they are taking decisive steps to move on. We can only come to a judgment on that when we see it because, quite frankly, much damage has been done. Once it is clear the issue of IRA paramilitary capability and activity has been decisively dealt with, then we can try to get on with attempting to re-establish the political institutions under the Good Friday Agreement and embrace the principles and practices of partnership. I cannot make that judgment until I see the response. If it is clear and unambiguous, we will see where we go from there.
In regard to Dr. Paisley's comment, the situation is quite clear. The entire focus must be on our efforts to re-establish the Executive and on the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. There is no viable alternative, which I think everyone knows. There is no question of starting again from the beginning. If we can get decisive clarity on the question of the IRA, we must restore the institutional arrangements at the heart of the Agreement. It is not a question of preferring one model over another. Anything less than the inclusive arrangements set down in the Agreement would simply not work. The only way to get devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, which would be capable of working, is if it is done on a cross-community basis. That is what is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. There is no other mechanism to do that. We are all clear about that.
As I have said outside the House, the result of the Assembly elections in November 2003 changed the basis of progress in Northern Ireland on the grounds of the political strength of parties with an increased mandate for the DUP and Sinn Féin. Following that election, the parties, particularly the DUP, said they wanted to trigger the review, which they were entitled to do and which I supported. We spent most of last year working on that review. The political aspects of the review were accepted in the discussions which ended with the presentation by both Governments of the document of 8 December. The political aspects of it were accepted by the DUP, Sinn Féin and other parties. Some parties had differences on some points, but the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed with it. The change in the position from then to now does not make any sense to me.
As was re-emphasised last week at the British-Irish Council by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Prescott, both Governments are working on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement. I think that was certainly the view of all the other political parties.
Does the Taoiseach accept that the task of making progress in Northern Ireland has become more difficult since the recent election there? Does he accept that it was a mistake effectively to exclude the moderate parties from the discussions leading to the aborted deal last December and that, notwithstanding the SDLP's achievement, it has created greater difficulties in reaching a resolution than existed before the election?
Does the Taoiseach accept that today's report of the Independent Monitoring Commission shows that, far from winding down its paramilitary activity, the Provisional IRA is more active in recruiting, training, and in one case, acquiring ammunition made after the Good Friday Agreement? The Provisional IRA is acquiring rather than disposing of arms.
When does the Taoiseach expect to receive a statement from the IRA? Does he accept that while we all endorsed the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA did not and the resulting twin track approach is creating an anomalous situation? While we want to support the Taoiseach's efforts to advance the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA is debating whether it will make a move in terms of paramilitary activity.
The attitude of the DUP is hardening. One cannot ignore the fact that the failure of the deal in December has further reduced the level of trust. Does the Taoiseach intend to meet the DUP to discuss this hardening of attitude and see what progress can be made?
What progress can be made to ensure the killers of Robert McCartney are brought to justice? What pressure can be put on the Provisional movement to surrender these men to the police? Will the Irish Government assist the McCartney family in pursuing a civil action if there is no possibility of proceeding with a criminal action?
Regarding the Deputy's first question, I never regard any parties as excluded from the process at any time.
They do because, for example, when the strength lay with the UUP and the SDLP we dealt more with David Trimble and John Hume than with other parties or representatives. Dr. Paisley would not speak to any of us, and certainly not to me, until recently. From that point of view the DUP was fully excluded. In terms of what we were endeavouring to do we always tried to keep lines open to, and communicate with, every party. When we came to discuss the decommissioning of arms we went only to the parties which could do something about that.
We have always tried to keep everyone involved and to the fore but when one party loses the strength it had, moves out of the centre and no longer plays the same role, it feels less close to the process. We have tried at all times, at ministerial and official level, to the best of our abilities, to keep everyone involved. Regardless of switches in the power bloc we have always accepted that all parties should be involved. The very small parties had a sense of frustration but we tried to keep the Women's Coalition, the UDP and others actively involved, and we continue to do so through individual meetings. Each time there is a major issue, it is difficult to go back to separate meetings. The easy way for us, as I have said many times before, would be round table meetings. As Deputy McManus knows, we could never do that because somebody may not turn up or may not be talking to others. One would never get them all together. The easiest way for the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and I to brief everyone is to address them all in one room, but I can remember the number of times that proved possible. That would never be agreed to so one always had to hold separate meetings, which is a long process. To this day we continue to meet people separately. I hope some day we will get to a position where we can meet people collectively.
I accept the point the Deputy made about trust and confidence. The position we had reached in November and early December was severely damaged but we must get back to that position. The only way we can do that is when the key issues of decommissioning, the IRA moving to a new mode, and criminality are dealt with. If we get to that position, we can move on. In that instance, the DUP would have to see that the only way of moving to devolved Government in Northern Ireland would be on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP is careful to say it will wait to see what happens. I hope we can make progress on that issue.
I hope to meet the DUP but I am not certain when. We were to meet the party shortly before the recent elections but the meeting was cancelled. We hope to re-enact that meeting as soon as possible. On the day the elections ended, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I stated that position directly to the DUP and have since done so at official level.
I honestly do not know when the IRA might make a response. I have resisted answering that question many times. The time issue is not my biggest concern. I am pleased an engagement is taking place throughout the island. What is more important is the quality and clarity of the reply. I have turned my mind to this issue rather than whether it takes one week, two weeks, a month or whatever.
On the issue of the murderers of Robert McCartney, as I said in my reply, I hope and genuinely believe a way of showing concern would be for the republican movement to commit to making progress and seeing the killers brought to justice and to make whatever efforts they can to do that. The investigation is ongoing but, naturally enough, the PSNI does not bring me up to date. However, as I understand it, a dedicated and committed team is working on it and doing all it can to try to piece together the case in all its difficulties. That is the best way of progressing the matter. What will happen in future is another matter. Rather than move on to the next stage of a civil action, from which we are some time away, it is best that we stick with the investigation. Much effort and many resources are going into it. There are many difficulties also because of the operation that happened after the murder which makes it very difficult. It is to be hoped that they will make the necessary breakthrough. In the meantime, I am keeping in touch with the McCartney sisters and with Bridgeen and certainly we will be helpful.
Will the Taoiseach note that this Deputy and my party reject the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission report and its charge against the IRA? There is no evidence to substantiate such a charge.
I want to proceed on a positive note because it is important that I acknowledge and welcome the Taoiseach's statement that the Good Friday Agreement is the only way forward. Will he impress that point on the leader of the DUP when he has an opportunity to engage with Mr. Paisley at some time, hopefully in the near future?
I also welcome the Taoiseach's commentary of last week — he is not just as clear in his responses here today, but nevertheless they are on the record, and very importantly so — on his acceptance of what he has described as a genuine and significant debate that is going on within the IRA as a result of the call by the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams. I too hope that the outcome of those deliberations will be positive and fruitful in terms of all we hope to see achieved.
On a matter that has not been addressed, does the Taoiseach disagree with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, when he told the Nationalist people of the Six Counties recently that their Sinn Féin MPs should take their seats in Westminster and take an oath to the Queen? Was the Minister speaking for the Taoiseach and the Government? Was he also speaking for the Taoiseach and the Government when he said that representation in the Dáil for people from the Six Counties is not on the cards?
Does the Taoiseach accept that when the Good Friday Agreement was achieved in 1998, he gave a commitment that this issue would be addressed? Does he recall it was substantively addressed by an Oireachtas all-party committee? Does he recall there was a clear indication and understanding that there would be such a provision where we would see an accommodation for the 18 Northern MPs within the debate process in these Houses? What exactly is the Taoiseach's position on this very important issue? Despite the current process being almost on-hold, will he continue to address this very important issue, recognising the contribution that it can make?
Has the Taoiseach made arrangements to meet Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness of Sinn Féin in the near future? Does he not regard it as frustrating that four and half months later there is no reaction from the persons who were in McGuinness's bar in January when Robert McCartney was murdered? In his view, would a discussion between the Taoiseach as head of Government and the Sinn Féin leadership be important in achieving a breakthrough in bringing to justice those who carried out this vicious murder?
In answer to Deputy Ó Caoláin's question on the Good Friday Agreement, I will emphasise that point when I meet Dr. Paisley because there is no other basis on which we can move forward. If I did not make the position as clear today as I did last week, it is my view that the process of dialogue and discussions going on at present is of major importance. A positive answer to these issues is the only way I can see of getting back into the position of building trust and confidence and moving forward — it is a different day's work if the answer is negative. It is a very important and significant debate.
As to how Sinn Féin uses the seats for which it won a mandate by way of representation in Westminster, that is totally a matter for Sinn Féin and I have no comment to make on it. I am still totally committed to the all-party committee report. I believe the Deputy would accept that we can only progress that matter in the right circumstances. However, I am still supportive of those circumstances because it is a good way of moving forward. I am sure I will shortly meet representatives of Sinn Féin on a formal basis, but I have no date for that.
On Deputy Kenny's last question, in reality we need co-operation and help to try to get the convictions necessary on the McCartney murder. We need people to be helpful. This incident did not happen in the countryside in the middle of the night with nobody around. A huge number of people were around. We must always be very careful about the legal position and that a major investigation is going on. I am sure Deputy Kenny, like me, hears the same names with the same picture being painted. Regardless of whether that is right or wrong, if people who are brought in for questioning answer nothing and do not engage, it makes the matter very difficult to resolve. It is a case with huge significance not only within this country but also around the world.
As I said recently on other matters, we have continued, I believe in a fair-handed way, to follow many cases like the Finucane case, and 16 years later the Government has followed that case. We have followed many other cases also. However, this is an important case as well. It is not many months ago since it occurred and some people know precisely who was involved, what happened and the circumstances of it. I hope prosecutions can be dealt with to give justice to a decent family, which is all they are looking for. I know they are not looking for all the publicity that relates to this, they just want to see justice for the murder of their brother.
I call Deputies Sargent and Finian McGrath and ask them to be very brief.
As I have four questions, I will try to be succinct. The Taoiseach mentioned the importance of inclusivity and regard for smaller parties. I ask him to take on board that, following the local elections in the North, the Green Party is now the sixth largest party there and draws its support from both Unionists and Nationalists. It should be included in the discussions the Taoiseach is having with other parties. While he did not mention the Green Party by name, it is important to take whatever small indications of hope that exist that cross-party and cross-community politics has a future in the North as well as throughout the island.
To move forward from the stalemate that has gripped the process following the British elections, in particular those in the North, is the Taoiseach looking at opportunities that may exist for a cross-party committee on a short-term basis, some form of the forum working together, even holding a few meetings on a short-term basis or indeed bilateral meetings with Opposition parties? Is he following any model or developing any ideas, including, for example, the idea floated by the SDLP of having an interim committee to try to move beyond the present direct-rule model? Will the Taoiseach indicate whether anything is happening other than waiting for people to change their minds?
Does the Taoiseach share my frustration at the lack of movement on talks regarding the peace process? Is he aware that many of our citizens in the broader society are extremely frustrated and feel let down by many parties to the talks? Following the increased mandate of the DUP arising from the recent elections, does the Taoiseach have concrete proposals to break the logjam and deal with parties that are hostile to the Good Friday Agreement? Does the Taoiseach agree that all parties to the conflict have a responsibility, particularly those with an increased mandate after the recent elections, to get stuck in and do a deal? All the victims deserve respect, support and compassion. If the political parties are serious about the victims, they will negotiate a package and move the whole process forward.
On Deputy Sargent's point about the Green Party, it has not been involved to date, but I certainly have no difficulty regarding engagement with our colleagues in the North and regular briefings. If that helps, I have no problem with that. The idea of consultation in bilateral——
They had not been elected before.
Allow the Taoiseach to answer.
Yes, but even on previous occasions we tried to keep everyone on board, including the parties that had very little representation, such as the PUP and the UDP. I see as positive anything that helps and is supportive of the issue; I very much agree with that.
Regarding a forum, we will have to see the initial reaction and response to the major outstanding issues before we see movement. The reality is simply that — it is always best to deal in facts — as Deputy Finian McGrath has said, if we do not secure a substantive jump by the parties on all sides with a significantly increased mandate, we will not be able to build up the trust and confidence that has been fairly badly eroded in recent months. There is no doubt there will be stalemate if that is the position and nothing that anyone can do will change that.
On the positive side, if we achieve the necessary progress on the relevant issues, which are well known to everyone, that deserves a corresponding boost from all parties, including the DUP, to move forward. A great deal hinges on the coming period. For the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland, we should get the institutions set up again as quickly as possible. I do not expect that to happen overnight, but we should not have long delays either. The institutions could then operate again, with the Executive and the Assembly working. Regarding the dynamics of recent years, if we can avoid the central issues that have dragged us down, we can really start making progress and gain a whole new momentum. If the rift continues, it is all bad news, but I hope that will not be the position. As we once again move into the marching season, it is important that we have the co-operation seen in the past few years, to see us through what is always a potentially difficult season.