Ceisteanna — Questions

Northern Ireland Issues

Gerry Adams

Question:

1 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he plans to meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5312/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he plans to meet the First and Deputy First Ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5313/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will raise with the British Prime Minister the need for the British Government to accede to the unanimous request of the Oireachtas for all files and other relevant information in its possession relating to the fatal acts of collusion in this jurisdiction, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, to be made available for independent international scrutiny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5314/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

4 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will meet with the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre of August 1971; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5315/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

5 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his agenda for North-South relations. [5336/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron——

Could we have order, please?

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, telephoned me to pass on his congratulations following the general election in February.

I ask Members to please be quiet.

Níor chuala mé an méid a dúirt an Taoiseach.

Would Deputies please remove themselves from the House if they are not prepared to listen to the debate?

An féidir leis an Taoiseach é a rá arís?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, phoned me to pass on his congratulations following the general election in February. In the course of that conversation he invited me to meet with him at Downing Street in the near future. I have already met with the Prime Ministeren marge of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council which I attended in Brussels on 11 March. I also expect to meet with him at the spring European Council meeting which will take place later this week.

I met with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, during my recent visit to Washington to attend the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebrations. At our meeting we discussed the general political situation in the North; the opportunities for North-South co-operation and the dissident threat.

As set out in the programme for Government, this Government supports the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. We are also committed to publishing and acting on the recommendations of the first review of the North-South implementation bodies and areas for co-operation, and we will progress the second part of the review to identify new areas for North-South co-operation.

Promoting greater economic co-operation on this island to accelerate the process of recovery and creation of jobs is also a clear part of our agenda. We will progress these issues through the work of the North South Ministerial Council. I will be chairing the next NSMC plenary meeting which will take place in the South in June.

The dissident threat unfortunately remains with us and we will continue to foster the co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI to deal with this.

I am also conscious that we are facing into a period of commemorative events which must be handled sensitively and inclusively. This is a matter to which the Government will give careful attention.

I understand that previously the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have met with the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre and that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have ongoing contact with them.

I am open to meeting the families.

With regard to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Deputies will be aware that the Clerk of the Dáil received a reply from the Clerk of the House of Commons on foot of the Oireachtas resolution of 10 July 2008. Any future follow up to this should be considered in consultation with the parties and can be raised with the Whips. During my brief visit to Washington I met Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the appropriations committee which deals with the International Fund for Ireland, IFI. As the House will be aware this was included, on foot of a presidential recommendation, for consideration with the budget but has been removed as a result of the change in circumstances on Capitol Hill. There is a three-week gap in respect of this matter and, as a result of its importance, we made a strong case to the Senator for it to be reintroduced. The funding is particularly important to communities on both sides of the divide in areas of Northern Ireland that are vulnerable. A withdrawal of funds from such areas would send out the wrong signal and change the impetus in the context of seeking further funding for these areas from European sources.

I do not believe it is satisfactory that these five questions are being taken together. Each of them deals with a very serious——

That is a matter for the Taoiseach's Office.

Tuigim sin. However, it is a matter for me to express my opinion without interruption. These are extremely serious issues in respect of which there have been many developments. I also met Senator Pat Leahy during my visit to Washington, particularly as funding from the IFI is of importance to Border counties in this State, including Louth, which I represent. I am unsure of the nature of the supplementary I should pose because all of the matters with which these questions deal are so pressing.

The British Secretary of State recently and unilaterally scrapped the 50-50 representativeness required by the Patten Commission. This was done against the express wishes of some of the parties in the North and is in breach of the British-Irish Agreement. Was the Government consulted in respect of this matter and what is its position with regard to it? Is the Taoiseach in a position to insist that what was done in this instance was unacceptable and demand that the 50-50 requirement be reinstated until agreement is reached on how it should be formally removed? He is aware of how difficult it was to deal with this issue and of how hard it was when everyone was obliged to move from old-style jackboot state policing to the new model of civic-community policing.

I wish to refer to an issue which was continually raised with the former Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, by my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin and which relates to the unanimous decision reached by the Oireachtas regarding all files and other information relating to collusion which took place in this State, including in respect of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The current Taoiseach undertook to meet the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre, who, during the past week, took part in a congressional hearing in Washington. I acknowledge his openness and thank him for meeting the families. I request that he ask his officials to meet them as soon as possible.

I dealt with questions of this nature from an Opposition perspective for a number of years. It is the Office of the Ceann Comhairle that is responsible for grouping questions. There are five questions in the group under discussion. The first relates to the British Prime Minister, the second to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the third to the British Prime Minister and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, the fourth to the Ballymurphy massacre and the fifth to the agenda for North-South relations.

I apologise for interrupting but I must inform the Taoiseach that it is his office and not that of the Ceann Comhairle which is responsible for grouping questions of this nature.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for providing that clarification. I have no objection to dealing with questions such as this on an individual basis if the Deputies opposite wish to do so. However, this would mean that they might get less of a run at dealing with the matters to which they relate. On Question Time yesterday I made the point that as part of the reform of the Dáil we should perhaps consider the way in which questions of this nature are grouped. I am open to suggestions in this regard. For many years, questions such as those before the House have been grouped in this fashion. They arise on a regular basis and Deputy Adams will discover that he will be asking the same questions with what he might term "monotonous regularity". Matters might not change as quickly as he would like but I am open, in the interests of all Members, to making the Dáil more effective in its operation.

I am quite prepared to meet the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre. We will arrange to hold such a meeting as soon as is appropriate.

I will return to the Deputy with information relating to the 50-50 requirement. The Patten Commission found that such a requirement should be put in place but there has been some change from the previous position. I will raise the matter with the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when next I meet him. I presume I will have the opportunity to do so in the near future. I will endeavour to discover what is the exact position.

Where questions of this nature are grouped, it is my intention to give the Deputies who submitted them adequate opportunity to pose supplementaries.

Tá sin go maith.

I was going to call Deputy Martin. However, if he does not object, I will allow Deputy Adams to pose a further supplementary now. I will also permit Deputy Adams to come back in later.

I wish to deal with the fact that the British-Irish Agreement remains to be fully implemented. For understandable reasons, the Government's focus has been on dealing with the economic recession. However, many matters have to a large degree been placed on hold. There should be a North-South consultative forum, which has not been established, and the bill of rights has not been introduced. Both Governments agreed to work with the North's Executive in respect of Acht na Gaeilge but this has not happened.

I accept that Deputy Kenny is new to his position as Taoiseach. However, there is a real need to focus. Many of the replies he gave earlier referred to the so-called dissident threat. We cannot ignore that threat but neither should we elevate those making it to a position where they feel some sense of self-importance.

The issues to which I refer are necessary parts of an international agreement between two sovereign Governments. In the past I have been critical of the Government sometimes behaving as a junior partner in its relationship with its British counterpart. I have no high regard for the current British Secretary of State. He is not good on these issues. By definition, a British Government is a Unionist Government. Mr. Owen Paterson is a Unionist of the old Tory school and is no friend of ours on these matters. His unilateral move in respect of the 50-50 representativeness requirement that was put in place on foot of the Patten Commission's recommendations is proof of that.

On the outstanding matters to which I refer, namely, the consultative forum, the Bill of rights, Acht na Gaeilge and others such as the North-South parliamentary forum will require a great deal of focus on the part of the Government in the coming period. My party, and I am sure all others, will support it fully in its endeavours to have the provisions of the Agreement fully implemented.

As already stated, when I met the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Washington last week a number of issues were discussed. Most of these related to employment, economic opportunities, incentives for the development of various sectoral industries in Northern Ireland, tourism, cross-Border activities and infrastructural developments. These are all matters of which the Deputy is well aware. We did not actually discuss the 50-50 requirement or the question of a Bill of rights. It may not be that easy to introduce a bill of rights, particularly in view of the implications that might arise in respect of other areas.

I have responsibility for this area and I wish to provide the Deputy with some information. When in opposition, the parties which are now in government were very supportive of the previous Administration in making every effort to ensure that the British-Irish Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement would be implemented in so far as is practical and to the fullest extent possible. To be honest, I have not had an opportunity to discuss the real priorities we can achieve in this regard over a period. I would be happy to do so with the spokespeople on Northern Ireland affairs from the parties opposite in order to discover what priorities might be identified.

I have, for more reasons than one, an interest in the situation regarding language. Following my meeting last week with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, I am aware that their immediate priorities relate to banking issues, the economies of the North and the South and the opportunities they perceive to be of importance to Northern Ireland. I undertook to follow through on a number of those issues and I will keep the House informed.

There are three outstanding issues with regard to North-South relations and the Good Friday Agreement. Some initial tentative steps have been made in the direction of the North-South consultative body and there have been good relations between the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the previous Ceann Comhairle and Deputies. That has been slow, but not because of any lack of effort on this side. Rather, there has been a reluctance to engage although there has been change in more recent times from those in the Unionist community and others.

There is a specific commitment to a Northern Ireland specific bill of rights. We should ensure that happens. People are trying to wriggle out of that commitment but given the unique circumstances that led to the Good Friday Agreement, this is a commitment we should honour and to which we should seek to get the British Government to commit.

The Taoiseach referenced the International Fund for Ireland. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I took the decision not to preside over the ending of the remit of the IFI but to keep it going. That is why we lobbied intensively in the United States and brought the British Government — the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was Mr. Shaun Woodward — on board with a view to getting collective financial support for the IFI from the United States and the EU Commission.

The one sector of society that has not reaped a dividend from the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process is what is termed the hard to reach communities on both sides of the divide. The health indices are still poor in the Shankill, as they are in other parts of Belfast and elsewhere. The education completion rates are appalling. We will regress again if we do not do something aggressively and proactively to focus on that issue. Much of this work is done behind the scenes with community groups on all sides. Notwithstanding our public finance difficulties, I appeal to the Government to retain and ring fence the direct conciliation fund in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the anti-sectarianism fund. Both those are small funds in the overall context, but they have been put to very good use in supporting community groups across Northern Ireland to build relationships and bridges and to work in areas that have significant economic and social disadvantage.

When the Massereene murders and some of the more recent atrocities happened, it was disturbing that people as young as 13 and 14 had no difficulty with what had transpired. Some of those young people were hardly three or four years old at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. There are inherent dangers here. We must work on the socio-economic side of the North-South issue if we are to reap dividends for future generations from the undoubted political successes of the peace process.

I will look at the question of the Bill of rights to see what preparatory work has been done. Before the election, I attended a meeting of North-South political representatives in Warrenpoint. The consultative group attended by the Ceann Comhairle's predecessor was a forerunner of the North-South forum. Having met people from deprived or vulnerable areas in Northern Ireland, I fully understand the implications of a withdrawal of funding and the potential regression into anti-social behaviour and other activities that no one wants to see.

I made that point to Senator Leahy in Washington last week in stressing the importance of continuing the IFI not only in its own right, but as a lever for acquiring other funding from the European Union for very valuable purposes. By the end of 2009, some €753 million had been made available to more than 5,800 projects, many of which have proven their validity. The fund focuses on Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo. It is estimated that the fund has created up to 39,000 jobs and a further 16,000 indirect jobs in Northern Ireland and the Southern Border counties. It has been of real value. For those reasons, I would not like to see the fund being withdrawn. I hope the contact we have continued with the American authorities will result in the fund being continued and that other funding will also be made available.

The fund can only be wound up under the terms of Article 14 of the Good Friday Agreement with both Governments agreeing to do so and giving six months written notice. I am a strong supporter of this fund and will do everything I can to keep it in place.

I welcome that. I also make the point that there are competing interests for that money. This may be a factor in what is happening in the United States. There is considerable lobbying of Irish-American representatives, who are key to ensuring the insertion of the funding. Others may be looking at ending the funding stream for the IFI with a view to getting some of the funding for their own activities and purposes. What is required is a singular lobbying focus by the Government to ensure that funding for the International Fund for Ireland continues. The IFI has developed a new mandate to target its efforts exclusively on hard to reach communities. The rationale for its continuation is a narrow targeted focus in the future. That is my view. Others are trying to queer the pitch and to get a slice of the funding for their own projects.

Other groups are lobbying hard for these funds on Capitol Hill. I do not speak for Senator Leahy, but I think he gave a very good hearing to what we had to say about the fund and its importance, with particular reference to it being continued for the benefit of vulnerable young people in hard pressed areas. In the next three weeks when decisions are made, I hope he will decide to continue the fund. I am aware of the pressures on him and of the general economic situation in the United States, where there is unemployment and other difficulties. However, this is an important fund. The United States of America is committed to continuing to support Ireland and I hope that commitment will be demonstrated by the continuation of this fund.