Northern Ireland: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on Northern Ireland. We all want to see a modern, forward-looking and prosperous Northern Ireland. In the times in which we live, however, whether it be north, south, east or west, we cannot be insular. We all must be aware of, and responsive to, external, international and global issues beyond our direct control. That is the reality of the world economy today. We are all interdependent, one way or another. A more dynamic Northern Ireland economy means more exports, more trade, direct and indirect, and more investment, ultimately to the benefit of all on the island.

I last met Northern Ireland’s First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Japan in early December where we were separately going about the necessary business of promoting trade and investment to the benefit of both jurisdictions. Significantly, Ministers from Dublin, Westminster and Stormont will in the coming days embark to Singapore on the first international joint trade mission. Led by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton; his Northern Ireland counterpart, Mrs. Arlene Foster, MLA, and the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Stephen Hammond, MP, the trade mission aims to pursue trade and investment opportunities in the aviation sector.

The peace process and North-South relations are very important, but they are not the only pieces of the jigsaw. The North-South relationship is not just about resolving past differences and developing further economic co-operation. It is also about integrating new identities into our society. What it means to be Irish, what it means to be British, what it means to be an Ulsterman or woman, what it means to be a European, all of these identities are in a state of flux and change. It is also of great concern to both parts of Ireland what will happen as regards the constitutional arrangements on our neighbouring island. We need to inform ourselves on what is happening on our doorstep. We need to take a keener interest in political developments in Britain, particularly in its relationship with the European Union. It matters very much to us, North and South, how Britain renegotiates its membership of the European Union and how it will vote in a future referendum on EU membership. We share a common interest in Britain remaining a full and active member of the European Union which would be immeasurably weakened without Britain being a full, active and committed member.

The majority in this House agree that membership of the European Union has been extremely positive for Ireland. Much of Ireland's economic progress during the past 50 years is due to our membership of the European Union. The country has been transformed by the benefits of our membership. Northern Ireland has also benefited from Britain's membership of the Euorpean Union. In particular, Ulster farmers have been big winners under the Common Agricultural Policy. Northern Ireland has also benefited from a strong EU regional policy and the cross-Border INTERREG programme. The European Union has been an active political and financial supporter of the peace process. Were Britain to leave the Union, it would have very serious consequences for Northern Ireland and enhanced North-South co-operation. This island is already on the edge of Europe. Britain disengaging from the European Union would make the case for investment in Northern Ireland even more challenging. Europe and, especially, our role as a small country within the eurozone must help Britain to resolve its relationship with Europe.

It also matters to us all on the island, North and South, how the people of Scotland will vote in their referendum on independence this September. A “Yes” vote for independence would obviously have an impact on Northern Ireland.

I turn to the suffering inflicted on ordinary people, on all sides, on the island of Ireland and beyond during the Troubles which it is difficult to comprehend and, yet, too great to forget. The consequences are there for all to see. It knows no divide - suffering is no respecter of borders, creed or age, but it reminds us of the fragility of our shared humanity across the island. This is the terrible legacy of the Troubles and remains a daily reality for numerous families and individuals and continues to have an impact on politics and society on these islands. The inner strength and resilience of people who have suffered are very evident from my engagements in the past two years.

I have met victims and families of appalling violence from Kingsmill, east County Fermanagh and Enniskillen, the disappeared and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. I have met the families of the disappeared and the widow of Pat Finucane. Just last week, I met the families of those who died in terrible circumstances in Ballymurphy in 1971. As with all victims, I was glad to offer the Ballymurphy families both my sincere sympathy and my active support in their quest for justice and truth. The tremendous dignity and bravery that these victims of unjustified violence have displayed in the face of unimaginable suffering is an example to everyone. What these people have lost no one can return, but collectively they reinforce my faith in humanity and the power therein, of goodness and of ordinary common decency and understanding. As politicians on all sides across these islands, we owe them the assurance that the painful lessons of the past have been learned and that the suffering they have endured will not be visited on future generations. As political leaders, our collective focus must be on ensuring and building a shared and prosperous future. It requires a sustained effort and drive on all our parts. However, there still is a tiny minority who remain committed to violence. As we know from recent events, this threat is clear and real, but the determination of the people of the island, North and South, to oppose such violence is far stronger.

Through the Good Friday Agreement, the people on all parts of the island of Ireland made clear their commitment to peace and to a society founded on mutual respect and equal rights and opportunities. The Good Friday Agreement has opened up opportunities for us North and South, east and west, to get to know one another in new ways. It has opened up new possibilities and new perspectives regarding our shared history. Both Governments are the constitutional guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Our collective responsibility is to encourage all political parties to work the Agreement to its fullest potential. Northern Ireland clearly is a much better place because of the Good Friday Agreement but we must all, particularly the political parties in Northern Ireland, build on it so as to realise reconciliation. In this connection, I acknowledge the work of Members of both parliamentary Houses of the Oireachtas from across all political parties and groupings who, through their contributions as members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association, continue to work for, foster and further British-Irish and North-South relations. This work and these relationships matter. They matter enormously as with every step taken together, the benefits of all-island co-operation boost every county.

The constitutional issue is resolved for this generation and now it is time to reach a new accommodation and a new understanding between both parts of this island. Doing things together that make a difference to ordinary people must become the new reality in respect of jobs, economic growth and working together to increase prosperity for all the people of this island. It is within this wider context that Members should give recognition to the recent steps taken by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in continuing Northern Ireland's journey towards a more united and reconciled society. They invited Dr. Haass and his team to assist with the work of the working group of representatives from each of the five Northern Ireland Executive parties established to examine the contentious issues of flags, parades and the past. Again, the establishment of the working group formed part of the Executive's wider initiative termed "Together: Building a United Community", a strategy aimed at improving community relations. I very much welcome the initiative taken by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The fact that the initiative came from them and did not involve the two Governments is in itself a positive signal that the political parties are taking ownership of and trying to address these contentious issues.

As the Government was not one of the five parties conducting the negotiations, its primary position has been one of support for the parties, rather than to oppose or endorse any specific proposal. Having said that, I welcome the progress that was made within the talks process over a short time. The Haass proposals provide a basis for taking these outstanding issues forward. Now is a time for the five political parties in Northern Ireland to show continued leadership, and I welcome the fact that they currently are meeting and engaging not just in respect of the past, parades and flags but are back to the big issues that must be resolved. I have stated repeatedly that the Irish Government stands ready to work with the Northern Ireland Executive and with the British Government to support these further efforts to achieve greater peace and the common goal of building a united community. I pay tribute to the Tánaiste for his active work on the Haass talks over the Christmas period.

As politicians, one of the things we can to do is rebuild trust. Together, we already have begun to explore new perspectives in respect of our shared history, through the decade of commemorations encompassing the Ulster Covenant, the Great War and the Easter Rising and through to Independence and partition. We are taking the opportunity of new relationships on and across these islands to rebuild understanding and trust over this decade of commemorations. We have made some progress in recent years in dealing with historical differences in a non-violent way. Politicians, both British and Irish, with help from the United States and the European Union, are entitled to take some credit for that. In March 2012, the British Prime Minister and I concluded a joint statement on British-Irish relations, which set out a vision of closer co-operation between Britain and Ireland and identified a range of areas where this could be advanced. This work is being carried forward through an extensive programme of work under the stewardship of the Secretary General to the Government and the Cabinet Secretary, as well as at political level through the annual summit meetings. Recently, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and I visited the war graves in Flanders to honour all those Irish and British soldiers who died in the First World War. This was the first such joint visit to commemorate the terrible loss of life that occurred during the First World War. The ever-strengthening relationship between Britain and Ireland will be evident in the upcoming State visit of President Higgins to the United Kingdom in April this year. The State visit in April follows on from the historic and highly successful visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in 2011.

The peace process shows that politics does matter and politics can make a profound difference. However, having found common agreement on the constitutional argument, we need to drive the economic and social agenda North and South. This is the reason the Government, in the programme for Government, has committed to working for greater cross-Border economic co-operation to accelerate the process of recovery and the creation of jobs on this island. I and members of the Government are availing of all opportunities, including meetings within the framework of the North-South Ministerial Council established under the Good Friday Agreement, to have continuous and constructive engagement with Northern Ireland Ministers on matters of mutual economic interest, to advance initiatives designed to boost economic activity on the island and to seek practical co-operation in providing services. Since 2011, Ministers have attended more than 80 meetings within the framework of the North-South Ministerial Council.

There are numerous and recent examples of this positive progress across the North-South Ministerial Council's work sectors. In respect of agriculture and rural development, progress is being made on the delivery of an all-island animal health and welfare strategy action plan. As for trade and business, InterTrade Ireland is working to encourage and stimulate greater co-operation to increase applications to EU framework programmes, including enhanced levels of participation by small to medium-sized enterprises. In respect of the EU's funding programmes, the Special EU Programmes Body is facilitating North-South participation in the INTERREG IV transnational and inter-regional programmes, with 61 project partners secured to date across the relevant programmes.

In aquaculture and marine and waterways, there is ongoing maintenance of the waterways, provision of additional moorings and efforts to increase awareness of the waterways across all navigations. In the environmental area, research is being undertaken to identify further opportunities for beneficial joint working on EU directives in the areas of environmental quality and protection. In the tourism sector, the island of Ireland is promoted abroad by Tourism Ireland and the Government is working with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure the sector's potential is fulfilled. Projects such as The Gathering and Derry UK City of Culture all played their part in this success. In 2013, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann went North for the first time and was a resounding success. In education, liaison between the two teaching councils is being encouraged with the objective of facilitating full mobility of teachers across both jurisdictions. In the area of health, construction of the £70 million radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin commenced last year and will be operational by 2016. Moreover, joint programmes in education, training, research and prevention by the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Consortium will continue. On child protection, the launch of the inter-jurisdictional protocol for the transfer of child care cases between Northern Ireland and Ireland and the work to progress its implementation and the agreement on a new work programme focusing on five specific work streams is under way. In sport, the hosting of a high level conference on sport and sectarianism took place in November 2013, with participation by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Irish Football Association and the Irish Rugby Football Union.

In 2014 there will be another significant cross-Border sports event in the Giro d'ltalia. In the longer term the recent agreement to co-operate on a possible 2023 Rugby World Cup bid will, I hope, result in major benefits for the tourism industry throughout the island. I hope we will eventually achieve success in that regard.

Clearly, there are other sectors not immediately within the remit of the NSMC that have the capacity to grow. The agrifood sector on the island has a very bright future and the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 will open up new, exciting opportunities for the dairy sector, in particular. If there is one economic certainty, it is that the demand for food will continue to grow. Ireland's most important natural resource, its land, will be at the centre of sustainable development for generations to come on the island. We have the potential to create a powerful food culture which will be recognised around the world.

One of the greatest successes of North-South co-operation in recent years is the creation of the single energy market. That market, together with new electricity connectors between Ireland and Britain, will support the renewable sector and stimulate competition in this key economic sector. The proposed North-South electricity interconnector is a very important part of the new infrastructure that we are building together on the island. It is, of course, of particular importance for Northern Ireland where security of supply will become an increasingly important issue in coming years. Both jurisdictions on the island, therefore, have a direct interest in working closely together in research, new generation and energy storage technologies and together can make a strong case for a major European Union investment programme in renewable energies in Scotland and Ireland.

Northern Ireland in particular but also the Republic has a well developed education system and a very supportive educational culture. The provision of education services for international students is one of the areas where the island of Ireland has a comparative advantage, particularly as regards language. The provision of education services is a very lucrative market. We can grow our share of this market, providing an immediate income stream but also long-term benefits for our economies.

On a practical level, everybody needs to focus on how our two economies might grow and prosper and provide job opportunities and a sustainable future. In our most recent discussions at the North-South Ministerial Council and as part of the St Andrew's review, we have also agreed, in particular, on the need to use every opportunity to focus on getting better outcomes, putting in place policies that will lead to growing exports and foreign investment, working together on accessing overseas markets such as China, India and Brazil, upgrading services, creating jobs and improving young people's skills. We have agreed that Ministers will examine priorities at their sectoral meetings, especially as they affect economic development, job creation and the best use of public funds and the most effective delivery of public services.

I look forward to discussing the progress we have made on the review when I host the next plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Dublin in June. I still want to see further co-operation that will create more employment and boost exports. I have in mind opportunities to develop synergies on increasing our joint draw-down of innovation funding under Horizon 2020 and jointly examining the potential to develop cross-Border clusters of economic activity. In the Europe of today states have never been more interdependent. This applies as much to Northern Ireland as anywhere else. Therefore, co-operation and collaboration are necessities. By working together, politically and economically, we can build a better future for all people who make this island their home. While we must look at issues of the past, we must not forget that the future is where we all have to live together. Therefore, we should not waste time in seeing that the opportunities which present are developed.

I welcome the opportunity to reflect on developments in Northern Ireland, in particular on the recent political talks and the contribution and role of the Irish Government in support of political progress, reconciliation and prosperity in Northern Ireland. In the past few years there have been significant developments across the agenda of government in British-Irish relations. There is a mutual interest and ease in co-operation, trust and respect which goes across government and which reaches beyond it into the official and civic spheres also. I have experienced this on my visits to Britain, when I have encountered the assurance and confidence of the many younger Irish people who are succeeding in business, the arts and all sectors in Britain. Being Irish in Britain now has only positive connotations.

Engagement with the British Government is increasingly about our bilateral opportunities, shared interests in Europe and internationally. Our economic interdependence is explicitly recognised and valued by both Governments, with €1 billion worth of traded goods and services crossing the Irish Sea each week. We will continue to grow this area of co-operation, yet co-operation in support of reconciliation, prosperity and a shared perspective in Northern Ireland remains at the heart of the British-Irish relationship. The British-Irish bilateral relationship has been both a catalyst for positive change in Northern Ireland and a beneficiary of that change. We want to ensure the strengthening of the British-Irish bilateral relationship benefits and is reflected fully in Northern Ireland. This is because, despite the enormous political progress of recent years, a number of significant challenges remain with respect to Northern Ireland. In my recent visits I have been confronted with concerns about identities under threat, work that is still needed to ensure parity of esteem and the virulence of sectarianism. That is why reaching agreement around the proposals which emerged from the panel of parties talks is so important. Parades, flags and emblems and contending with the past can be touch-paper issues which, in the absence of agreement at executive level on how best to deal with them, continue to disrupt other areas of government and civic life. We saw this happen on numerous occasions during 2013. Agreement and unity on these issues would inspire a new sense of security and confidence across communities in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland parties deserve and require all the support they can get from across society and the two Governments.

The Government will provide that support to the full as the Northern Ireland parties seek to complete their work on these issues. Both Governments have made it clear that we attach high importance to the parties making progress on these issues and we aim to facilitate progress in any way we can. This work is important in itself, but it is also necessary in order that the parties can turn their attention to the other serious, pressing issues around unemployment, education and economic recovery. The Irish Government has no closer political relationship than with the Northern Ireland Executive. There is a shared interest to move North-South co-operation in a practical direction in support of recovery. Ministers have been reviewing priorities in their respective areas, especially where they could cultivate more economic recovery, job creation, the best use of public funds and the most effective delivery of services. We are making real progress on these issues. I would like to see a new approach to co-operation that will emphasise job creation and boost exports and economic activity. Opportunities for greater co-operation in higher education, youth employment measures, transport, sport and health are also being examined very carefully.

From visiting Derry I have seen that there are great synergies, real and potential, between Derry and Donegal. Since 2006 the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have worked hard with local stakeholders through the north-west gateway initiative to take the fullest advantage of the potential for co-operation at all levels within the region. There has been good progress with the Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit as a regional centre which will serve the people of the north west. There has also been excellent co-operation between IDA Ireland and Invest NI on the north-west business technology zone which is providing linkages between industry, the colleges and Altnagelvin. As well as looking at co-operation on the island, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are also looking at how we can collaborate internationally to ensure that where there are economies of scale which give us competitive advantage, we pursue these opportunities.

The Good Friday and St. Andrew's Agreements have had an overwhelmingly positive and transformative effect on security, politics and economic and social opportunity on the island, in Northern Ireland most particularly. They came about as a result of a sustained effort over a number of years by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland parties. The US Government also played a crucial role, through its envoy George Mitchell and directly, in facilitating agreement in 1998. The US Administration continues to provide significant support and encouragement in addressing current challenges. Vice President Joe Biden, in particular, has made clear his support for the ongoing political talks and I deeply appreciate his positive and ongoing contribution and that of the US Administration.

Taken together, the agreements set out the guiding principles for peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, namely, devolution, power-sharing, agreement on sovereignty, human rights, parity of esteem, support for the rule of law, and the continued shared responsibility of the two Governments to guarantee these principles. However the full potential of the agreements has yet to be reached. We need to reflect honestly on where gaps remain and commitments are unfulfilled. As is the case in any comprehensive political agreement, implementation is essential to the integrity and balance of the whole.

I want to mention three issues I believe require particular effort. First is the strengthening of civic society in Northern Ireland. I support the establishment of a civic forum which would stimulate informed public debate on key societal challenges. As part of their work, Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan met with a variety of community groups and with representatives of wider civil society. I believe this consultation process enriched their work, in particular in regard to the proposals on contending with the past. I wish to put on the record today also my gratitude to them for their contribution in progressing so significantly public and political debate on the three contentious areas of parades, flags and emblems, and contending with the past. Through my Department's reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds, we support the community sector to play its part also. We enable organisations to pursue projects promoting genuine and lasting reconciliation and to build sustainable community relations. Grants totalling almost €2.7 million were made in 2013 and I am pleased to confirm that an equivalent amount will be available in 2014. I thank Members of this House for their support through the Estimates process for this important resource.

The second issue is the need for further progress, in a rights-based approach, to addressing contentious issues. During my visits to Northern Ireland, I have been struck by the level of interest among a broad swathe of civic society in a Bill of rights for Northern Ireland. Many of the contentious issues around culture and identity have rights at their core and progress on a Bill of rights would provide a framework for the resolution of these issues. The third issue is the need to give effect to the principle of parity of esteem. I believe, for example, that an Irish language Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland. All parties to the Good Friday Agreement recognised the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance of linguistic diversity.

Seeing through the implementation of the remaining elements of the agreements is about supporting stability, prosperity and reconciliation. They are not add-ons, belonging to one party to the agreement or another, but are an integral part of it. I am confident that working together the Northern Ireland parties, with the support of the two Governments, will complete this important work. I do not underestimate the nature, scale or complexity of the work ahead. What started as a political process almost 30 years ago continues today as a journey toward reconciliation that is as complex and as challenging as any previous phase. If we rise to the challenge, it will continue to be every bit as rewarding economically, socially and politically for every inhabitant on this island.

A few weeks ago we marked the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, a landmark in British-Irish relations and in the peace process that has helped redefine political relations on this island. Every party in this House has played its part in shaping and guiding that process, through challenges that often appeared insurmountable. That we have come so far is a tribute to this House, which has long taken the view that this work lies above politics, above party advantage. However, we need to be vigilant and alert to the risk of complacency. We have come a long way and some may be tempted to say that "this good is good enough". It is not. If we cease moving forward, we risk handing the momentum to those who would turn the clock back.

The challenges that face us now, while considerable, are far from insurmountable. Parades can and should be regulated in a manner that encourages dialogue, respect and compromise. Steps can and should be taken that provide for the respectful expression of British and Irish cultural identity, whether that is for the appropriate display of the Union flag as the sovereign flag of Northern Ireland or for affording the protections and status to the Irish language that are already afforded in Wales to the Welsh language. We must also find a much better way of dealing with our past and of meeting the needs of those who were bereaved, hurt or damaged during the Troubles. That is why the political talks on these issues matter so much.

Speaking in Iveagh House recently, John Major reminded us "the task of building a normal society is still work-in-progress. The British and Irish Governments need to continue working together to help Northern Ireland become the tolerant, inclusive, shared society we all wish to see". That work of the two Governments continues, as it must. Tomorrow, I will meet the Secretary of State and we will consider what more the Governments can do to help facilitate agreement. I know there is a great deal of scepticism that these talks will lead to agreement. I do not share that scepticism. I believe there is genuine desire by all party leaders to find agreement and that agreement is within reach and achievable. I encourage them to conclude this work now without further delay. Today's debate can help support that process.

Over the past three years there has been a growing and increasingly dangerous complacency about the situation in Northern Ireland. On the rare occasions that Northern issues are now addressed in the Dáil by the Taoiseach, we hear statements that everything is in hand and lots of meetings are taking place. We also hear Deputy Adams express his general support for a Government policy which has given his party a much freer hand.

I welcome this debate because it gives an opportunity to challenge this complacency. It is not just that sectarian tensions and dissident activities are giving rise to widespread concern but that, more fundamentally, the entire momentum of peace, reconciliation and development is being lost. The Good Friday Agreement was an undeniably historic breakthrough. Its anniversary was, unfortunately, allowed to pass unmarked last year because the Governments were concerned that they would have to acknowledge the central role of others. The agreement was a victory for the vast majority on this island who always believed in our shared interests and in constitutional methods. The generosity of the Irish people remains an inspiration in how they offered a hand to those who bombed and killed for decades without ever receiving public legitimacy. It was a great demonstration also of how much can be achieved through genuine political leadership.

The benefits of the agreement are real and have been sustained. However, it was never intended as a conclusion. In the words of Seamus Mallon, one of the great democratic heroes of the fight for peace, it was "a new dispensation". It gave this generation an opportunity to permanently overcome divisions and to work together for lasting prosperity and social progress. There was nothing inevitable about the success to date of the peace process and there is nothing inevitable about its longer-term course. While we hear various figures tell us how well they are getting on and how institutions are in place, let us not forget the objective of the process is not for politicians to get on and avoid constantly collapsing basic institutions. The goal is to deliver tangible action on behalf of people.

The undeniable reality is that today the majority of people in Northern Ireland say they do not have an increased influence on how they are governed and they believe that the Assembly is achieving little. Every survey confirms a growing detachment and disillusionment. One does not need to know much about history to know how dangerous this is or how it creates an atmosphere in which those who promote division find it easier to get listened to. In the South there has also been a collapse in levels of interest in Northern matters. In the media, the Oireachtas and among the wider public, the North increasingly only gets attention when things go wrong. When I first pointed out the dangers of this complacency and disengagement, I was roundly attacked by the Government, Sinn Féin, the DUP and some parts of the media. Since then even they have been forced to admit that all is not well. Last year we even saw the DUP and Sinn Féin attack each other in regard to why they are failing to use the Executive to deliver action on behalf of all.

Today we are facing the harsh reality that we have reached a defining moment. Sectarian tensions are important, but they are only one part of what is a rising challenge to the entire process of reconciliation and development. This challenge is faced within each of the three strands of the agreement.

The process is becoming ever more concentrated on the elites, who are distracted by their partisan concerns. This is leading to a marked increase in public disillusionment. The focus has been on managing rather than developing institutions. Opportunities to address shared problems are missed and in some areas we see a retreat from the policy of deeper co-operation. This has had an inevitable and growing negative impact on public attitudes. It is not only that we fail to take advantage of the many and obvious opportunities which peace and a shared blueprint have brought. The failure to take these opportunities, to build a deep understanding of other communities, to aggressively target development, and to work to bring the concerns of marginalised groups and areas onto a shared agenda pose long-term threats to what has been achieved. Over the past two years I delivered a series of speeches on both sides of the Border calling for action on the growing dysfunction of institutions that are ever more beholden to narrow party interests. In particular I have addressed the dangerous vacuum being created in Northern Ireland. This critique stands. Last summer once again we saw the two largest parties adopt a highly selective approach to the legitimacy of the system they are supposed to guarantee.

The only way to deal with the matters included in the Haass process is through inclusive talks. However, the refusal of the two governments to participate directly in the process, and their refusal to play any role in challenging the dysfunction of the Executive, gives the Haass process little hope of reaching a comprehensive conclusion. I strongly reject the idea, to which the Government signed up, that the Haass process is an internal Northern Ireland matter in which the Government should not be directly involved. The idea that a basis for challenging sectarianism and dealing with issues of the past has nothing to do with us is completely unacceptable. It is a rejection of the basic dynamic which delivered every major breakthrough of the past decade and a half.

As we saw this week, for the Unionist side the Republic is very much part of the historical narrative about communal divisions and the campaign of the provisional movement. During my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs I made substantive outreach to loyalist groups and communities an active part of our work. Showing the goodwill of Dublin and dispelling old myths had, no doubt, a very positive impact. Equally, we played a role in supporting communities which proudly give their allegiance to the tricolour. Everything to do with building lasting peace, reconciliation and growth on the island is a legitimate concern of the Government elected by Dáil Éireann, and to step back from this is absolutely wrong. It also removes the dynamic which has time and again proved it can deliver breakthroughs.

The Haass proposals are positive and should be accepted, though let no one forget they include quite a few areas being pushed into another review. That the parties are still meeting is welcome, but the time has long since come for the governments to assert their legitimate role in the process to seek significantly increased involvement. The last time this issue was surveyed the majority in Northern Ireland accepted that the Dublin Government has a legitimate interest in Northern Irish affairs. No one has pointed to a single example in which we have been anything other than constructive and progressive in our engagement. The Taoiseach appears to have a good personal relationship with the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. We need this to be used for the practical benefit of getting him to reverse his policy of de facto disengagement with Northern Ireland, and this is the most important thing the Taoiseach could try to achieve.

The exclusion of the Republic from the new economic pact for Northern Ireland remains a disgrace, as does the Taoiseach's disinterest in it. Developed between Sinn Féin, the DUP and Whitehall, it has been presented as the definitive blueprint for the development of Northern Ireland's economy. The pact is welcome and includes many important commitments, but it also whitewashes out of the picture any North-South dimension whatsoever. Even though common development was a core part of the objectives and funding in the 2007 national development plan, and we maintained most of the proposals even through the toughest of times, the pact does not include a single mention of the Border region or cross-Border co-operation. There is no comparable example in the past 16 years in which no North-South or east-west discussions took place before such an announcement. This is another area where, for their own reasons, the Government and Sinn Féin have had no problem with the process, which increasingly proceeds without Dublin's proper involvement. This move away from the spirit and practice of enhanced co-operation is reflected in area after area and is having a wider influence.

One mistake we make is to wait for crises before considering Northern issues. We miss many opportunities to deliver for communities on either side of the Border. Failure to deliver the cross-Border bodies puts them in danger of being frozen and marginalised rather than being the evolving and dynamic entities we need them to be. Since 1998 the operation of the existing bodies has proved there is no slippery slope whereby communities will wake up and find themselves living in a different state without the consent of the majority. Cross-Border bodies are not about constitutional sleight of hand. They are about securing economic development and social progress for all communities on the island. The review of existing bodies has already been strung out over three years and no proposals to extend them are being discussed.

Decisions to abandon North-South infrastructural projects are the worst thing that could happen. We have gone from a situation in which communities asking for greater barriers to one in which they are asking for improved links, but in project after project the governments fail to take up the opportunity. The failure to fund the Narrow Water bridge is the most high-profile example, but there are many others. The bridge would have a uniformly positive economic and social impact, but it is being let fail for want of a relatively small amount of extra public funding. This is worse than a shame; it is a disgrace. What would we have given 30 years ago for all communities North and South to be united in calling for new links? Are we really so complacent that we think we do not need to embrace the spirit of joint development seen in this and other projects? The failure to prioritise the economic development of the Border region has to stop and the most effective way of doing this would be to establish a Border development zone.

The withdrawal of An Foras Teanga from direct funding of some language development projects in the North is not welcome. We need more direct engagement on the language, not less. I welcome the First Minister's defence of the right of the language to be seen as non-partisan. The obvious next step is for the DUP and Sinn Féin in the Executive to put aside their bickering and agree a language plan so that it is no longer the only administration in Europe failing to meet its obligations with regard to minority languages.

In opposition Fianna Fáil has never wavered in maintaining the same level of commitment to developing the peace process that we showed in government. The structures of the Agreement are fundamentally sound, but they were never meant to stand still. The absence of a more active approach to cross-Border bodies is a major deficiency at present. We have already outlined some areas where we believe such bodies should be developed and we will publish details of more. The Taoiseach has indicated his willingness to hold further debates on the North, and we would like a specific session to be set aside to discuss the development of cross-Border bodies and more general cross-Border co-operation.

An important point which is rarely mentioned is that supporting the minority communities on this side of the Border was a significant part of the early confidence-building measures undertaken when we were in government. We undertook investment to ensure the ability of Protestant and Presbyterian communities to protect their own identities. One element of this was investment in small Protestant schools in the Border region. National policy on providing extra teachers to enable small schools to be viable was significantly influenced by the disproportionate benefit which would flow to marginal communities. Everyone should realise that the Government's new agenda of targeting small schools for extra cuts is having a terrible impact on schools under Protestant patronage, particularly in Border communities, and many are being pushed to the edge of viability. There are many strong reasons to invest in small schools, but protecting religious diversity and marginal Border communities is a powerful one which the Taoiseach should stop ignoring.

There is no excuse for failing to implement existing clear-cut provisions of agreements. The failure of the British Government to proceed with the Finucane inquiry is unacceptable. We fulfilled our commitment by opening up An Garda Síochána to a rigorous and public inquiry. It was not comfortable, but we did it. It is long past time for the Government to make a formal complaint about the failure of the British Government to honour its commitment.

There are other areas where a selective approach to implementing agreements is undermining essential confidence. In 2007, it was agreed to review the working of the Civic Forum set out in section 56 of the agreement. To review the forum was reasonable; to leave it in suspension for seven years is inexcusable. It has once again demonstrated the eagerness of those who have taken hold of the reins of power to exclude any competitors. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have actually said in public that they meet community groups all the time so there is no need to reconvene the forum. As we can see on the streets, it is exactly the groups who should be involved in the forum who are most likely to feel they are excluded from public discourse in the North.

I welcome the SDLP's initiative on this and their refusal to let the issue drop. For things to change in the North they require greater generosity and restraint. They require leaders to be willing to move the agenda on and to be consistent in respecting institutions which are trying to serve the whole community. They cannot say they support the police if they attack them every time they pick up one of theirs. Equally, they cannot be selective in their demands for transparency about the past. The families of the disappeared in particular need particular attention and full transparency in terms of what happened to all their loved ones. That transparency should be provided by those who are responsible, and the Sinn Féin-Provisional IRA community have particular responsibilities in that regard.

I have no doubt that there is a wide, growing gap between the bulk of the population of this island and leaders who act as if there is nothing more to be achieved. People understand the logic of peace and reconciliation and are largely getting on with it as far as they can. What is missing is a determination and focus from our leaders to take the process forward rather than allow it to be overtaken by forces led by neglect and a sense of disillusionment.

The great historical opportunity to build a lasting and constructive co-operation between all of the traditions who share this island still exists. Enormous progress has been achieved and is still in place. However, no one can realistically deny that a sense of drift is present. There has been disengagement and a reduction to formalities which has left serious problems intact and waiting to break out into new crises.

It is time to end the complacency and return to a position in which our Government again assumes the role of an active and interested partner in all elements of the still ongoing peace process.

I very much welcome this debate but I believe we need to formalise these arrangements and open up the discussion so that we can have a structured discussion on the North on a regular basis as part of the normal business of the Dáil. Unfortunately, the current arrangements do not allow for this and there is not sufficient time to deal with these important and complex issues.

What is equally unacceptable is the disgraceful way in which some TDs and parties occasionally have tended to use the North, and issues arising from the recent conflict, in a shallow, juvenile way, usually to attack Sinn Féin. Regrettably, some of Teachta Martin's remarks today reflect this approach. I would like him to bring me to the North some time and introduce me to the Sinn Féin-Provisional IRA communities he has now discovered.

Is Deputy Adams serious?

Almost 4,000 people died in the recent conflict. Countless others died in other phases of conflict over the centuries. Is as gach pobal a tháinig said. The victims came from all walks of life and all sections of the community. They include members of the British State forces, Garda and Defence Forces members, members of republican organisations, Unionist paramilitaries, and civilians.

The focus of political leaders and of this Dáil must be to ensure that there are no more casualties of political conflict on this island, no more victims, and no more deaths. That means we must understand the errors of the past in order not to repeat them. Ní raibh cogadh maith riamh ann, nó ní raibh síochán dona riamh ann ach an oiread.

I remind the Fianna Fáil leadership that the democratic position is that the conflict on this island arose from the British Government’s colonial policy and its immoral and illegitimate claim to jurisdiction in Ireland. Following the Black and Tan war, the partition of Ireland, as James Connolly predicted, triggered a carnival of reaction and created not one but two conservative states administered by two elites who entrenched their own power and privilege to the detriment of ordinary citizens. In the North, a one-party Unionist regime controlled a sectarian Orange state with the aid of the RUC and the infamous B-Specials, backed up by draconian legislation and the use of pogroms. Denial of basic civil rights and other measures, including the introduction of internment without trial, were the order of the day in both states. Discriminated against in employment, education, housing and voting rights, Nationalists in the Six Counties were treated as second-class citizens. The Protestant working class were only marginally better off, but sectarianism was utilised by the British and Unionist establishment to separate citizens.

Over this period, abandoned by Dublin, a republican minority maintained heroic resistance at periods during the intervening years, but it was not until the 1960s that Nationalists demanded our basic civil rights in an effective way. The campaign of the Civil Rights Association in the late 1960s for equality in housing, education and employment and at elections was met with a violent response by the Stormont regime. Savage attacks by the RUC and the B-Specials, backed up by loyalist mobs, culminated in organised pogroms in August 1969 against Catholics in Belfast and Derry. The violence saw the biggest population movement in western Europe since the Second World War.

As the Orange state began to crumble under the weight of democratic demands, British troops were more frequently deployed. Promised reforms from Westminster turned out to be purely cosmetic, and the British Government's guns were turned against the Nationalist population.

Following the introduction of internment without trial, many Nationalists who advocated reform within the six-county state realised that the state was not reformable. The shooting dead by British troops of 14 Nationalists in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972, and the condemnation that followed this televised event, left the Stormont regime in ruins. Last week, the Taoiseach met another group of victims of British terrorism from Ballymurphy, and I very much welcome his support for them and their campaign and for the other victims. It was those responses by the British State to democratic demands that created the conditions for republican armed struggle.

It is often forgotten that Sinn Féin was banned outright in the Six Counties between 1956 and 1974. Armed resistance or support for armed resistance was the only path that many saw open to them after the civil rights movement was shot and beaten off the streets, and that included members of the present Government. The IRA that emerged in these years was one built by ordinary people out of sheer necessity because of the conditions in which they found themselves. In the Nationalist areas of the North, as it had been previously in this part of the island at other times, the IRA was from the people, not some abstract idea. However, the British, and the Irish Government as well, used oppression, initially in the belief that it could militarily defeat the IRA and later because it hoped to isolate or criminalise it.

We should focus on how the abject failure of successive Irish Governments to represent Irish national interests, and specifically to stand by those citizens under attack, contributed to the political conditions in which armed struggle was waged. From the "we cannot stand idly by" moment, the relationships of Irish Governments with repressive British Administrations grew more and more subservient.

The militarisation of society in the North and the corruption of policing, the prisons, the Judiciary and public life were obvious for decades. What was less obvious was the extent to which that adversely affected the people and the institutions of this State. From the early 1970s, many areas of public life here - the prevailing political culture, broadcasting legislation, the courts, and the Garda - were gradually subsumed into supporting British counter-insurgency efforts. Many good people here who wished to stand by their fellow citizens in the North and stand up for justice were hounded and harried by the forces of the State. Many had their careers ruined. While Irish Governments did not ban Sinn Féin outright, they attempted to close down the party and harassed our members on a continuing basis. Surveillance of political radicals, the abuse of detainees in Garda custody, and the activities of the notorious Garda heavy gang became a feature of political policing here, which only a tiny minority of journalists were prepared to question and expose. Non-jury courts and extremely anti-republican Ministers for Justice gave the green light to such abuse and malpractice.

The overall effect was extremely corrosive and included serious miscarriages of justice. The peace process, the fruits of which we now enjoy, was made possible only when this failed policy of repression, censorship and political exclusion was abandoned in favour of a more enlightened approach in response, initially, to Hume-Adams. I recall the contrived outrage at the news that John Hume and I had met. John Hume was vilified at the time. The sterling work of Fr. Alex Reid, Des Wilson and others created the way forward. The Good Friday Agreement marked an historic shift in politics on this island by establishing a firm foundation from which it is now possible to continue building a future based on equality. For the first time since partition almost 100 years ago, there is an international agreement involving the Irish and British Governments, as well as Nationalist, republican and Unionist parties, on a way forward. Unlike the efforts that governments had concocted previously, from Sunningdale in December 1973 to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the Good Friday Agreement was comprehensive, inclusive and addressed the issues that were previously ignored. The agreement tackles constitutional issues, political and institutional matters, policing, weapons, justice and equality and more. Citizens in this State expect the Government and the Oireachtas to be proactively involved in the peace process. Just as important, citizens in the North expect the same. As I have said to the Taoiseach previously, I want issues relating to the past conflict to be dealt with in a rational, reasoned, considered and informed way but I also want to see the future discussed in a non-threatening and inclusive manner.

I want to see this Dáil breaking out of a partitionist mindset. An Irish Government that truly wanted a united Ireland would understand this means unity of all the people, including those who see themselves as British. It would require us to pursue every avenue to promote greater all-Ireland co-operation and seek to build relationships on the basis of equality between all the people on this island. It means genuine outreach efforts to Unionists on the basis of equality and undoing ingrained partitionist thinking on the part of policy makers. An esteemed economist recently spoke about the efforts to develop an all-island economy and cross-Border economic corridors. One of the difficulties he encountered was that many of the policy makers were partitionist in that their thinking did not extend beyond the Border.

There has never been a better time to plan and deliver on an all-Ireland basis without infringing perceived Unionist sensitivities. When it is to our mutual benefit, even the most fundamental Unionist will embrace these measures. I welcome the work that has been done thus far, but much more needs to be done. The Government, in its caution around some of these issues, does not differ from the previous Fianna Fáil Governments, including those in which Deputy Martin served. As someone who comes from the North, I want the cross-Border agencies and the implementation bodies to expand and intensify their efforts. As I noted to the Taoiseach well in advance of the decision, if he had wanted the Narrow Water bridge to happen, it would have happened. That was a missed opportunity which will cost more when we return to deal with it at some point in the future.

There is also a need to deal with the British Government in an ongoing way. I have seen too many senior people from here almost tipping the forelock, such was their delight to be in Chequers or some other stately house. This is a sovereign Government, notwithstanding the powers that have been given away, and it needs to act in the national interest of the entire island of Ireland, including what we perceive to be the interest of all of the people who live in the Six Counties. The British Government acts in what it perceives as its national interest. Not all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements have been implemented. It is not that the British do not know they should commission an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane or that the Oireachtas passed motions on the issue on two occasions. It knows about collusion, but the Irish Government needs to face up to it on the issue. This should be a matter of concern to every Deputy and Irish Government. The issue of collusion has most recently been set out by Anne Cadwallader in her book Lethal Allies. Many people in this State were killed as a result of this policy, including the victims of the greatest loss of life in any single incident during the conflict, namely, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 1974. The Irish Government has a responsibility to educate the British Government on these issues and to persuade it to engage on the basis of the agreements it has made.

There is also an ongoing need to enlist the support for this necessary endeavour of our friends internationally, especially in the USA. It is no accident that Irish America and its representatives have often been more informed, involved and progressive than successive Governments here. I thank our friends for that involvement and welcome the ongoing interest shown by Bill Clinton, who is due to visit Belfast next month. I also thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for their ongoing efforts.

The British and Irish Governments must be clear and unambiguous in their support for the ongoing process of change. If the British Government is not focused and clear, we cannot expect Unionist leaders to be positive. I commend the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on the important work it has done in this regard. Those tiny minorities who want to cling to the past must be rejected. Those of us in Sinn Féin reject such minorities every day of our lives in the Six Counties. Sectarianism must be tackled and ended. We should also consider some of the scandals in this State, because some of them are the product of the post-colonial condition in which we find ourselves. Building a real Republic will benefit everyone.

The promise of the Good Friday Agreement for a new society in which all citizens are respected and which is based on justice and equality must be advanced. If I came into this Chamber 20 years ago to announce that there would be a ceasefire and that Ian Paisley would be in government with Martin McGuinness, I would have been laughed at. I would not have been allowed in, as John Joe McGirl and Eddie Fullerton found to their cost. I can think of nothing better for this Government to accomplish than to advance that process. That needs to be the focus of every Member of this Dáil.

Even a cursory glance at the daily newspapers in the North bears out that sectarianism is alive and present and intruding negatively on the everyday lives of ordinary people across communities. Sectarian actions and statements regularly emanate not only from minorities in both Protestant and Catholic communities but also from politicians and political parties on both sides of the divide. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Far from overcoming sectarian division, the Assembly and the power-sharing Executive established under the Agreement have been a big factor in maintaining division. The political structures established under the Good Friday Agreement and the so-called D'Hondt system amount to the institutionalisation of sectarian division.

The political structures in the North encourage political parties on both sides to appeal to sectarian divisions in stirring up issues that divide communities in order to consolidate their political support and draw attention away from the failure of the power sharing institutions to resolve the social and economic crisis that inflicts so much suffering on the people of Northern Ireland. Unionist and Nationalist politicians and political parties are equally culpable in stirring up tensions in the dispute about flags and emblems. Loyalists who insist on marching through Catholic communities create fear and anger and intensify divisions between communities. Equally, Sinn Féin, in publicly commemorating in Castlederg the deaths - every death is a tragedy and hugely to be regretted - of republican activists killed in bringing a bomb to bomb the town, in an area where dozens of Protestants had been killed by republican activists, stirs up fear, anger and divisions between communities. How could it be otherwise?

The political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Executive trade sectarian insults on these issues. However, they unite in implementing the vicious austerity programme dictated by the Tories and the Liberals at Westminster that savages the livelihoods and living standards of working-class people across the board. Yesterday, in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast, both Unionist and Nationalist parties supported a vicious cut to the pensions of 250,000 public servants. They also agreed to raise the retirement age of workers to 68 years. These are the same austerity policies implemented by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in government here and by Fianna Fáil before them. In the North working-class people, particularly working-class youth, suffer hugely from unemployment, poverty, inadequate housing, as well as sectarian divisions. Clearly, working-class people, both Protestant and Catholic, can have no confidence whatsoever that there will be a better future under either the Tories or the Liberals, the British Labour Party, the Irish Labour Party, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil or, as experience demonstrates since the setting up of the structures in the North, Unionist and Nationalist parties represented in the Executive. None has a way forward to offer. That is the reality. They all base themselves on the crisis-ridden economic system sustained by the capitalist financial markets and the capitalist system. Neither can they place any confidence in big business Irish-Americans or Republican Party former activists such as Mr. Haass. What do they have to offer?

The real danger is that the failure of the political establishment to solve the severe problems of working-class people in the North will create a dangerous political vacuum which vicious and violent sectarians are attempting to fill, basing themselves on the alienation of working-class people, particularly young people, with the horrific vista of misleading a new generation of youth into supporting paramilitary and sectarian organisations. Workers and working-class communities in Northern Ireland desperately need their own independent political organisation, movement and political party which could unite them in a common campaign against austerity from both Westminster and Dublin, a common mobilisation of workers against the attacks on their living standards and the horrific effects of the crisis. That was the approach of Connolly and Larkin in their day. That is what was seen in the engineering strike in 1919 and the outdoor relief movement of Protestants and Catholics united in 1932. It is still the only way forward. The way forward is through independent mobilisation of the working-class and political organisation across sectarian divisions, with a radical programme of socialist policies to overcome the crisis, and a new party for the working class.

I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate on the current situation in the North of Ireland.

Following the Haass-O'Sullivan talks and proposals, it is important for all of us living on the island to focus on what is happening in the North and the urgent need to keep the momentum of the peace process. I have major concerns that some think we can let it drift and that it will be all right on the night. That is not going to happen. As we have all seen recently, sectarianism is on the rise and the Government needs to adopt a more hands-on approach to the current situation in the North. Complacency is not an option; we all need strong leadership. Sadly, this leadership is lacking, particularly following the Haass talks, in respect of which, to be quite frank, I was shocked by the reaction from some sides to the conflict and the silence from others. Do we have to have another death before some sides wake up to the reality that staying still is not an option and that sectarianism is never an option?

The British Government also has to wake up and care a little more about the peace process. Its position is simply not acceptable and not in line with the Good Friday Agreement. The parades and flags issue shows clearly that it is not focused enough. Turning a blind eye to sectarianism and violence is not acceptable and, above all, is bad politics. There can be no tolerance of sectarian violence. Mutual respect for all traditions is the only game in town and the only way for the future of this island of ours. We all want to empower citizens, North and South, to develop co-operation across all sections of society. The sectarian rants against the Irish language and culture seen recently should always be a no-go. I strongly challenge the leaders of the Orange Order, particularly in Belfast, to end this activity.

I know where I stand on these issues. I believe strongly in building a new Ireland of Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, other faiths and dissenter. We should all wise up and enjoy difference and diversity on the island. Two years from the 1916 Rising celebrations, we should all take a close look at what those involved stood for and worked towards. A divided country is always going to be weak and flawed. We need to work harder to end division on the island. It is not trendy anymore, in certain quarters and within the current establishment, but we always need to tackle division, sectarianism and the revisionism of Irish history that has taken place in the past ten years. It is important to remember the mistakes of history and learn from them. The division of this island was one of the major mistakes in Irish history and I will always work hard to end that division, no matter how unpopular it is to say this in some quarters, particularly in this House.

On a positive note, I welcome the Taoiseach's remark that he met the victims of Kingsmill, Dublin and Monaghan, the families of the disappeared and the widow of Pat Finucane. I was delighted last week when I saw him meeting the residents from Ballymurphy. They have been neglected and ignored for many years. All victims of the conflict have to be treated with respect. We cannot have a constant stream supporting one side or the other. All sides have to be respected and looked after.

I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks about sport, in which I am interested. He referred to the hosting of a high level conference on sport and sectarianism in November 2013 with involved participation by the GAA, the IFA and the IRFU. We should develop this initiative more on an all-island basis. There is an all-island rugby team. I do not see why we cannot have an all-island football team. In football, sectarianism is rampant. Like racism in other countries, we need to root it out.

I urge the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to give maximum priority to the Haass proposals. I welcome the leadership shown by the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, and Deputy Gerry Adams and commend their efforts on conflict resolution. I urge all Deputies in this House to up their game and work hard to develop the peace process to build a new Ireland that is inclusive and respects all of its citizens.

The worrying rise of sectarian violence, confrontation and attacks in the North in recent years, most recently during the flag protests, is an indictment of the failure of the structures established under the Belfast Agreement, the failure of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and the failure of the political architects of the Agreement in the North, Britain and the South.

There is a conventional narrative about the peace process in the North which is that visionary politicians from Ireland, North and South, and from Britain dragged a reluctant population into some sort of peace agreement. I have never accepted that narrative and always thought that it was the other way around. Ordinary people in the North had had enough of communal violence. Catholic people, irrespective of whether they supported the republican movement and its struggle, realised that the armed struggle had hit a cul de sac and could go no further. Ordinary Protestants were sickened by sectarian and communal violence and wanted an alternative to it. Only months before the cessation of hostilities, people will remember the massive walk-out from Harland and Wolff by Catholic and Protestant workers after the shooting of Maurice O'Kane. Protestants and Catholics who were disgusted by sectarian violence appealed to political parties in the North, Britain and here to come up with a solution. The solution they came up with was the Belfast Agreement.

Now, more than a decade later, we have to ask if that agreement brought an end to sectarianism. Is it capable of bringing an end to sectarianism or has it, in fact, institutionalised sectarianism in the North? I think the jury has come in on that; it has institutionalised it.

The structure of the Northern Ireland Assembly is almost exactly the same as that which was established in the Lebanon with such disastrous consequences at the end of the First World War. It encouraged sectarian conflict in the Lebanon which festered with disastrous consequences and continues to do so because everything is based on communal and sectarian quotas.

In the North, everybody has to designate themselves as either Nationalist or Unionist, while the other category is completely marginalised in any important decisions. Therefore everything is a communal balancing act between two communities. Indicative of this is the fact that the number of peace walls - in actuality, they are separation walls - has doubled since the peace agreement was signed. Sectarian violence continues to fester and spills over in particular because of the failure of the Northern Ireland political institutions to deliver the promised peace dividend. People expected that the agreement would improve the lives of ordinary people in the North but it has failed to do so. Unemployment, poverty and the housing crisis all persist. In Protestant areas the levels of deprivation have significantly increased. Whereas in past decades, Protestant workers could have expected jobs in the big manufacturing industries, these have now gone, so levels of deprivation and poverty have risen. There is a perception, encouraged by sectarian politicians, among alienated deprived Protestant communities that Catholics are benefiting from the arrangements. That is not true, of course, because the levels of unemployment and deprivation are still higher in Catholic areas than in Protestant ones, but they are rising more rapidly in Protestant areas. Third level education is an example of this. There are twice as many Catholics as Protestants in third level education in the North. This is indicative of the rise in deprivation in Protestant areas.

This situation is being fuelled further by neo-liberal attacks such as the cuts that were mentioned, the raising of the pension age and talk of introducing a spare bedroom tax. Disgracefully, there is also talk of abolishing the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, thus essentially privatising social housing. I understand that none of the major parties in the North has protested against that. It is worth stating that the whole conflict in the North started with battles over housing. We are now abandoning the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in favour of a more sectarian way of allocating housing, which will fuel sectarianism. We need to break from communal politics, which have failed.

Debate adjourned.