Nothern Ireland: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, recognising the present favourable opportunities for the attainment of peace in Northern Ireland, urges the Government to do their utmost to promote the process of political accommodation.

We have been requesting a debate on Northern Ireland in this House for months. Indeed, I was astonished to discover that it is over two years since we had a substantial debate on Northern Ireland in the Seanad, making allowances, perhaps for occasional statements, but as far as I can ascertain it has been that long since we had a full debate on Northern Ireland and I welcome the opportunity given to me here tonight.

It has been suggested that this is an unsuitable time to raise this issue, that the Northern talks are at a very sensitive stage, but we have heard this unconvincing line for a long time. I have lost track of the number of times we have been told that a particular time was unsuitable or insensitive and I no longer accept this line of talk. I do not think anything we say here will drive anyone away from the conference table.

First, we must have a proper appreciation of our own importance in this regard and second, we are too deferential to prickly sensibilities. We are not talking about prima donnas who may rise up and start off at some unwise word from us. We are talking about spokespersons who speak urgently about an overwhelming demand for peace in Northern Ireland. Nothing we will say here tonight will drive them from that table. A candid expression of our views can only help the Government and all those involved in the talks and that is why I tried to phrase the motion in as non-controversial way as my temperament permits. Generally speaking, I propose to follow a non-controversial line, although I hold very strong views on certain aspects involved in this.

I thank the Government side for not putting forward an amendment. That was a gesture of goodwill, a recognition of the seriousness and importance of the motion and their acknowledgment that I would not use it for publicity purposes.

When I speak about favourable opportunities being presented for peace, I really believe that. I know there have been other false starts but this time there has been an extraordinary conjunction of events. Providentially, there has not been a terrorist-related death in Northern Ireland for about seven weeks, despite the best efforts at times of the IRA. There has been a falling off in the retaliatory violence of the loyalist para-militaries and there has been an extraordinary yearning for peace which is palpable and is expressed in many diverse ways through cross-community prayer gatherings, power-sharing in Derry, various cross-Border enterprises, the continuing good work of Co-operation North and the enterprise begun by the imaginative editors ofFortnight magazine initiated in 1992 which is an attempt again to articulate the accommodation process.

We must also pay tribute to the work of President Robinson. No one could have anticipated the immeasurable contribution she is making at the moment to reconciliation in Ireland. In fact, that threadbare word "reconciliation" really is very true in her case and long may she continue to do that good work.

I am sure the Minister is more acutely aware than I that we had an historic day yesterday; the presence of the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party at yesterday's talks, no matter how tentative the subject matter, symbolised the removal of a considerable obstacle. Again, unlike his colleagues in the talks he is not going to incur the odium of a breakdown of these talks. There is a tide in the affairs of Ireland that must be taken at the flood; the opportunity must be seized. Historians are not generally given to using the word "historic" for obvious devaluing reasons, but this is truly an historic moment. I rise here tonight to actually support the Government as well as to urge them to do their utmost to promote the accommodation process.

There will have to be compromise all round. There can be no accommodation on this island, no co-existence, nomodus vivendi unless there is compromise. The unionists must recognise that there has to be an Irish dimension of some kind. I blame myself for not having sufficiently stressed in my various contributions to debates on Northern Ireland, the need for unionists to recognise this reality. I have been, perhaps, over-intent on emphasising the rights of their position, but they must accept that there has to be some Irish dimension, not as a gesture to Dublin over-lordship, but as recognition of the political realities in their midst which they have, alas, ignored for far too long.

For our part we must find our own way to compromise. I make the point to the Minister that of all the parties to these negotiations, in one way we have most to give because we have little to lose. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is peace in Northern Ireland and that the parties there come to an accommodation. Surely we will then not push a particular territorial interest which may appeal to our sentimentality, to the self-indulgent fantasies of certain backbenchers, to armchair generals? I would prefer perhaps the more homely phrase, súgán corporals, but that is really as far as it goes. It would be no skin off our nose to greatly modify Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. That is the kind of compromise we will have to make. After all, what do Articles 2 and 3 represent except 19th century nationalism at its most intense, the kind of nationalism which recently, in the context of the Maastricht referendum campaign, we were urged to drop as a sign of immaturity, not least by the SDLP?

Although it does not properly concern the motion, I would like to advert to the fringe factor of Sinn Féin who have been clamouring at the door for a long time for a place in these talks and who would like to be sitting at that table, but who by their attitude, have imposed on themselves a self-denying ordinance. Much has been read into a recent utterance by one of their spokespersons, but not until Sinn Féin unequivocally renounce the IRA campaign and dissociate themselves from the IRA campaign can their presence be considered at the conference table, and only then in proportion to their electoral strength in Northern Ireland. There has been a lot of unthinking commentary that somehow those involved in violence must be part of the solution, as if having the gun and the bomb, and supporting the gun and the bomb, entitles one to a place at the conference table. We must totally reject that madness because that is the kind of anarchy that gives hostages to fortune, which might one day rebound on ourselves, apart from its intrinsic unjustification.

As I have said, I put forward this motion in a non-controversial spirit. We in the South have long been saying to the Ulster unionists that when the day comes that they talk to us and sit around the table, they will be surprised how generous we are. The day has come and it is time to show that generosity and that we are capable of making the historic compromise without which there will be no peace in Ireland.

I second the motion. It is appropriate that it was placed on the Order Paper in the name of my colleague, Senator Murphy. I agree with him on a number of matters. First, I welcome the fact that the Government have chosen not to attempt to amend this motion. On most occasions, as the Minister will be aware, the Government, playing the paraliamentary game, seek to amend motions. I remember this happening once in relation to a debate on Northern Ireland — the debate on a motion I proposed condemning the attacks on the Belfast-Dublin rail link and requiring the IRA to call off their campaign and to cease their attacks on the passengers and workers of the railway. I made the point to the Leader of the Government party in the House that by altering the motion, they would be diluting it because what we were doing was getting it through the Dáil, the Seanad and as many of the county councils as possible throughout the Thirty-two Counties in order to demonstrate the lack of support for the violent campaign of the so-called IRA. I am glad to say that on that occasion also, the Government were amenable and withdrew their amendment. I agree with Senator Murphy that it is very good that this generally positive motion was not diluted or tampered with because it is non-controversial. It urges support for the Government.

The Minister, who I am glad to see again in the House, has played a crucial role in the present phase of these talks. I cannot imagine that we will hear any great disclosures, but we will all listen with interest to the nuances of what the Minister will have to say here tonight. Senator Murphy used the word "historic". I read through the three Dublin newspapers and every one of them used the word "historic" in relation to these talks. In my opinion, that is justified in terms of the symbolism of what happened yesterday. I speak from the non-Roman Catholic tradition which, I am glad to say, is properly respected and cherished in this part of the country. If one message from what I say could go out to my coreligionists in the Anglican Church in the North, it is that they would be quite safe in a Thirty-two County Republic and that there is no danger to their moral or political well being should they opt to come in. It is like saying: come on in, the water is lovely. We have to tempt them; I do not think we can coerce them.

I speak as an Anglican, but the Reverend Paisley and most of the unionists are seen as coming from the more extreme fringes of the reformed tradition. The Reverend Ian Paisley, in no sense has ever spoken for me. However, I recall his previous fulminations of "O'Neill must go, Chichester Clarke must go;" everybody must go. He was endlessly negative to the point of appalling boredom.

Now at last, with this extraordinary symbolic gesture, by sitting down with representatives of his fellow Irish people in a room in London he was broken a symbolic log-jam and despite the fact that I have no sympathy with his policies, I respect that gesture and its significance cannot be over-stated. If there was ever anybody who was going to stand outside that room and picket — I have seen him picket with extraordinary impertinence the great cathedrals of my religion to which he does not belong when he thought were selling out to Rome and so on — it would be Reverend Paisley who would be raising the hysterical temperature in Northern Ireland. I am very glad he did not do that.

I agree with Senator Murphy that it would be utterly wrong to suggest that a debate on this House could destabilise what is, admittedly, a sensitive situation. It is a sensitive situation but there is not great sensitivity displayed on the streets of Belfast or Derry. If we allow a vacuum to exist without having proper ventilation of these issues in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we are simply handing over to the gunman, something I would very much regret if it were allowed to happen.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution must be looked at. I read in the newspapers that this was one of the things that Dr. Ian Paisley insisted on. I do not share his views, but I agree with him on that point because they are not what we used to consider an inoffensive tissue of pretence, they have been judged by a series of recent constitutional cases to be an active and dangerous element. If you read those cases together it is clear that they are a constitutional imperative, I use the judge's words — and that, in certain circumstances, extra-territorial acts of violence can be justified if they do not take place within the Twenty-six Counties. In my opinion that is a charter for the IRA. Something must be done about Articles 2 and 3. We proposed in this House before — and I put it to the Minister again — that a simple alteration should be considered — in any attempt to realise this aspiration for unity, the use of violence shall be prohibited. That is a nice simple form of words which would have the effect of defining into aspiration what is discovered by the Supreme Court to be a constitutional imperative.

I wish to refer briefly to what Senator Murphy said about the IRA. I disdain the IRA, I guard them with contempt and dislike on a principled basis, not as individuals. One has to attempt to show Christian charity even towards these people, even those who appear to have threatened my life on a number of occasions, but you can never be sure whether these threats originate from the people they are opposed to. Nevertheless, I welcome what Mr. Gibney said at Bodenstown. It indicated a tentative putting out of feelers, in particular, the notion that there would have to be a prolonged period of peace before the British army withdrew from Ireland. That was an interesting suggestion because it indicated that consideration was being given at some level within those organisations to a ceasefire. I note also with concern that here has been a certain drawing back from this recently. A gloss is being added and it has been indicated that this period of peace would only come about after a specific British declaration to withdraw, which I think is unrealistic, but at least it is interesting and they should be encouraged and included in the talks. Invitations must be given to Sinn Féin at some stage. It is an extremely delicate political matter because were it to be too bluntly suggested, particularly by the Irish Government, that would in my opinion probably end the talks completely. However, an Independent Member who comes from the Protestant tradition, who has strong associations with Southern unionism can say this in a way that should not destabilise matters. It is more important to talk than to kill; the old phrase about Jaw Jaw being better than war war is accurate in my opinion and Sinn Féin represent about 30 per cent of the vote.

I agree with Senator Murphy that you cannot give people a seat at the table simply because they have a bomb and a bullet. On the other hand, in international diplomacy, as the Minister knows well, frequently this is what cynically does occur. Sinn Féin are entitled to some degree of consultation because, regrettably or not, they represent 30 per cent of the people. I do not like what they say but they have a right to say it. The illustration I have always used is, if I live in a house in the middle of a row with a neighbour on each side and one of them starts smashing my windows, there is damn all point in my going to the person who is not throwing the stones at my window complaining how dreadful it is that the fellow on the other side is smashing my windows. You try to include people in the process in order to defuse a dangerous situation. I welcome what has been said, cautiously. I think it no harm for someone who does not have governmental responsibility to indicate that there are people of goodwill who believe that there should be some inclusion of his point of view, however regrettable it is.

I welcome the courage of the various Presbyterian and other Ministers who met with representatives of Sinn Féin. They have my full approval for so doing. It is important that they should be encouraged. It was from this series of meetings that the speech at Bodenstown and other encouraging noises emerged.

I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the work they have done. We are going to have to look for a solution. I remind the Minister of what I said about Articles 2 and 3 and, perhaps, he would consider that suggestion. It may be a complicated one, but I think it is quite a good idea.

I will finish with this point. I spoke about an act of political symbolism on the part of Reverend Ian Paisley and I think that is true. We have to be sensitive to the tribal need for symbolism of the two communities in Northern Ireland. This may be a completely way out suggestion, but I believe there is a number of ways in which this could be addressed. One is the possibility of envisaging some degree of co-operation between all the Thirty-two Counties; in other words, a kind of united Ireland in some vague form, that would satisfy the nationalist community. On the other hand, why should this re-unified unit not apply for some sort of association with the Commonwealth because you then give to the unionists the capacity to feel they are in some form of direct connection with what is most symbolically potent to them, the British Crown.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to express my gratitude to Senator Murphy and the seconder of the motion, Senator Norris. As Senator Murphy has said, there is never a suitable or unsuitable time to discuss any of these issues and I do not see this as necessarily an unsuitable or inconvenient time. Certainly, I appreciate the responsible and non-controversal fashion in which they put down the motion.

I welcome the opportunity afforded by this debate to outline the Government's view of the current talks. I am particularly glad that the debate is taking place at a time when the long-awaited transition to Strand Two of the process is about to take place. On behalf of the Government, I greatly welcome the proposal by Sir Patrick Mayhew this afternoon that Strand Two should now be launched and the reported acceptance of this proposal by all concerned. The Government look forward to working actively and constructively in Strand Two, under the independent chairmanship of Sir Ninian Stephen, with a view to ensuring the decisive contribution which Strand Two must make to the outcome of the talks process as a whole. Strand Two, which involves the two Governments and the four parties in Northern Ireland, is a very important and integral part of the process which was agreed on 26 March 1991. We are very pleased that this crucial phase of the talks has now been reached.

We believe that these talks offer an historic opportunity to begin the work of healing the misunderstandings and antagonisms that have so damaged relationships on this island, and between these islands, over the centuries. We have the chance, with imagination and goodwill, to start building a basis for an honourable, equitable and lasting accommodation between the two traditions. We have the opportunity for a new beginning that can help signal the end of the strife that has caused so much suffering and hardship to the people of Northern Ireland.

I would mislead the House if I said we were certain of success or that the task ahead would be an easy one. The discussions to which we are all committed will be complex, arduous and lengthy. Once launched, however, the process of dialogue will, I hope, acquire its own momentum. I believe there is a growing acceptance that political dialogue alone offers a way out of the tragedy of Northern Ireland. There is a responsibility on all sides to work together to achieve political arrangements which will enable the people of this island to live together in partnership and trust.

The Government's objective throughout has been to establish a clear and realistic basis for this process and one which would most assist a successful outcome. It is for that reason that the two Governments and the participants have taken such care to put structures in place which would enable discussion not only of the different relationships we have to consider but also of their inter-relationship to each other. It was for that reason that we agreed that the talks must be framed in the context of the three sets of relationships and for that reason also that we determined that nothing would be agreed until everything is agreed.

To protect the position of all participants, it was also agreed that absolute confidentiality would be maintained at every stage of the discussions in all three strands. That brings me to the point that was raised by Senator Norris that I would have a difficulty, as it were, going into the depth of the discussions. I take his point in that regard and accept that he respects my position, having regard to the confidentiality required.

It would perhaps be easier if it were otherwise but the Government firmly believe that "a new beginning for relationships" must address all the different dimensions. It must, fundamentally, be grounded on respect for the aspirations and sense of identity of each tradition. Both are entitled to respect in equal measure. Both involve allegiances that transcend the confines of Northern Ireland and no real or durable accommodation is possible unless framed in the context of the wider dimension of relationships within Ireland and between the two islands. In accepting this reality as the basis for the talks, I believe all sides have already taken a significant step. The challenge that lies ahead for all of us in translating this acknowledgment of the requirements for true enduring accommodation and partnership into structures that will reflect these realities.

As confirmed in Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, both Governments have fully accepted that the aspirations of each tradition are legitimate and both must be accommodated. The fundamental basis of the present talks is the need to devise institutions that can accommodate each tradition and take full account of their legitimate aspirations. That is why we must address all the relationships involved and that is why the Governments and the parties have agreed the present process and its structures.

It is central to this approach that neither tradition should be placed in a position of privilege or special status against the other. Both must be treated on an equal basis so that neither feels threatened or challenged by the other. After all the suffering and pain of recent years, I believe there is now widespread acceptance that this is the only way forward and that trust and equality must be the basis of any new arrangements that emerge from our joint discussions. Any new institutions can have value only if they are based on the accommodation of differences and give full expression to the rights and aspirations of each tradition on this island.

Unionists and nationalists have to share this island. We have to respect the other's position and understand and respect the aspirations of the other. We have to accept that we will not agree on some things but that the view of each is fully legitimate and must be acknowledged and respected. We have to learn to live in partnership and equality on the island which we share. We have to realise that diversity can be enriching rather than threatening and that no barriers are immutable to people wishing to live together in a relationship of trust and mutual respect. I believe that, whatever the difficulties and challenges yet to be faced, and they are very real and very many, the present talks process is taking place because all of us have learned these simple but hard truths.

The Irish Government consider the value of the exchanges in the talks, and the prospects of their success, will depend on the degree to which they embrace the real scope of the problem. We must base our negotiations on the conflicting aspirations and identities as each tradition itself perceives and defines them, not in the form the other tradition might find it convenient for them to be. We must make our solution fit the problem, not seek to define the problem in terms of the solutions we are prepared to offer. Our approach to the agenda will, therefore, be both flexible and comprehensive. It is one of the agreed ground rules for the talks that it will be open to each of the parties to raise any aspect of our relationship, including constitutional issues, or indeed any matter which it considers relevant. We will seek to ensure the talks are a framework for the fullest possible consideration of all the factors which affect the tragic and intractable problem we have to grapple with. We would hope they will permit a balanced examination of both sides of all the issues which divide the two traditions in Ireland and, ultimately, indicate the ways in which these difficulties can be resolved.

There is much that can be built on and much on which we already agree. We agree on the fundamental position that a change in the status of Northern Ireland can only take place with the consent of a majority of its people. We agree that differences between the two traditions can only be accommodated by mutual agreement and accommodation and that any new institutions must reflect this reality. We agree that those who practise violence in support of political change are our common enemy. We all condemn without reservation the IRA and all their works and pomps. We agree in rejecting their futile activities which purport to build a new Ireland, not on respect for different traditions and aspirations, but on foundations of hatred and bloodshed. They are our common enemy and their greatest fear is that, together, we can succeed in reaching understanding and accommodation between our two traditions.

The goal of reconciliation between the two major traditions in Ireland will, I believe, be significantly assisted by a clear recognition of the substantial common ground which exists between both and between the two parts of Ireland in many areas of practical, day-to-day concern. It is important that we build on the things which already unite the people of the island, North and South. We have joint concerns about the future prosperity and development of the island in the new European context. If maximum advantage is to be taken of the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead in that context, it is essential that Northern Ireland should be developed economically in close conjunction with the rest of the island. Only an approach of this kind will permit the full potential of the economy to be realised in both parts of the island.

The Government are fully conscious of the responsibility that rests on us as on all sides in the current process. We will do our full part to ensure that the endeavours of all participants in the current process will prove worthy of the hopes invested in us by people of both traditions who now want to put an end to misunderstanding and division and reach towards a new beginning. We will do our utmost to put Northern Ireland firmly on the path to peace and the island as a whole on the road to that reconciliation and partnership which has eluded us for so long.

I have listened very carefully and with great attention to the remarks by Senators Murphy and Norris and what they said about the constitutional issue, and more particularly Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution. We must agree that it is not the views of the Government or even the Oireachtas which will be decisive in this regard. This is an issue on which our people as a whole must pronounce, if or when a question is put to them in a referendum. Such a referendum would touch on very deep issues and my belief is that it could raise very strong passions. It would have to be very carefully considered in all its aspects.

What else is new about arousing passions in a referendum?

I wanted to put down a marker that if these issues are put to the people, passions will be raised. The Senator quite properly asks what is new and my response is that nothing is new.

It would have to be very carefully considered in all its aspects. In general, it would be important to ensure that any amendment we might propose to the people would not appear to be a denial of the right of people born or living in Northern Ireland to be Irish. Any proposals which seem to go in that direction would, I believe, meet with very considerable opposition.

Second, I believe that there remains a strong aspiration to unity by peaceful means and by agreement. Anything which was interpreted as a denial of that aspiration would also meet with much opposition and passion. We have indicated that constitutional issues are on the table in the talks and we expect that all sides of the constitutional aspects of the problem will be discussed. It would be our hope that the outcome of the talks would be based on respect for both traditions, not a denial of either, and that any constitutional proposals which might emerge would be in that spirit.

With those words I conclude my contribution to what I believe was a very important motion, helpful, worthwhile, supportive and non-controversial.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Andrews, for coming into the House this evening as part of what must be an extremely busy schedule. He does the House a great service by coming here and I would like to thank him sincerely for his mature and dignified handling of a very sensitive issue to date. Indeed, he is not just the ambassador of the Government but of all of us at this most important juncture in relation to these talks and I personally feel very comfortable with his representation of us. I sincerely wish him well in what can only be a very difficult task.

This motion is welcome and very timely. For over 25 years now the tyranny of extremism has stopped the process of normal dialogue between the different communities in the North and between the North and South. All politicians are answerable to an electorate and inside each electorate are extreme views, but the mass of the people in this case are sending a very clear message. They want the culture of violence brought to an end, a culture that has stultified their growth, both socially and economically, for so long. In all parties in the North there is a stream of opinion looking for reconciliation, a reconciliation of people, of hearts and minds and not the amalgamation of territory or land. I take the point already made by Senator Norris and Senator Murphy that if and when Articles 2 and 3 stand in the way, we must be prepared to face up to them and tackle them. I am sure the Government will have the support they need from the vast majority, if not all, in both Houses in relation to this issue.

Real progress to lasting peace will only be achieved with the establishment of routine talks, talks that are so routine that they are no longer newsworthy, no longer attract headlines pointing out their historic nature. Yesterday's meeting with Reverend Ian Paisley was historic and deserved the headlines. We must get to the stage where dialogue and talks are so routine between all the communities involved that they no longer make the newsprint or the media generally. The talks process must be developed, the present strands must be developed to the stage that there are monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of every month or the first Tuesday of every month or whenever, and these meeting must take place regardless of what other issues distract us in terms of our political lives and political agendas. Only when it gets to that stage of routineness will real progress be made. From routine talks will follow structures which will allow the people of Northern Ireland to live their lives peacefully.

The Minister in his speech said there is a growing acceptance that political dialogue alone offers a way out of the tragedy of Northern Ireland. I wish I could agree 100 per cent with him. I sincerely hope he is right and that my misgivings are wrong. I must say what I am thinking at this point. I feel the churches have an enormous role to play in the North, as well as political dialogue. Political dialogue will bring the churches a long way down the road. I must categorically state that I would like all the churches in Northern Ireland to abandon sectarianism. While we each must respect the other's views, we must look to the churches and education systems and ask whether a major contribution towards ending sectarianism does not lie in their hands. I feel it does. I hope the Minister's statement is categorical and definitive. I hope that political dialogue alone would offer the way out. I feel the churches have a role, and if they have, I wish they would get on with it.

For talks to become routine none of the communities must feel threatened. While the Anglo-Irish Agreement gave the minority nationalists a sense of confidence and of belonging, the first Article of that agreement states categorically that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until the majority wishes. This undertaking, which is from both Governments here and across the water, should be a guarantee to the Unionist community in relation to their concerns about the status of Northern Ireland.

To turn to the specific wording of the motion — and I commend Senator Murphy, Senator Norris and colleagues for tabling it in Private Members' Time — the particular part of it that interests me is the recognition of the present favourable opportunities for the attainment of peace in Northen Ireland. Senator Murphy went through many of the areas that he reckoned made this particular moment more favourable than others, and I agree with him. To use his words: there is a palpable yearning for peace both North and South of the Border and I suspect across the water as well, even though I would not have experience of it there. I also recognise President Robinson's major contribution to reconciliation in this area.

I ask the House to excuse me as I have to attend another function.

I recognise the historic nature of yesterday's meeting with Reverend Ian Paisley. As the UK are about to take over the European Presidency and as we continue in Europe to work towards European Union, the UK during their six months term will make a contribution to the uniting of the hearts and minds of the people in Northern Ireland. Here in the South there is a politically favourable opportunity for the Government to contribute towards peace in the North.

On other occasions, during the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Government of the day did not have all party support in the South for what they were trying to achieve towards peace and reconciliation in the North. I still recall Deputy Brian Lenihan's trip to the United States to speak to Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy while the Government here were trying to get the Anglo-Irish Agreement in place. One must compare that behaviour with the enormous support this Government have from Fine Gael, from all the parties and from Independents, for what they are trying to achieve. The atmosphere that the present Government enjoy adds further credence to Senator Murphy's expression that we can recognise the present favourable opportunities for the attainment of peace. The opportunities are here as well as in the North and the UK. Tha must be recognised for what it is.

Senator Norris — maybe through a slip of the tongue — stated that the men of violence represent 30 per cent of the people in the North. That is not so. I feel that was a slip of the tongue and I would not like that to go uncorrected. We would have far greater problems if the figures were anything approaching 30 per cent. Thankfully they do not and God knows the problems are big enough in the North.

We support the motion unreservedly. If there is anything any of us can do to help the process of promoting political accommodation in the North, the Government need only ask. We can sin by omission as well as by deed. We all have to give time and energy towards resolving the greatest tragedy on this island at present and for some decades.

The Government have not found the leaders of the parties and Independent Members of both Houses wanting in terms of support, as evidenced only today at Question Time in the Dáil with a very sensitive questioning of the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, by Deputy Barry, Deputy Spring and Deputy De Rossa. I wanted to say that in passing. In this House too, in any way we can help to promote the Government's efforts at this time, we will be delighted to do so.

I support the motion, as do all my colleagues. I commend the Minister for his sensitive handling of this very difficult issue and for representing all our views to date. I wish the talks speedy success. As I said, they will become successful when they become routine, when the difficulties in arranging dates from Strand One to Strand Two and in selecting the agenda for Strand Three are forgotten and there are monthly, if not weekly, meetings between the parties involved so that real peace and reconciliation can be brought in to the lives of all of those residing in the North, many of whom have been touched by the appalling tragedies. There is hardly a family who have not been touched by the tragedy of the bomb and the bullet over the last 25 years. Would that their misery could be brought to a speedy conclusion.

For many months have been attempts to have debates in this House on Northern Ireland. Inhibitions have been placed on having a debate. Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Governments have problems when the Opposition Members side ask for debates on matters of vital importance, national issues, Government policy and so forth.

This motion was brought in by the Independents and there were people who thought it should not be discussed because the timing might not be exactly right. Of course the timing is never right for tabling a motion. One puts down a motion and hopes it is taken at a particular time and it depends on who decides on the timing as to whether in concept it is right or wrong. The only amendment we would put in would involve a slight change in that instead of urging the Government to do their utmost to promote peace, we would congratulate the Government on the efforts they have made to promote the process of political accommodation.

Like the other speakers, I congratulate the Minister for coming to the House this evening and keeping us up to date with what has happened in the very delicate political process which has taken place over the past few months. A very difficult and delicate process has taken place. People have talked about the historic meetings that have taken place yesterday; the Minister suggested these were historic in small "h" terms but I would not use a small "h". The two Government representatives met with the elected members of all sides of the political spectrum in the North, statements were made and the position was set out. Everybody at the meetings yesterday agreed the statements were made from a sincere point of view and with a view to progressing to the next stage of the search for peace in the North.

In these talks we can have all the verbiage in the world but basically what we are talking about is a search for peace on this island. The word "peace" cannot be taken away. We cannot accept that we will have atrocities, that parents will lose their children and families will lose their brothers and sisters. In the process of a peacefull solution to the problems in this country we must be acutely conscious of the fact that we are talking about the repercussions on a family following a death. There is much sorrow in a family when a member dies from natural causes; it is impossible to conceive the sorrow caused when there is a death by other than natural causes. In the process towards peace we are seeing a process where people can live in a peaceful environment.

We live in a troubled world. Eastern Europe is breaking up; and we see the problems that exist in the Third World. At such a time would it not be fantastic to think that we in Ireland might be able to resolve our problems, even though we have been in a problem area for many years. We might be able to tell the people who are now getting into conflict that there is no future in conflict. People should sit down and talk out their problems. It might be regarded as a pipedream but it has begun to be a reality.

The constitutional parties in the North are now sitting down together; perhaps there are problems that will be difficult to resolve in the future but as long as they are talking there is hope. The use of violence should be prohibited, according to Senator Murphy or Senator Norris, but how can you prohibit the use of violence? The men of violence will be violent. They have to be marginalised in society. It is said that a long period of peace has to ensue before there can be an accommodation to withdrawal of troops in the North. Again, it is something that we would wish for, but we want to see Sinn Féin as a constitutional party withdrawing their support from the IRA. I make no bones about the fact that I abhor every activity of the IRA; I suggest there are many people on the republican side in the North who support Sinn Féin from an historical and an emotional point of view who also abhor what is happening because of the IRA. Sinn Féin should be included in the talks in future, only after they make a declaration of their absolute consent to constitutional methods to resolve the problems in Northern Ireland.

There is a rapid change taking place in the international environment. Foreign policy matters are becoming more and more a matter of deep interest and importance in this island and in other areas. I am glad there are last signs that there will be a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs established and within the ambit of that Joint Committee we can discuss foreign affairs matters much more relevantly. More Members can participate rather than havead hoc motions tabled. It is essential that this Joint Committee should be set up as soon as it is possible.

The talks that are taking place at present are not the beginning of the end of the problems that we have in this island but at least they are a beginning. For the first time in many years I see on all sides an agreement to talk which will lead to a peaceful resolution of the problems of the North.

I was asked this afternoon why I was to talk about the North, since I live in Kilkenny and am not involved in the problems of the North of Ireland. As a Kilkenny man I have as much interest in the resolution of the problems in this island as anybody else, whether they be in Belfast or Derry, Cork or Donegal. The Minister said that everything is on the table in these talks; nothing is excluded. The tyranny of extremism should be eliminated from this island and that tyranny is not only an armed tyranny of extremism. There are many people in this island who by their words have created more tyranny than the people who have fired bullets or thrown bombs. The extremism of words has been much more dangerous than the tyranny of extremism in the military sense.

This debate proves that no Government in the future should have any qualms about raising sensitive matters in this House. They should have no qualms about raising matters about the North or about any other place. This House has always been a House in which matters of sensitivity have been debated sensitively. I commend the Members who introduced the motion and the Minister for his response, even though I would delete the word "urges" and substitute "congratulate". This debate will do nothing to hinder the talks that are so essential to the resolution of the problems and to the attainment of peace and justice in this island.

I compliment the Independent Members for putting down this motion and welcome the Minister to the House. It has been some time since we had a debate on Northern Ireland. I recollect a time when a request for such a debate was made almost daily, but, thankfully, we have been given time and it could not be more opportune.

I am delighted to note from the Minister's remarks the announcement that there has been agreement to launch Strand Two of the talks; that is a milestone in the negotiations. I am glad to hear the approach the Minister is adopting in seeking to accommodate all the aspirations, identities and traditions on this island. Arising out of that, the totality of relationships will be dealt with and everything will be on the table for discussion. As a people we will have to make decisions on constitutional, legislative and other matters.

In his contribution the Minister said: "Once launched, however, the process of dialogue will I hope acquire its own momentum"— that is fine, but I am disappointed with the next line which reads: "There is, I believe, a growing acceptance that political dialogue alone offers a way out of the tragedy of Northern Ireland." I could not agree with that statement. Political dialogue is one way out of the tragedy of Northern Ireland, but political dialogue cannot operate in a vacuum and anybody who thinks that people talking at a political level will be sufficient to resolve the situation is not a shrewd, seasoned, political operator. There are a host of other areas to be considered — the role of the church and State — the role of the church is a major one — the role of education, the role of people in the workplace, the role of the business community and the role of Europe in the context of the new developments we have just voted on. These are major matters of concern and if they are neglected, political talks could easily fail to achieve their objective.

It is interesting to note we are all agreed right across the political divide in the Republic to how we should move forward in seeking to resolve the problem in Northern Ireland. It is ironic that the major political parties came into existence because of a division of views as to how the tragedy of Northern Ireland should be resolved. Perhaps it is a straw in the wind that the two large political parties in the South may be thinking of coming together once the question of the civil war politics has finally been eliminated. The Sunningdale Agreement was the first significant development between Britain and Ireland and made a certain amount of progress in a very short time. This wonderful opportunity was lost because of political indecision by the British Prime Minister of the day. The New Ireland Forum was the first serious cross party attempt to get a common strand of relief in a way forward in relation to Northern Ireland. Arising out of that, the Anglo Irish Agreement subsequently became an agreement between the two sovereign states to jointly deal with Northern Ireland, but the flaw in that agreement was that the third major participant was omitted. Now we have what I regard as the essential components in any attempt to get a final solution.

I agree fully with the motion that we have a favourable opportunity at last to attempt to get a final solution to this problem because the three groups — the Irish Government, the British Government and the four political parties, the Alliance, the DUP, the SDLP and the Official Unionists — are represented at the talks and have agreed to dialogue in relation to the establishment of new structures that would see an end to the terrible tragedy and conflict in Northern Ireland. We have progressed in political terms, despite the tragedy of the last 22 years of conflict.

There has been a lack of progress in other areas, especially in our attempts to integrate either the churches or the education establishments. The strong commitment to denominational education in the North is supported by the churches. Much more can be done in terms of ecuminism and in terms of an integrated education commitment by the churches than we have had hitherto. Inter-church links at every level including areas for which they have responsibility, particularly education, are extremely important and I would like to see the same level of progress being made there as I hope will be made in the Strand Two dialogue that is about to take place on the political scene.

Another major bone of contention in Northern Ireland is the serious levels of discrimination in the workplace. Only last week we saw what happened in Queen's University, at the highest academic level, where there had been discrimination and compensation had to be paid to people who should properly have been recruited. We must ensure that all anti-discrimination legislation is strictly enforced. I would like to see if not the McBride Principles then the equivalent enshrined in a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland — in Europe as well as in America workers have civil rights, in terms of recruitment and employment. Of course we can contribute in terms of our training, inter-school relationship through Co-operation North. Our education, training and vocational systems can co-operate in terms of work experience across the Border and by inviting them to the South.

The European dimension is very important and should not be lost sight of. New trans-frontier/trans-border funding is available, which has enabled the Ballyconnell Canal to link Lough Erne and the Shannon. Now there should be much greater scope for business, tourist and cross-Border links between the two sectors.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge what I regard as the positive developments that have taken place. The Civil Righs Movement have contributed enormously to identifying the problem, have pointed the finger at inequities which existed, at gerrymandering in the political system and at discrimination in the workplace. I pay tribute to John Hume most of all who because of his broad perspective in an Irish context, his appreciation of both traditions and his appreciation of Ireland and its place in Europe and the world, is indefatigable in bringing about a situation where people are coming around the table to talk at present.

Finally, I will make one reference to Senator Lanigan's contribution. We have to address the question of the men of violence. What has happened so far has been the result of the positive strain in Irish politics; there has always been a negative one also which I eschew. We must put pressure on the political spokes-people for the men of violence to get involved in the dialogue and to ensure that they are not left out totally because, essentially, they still represent a certain segment of the population. We must see that violence is renounced and that they are involved in the dialogue process.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate this motion. Whatever about the fact that we have had to wait a while to have this debate on Northern Ireland, it is very timely to have it now. It is at a time when we are feeling a little optimistic about the future there and perhaps it was worth waiting for this particular opportunity.

I would like to thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, for facilitating the debate and coming in to listen to various views. As Senator Doyle said, the Minister has a very busy schedule. That is not to say I do not also welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kitt, to the House.

During the past while what we have seen from this Government has been the pursuit of the right course. There has been a degree of flexibility which has been acknowledged by our colleagues north of the Border also. It has in part been responsible for the success of the talks so far.

I have always maintained that we should have a degree of openness about the future and acknowledge that in this whole arena there are no winners, that everything has to be on the table so that structures can be found to encompass the needs of all sides of the divide. We have to acknowledge that a security policy and political structures will not isolate the terrorists. There also has to be a climate where the people within the communities reject violence as a means to an end. Our party, and indeed most parties, have always supported the need to establish common ground in Northern Ireland so that politicians can start to work together. It was historic, as Senator Murphy said earlier, that the Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, took his place at the talks with the other constitutional politicians yesterday. I am sure he availed of the opportunity to tell both the Minister for Foreign Affairs Deputy Andrews and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn, what he expects and wants to happen in the future. I would like to believe he would reflect the great longing for peace in Northern Ireland.

We only have to look at the results of the general election there to realise how deep is that great longing for peace. Many of us at the time welcomed the increase in the vote for the constitutional nationalists — in particular the election of Dr. Joe Hendron — because we believe it gave a clear unequivocal message to the Provisional IRA and to Sinn Féin that violence is not the answer. Politicians are reflecting the common message — which I hear from all sides of the community every time I go North — that there is a great longing for peace and a genuine recognition that there is no going back. We cannot afford to go back.

I ask the proposers of this motion — indeed Senator Doyle raised the question as well — what can we do to help, not just at governmental level but at a personal level? We must continue to work on a personal and private basis, as many Senators and many of my colleagues do, to build up trust, to show we reject the militarism of Sinn Féin. It is an important symbol and we talked about it in this House at one stage. Sinn Féin are now banned from using the Mansion House for their Ard Fheis. I congratulated the Dublin city councillors at the time for taking that courageous stand, but symbols, however well intentioned, are not sufficient. Practical actions on our party are also necessary, such as telling the Garda about arms and substances that are still to be found in the Republic, and realising we have a responsibility for fellow Irish people no matter what part of the island they live.

I agree with Senator Murphy when he said that not until Sinn Féin have totally rejected violence should they be given the opportunity to join in the talks process. That is not to say they should be barred forever from joining the talks. The opportunity lies in their hands alone. We are now approaching a time in the North which is generally referred to as the marching season. During the whole talks process, perhaps, there could be a little breather so that both sides could examine their approach to this season to ensure that emotionalism does not take over and that the symbolism of certain traditions in this country can have its expression without causing problems.

We have just come through a very historic period in our own history, the very successful conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty referendum. In the other House tomorrow there will be an important debate on the Lisbon Summit. In January 1993 we will have the coming into effect of European Union where borders between countries will be abolished except in our own country which will have one of the last borders of the European Community. I believe the outcome of the Maastricht referendum can give us courage to face the future. Part of that should be to use our new openness and energy to create a society we can be proud of and which people north of the Border will be eager to join. That type of society would be one in which individual freedom of conscience is a proud reality and not an empty assertion, where the rights of women are respected and understood, a pluralist society which would reflect all the widely differing views and experiences that add up to the sum total of what we are. That is a way in which we can contribute to the peace process.

I have already said we must be open and generous. It would be useful to describe certain criteria which must inevitably form part of a solution in the widest possible terms. In the main I see these as being the devolution of powers to constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland operating in some type of power-sharing assembly or executive; a recognition of a defined role for the Irish Government in tandem with the new relationship between the two islands of Ireland and Britain; a guarantee of protection of the minority interest in Northern Ireland and in particular in the mechanics of any assembly which is formed.

Although we always hesitate to be too optimistic, we should grasp at every opportunity to bring about a successful and just solution. This is a very critical time, it is a time to show courage and leadership and a time to be prepared to take very difficult decisions. We have another opportunity to do away with the leftover poison of history and to start thinking of the Northern opportunity. The latter word is contained in the motion because it seems that at least the bitter entrenched weariness that has characterised so many approaches to this issue is giving way to a tentative openness shown by the agreement to open Strand Two of the talks. We should wish all the parties well.

I am delighted we have the opportunity to discuss this motion tonight. Senator Murphy cannot be thanked sufficiently for choosing it. I feel a little peeved because the debate itself should have been taken in Government time. However, there is a great openness about the debate and I do not want to create division.

I am the only Member of this House with an office and a regular workplace in Belfast. The Minister of State and I — in another life — are members of the same union, a Thirty-two County union — with an office in Belfast. I have 5,000 members in the North. During the year one of the members of my union who was a victim of the violence in the North was buried as were a number of pupils, including one who was killed in a terrorist attack on a bookie's shop on the Ormeau Road. I work with people who work very close to violence. The aspect of the North with which I find most difficult coping is on a Thursday or a Friday evening when I am leaving Belfast and the Provos phone four different places and say they have planted bombs there. Thankfully, most of these calls are hoaxes. However for two hours workers, commuters, people leaving offices, schools, and shops are delayed in traffic. Two hour traffic jams are regular occurrences. People from this side of the Border sit there fuming, wondering if we will be in Dublin in time for a meeting, whereas for the people in the North it is a fact of life and does not even warrant a mention in the news. The Provos go to extraordinary lengths to stop the North-South train. I have never understood why they do that. It might be a good idea to allow Gerry Adams time on RTE to explain their actions.

I want to make a political point. Reference was made earlier to Sinn Féin support and the support for violence in the North. It is important to recognise that they are two different things. We must learn from a debate of this kind that slogan shouting is of no use and as the previous speaker said, we can all take heart from the election of Joe Hendron in Belfast West. Admittedly, Joe Hendron won the election in Belfast West, but it must be remembered that Gerry Adams increased his vote. It was the transfer of unionist votes, for strategic reasons, to Joe Hendron, which elected him. The worrying part was that Gerry Adams' vote increased. This is extraordinary in the light of all that has happened. It points the finger at all of us that we are failing to get our message across. It is not good enough to stand up at any forum and say because somebody voted Sinn Féin they support violence. It is unfair to say that a vote for Sinn Féin is a vote in support of violence. I know many people in the North who vote for Sinn Féin but oppose violence, and their only answer is their frustration with the political process or their viewpoint is not being represented. Therefore they cast their vote outside the political process.

I always watch where the votes go in the North. Two years ago John Hume, as Leader of the SDLP, sat around the table with Sinn Féin; I think every party in the south objected. I remember meeting John Hume, as an NUI graduate, who is a constituent of mine, and Senator Murphy during those talks. Every party leader was opposing him. The reality was that in the European elections which immediately followed those talks, the Sinn Féin vote went down and the SDLP vote went up because they were forced to put forward their views to make their own judgment. I do not want to go into that particular argument but it is important to remember that as long as we keep them outside the political process, everybody who feels that the political process is not delivering on peace will tend to vote for those outside the political process.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions — I am a member of the Executive Council — will start another peace initiative later this year. Some months ago we succeeded in organising the greatest anti-violence protest arranged in Belfast for quite a while in response to the brutal murdering of the eight Protestant workers at Teebane Cross earlier in the year. We almost forget these atrocities as one follows another. It was significant that the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, representing half a million workers on this island, spoke in Belfast against the killing of Protestant workers in the North.

We are the largest teachers' union in the North of Ireland; the second largest is the Ulster Teachers Union, set up in 1914 or 1915 because the INTO took a line in support of ICTU's predecessor. It is particularly poignant that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions now leads the thrust for peace. The trade union movement has a very clear role to play in this area and I hope politicians will realise that. Unlike every other group, the trade union movement has no vested interest. The churches and the political parties, the two main groups from whom we would expect some initiative, clearly would be identified with particular sides, attitudes and positions. The trade union movement should be pushed to the fore in this initiative.

Peace movements come and go; they last as long as the energy and initiative is retained by those pushing them, but we need to push the cause of peace through an organisation like the trade union movement which has its own structures and which takes this as one of its objectives. I will be coming to this House and writing to Members of the other House in September asking that all Members of both Houses sign the pledge for peace which the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is distributing to every worker in the North and — it is hoped — to every worker in the South because I think this is one of the keys to peace. This is not a Northern problem; acquired peace is a problem for everybody.

A speaker here earlier today asked; who is he, coming from the South, to speak about the problems of the North? One of the first things I would say to anybody who does not have experience of the North of Ireland is, watch out. The first time you speak for the man from Belfast or the woman from Derry they may ask what you know about their problems when you are living in Dublin, Kilkenny or Cork. Those people do not deserve any support, they should be confronted immediately. That is what has kept too many people in the South too quiet for too long. My experience is that a person from Dublin can know as much about Derry as a person from west Belfast, and most people from west Belfast do not know on what side of the Erne Enniskillen is situated. The North is not an entity. There are different people and different areas, and Belfast is as far from Derry as it is from Drogheda. These are the issues that we have to keep to the forefront. A demand for peace requires activity, not passivity. That is why I would ask people to support the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in the pledge for peace in the North of Ireland.

I ask that we accommodate differences, promote pluralism and tolerate contrary aspirations. There is nothing wrong with being unionist and being Irish. There is nothing wrong with being Irish and aspiring to a united Ireland. There is nothing wrong with one group of people in this island aspiring to being part of the Commonwealth and another group aspiring to an independent united Ireland. Peace will come by bridging the gap in the society in the North and that must begin at every level. It must begin at the maternity hospital, the school, the housing estate, the workplace, churches and at every level where people work, operate and live. As politicians we must make this clear; repudiated violence and play an active rather than a passive role in promoting peace.

I, too, welcome this motion and the Government's commitment to the talks. Talks did not just start today. In March 1991 agreement was reached between the Irish and British Governments and the four constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, namely, the Social Democratic Labour Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Alliance Party on conditions that would permit political talks to take place.

In setting out these terms in a statement to the House of Commons on 26 March 1991 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the objective of the talks was to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the people of these islands. The talks would, accordingly, take place on three strands corresponding respectively to the three relationships. It was accepted by all the parties that nothing would be finally agreed on any strand until everything was agreed in the talks as a whole. To allow time for the talks to take place, both Governments agreed that there would be an interval from 26 April to 16 July between the meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Substantive talks eventually began on 17 June and continued until 3 July 1991. They came to an end on that date as it became clear it would not be possible to launch the other strands of the talks before the end of the pre-arranged gap between the conference meetings, that is, before 16 July. The delay in beginning the substantive talks was caused by various unionist demands regarding organisational aspects of the talks, including the venues for Strand Two, the chairmanship of Strand Two and procedural guidelines for the chairman.

Thereafter, efforts were made by both the Irish and British Governments over a period of several months to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. A complication caused by the unionists' desire to reserve their position on a continuation of talks in the event of Labour winning the British general election was finally removed in March 1992. The threat of difficulties arising from the possibility of a minority British Government being dependent on unionist support was averted by the Tories clear victory in the April 1992 election.

At a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference on 27 April, the two Governments agreed that in order to facilitate a resumption of talks there would be no further meeting of the conference before the week beginning 27 July 1992. The basis for resumed talks would be the same as that agreed by all participants last year and set out in the statement made by the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons on 26 March 1991. The two Governments have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the principles and terms of that statement.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs also signalled the readiness of the two Governments to consider a short postponement, by one or two weeks, of the conference envisaged for the end of July should this seem desirable in the light of progress made and on the basis of a unanimous request from the parties.

The present position is that talks commenced in early May on Strand One, which involved the four parties, the SDLP, Alliance, Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party, and the British Government. The Strand One talks have been chaired by the Secretary of State at Parliament Buildings in Stormont. Discussion has centred on proposals for new institutional structures which the parties have tabled. The SDLP paper, details of which have appeared in the media, envisages a consultative assembly and a six-member executive commission, comprising three elected Northern Ireland members and nominees of the British and Irish Governments and the European Commission. The other parties have proposed different models of an assembly with a system of committees.

Following a Strand One plenary meeting of 12 June, the Secretary of State issued a statement stating that in the light of exchanges between the party leaders he had asked the Irish Government to join with him in inviting Sir Ninian Stephen to convene a meeting attended by representatives of the two Governments and the four parties to discuss a possible agenda for Strand Two of the talks. The Secretary of State also proposed that the two Governments should hold a meeting on Strand Three formation, which observers from each of the parties would be invited to attend for at least part of the time to give preliminary consideration to the issues likely to arise in that strand.

The Irish Government were not, of course, involved in the discussions which led to the proposals of 12 June but, when consulted, accepted them immediately.

The first of these meetings took place in London on 19 June. The Irish and British Governments were represented at official level and second-tier representatives attended from the parties. Agreement was reached on a possible agenda for Strand Two.

The second of these meetings took place in London on 30 June. The meeting was co-chaired by the two Governments. The Irish Government were represented by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews and accompanied by Government officials, while the British Government team was led by the Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew and Mr. Jeremy Hanley, the Northern Ireland Office Minister involved in the talks. Agreement was reached between the two Governments on a possible agenda for Strand Three. The observers spoke at that meeting, one of them being the Democratic Unionist Leader, Dr. Paisley. Dr. Paisley, by addressing that meeting signalled a significant change in attitude as mentioned by a former Senator and is to be congratulated for attending the meeting and speaking at it. As the Government then said, the way is now clear for Strand Two. The Minister in his speech said that this had now started. He also said: "I greatly welcome the proposal by Sir Patrick Mayhew this afternoon that Strand Two should now be launched and the reported acceptance of this proposal by all concerned."

It is worth looking at the commitment of the Government, and particularly of the Taoiseach, to these talks and to the whole process involved in Anglo-Irish negotiations. The Taoiseach when elected said he looked forward to working with the British Prime Minister "to try to end the cruelty and this continuing conflict". He said he felt "diminished as an Irishman" because of the killings in the North. These are the words of a man who is committed to this process. He said: "we must put no limits to what we would do to change all that". He said the door would always be open for unionists and he was very familiar with both the unionist and nationalist traditions having had business contacts in the North before entering politics. "There is nothing new for me to find out about either side", he said.

In his Árd Fheis speech on 7 March 1992 he said:

Nothing can call into question the fact that Northern nationalists, and indeed unionists to the extent they themselves choose, are as fully and unquestionably Irish as any person in this island. The policies of this Government will always start from that reality.

I am personally committed to exploring every avenue in order to try to put an end to this aching national misery. Because ultimately, this misery is the misery of people; people who happen to live on this island. For that reason, I would like — from this forum and on your behalf — to speak tonight to the unionist community to speak directly to them because they are a community that I know can make a magnificent contribution to the fuller development of this island once peace is restored.

These are the words of the Taoiseach who is obviously committed, as are the Government, to seeing that peace comes about by entering into political dialogue. Senator Costello said he took issue with the Minister when he said there is a growing acceptance that political dialogue alone offers a way out of the tragedy in Northern Ireland. Senator Costello may have emphasised the word "alone" too much and not political dialogue. We have so much violence and other means that we must look to political dialogue to forward the whole process.

Senators Costello and Doyle referred to the role of the Churches. I do not think there are any churchmen anywhere in the world who work harder than those in Northern Ireland. The Pope in his famous address in Drogheda asked the men of violence to lay down their arms. Cardinal Daly works hard as did Cardinal Ó Fiaich and the leaders of the other Churches. Every time there is an atrocity they go to the place where people have been hurt. They visit them at home, continually appeal to the men of violence and they talk to them. To suggest in any way that the churchmen are not playing their part, as Senator Doyle did, is scraping the barrel.

Every weekend I drive through the Six Counties on my way home and I am forcibly reminded of the sad situation that exists in that part of our country. One cannot go from Cavan, Fermanagh or Monaghan into Armagh or Tyrone without being confronted by armed forces and that is very sad. People who visit often do not notice it but people who visit for the first time are shocked by what they see. Anything that contributes to a solution of this problem must be encouraged. This is not the time to go into it but there is violence on both sides. There is still discrimination on a massive scale and the only way forward is through political dialogue. The Government are committed to this, as are the Taoiseach, and Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice. I subscribe to this motion and hope that these talks continue.

In replying to the motion, I want to say how glad I am that so many good contributions were made and for the positive spirit in which they were made. My only regret is that in a House where we have been calling for a debate on Northern Ireland for a long time more Senators did not contribute.

I suppose it is one of the eccentricities of being an Independent Senator that I would have to disagree with some of the things my seconder said. Senator Doyle has already drawn attention to Senator Norris's mistake in saying that Sinn Féin stood for 30 per cent of the electorate. I think what he had vaguely in mind was that their support runs to about maybe 30 to 40 per cent of the nationalist portion of the electorate but their overall electoral backing in Northern Ireland is somewhere like 10 to 11 per cent, roughly the same standing as the Alliance Party. I repeat again that there can be no fudging on the circumstances about the admission of Sinn Féin to the conference table. They cannot be admitted to the conference table as long as they condone, support and endorse the Provisional IRA campaign of violence. If they are kept out, as Senator O'Toole seemed to suggest, it is they who are keeping themselves out.

It is also not right for Senator Norris to suggest that somehow in other places the men of violence have eventually gained admittance to the conference, that it is a fact of life, that one has to do a deal with the man who pokes a gun at one. Well, not so in a western parliamentary democracy where there are plenty of other outlets for people to express their views. There is no place anywhere for the men of violence, and certainly not in Northern Ireland.

I was very glad that many Senators drew attention to facets I did not have time to go into myself. The role of the churches and the clergy was referred to by a number of Senators. The talks that have taken place between the clergy and the paramilitaries in recent months have done a lot of good. These are quite acceptable. There is a big distinction there. It is right and proper for clergymen to talk in a Christian spirit to people who must be shown how wrong their actions are but that is very different from saying they have to be brought to the political conference table. Senator Doyle properly, and very discreetly, made the point that this is one occasion on which there is all-party support which has not been true of previous initiatives in the last decade. I think the Government should be very happy with the level of support they are getting.

Senator Lanigan reminded us how a word like "peace" is an empty abstraction unless we remember the grief and bereavement of so many tens of thousands of families right across the North. It is to the ending of that situation that we must lend our efforts. Senators Costello and Keogh pointed to the other areas in which we must all contribute. Senators Costello and O'Toole referred to the central role of the trade unions. Indeed, it could be said that had it not been for the solidarity of the trade union movement across the community divide in the last 20 years, the carnage would have been a great deal worse. I take all those points.

To give the Minister his due, when he said political dialogue alone will solve this problem, I do not think he meant to exclude all these other considerations. I think what he meant to say was that in the context of violence only political dialogue will make a contribution.

Senator Lydon reminded us that the SDLP have put forward a very far-reaching and imaginative proposal. The trouble is that as long as Articles 2 and 3 remain and the intent that the unionists read into them, proposals like that of the SDLP will be interpreted as a stalking horse for territorial aggression. My hunch is that if we were to make the imaginative gesture of changing these Articles then, who knows, the SDLP proposal might be well considered by the unionists.

While the Minister was perfectly right in saying that a referendum on Articles 2 and 3 would be divisive and passionate — I asked him what else was new — nonetheless, let us suppose that we could put such a referendum to the people in a context where it had all-party backing, where there was a genuine breakthrough in the North between the political parties and a real promise of settlement and accommodation, I think our people would be sufficiently generous to say: "of course we will accept this compromise. Of course, we do not want to make a territorial demand in the North and will accept any reasonable contribution we can make to peace". It is selective to say that such a referendum would be divisive. People here would be prepared to make that kind of contribution because they are very grateful they have been spared the agony of the North. We have all suffered the side-effects of what has been happening but in the Republic we are relatively fortunate. I think people would give thanks for that good fortune by making their contribution in any final settlement.

It has been a privilege for me to introduce this motion. I want, belatedly, to thank the Minister. I was less than gracious on a previous occasion when he came back from Oslo but passions were running high during that referendum campaign. I think the contribution he made tonight, particularly his off-the-cuff remarks about Articles 2 and 3, were very interesting and useful. It is a time for cautious optimism, as the newspapers have been saying, but the day will come when peace will come. That long running sore will be healed and Ireland will benefit inestimably. At this stage we can only wish the Government well in what is an enormous effort but not an impossible one.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

Sitting suspended at 7.45 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.