Northern Ireland: Statements.

I am glad we have an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Northern Ireland. Over the past number of months we have seen the steady decline in the level of hope and progress towards a settlement in Northern Ireland. The talks in Stormont seem to be dragging on without going anywhere. There is no great evidence of a sense of generosity or imagination on the part of those present or a sense of the urgency of problems that must be addressed. We can take little hope from that or from the public exchanges between the various groups in Northern Ireland. We are looking at a situation which is grim and which shows no sign or potential to change dramatically in the near future. The only comforting thing at present is that people are not being killed, although it is not for the want of trying. For whatever reason, the carnage we had become so accustomed to in the past has not been a feature of recent times. Let us hope that remains the case.

There are two fundamental problems in the way of progress at present. The first is the current attitude of the British Government. It would appear to an informed and fair-minded observer that as far as Northern Ireland is concerned the British Government closed that file last December. In the run up to the general election, the British Government has decided it does not want to alienate the Unionists on whom it depends for its continued survival in the House of Commons. It may need the support of the Unionists if there is a tight margin after the forthcoming general election. Politically, that may be understandable. However, it has meant that important decisions which should be taken at present are being shelved for fear of alienating the Unionists. I am not saying the Unionists have abused the position of power in which they find themselves; they have, in many ways, used it sparingly and have made few demands. The position has led to a paralysis of will on behalf of the British Government, which is one of the great problems facing us.

We can see this in a variety of ways, particularly in the British Government's reaction to the North commission report on the future routing of parades. This was a sensible and courageous report that was published in good time to avert difficulties, problems and explosive points which we all know lie ahead in the coming year. The marching season has not yet started; it begins at Easter and continues through the summer. Now is the time to put these proposals into effect to see if a rational solution can be found to this problem which caused so much grief, distrust and bitterness last year and which is tailor made to be exploited by those who have no interest in any solution. Sadly, the British Government has failed to act on this report. It has its own reasons for deferring it, although they do not help the situation and they do not indicate a sense of goodwill on behalf of the British Government. The first major problem facing us is the current attitude of the British Government and the fact that it appears to have closed the file on Northern Ireland since last December which will not be reopened until after the general election.

The second major problem facing any progress in Northern Ireland is that it is difficult to believe in the goodwill or the truth of what we are being told by Sinn Féin and the IRA. There is an IRA ceasefire but a number of attempts have been made to break it. There have been various shootings and attempts to fire mortar bombs which, thankfully, have not resulted in loss of life. However, that was not the IRA's intention. It will only be a matter of time in the current circumstances before there is a serious loss of life and the infliction of great damage. There is convincing evidence that the IRA is as active now as it ever was in gathering intelligence, putting together arsenals and preparing for a major onslaught.

It is difficult to believe that people with bomb factories, who are gathering arms and are engaged in covert intelligence operations, have peace on their mind or see peace as an essential part of any strategy. We may have the continuance of the odious strategy of the armalite and the ballot box. However, that is not a strategy on which any democratic party can do business with these people. Peaceful, non-violent methods are not an optional extra; they are at the core of any attempt to resolve the problems in Northern Ireland. It is impossible for democratic politicians to trust or to work in good faith with people whose bona fides on the question of violence is clouded not just in confusion but in bad faith. Until the IRA and Sinn Féin become unambiguous in their attitude to the use of violence, it will be difficult to make any real progress. The omens are not good at present.

Things are bleak in the North at present with the imminence of the marching season and we must anticipate a difficult period ahead. It is particularly disappointing that the British Government has failed to address the issues raised in the North commission report to deal with events as predictable as any event in the calendar. It is difficult to engage the British in serious dialogue on those matters. Sadly, as has been the case year after year and decade after decade, domestic political considerations have taken priority over the need for movement in Northern Ireland.

I do not want to be entirely negative. The past number of years have seen a huge growth in the number of practical things being done to encourage co-operation, friendship and economic functional co-operation between both parts of the island. However, other things can and should be done. It is imperative, for example, to press ahead with the reform of the RUC so that it is transformed into a police force which can command the allegiance and support of a majority of the Nationalist community as well as the Unionist community. RUC reform would represent goodwill in tackling one of the key irritants in the Northern problem. The same could be said for the parades.

Last week we had an interesting debate on Bloody Sunday, which is hugely symbolic. Many respected Unionists, including the editor of the Belfast Newsletter and politicians like Mr. Ken Magennis, admit that a terrible injustice was done to the people of Derry on that day 25 years ago. What is to stop the British Government from reopening the files and having an inquiry to state publicly what we know happened on that day? An apology from the British Government to the people of Derry would at least be seen as a gesture of goodwill and it would cost little to do so. If it does not do that, we should not hesitate to make all the evidence in the archives of the Department of Foreign Affairs public so that at least we go some way towards trying to establish the full truth of what happened on that day.

I do not believe the British Government has done enough to give parity of esteem to the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. The Irish language has, perhaps, a greater significance to many people in Northern Ireland than it has in this part of the country because it is a symbol of nationality and hope. More should be done to encourage and facilitate the use of Irish. Streets should be named in Irish as well as in English, if people so wish, and Irish should be used in official business. Likewise, appointments to public bodies should be used in an inclusive way.

We must make every effort to ensure the continuation of economic and cultural co-operation and of the process of twinning towns. We should also imbue in the people of Northern Ireland the strong sense that we want a peaceful, non-violent resolution to the problem. We are not imperialist; we do not have any designs on taking over Northern Ireland. We must build up a basis of trust on which small progress can be made. We will not see agreements between the Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland to resolve the problem in the foreseeable future. That is not possible in the current climate, although it may happen in six months or in one year. In the absence of such a possibility, it is vital to continue with reform in Northern Ireland and with cross-Border co-operation between both parts of the country.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Stagg, to the House.

I represent a party which has made progress in negotiations with the British Government. Unfortunately, we are at a standstill at present because the Government and those who represent the Government have failed. I do not intend to use my time to make a political speech because I must co-operate with those who differ from me in religion and politics. That guides me to speak only what I believe to be the truth without insulting anyone.

In my opinion, the past two years have been an absolute disaster. If I did not believe that before entering the House today, the Leader of the House, Senator Manning, confirmed it for me in simple language when he stated that the British Government closed the file on Northern Ireland last September. I believe he is being generous. The Leader must be aware, as are the majority of Irish people, that the British Government closed that file when the present Irish Government came to power and it stopped dealing with an Administration that was very positive about putting the case and representing those in Northern Ireland who are hard pressed. That is obvious to everyone.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House but the Tánaiste is not present. Deputy Spring will make his contribution later before immediately departing again. The Tánaiste's speech is already written and, in my opinion, his contribution will not be valued by the House. It is not the type of contribution that should be made in a crisis situation.

This House is entitled to be worried, as is the Bishop of Derry, about the British Government's lack of awareness of the concerns of the people of Ireland, North and South, in respect of the innocent people who were murdered 25 years ago. It would be easy for the British to recognise that they made a mistake in murdering innocent people in a situation that was already inflamed by the divisions in Northern Ireland.

My primary focus rests largely on our methods of diplomacy and negotiation with the British. The Tánaiste is inhibited by the megaphone diplomacy of telephone calls between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, both of whom are concerned about forthcoming elections. There is no delivery or commitment from the present Irish Government and everyone is aware of that fact. There is no confidence, hope or action. I could speak for well in excess of the time available on this matter. No one understands the current attitude adopted by the British Government. The Leader is correct to note that it has closed the file on Northern Ireland. In doing so, he is not paying a compliment to representatives of the Irish Government who are involved in negotiations with their British counterparts. However, at least he is being honest in recognising the reality of the situation.

Later today the Tánaiste will meet Sir Patrick Mayhew, but no one expects that meeting to be anything other than a cosmetic exercise. The Tánaiste has been treated with complete disrespect, whether by David Trimble, Sir Patrick Mayhew or others. It is not so long ago that Mr. Trimble stated he did not have time to meet the Tánaiste to discuss the fundamental problems of Northern Ireland. He stated that if the Tánaiste contacted him again he would make time available to meet him. I asked the Tánaiste what he said to David Trimble when he finally met him and he informed me that his comments would be unprintable. However, that is small talk and there is no evidence of the Irish Government negotiating from a position of strength.

In the Downing Street Declaration, the British gave a commitment that the Irish Government has a contribution to make and a part to play in the problems of Northern Ireland. However, that is completely dead in the water at present because progress is not taking place. That is the greatest crisis we face because it is fair game for the Provisional IRA to be active in the knowledge that others are not taking action and negotiations are not taking place. I deplore the IRA for its violence and lack of commitment to implementing a ceasefire. The IRA has imposed an unacceptable and unbearable situation on Northern Ireland. Those who make their living from small businesses in Northern Ireland have been forgotten during the current hostilities.

Our commitment to negotiating a settlement is non-existent. I could provide several examples of this but I do not have time to do so. Her Excellency, the US Ambassador to Ireland, visited County Donegal on 9 January last to meet a north west cross-Border group. The Tánaiste was also invited to attend this meeting but we received a reply from his office which stated "Unfortunately, Mr. Spring will not be able to attend.". I could cite other examples but time is against me. I have in my possession several letters seeking commitments from the Tánaiste but he was not interested. I wonder why that is the case? The Tánaiste lives in County Kerry where most people are very positive and have a Nationalist outlook. I am obliged to inquire if he has lost his commitment to the process.

Later in the debate the Tánaiste will make a positive speech but there will be no substance behind it. I can only surmise that the damage has been done by the megaphone diplomacy of telephone calls between the Taoiseach and John Major, who has obviously asked his Irish counterpart to "play it soft" until after the British general election. That is the current agenda. Nothing is happening, a vacuum has come into existence and the IRA has taken up the running.

Everyone has their agenda and people have informed me that 100,000 jobs have been created. However, in a document hot off the presses, the IDA states that only 17,725 jobs were created. Will the Minister of State inform the Tánaiste that only 152, or 0.86 per cent, went to the west, Connacht and Counties Donegal and Clare? The reason for this largely originates with the deprivation visited upon the Border counties and neglect on the Government's part toward developing industries and providing jobs in the southern Border counties. The one clear element that can be seen from this is the consistency of neglect. The Tánaiste could not make time available to meet a north west cross-Border group, the only one of its kind, North and South, which represents all political and religious denominations. When celebrating 20 years of trust and co-operation, that group received a short letter from the Tánaiste to state that he could not attend. A price is being paid not only in Northern Ireland but also in the Republic, where jobs are not being created. I am forced to believe the IDA's report in that regard.

The American influence is very important but it has not been properly cultivated. The Leader correctly recognised that the British have closed the file but, unfortunately, I believe that the Americans have also closed it because the pressure to act has been removed. I do not know whether John Major has influenced the Americans but I am reasonably sure he influenced the Irish Government to play it soft. The American input into problems in Northern Ireland has slowed down. I do not accept that is occurred because President Clinton lost interest after the election. There is a serious commitment from the American people but that has not been translated into action on the part of the President's task force on Northern Ireland.

The Americans have played a major role over the last five to ten years. Numerous American trade missions have visited the North. They landed in Belfast, Newry, Armagh, Derry and Enniskillen and finally had dinner with the Taoiseach or Tánaiste in Dublin Castle on the way home. The Tánaiste has failed to recognise that it was important for those trade missions to meet public representatives in the South and in the six southern Border counties. This did not happen. No American trade mission who visited Northern Ireland met any public representative from the six southern Border counties, who are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to job creation.

I can give examples to prove beyond doubt that the area is utterly neglected by the present Government. It does not seem to be concerned. There are 12 counties which do not have a Minister, including the six southern Border counties. When I raise this I am told that Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Carey, is an able Minister who is looking after it. Why is there no Minister of State from the southern Border counties? Deputy Harte was a Minister in a previous Government, as was Deputy Nealon. They were not seen as suitable although they had a knowledge of what was happening on the ground.

There is no effort to focus on the problems of Northern Ireland. There is no bland statement that can prove to the people on the ground that the Government is concerned with making progress or giving a commitment. The Government must take responsibility for the current trouble and the hopelessness of the situation. There is a vacuum, and the IRA is once again taking the initiative.

I totally condemn the IRA. Last Tuesday I attended the opening of the Strabane Canal Basin by the chairman of the International Fund for Ireland. Two million pounds was spent on this necessary development for a town that has unfortunately topped the European unemployment list, percentage wise. While the chairman of the international fund and the Secretary of the Department of the Environment were speaking, those who class themselves as Provisional IRA. Sinn Féin or whatever brand of nationalism they claim, interrupted. I thought to myself how stupid they are — they are the very people who need this development in Strabane. They are so stupid they could not recognise that they would reap the benefit from it rather than those on the platform.

Anyone who is on the ground can see what is happening.

The Senator's time is up.

Unfortunately, we are not making progress. I do not know how seriously my contribution will be taken. I welcome the Tánaiste and I am sorry I was not able to finish my contribution. I respect the Tánaiste but I feel sorry for him, having a role——

The Senator's time is up.

I am finishing. The people of Ireland, North and South, do not believe we are making progress. Earlier, the Leader of the House correctly said that it seems that the British Government have closed the file on Northern Ireland.

I ask the Senator to conclude.

The Taoiseach's phone calls to John Major are handcuffing the Tánaiste. He is not making progress and is not likely to do so. There has been a complete collapse in confidence in our ability to negotiate with the British.

I ask the Senator to conclude immediately.

The Tánaiste has much work to do when he meets Sir Patrick Mayhew today. Nobody in this country who is interested in Northern Ireland has any confidence or hope that the Tánaiste will secure——

The Senator has exceeded his time.

——anything on the ground because——

Will the Senator resume his seat?

——he has failed to hammer the British about their neglect. They would not withdraw. They slaughtered us in the North.

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House.

A Chathaoirligh, this is my first visit to the Seanad since you have been elected to high office. I congratulate you and wish you well in the exercise of your functions.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate which is the latest in a series of valuable Seanad debates on Northern Ireland, and to place in context the current priorities of the Government.

Every month of the calendar includes the anniversaries of significant days in the history of conflict on our island. Some of these events happened long ago — as long ago, indeed, as 1690. As we know, that does not dull their capacity to inspire both celebration and division. Many others are more recent, and are unambiguously painful to recall, for example, Enniskillen; the Abercorn Restaurant; the Birmingham, Monaghan and Dublin bombings; and Bloody Sunday, which was commemorated last week and of which I shall speak later. In addition, of course, virtually every date recalls in some home a private, personal grief, otherwise largely forgotten by most of us. Nor should we forget that each great collective tragedy, the subject of our common remembrance, is composed of many individual tragedies.

This Sunday, 9 February, marks the first anniversary of the ending of the IRA ceasefire and of the Canary Wharf bomb, which took the lives of two innocent and uninvolved young Londoners. None of us will ever forget what we were doing when we heard the news, or our reactions of disbelief, shock, anger and personally, of profound shame and sadness. I was returning from a visit to Washington, where I had been briefing President Clinton on our proposals to promote agreement on a framework for negotiations, part of the slow, difficult process of building agreement brick by brick.

The Government's response to the outrage of Canary Wharf was threefold. First, we made absolutely clear that the use of violence to achieve political objectives remains unjustifiable and intolerable, not only to us but to the people of Ireland. We immediately ended ministerial level contact with Sinn Féin, and insisted that only following an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire could it participate in the negotiating process. We also sought to ensure that the response of our security forces to the renewed threat of paramilitary violence was as resolute and effective as it could possibly be.

Second, however, we continued to emphasise that the involvement of Sinn Féin in political dialogue, while dependent on an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire, in our view remained highly desirable from all perspectives. We made every effort to address the legitimate concerns of republicans and to facilitate their transition to the democratic arena should they make it possible for themselves to do so.

Third, together with the British Government and the political parties, we sought to create a process of political negotiation which would be comprehensive in scope and fair in its procedures, and capable of achieving, through substantive debate, a lasting and balanced political settlement which the people of both parts of the island could democratically endorse. Throughout the past year, these three elements of our approach have remained constant and we have worked consistently to advance them. I am to meet the Secretary of State this evening as part of that ongoing endeavour.

There is no point in denying that it has been in many ways a difficult and disheartening year. The heady optimism of 1994 and 1995 seems like a distant memory. Following the IRA and loyalist ceasefires, the deep-frozen certainties of conflict appeared to be melting away. We celebrated the reality of peace and in a few short months witnessed its power to transform the economic, social and psychological landscapes. Now, the old poisons of violence and sectarianism have bubbled up to the surface once again. There is a powerful sense of unease and uncertainty at all levels, from the streets to the boardrooms.

Over the past quarter of a century nobody would have become rich in Northern Ireland by betting on optimism. The Government remains convinced, nevertheless, that there are rational grounds for a continuing determination to work for peace and agreement. Our objective remains a comprehensive agreement, based firmly on the principles set out in the Joint Declaration and expanded upon in the Framework Document, encompassing all the core relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between the British and Irish Governments.

In our analysis, a lasting political settlement is intimately connected with the achievement and consolidation of peace. We frankly think that the former is more likely to be achieved and sustained alongside the latter, although this has not prevented us from engaging fully in the present stage of the talks process. We are determined to secure progress through whatever avenue is realistically open at any given time. That is why we have continued to emphasise the potential value of an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire.

Quite unforgivably, acts of violence continue. The prospects for a new and unequivocal ceasefire are depressingly uncertain. Despite our revulsion and disappointment, however, the imperative of peace remains compelling. Quite literally, there is no rational alternative in so far as the republican movement is concerned. Martin McGuinness said last Sunday that there was nowhere to go other than the negotiating table. It has been made abundantly clear that only through a renewed ceasefire will Sinn Féin get there.

A restoration of the IRA ceasefire would be the right decision morally, politically and economically. If set out in convincing and unequivocal terms, and consistently observed, it would have the capacity to break the current stalemate and create renewed possibilities. On the other hand, a continuing failure to respond explicitly to the manifest desire of the people for peace, above all if punctuated by fresh atrocities, would cumulatively destroy belief in the very concept of an inclusive peace process. Trust has already been severely damaged, and will take time and effort to restore.

There are those who say that our strategy has been naive and based on miscalculation and that the door should be slammed for good on the possibility of Sinn Féin's participation in talks. My own assessment is that this analysis fails to give due weight to the very strong desire for peace which is manifest on the ground in and throughout the island, and which the republican movement must know they cannot afford to ignore indefinitely. As a democrat, I also believe that those who support Sinn Féin have a right to be represented in talks once the fundamental democratic ground rules are satisfied. Even if I were wrong, however, how could this be more decisively demonstrated than in the clear light of democratic debate?

If, as many Unionists fear, republicans, once in talks, failed to honour their commitments to peace and democracy, and sought to exploit force or the threat of it, then this would be laid bare for all to see. And it is surely when confronted, face to face, and every day, with the desire of the representatives of a great majority of our people for a reasonable compromise, that any party will find it hardest to justify an unyielding and absolutist position.

The necessity of a sustained loyalist ceasefire is also absolute. The loyalist leadership have set out their own fresh political vision, and made a most constructive contribution to the talks so far. It would be tragic if their capacity to articulate politically the views and needs of their community were to be lost because of a recrudescence of loyalist violence.

Those who have been accustomed to violence need to know that the political alternative is not an abstraction but a reality. That, in turn, requires all constitutional politicians to overcome their understandable fears and inhibitions and to demonstrate in practice the validity and potential inclusiveness of the political path. In our situation, there is a particular onus on the Governments, which have the political resources and psychological space, to keep open the bridge out of violence to the democratic arena without relaxing our own standards or compromising our principles. It is vital that others make clear that they, too, will automatically and rapidly engage in serious dialogue if and when there is a complete unequivocal and lasting restoration of the ceasefire. But this does not in any way lessen the prime responsibility for the restoration of the ceasefire which rests fairly and squarely on the IRA.

Last June, the two Governments put in place a talks process involving themselves and nine political parties, with provision for the entry of Sinn Féin following an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire and subscription to the Mitchell principles. The talks are based on fair and carefully negotiated rules, and are chaired with skill, impartiality and great patience by Senator George Mitchell and his colleagues. Progress to date has been tortuously slow despite the best efforts of the Government which is fully committed to doing all it can to make the talks work. We have been bogged down in consideration of the decommissioning of illegally held weapons, a vital objective but one which, as the Mitchell report underscored, is likely to be attained only in the context of substantive and inclusive political negotiations. It is essential that we overcome this hurdle. The way forward mapped out by Mitchell is the only plausible and realistic one. So far, it is regrettable that those who are most vocal on the need to proceed without Sinn Féin have done least to make progress in that format a real possibility, and have continued to focus so unblinkingly on precisely that issue, decommissioning, where practical progress without Sinn Féin is least likely.

We are continuing to explore the questions which have dominated the talks since their inception, and we fully support all continuing efforts to consolidate and build on what has already been agreed. It is clear, however, that electoral considerations are predictably ever more decisive in the minds of many of the participants. Inevitably the imminent British general election will lead to a brief pause in the talks. We are considering, therefore, how best to prepare the ground for a renewed and reinvigorated process of negotiation following the British election so that we can pick up the threads as soon as possible thereafter. It is important that we maintain the framework which was so carefully and painstakingly constructed and, at the same time, overcome initial hurdles and get to the real heart of the issues.

The significance of the forthcoming election should not be exaggerated however. In both Westminster and Dublin there has been a high degree of bipartisanship and there is firm cross-party agreement on key principles and structures. The fundamentals of our situation and the outlines of the settlement we all know is needed will not be decisively altered by any eventual changes in the political balance. That is why an immediate restoration of the IRA ceasefire would open the way for the rebuilding of confidence on all sides and provide the platform for a revitalised negotiating process.

The Unionist community should for its part draw confidence from the objective strength of the situation. The principle of consent and all that flows from it, including the commitment to a referendum on any proposed settlement emerging from talks, represents a fundamental and unshakeable protection of their essential position — one which is guaranteed not just in legislation and international law but in the political realities on this island.

The real challenge for unionism remains this: having failed, in the long run, to achieve stability and security through exclusion and the politics of dominance, is it capable of acting on the reality that they can only be achieved through inclusion and the politics of equality and mutual respect? We seek not domination but partnership, not uniformity but diversity.

There are many challenges ahead. The publication of the report of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches has focused attention on the parades issue and the prospects for this year's marching season. The start of the marching season is less than two months away. We must use that time as productively as possible to ensure that the events of last year are not repeated. We must work to ensure that July 1997 is not remembered as another doleful anniversary of confrontation, mistrust and disillusion. The parades issue is undoubtedly a profoundly difficult one. Its significance has been enhanced by the perception on the part of both communities that the validation of their rights and identities turn on the outcome of contentious parades. Rather than seeing contentious parades as the product of a complex process involving demographic, social, cultural and local factors, they are now regarded crudely as a contest of wills. Approached from this angle, the marching season becomes a series of events whose outcomes determine the winners and losers.

The reality is that the 1996 marching season will be remembered as disastrous on many fronts. The state of community relations deteriorated, mistrust and suspicion grew, confidence in the rule of law was dealt a serious blow and doubts about the impartiality of the RUC and the authority of government were encouraged. The debate on the parades issue and its resolution has been enhanced by the publication of the report of the North review. Its recommendations are considered, comprehensive and thoughtful. They have been arrived at after extensive consultation with those most directly involved in the parades issue, those whose views command support and, through a series of public attitude surveys, with the people of Northern Ireland.

In formulating their recommendations, the members of the review have clearly paid heed to the results of these consultations. The review found that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland and in both communities believed that disputed parades should be subject to mediation. A similarly overwhelming majority wanted a binding decision made by someone else should accommodation not be possible. The most popular choice for third party determination was an independent commission. I say this to underline the fact that the broad thrust of the recommendations reflect the clear wishes of both communities in Northern Ireland.

One may have reservations on points of detail. There are areas which have yet to be clearly defined either by the parades commission or by statutory instrument. There are ways in which the determinations of the commission may be reversed. The circumstances in which this occurs are to be subject to statutory guidelines yet to be established. The way in which this turns out in practice will have a direct bearing on the credibility and authority of the parades commission. Clarification is required on the precise relationship between the law on defying determinations and the operational independence of the RUC.

However, the recommendations in their general thrust are sensible and constructive. They offer a viable mechanism for dealing with the contentious parades. Perhaps most importantly they allow for a dynamic interaction between the particular and often highly sensitive circumstances of individual parades and the rule of law as determined by a dedicated, independent statutory body.

The Taoiseach and I have urged the British Government to act on the North review. It is a matter for concern that it has indicated its intention to begin only a partial implementation of the review's recommendations despite the widespread support for them in Westminster. This issue will be discussed in our ongoing contacts with the British Government and I will also have the opportunity of discussing this issue more fully at the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference.

The Government is keenly aware of the trepidation and anxiety which is widely felt in Northern Ireland about this year's marching season. No effort should be spared to avoid a repeat of the trauma of last year which cost Northern Ireland so dear in terms of community relations, trust and confidence in the rule of law and economic development. The Government will leave no avenue unexplored in our efforts to ensure that 1997 is remembered not as a "ground-hog day" of bleak familiarity but rather as the point at which the parades issue was steered away from the brink.

We have been familiar over the years with the commemoration of one of the most traumatic events in Northern Ireland's history, the events remembered as Bloody Sunday. The 25th commemoration of those events is somewhat different in that it coincides with the presentation of new information and re-evaluations of what actually happened. This information adds significantly to the many doubts which have been expressed, including by successive Governments, about the methods and conclusions of the Widgery tribunal. It adds considerable, indeed compelling weight to the calls of the victims' relatives to have the report and its imputations of the victims' guilt repudiated. This new information warrants examination and assessment. My Department is currently doing just that. The Taoiseach and I have urged the British Government to do likewise and will be conveying to them the specific points we believe most relevant to that exercise.

If controversial and violent events of the past, including Bloody Sunday, can be reassessed and re-evaluated objectively and in a non-partisan spirit of truth and justice, then we can begin to bind up the wounds of the past and bring them to a close. If remorse can be expressed for violent deeds, then the prospect of eventual reconciliation — and I believe that reconciliation of our different traditions lies at the core of Irish Nationalism — and lasting peace can be significantly advanced. It is part of the necessary process of establishing a lasting commitment to peace and the political process. The call for an official apology has crossed the community divide in Northern Ireland. It is one which should be listened to and acted upon. I hope that in future years we may commemorate the events of Bloody Sunday as a tragic chapter of our history which has been brought to a just and dignified close. Our concern must be to redress the wrong to the memory of the victims and to the feelings of their families, not to rekindle the anger or relive the horror of those events.

Ultimately, it is only through a lasting political accommodation that it will be possible to create a genuinely new beginning for all of us in these islands. While in the coming months there will inevitably be a brief interval required by electoral politics, we must not lose sight of the many assets we possess in terms of the work already done and the extensive common ground in principle on the way forward. A renewed ceasefire would do more than any other act to place us in a position to make full use of those assets; but generosity, courage and vision are needed on all sides. We must work, North and South in the two islands, for the kind of "consensus society" so eloquently described in the North review — one built on mutual understanding, which celebrates cultural diversity, in which citizens have a more secure sense of belonging, and in which conflicting interests are accommodated. The history of 1997 need not and should not be another chronicle of wasted time.

I was impressed by the Tánaiste's speech. He is correct when he says that generosity, courage and vision are needed on all sides and he has shown these virtues in considerable measure in what must often seem to be an intractable problem, particularly in the context of the marching season. I join with him in hoping that the recommendations of the North review will be fully implemented by the British Government.

I wish to correct an opinion I uttered during our last debate on Northern Ireland. I then engaged in a blistering attack on the editorial style and content of An Phoblacht as I remembered it from some years ago. I was contacted almost immediately by the editor of An Phoblacht who sent me a series of recent editions of the newspaper so that I could examine them with a view to making a further comment. Having read six recent issues, I am glad to say that it no longer contains the type of violent, intolerant, racist language for which it was so remarkable a number of years ago. It is only fair that, having attacked it, I should correct my earlier position. However, there is still a highly partial and one-sided account of Irish political life in which the British army, the Irish Government and conventional politicians are regularly lambasted while there is no hint of criticism of the republican movement and of the activities of the Provisional IRA. This concerns me because until we get a balanced debate within the republican movement it is going to be very difficult to move forward.

Certain questions are raised by recent actions of the republican movement. Some time ago it was clear that John Hume was considering an electoral pact in the forthcoming British elections. It is easy to see in constituency terms why this view should be taken in a normal situation. However, it is not a normal situation. Recently the Provisional IRA entered a children's hospital and fired rounds of live ammunition, some bullets hitting an incubator, which, luckily, was empty at the time. However, small infants could have been killed. This is an outrage against any code of decency, yet there was nothing in An Phoblacht critical of it. In addition, there was little to indicate that the position of the SDLP regarding an electoral pact had been completely abandoned.

We have suggestions, which have been confirmed by some republican sources, that the IRA considered the political assassination of Mr. Hume during the 1980s, considerations to which Mr. Adams was party to. How can John Hume or the SDLP contemplate an electoral pact with Sinn Féin in these circumstances? Even if they did so contemplate for purely pragmatic purposes, what would that say to the Unionist community? If you are going to sup with the devil you need a very long spoon. The Unionist community would take a very particular view of this circumstance.

It is a pity that there are so many closed minds, especially in Northern Ireland. The two communities do not appear to have a bridge; they appear to live in hermetically sealed islands.

There are also closed minds on the republican side. I listened to Vincent Browne's radio programme last night. His guest was Mr. Kevin Boland and he said remarkable things about the involvement of senior Irish politicians in the Arms Trial. He named some in circumstances which lead me to wonder if there will not be at least one libel action in the offing. Mr. Boland was asked by Vincent Browne about the actions of his father, Harry Boland. He was a member of the Government which was in power when an IRA man, George Plant, was arrested. Mr. Plant was acquitted by an Irish jury in an Irish court. He was immediately rearrested and subjected to a military tribunal which found him guilty. He was shot within a short period of time.

Vincent Browne asked Mr. Boland how he put this into context with his suggestion that British justice was corrupt. Nothing of which the British Government was guilty in the past, Mr. Browne said, had been as outrageous as this intervention and miscarriage of justice by the Executive. Mr. Boland was unable to see that point. It was another instance of the closed mind that unfortunately exists in Irish politics.

It is important that this House not only develops restraint in the language we employ when discussing Northern Ireland but also attempts to develop whatever links continue to exist between the two parts of Ireland. It is extremely important that persons from a background such as mine — a member of the Church of Ireland with, in the past, a southern Unionist perspective — should attempt to reach out to our co-religionists in Northern Ireland and indicate that there is a genuine concern on our part for the well being of the inhabitants of all the island.

It is particularly worrying, as we enter the marching season in Northern Ireland, that disturbing noises are emerging about what is planned, particularly for the church blockade in Harryville. This weekend 24 marching bands from all over Northern Ireland will assemble there and, according to the Irish News, one of the persons orchestrating the event will be a convicted murderer who is named in that newspaper. Is the RUC taking an investigative interest in the background of this man so he may be prevented from implementing the worst of these excesses? I look to the authorities in Northern Ireland to prevent sectarian clashes.

It is also important that we support the call for an inquiry into Bloody Sunday. That call has been made not only here but in Westminster. Last week this House unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Tánaiste in urging the British Government to implement such an inquiry. That must have strengthened the Tánaiste's hand in dealing with the British Government.

I call upon the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland to reconsider its boycott policy. It is a nasty, long lasting weapon and by implementing it that community is importing into the social body a deep rooted and long lasting malignancy. I have heard people speaking on the radio about targeting Protestant businesses in Northern Ireland on the basis that a member of the family was involved in the Orange Order. That appears to be dangerously close to guilt by association and I ask them, despite their pain, to reconsider this policy in light of the long-term damage it will do.

I thank Senator Norris for allowing me to share his time. Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Canary Wharf and it is fitting that we should learn one lesson from what happened that day. Canary Wharf should teach us for all time that Sinn Féin/IRA, or whatever else they wish to be known as, cannot be trusted. The ceasefire which was pronounced to be all but permanent — that word was not used but the impression was given that it was permanent — broke down courtesy of nobody but IRA/Sinn Féin. It was no good for them to come onto the airwaves, which unfortunately they can still do, and say it was the British Government's fault. The British Government did not place the bomb in Canary Wharf or on the Strand or anywhere else.

The problem we face today is a problem of policy. If we agree, as the Government appears to, that Sinn Féin/IRA will be allowed into talks once there is another ceasefire, how do we believe them? Words to Sinn Féin/IRA mean something different from what they mean to us. I have a great deal of sympathy with those who demand decommissioning first. The only way to ensure Sinn Féin/IRA do not shoot and murder people when they feel like it after pronouncing a ceasefire is to remove their arms.

The lesson of Canary Wharf is simple: the so-called peace process is dead. There is a failure in this part of the country and in the United Kingdom to acknowledge that. Nobody can blame people who so enthusiastically desire peace for clinging to the hope of the peace process continuing. However, look at the peace process and what happened during that process. It was a trick and it did not work. It was a peace process on one side while the other side said: "You can have peace for as long as we decide to give it to you".

I regret the weakness of Government policy since Canary Wharf. The Government's reaction, while genuine and understandable, was to cut off ministerial contact with Sinn Féin/IRA but to maintain civil servant contact. The difference is a matter of semantics. It means that the Minister for Foreign Affairs does not talk to Gerry Adams but a civil servant in his office does and he relays the messages. The Government insists that this is a dramatic change in policy. In fact, Sinn Féin's input into and contact with Government Buildings is probably just as great now as it was before Canary Wharf. It just means it does not speak to the same person on the telephone. That is not a policy change or reaction.

The other response was to tell Sinn Féin it could not be involved in talks unless there was a ceasefire. That was not a change in policy either. It was a gain for the Sinn Féin position because that had not been the case beforehand. Irish and British Government policy is that, provided there is a ceasefire, which nobody believes will be a real ceasefire, Sinn Féin/IRA can join the talks. That is not acceptable because the moment they become involved in talks they will remain there as long as they find them acceptable and when they do not find them acceptable they will bomb Canary Wharf or somewhere else.

We must acknowledge that the peace process is over. We must acknowledge that President Clinton, John Major, various Irish Governments, Taoisigh and Foreign Ministers, John Hume and virtually every Member of this House were duped by Gerry Adams because for genuine reasons they sought peace and wanted to believe him. They were wrong and the proof was in Canary Wharf this time last year.

I am not sure if there is any benefit in having this debate but I am delighted it is taking place. We have had similar debates before and there are times when one feels that we are only addressing ourselves. The same statements are made by the same people in this and the other House over the years yet there does not seem to be any advancement in the peace process.

I disagree with Senator Ross when he says that we should learn from what happened in Canary Wharf and 25 years ago in Derry. The inference is that we should learn from the past but I am afraid that history has never taught lessons for the present.

Conflicts are brought to an end for a variety of reasons. In some cases it is military might, in others it is passive demonstrations. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs last week we heard from Angolan spokespeople that it was exhaustion which ended a most horrific civil war. The UNITA representatives said that they could not see the war starting again because the people are too tired.

The value of this debate is to ask those with violent tendencies to think again because their actions will not achieve anything. The problem is that no one seems to know what the end is. That applies to both communities and it is very hard to wean people off violence once they have become involved. It is not like weaning a child off its mother's breast and onto solid food — when someone has killed once it is easy to kill a second time because there is no trauma involved.

Members of both Houses and the public need to look at Northern Ireland as a part of this country and society. During the so-called peace, people from "republican areas" in the South went to the North on holidays for the first time in many years. They found it was no different from Kerry or Clare and that the people were humble, ambitious and had the same aspirations for their families as we have in the South. There should be more such visits instead of publicised political trips. If people regarded this country as an entity and saw the beauty of the people and the place, a genuine and long lasting peace could emerge in the not too distant future.

I do not wish to be involved in a slanging match with any other Senator about whether Sinn Féin/IRA should be regarded as separate entities. We should not create hate figures on the Nationalist or Unionist side, that will get us nowhere. We must try to achieve a genuine coming together of minds and the end should not be the federalisation of Ireland or the creation of a single political entity. The Mountains of Mourne will continue to sweep down to the sea no matter what kind of government we have on this island, as will the mountains in Kerry. To sing songs about them does nothing but provide good entertainment at the end of the day.

The people of the island must be brought together. This is a very simplistic view but people forget that the most simplistic ideas are the way forward. One does not teach a child the entire alphabet in one lesson or educate someone by providing them with Roget's Thesaurus on the first day. People seem to think that this can be done with regard to peace in Northern Ireland.

One of the problems is that we categorise the people in Northern Ireland — if someone is Protestant they are Unionist, if they are Catholic they are Nationalist, if they are a member of Sinn Féin or the UVF they are a murderer. People became members of Sinn Féin for different reasons, it might have been because of Bloody Sunday or because a relative was killed or some political event. Equally, there are multiple reasons for people joining paramilitary organisations. However, when they do, the consequences spread out like ripples in a pool. If we label these people as terrorists we do everyone a disservice.

Anyone who thinks that the bombings in Canary Wharf and Manchester helped to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland is very wide of the mark. The reaction to the Manchester bomb in Kilkenny was one of horror and the people of Kilkenny and Ireland have become closer to those in Manchester as a result. The majority of those working in Canary Wharf could not care less who planted the bomb and they do not accuse the people of Northern Ireland of it. What matters to them is that their jobs were lost and two of their friends were killed. No matter where the extremists who planted the bomb came from it would have caused equal horror.

Some people say that this Government and its predecessor did not do enough. However, the Government is making a genuine effort to resolve the problems in the North, on this island and in Anglo-Irish relations. These efforts will continue no matter who is in power. As a member of Fianna Fáil I might not always like the manner in which the Government is acting, yet most people would feel that a conciliatory effort is being made. That effort is not attempting to achieve dominance over the people of the North but a genuine accommodation between all sides to the equation.

Whether there is a ceasefire in place at present, it must be said that the violence in the North is not at the same level as it was in the past. Every day that passes during which nobody is killed is a day of which we should be glad. It is irrelevant to me whether this is called a ceasefire. For the people in the North, to be able to say that nobody was killed because of a political act in the preceding 24 hours is like an alcoholic saying "I am not drinking today". Each day must be taken as it comes; that is the only way there will be a genuine ceasefire. Somebody must decide "I won't kill or maim anybody today". If people just think about the maiming and the killing, a more genuine effort will be made by everybody. If people decided not to join extremist organisations because of past horrors and instead urged others not to react, not to join such organisations, then perhaps an effective peace could ensue.

The people of North and South can commingle all over the world but it seems that when they return to small communities in the North of Ireland, suddenly the tensions and the past are rekindled and when they return to their own homes in Britain or America or wherever, they are suddenly Irish again. They are not Catholic Irish, Protestant Irish, Republican Irish or Unionist Irish — no distinction is made, they are simply Irish.

What I say here will not make any difference to the situation but perhaps somebody here will come up a sentence in this debate which might encourage people to think about the realities of life in Northern Ireland and the problems which face the young people there. The young people in the North are well educated, and judging by their exam results, they do considerably better than their counterparts on the British mainland. The difficulty is that when they are asked what their plans are when they leave school, too few of them say they are going to stay in the North as doctors, nurses and so forth. Too many are saying that, though they are glad of the education, they want to get out of the closed societies in which they live. Unless that attitude changes the future for the North is bleak.

If people decide to be extreme in their statements about terrorists, they do nothing to support the peace process. I abhor violence, murder and terror and I have seen the results of many horrific incidents in other countries. I ask people to refrain from making extreme statements because extreme statements can be as violent as extreme actions. I hope that this debate will be of some benefit to the people of Northern Ireland and the island as a whole.

I am glad I had the opportunity to listen to Senator Lanigan because it was a much more balanced contribution from the Fianna Fail Party on this issue than the first contribution. One of the points I was going to make was that I hoped that in the lead-up to the election in Britain, candidates in Northern Ireland would not be provoked into making extreme statements or, indeed, into being either more Unionist or more Nationalist than they would normally be in the heat of an election campaign. I reiterate that point now. I am sorry such a speech was made in this House this morning because it is not characteristic of the other contributions made in this House on Northern Ireland. I regret the contribution Senator McGowan made because I feel that it was as much geared to the concerns of his own constituency as to making a positive contribution here to solving the problems of Northern Ireland.

Suggesting that this Government is not doing everything it can to find a solution, or that its actions are in contrast to the previous Government, is very negative and is not in accordance with Senator McGowan's party leader's approach in the Dáil and in the general debate on Northern Ireland. Senator Lanigan has presented a much more balanced case on his party's behalf.

I reject Senator McGowan's comments about the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. They have clearly been making every effort. The fact that the Tánaiste was prepared to go to Northern Ireland yesterday, although the trip was called off, through no fault of his, and that he is going today instead, is an indication of how seriously this Government takes the Northern Ireland issue. Progress has been difficult because of the lead-up to the general election in Northern Ireland. Everybody acknowledges that.

Steady work has been done by the contribution of this Government in the setting up of the talks in Northern Ireland, in legislating on the transfer of prisoners and the preparation of legislation in relation to decommissioning. These two practical steps were taken by this Government. With regard to the North report and the Bloody Sunday issue, our Government has taken a strong stand urging the British Government to implement the proposals in the North report, to reopen the inquiry on Bloody Sunday and to give a full apology to the families of those concerned. It is very unfair to suggest that this Government is not doing everything it can. As for the invitation to go to the North that was produced by Senator McGowan, I would assume that if you were inviting somebody as busy as the Tánaiste to attend a meeting you would make the invitation in plenty of time and check in advance if he was available.

I am also surprised at Senator McGowan's suggestion that the Americans have closed the book on Northern Ireland. That is anything but the truth. President Clinton indicated quite clearly his ongoing support for the process, as has ex-Senator Mitchell and the many other Americans who have given a strong commitment to Northern Ireland which I think is ongoing.

It is true that the lead-up to the elections in Northern Ireland, and in Britain in particular, is a serious problem which has meant that there has been British Government inaction which we all regret. There are some steps that can be taken. On the question of violence and the IRA, I would support what has been said by Members in this House that we should urge them again to call a ceasefire, particularly in light of the anniversary of the Canary Wharf bombing. We should urge the IRA to discontinue the acts of violence which mercifully have not resulted in deaths in the recent past but which could easily have done so. I urge that they would cease those dangerous activities that continue to divide the communities in Northern Ireland.

I suggest that some progress can be made on a number of issues — parades in the North report, policing, boycotting and Bloody Sunday. On the parades, the British Government could take some action in relation to the North report. It has said it is going to consult again and I regret that. As the Tánaiste said, the North commission had consulted widely before publication of the report and I believe that further consultation is unnecessary after its publication.

The British Government can at least begin to put the processes in place whereby the North report could be implemented. There are legislative procedures that need to be set in place; there is also the procedure referred to by the Tánaiste with regard to the responsibilities of the RUC versus the responsibilities of an independent commission in relation to parades. Preparatory work can be done in that regard. Mo Mowlam, the British Labour Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, said that, if her party got into office next time and this necessary preparatory work were done before the election, she felt she would be in a position to implement the North report before the marching season began and mistrust between the communities arose. Whether it be her party or the Conservative Party which gets into power in Britain, if this necessary work is done now it will be possible to have an independent body making decisions on parades before the marching season. Unfortunately, that season seems to be coming early this year as a parade is planned for next week outside the Harryville church. I urge intervention at this stage. I understand a number of bands are planning to march past the church. While it is a predominantly Protestant area, if the parade is provocative, it should not take place. I urge whoever can intervene to do so.

Another report suggested an independent police authority in Northern Ireland and preparatory work should be done on that. Boycotting is a negative, racist and unchristian practice and anyone who indulges in it should consider their position and stop immediately. It does no good, drives wedges between communities and should be stopped. I have referred to Bloody Sunday for which there should be a full apology and a reopening of the inquiry. It is clear from what the Tánaiste said this morning that that is what our Government is pushing for.

In the lead up to the election campaign, leaders in the North, Britain and here can either be positive or negative in what they say and do. I urge that they be positive and that whatever can be done in the various areas to which I have referred should be done. There should be a positive rather than a negative attitude and necessary work in terms of bringing communities together should be done rather than driving wedges between communities.

President Clinton said in his recent inauguration speech how valuable diversity was in his community and that if the idea of diversity as a positive factor in American society were ever lost, they would lose a great deal. Diversity must be seen as a positive factor in Northern Ireland as well.

Before I call Senator McAughtry, I welcome former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, to the House.

I am disappointed that I have to squeeze my contribution into seven and a half minutes. Yesterday afternoon in this Chamber people were rambling all over the place on the Freedom of Information Bill. We are now discussing Northern Ireland for which I travelled 100 miles to be here and I must squeeze what I have to say into seven and a half minutes. I have just wasted half a minute.

Make it 15. We will agree to it.

I disagree with the Leader's belief of who is mainly responsible for the current state of the peace process. I would not place the British Government's lackadaisical attitude first but the IRA's. The British Government deserve condemnation for the way it has put this issue on the back burner. There are many democratic considerations involved. The IRA's violent stance and its unsatisfactory manner of conducting its ceasefire mean that it is easily the leader in this.

It is not widely known that Mr. Blair denies the citizens of Northern Ireland the right to vote British Labour, yet he and his party are odds on to be the next British Government. His answer which he gave to me when I asked him this age old question outside Queen's University was that his sister party was the SDLP. It is not mine, however. I cannot go along with its aims and objectives nor can any of my colleagues in the old Northern Ireland labour movement. Not a single trade union is affiliated to the SDLP which would in itself rule it out for my support. What message is sent to Protestants in Northern Ireland if Mr. Blair will not allow the soon to be governing Labour Party organise in part of its jurisdiction? It means that in time, be it long or short, there will be no need for a British Labour Party or anything else British in the North of Ireland.

I was interested to hear Senator O'Sullivan say that Mo Mowlam has plans to implement the North report. However, an article by Mr. Blair in the Belfast Telegraph was so bland that it would be impossible to work out what plans his party has for Northern Ireland. I fancy it would be put on the back burner until it sorts itself out.

We should not ask for an unambiguous statement from Sinn Féin regarding its link with violence because it is a complete waste of time and does not help. No one seems to heckle the loyalists for the same reason. They will not condemn violence. They use the same formula of words as Sinn Féin. This is not productive. However, contact should be maintained with Sinn Féin. I strongly believe this because I am very much in favour of sitting around a table to discuss matters and am prepared to overlook religious differences to get the Unionists to sit down with their political opponents. I am in favour of maintaining contacts no matter how unpleasant the background.

Under its current leadership, the RUC will rapidly return to its peacetime position. Ronnie, the current leader is excellent. To start using Christian names may make them think I am too close to the RUC. The Unionists suspect this, if one gives a clue of this sort. Not only am I a Senator but I am close to the RUC. The RUC will recruit vigorously from the Nationalist population given the right climate and the claim displayed on lampposts near the Border by Sinn Féin that the RUC is a Protestant wing of the Unionist paramilitaries will no longer apply. If a Roman Catholic joins the RUC, he is in danger of having his head blown off. Having prevented Catholics from joining, Sinn Féin then accuses the force of being predominantly Protestant. It is a bit of a joke if one can bring oneself to smile at such things.

No one should move from the current position on decommissioning, which is that it should occur as talks progress. That is a firm line which makes sense. Like Senator Lanigan, I have been in more than one war. I was a combatant towards the end of the communist ELAS uprising in Greece in 1945. There was no decommissioning then. Weapons were laid down and the matter settled in discussions afterwards.

I have made it my business to travel this country for 17 to 18 years and talk to the people. If people know me for anything, that is what they know me for. I have drawn conclusions which are not reflected in the Government's policy on either side of the House which is that the people of this island do not want unity. They do not want it now, suddenly or gradually. They simply do not want it. They want an internal settlement. It is fine to keep the three strands moving towards that but the people want an internal settlement. No one ever says that, but I have never been told anything else in my travels and I have spoken at fora, in public houses, in bookies' shops, at racecourses and to the high, low and middle. That is what everyone tells me and those plain words should find their way from here to the North of Ireland.

Another unsatisfactory matter is that the Combined Loyalist Military Command has not been given its proper due for the wonderful tolerance and forbearance it has shown in the face of a deliberate attempt by the IRA to drag it into the troubles. We should never forget the difficulties the loyalist paramilitaries are having in holding this ceasefire, but they are holding it and they deserve every credit for it.

I wish to share my time with Senator Belton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It appears that substantial progress must await the outcome of the Westminster election. However, even in advance of the election there is room for confidence building measures on all sides. First and foremost, the IRA needs to reinstate the ceasefire and give appropriate assurances as to its permanence. A restoration of the ceasefire would transform the situation and allow not only the political process but the process of economic regeneration to get back on track. A new ceasefire must put an end not only to so-called "military" operations but also to the punishment beatings and steady intimidation which creates a climate of fear and reinforces polarisation. People in the southern part of the country are beginning to realise that IRA violence and the threat of such violence is effecting the potential of the tourism boom which coincided with the ceasefire to a great extent.

The British Government also has a chance to build confidence and restore trust by initiating a new inquiry into the events in Derry on Bloody Sunday 25 years ago. Recent revelations have indicated beyond any reasonable doubt that the Widgery inquiry was, at best, incompetent. At worst, it represented an orchestrated cover-up. The lack of confidence in the Widgery findings has compounded the bitter legacy of Bloody Sunday. There is an urgent need to re-examine all the available forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts and put the conclusions on the public record. This is not simply a political matter; for the victims' families it is a deeply personal matter.

A new inquiry in which all can have confidence would enable the families to finally close this chapter and, on a wider level, would help to restore confidence in the even handed administration of justice. Following the most recent revelations, renewed concerns have been voiced not just in the Nationalist community but also in a large section of Unionist opinion, and I hope the British Government will act on these concerns so that the matter can finally be laid to rest.

The Westminster election is likely to take place in May. One matter which cannot be put on the long finger until then is a resolution of the parades issue. Nobody in Northern Ireland can afford a repetition of last Summer's disastrous events. The establishment of an independent parades' commission, as recommended by the North report, represents the best hope of an accommodation between the right to free assembly and the right of local residents to freedom from intimidation. The British Government should act now to put in place the key recommendations of the North report rather than allow themselves, once again, to be overtaken by events. None of these confidence building measures are dependent on the outcome of the Westminster election and all of them will go a long way towards giving the people of Northern Ireland and these islands in general some hope of a return to peace.

I thank Senator Sherlock for sharing time with me.

Recent revelations about the events of Bloody Sunday have made it a major issue again. Reasonable people are asking that the British Government make clear, for once and all, that a major error was made on that day. Without going into all the factors which led up to it, there was evidence beyond all doubt that, as was suggested the other day, inexperienced British Army troops and other factors led to one of the major tragedies in Northern Ireland over the past 26 years.

We must bear in mind that there have been many major tragedies there, some of which were planned to precision and left many people dead, injured and maimed. We cannot forget the injury to feelings and to the mind which are the hardest to heal. It takes time to heal the wounds of the actions of men of violence.

Much of the international goodwill across Europe, America and the world which was generated by the cessation of violence still pertains, and that is something which the paramilitary organisations involved in violence should bear in mind. There has been major disappointment at their actions. People feel let down and wonder who to believe anymore.

However, it must be recognised that the loyalist ceasefire has held and the Government has not received credit for that. Much credit was given to the previous Government when the IRA ceasefire was announced but the other ceasefire has held against much provocation. We must maintain a balanced approach and this Government, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs have done so. That is what it is about from our side.

It is easy at times for somebody, depending on the political party to which they belong, to say that this Government is not doing enough. That is politics. However, we must see beyond that. We have a more responsible role to play because the prospect of all out violence in the North is something which nobody wants to entertain.

The marching season led to a major change in the overall atmosphere in the North last year and it must be teased out, anticipated and planned for in time this year. Last year's head on confrontation cannot be allowed to happen again because it sent bad feelings across the North and affected communities in all areas. It put matters back a couple of years and is something that must be watched closely this year.

The fruits of peace for 18 months was evident both North and South. It involved an important economic factor. People enjoyed the peace of mind which was lacking for 25 years and they spoke out about it. The paramilitaries must be commended for giving peace, but it is something to which all communities are entitled. Violence and terrorism have not delivered settlements in parts of the world where they occur. While we may be pessimistic, we must also be optimistic. Peace must prevail and communities must live together. For the good of the people, historical factors and individual political ambitions must not get in the way. There is always a temptation among politicians, especially in the run up to elections, to say things which do not help the atmosphere in a place where there has been much violence, death, heartbreak and destruction. I hope the optimism will continue, that people of goodwill on this island will continue their efforts to bring the two communities together to look towards a future of peace and prosperity and that those in Europe, America and elsewhere will continue to help us internationally. We are talking about the people's future.

With the agreement of the House, would it be possible to extend the debate through lunch time? There are others who wish to speak.

Acting Chairman

That is a matter for the Leader of the House.

Could we not resolve the matter among ourselves?

Acting Chairman

The business is ordered to conclude at 1 p.m.

I know the business was ordered this morning. Would it not be possible to extend the debate by half an hour?

Acting Chairman

Not without consulting the Leader of the House, as it would be an amendment to the Order of Business.

Can we send a message to the Leader asking if that could be done?

I support Senator Cotter's request.

Acting Chairman

That is a matter for the Senator.

Is it possible for the House to make contact with the Leader?

Acting Chairman

The Senator may do so if he wishes.

If I wish to do so. That is not very helpful.

Acting Chairman

It is most helpful.

May I share two minutes of my time with Senator O'Brien?

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Next weekend will mark an anniversary which none of us wishes to celebrate. It is one year on from the ending of the IRA ceasefire which, after 18 months of great hope and optimism, led to such despair. Despite the difficulties facing the peace process, the hope of peace for so many in Northern Ireland was shattered by the explosion in Canary Wharf. Some 12 months on we have seen many sad incidents which have given us cause for despair rather than hope. However, where Northern Ireland is concerned, we can never lose hope because by doing so, we are handing over the future of Northern Ireland to the men of violence who are willing to fill the vacuum created by the absence of political talks and a political process.

I was disappointed to read last week that David Trimble and William Ross had written to the British Foreign Office complaining about the frequency of our President, Mary Robinson's, visits to the North. The future of Northern Ireland as it faces the 21st century is an issue which should be exercising their minds rather than complaining about the visits of our President and seeing them as their number one priority. This came the same week as the publication of the North report on contentious parades and marches which was immediately long-fingered by the British Government, another sad development. We want courage not cowardice from the British Government when facing such a difficult period in the North. There is no reason the British Government could not proceed immediately with the key proposals in the North report on parades and marches and appoint a parades commission to replace the RUC as a body empowered to decide on disputed routes in the North. The peace process is so fragile that it cannot sustain another Drumcree. By announcing a further eight weeks of consultation on the commission's proposals, a repeat of last year's events is likely.

It has been said that we cannot expect any ground breaking decisions on the North so close to a British election. That is a great tragedy for many people in Northern Ireland. Politicians of every party in this House have called on the Provisionals to abandon their campaign of violence and to reinstate their ceasefire. I support the calls for the reinstatement of the ceasefire, but I would go further by asking the leadership of the IRA what they expect to achieve by continuing their campaign? What is the purpose of it? What will it gain in practical political terms by continuing the campaign which it could not achieve by peaceful negotiation with all parties involved in the conflict in the North? Continuing with violence for another 25 years will condemn another generation of Catholics in many areas in the North to a life of social exclusion, long-term unemployment, kangaroo courts and punishment beatings. Is that all the republican movement has to offer?

The ultimate solution to the Northern Ireland problem will only be found at the conference table. Everyone must sit around that table armed with nothing more than their democratic mandate and the courage of their political convictions. The Provisional movement might be surprised at how far the real world has moved on since it first embarked on its campaign of violence more than 25 years ago. The incoming British Government, whatever its political colour, might be willing to nudge the Unionists towards a more compromising attitude in the event of peace being re-established in Northern Ireland. The one thing of which we can be sure is that no British Government will seek any concessions from the Unionists as long as the threat of IRA violence hangs over them. I ask the Provisional IRA and the republican movement to take account of these realities and to abandon their futile campaign of violence. Once peace has been established the real war can start — the war of words between the different political parties in Northern Ireland about its future shape.

The Progressive Democrats believes there are six basic principles which would underpin any lasting political settlement. I would like to take the opportunity to restate them. There can be no internal settlement. There must be a recognition of the relationship between Unionists and Nationalists, North and South, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and the Republic and the United Kingdom. There can be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland unless a majority of the people wish it. This is the starting point for any settlement and one which each party to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, with the exception of Sinn Féin, recognises.

The right of the majority for the time being in Northern Ireland to chose between the United Kingdom and a united Ireland does not imply a right for that majority to override the two Governments legitimate interest in creating a genuine partnership society in Northern Ireland. The tilt nature of Northern Ireland, now recognised in international law, means that the province which is democratically British could one day be democratically Irish. This carries with it a sound basis for insisting on a real North-South dimension to the settlement. The three strands in the political process will only receive their strength and shape by reference to each other. The basis of any settlement in Northern will primarily emerge from those who are politically in the centre.

Any political settlement in Northern Ireland will also have to contain a number of other elements. These include a new political order with genuine parity of esteem; a written constitution for Northern Ireland, including a bill of rights and democratic institutions; an acceptance of the principle that the external constitutional status of Northern Ireland must be decided by the majority; a maximisation of the degree of self-government in Northern Ireland and new policing structures which will enjoy cross-community support; and a North South dimension in areas of mutual interest.

Certain people in the Government tried recently to play politics with Northern Ireland by suggesting that there is a difference between ourselves and potential coalition partners on this sensitive issue. I doubt if any party in this House disagrees with the principles I have outlined or with the basic elements of a settlement because there is no difference in principle between the parties in the Oireachtas on the Northern Ireland issue.

Northern Ireland's future is bleak unless there is a move towards dialogue and consensus. Confidence building measures are essential if we are to have any hope of reaching that consensus. Such gestures are required from all parties to the conflict and a great opportunity now presents itself to the British Government as we pass the 25th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Calls have been made for an inquiry into what happened on that fateful day. The victims of violence and their relatives are entitled to know the truth; therefore there is a necessity for a truth commission. The British Government has all the facts at its disposal. The answers to the questions can be found in the files of the British army, the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office in London. It would take little effort by Mr. John Major to compile the necessary information which could then be made public at an inquiry. The British Government could then formally apologise for shooting dead the 14 innocent people in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

A solution to the Northern Ireland problem will involve building bridges of understanding across the rivers of mistrust which have developed over the years. A formal explanation of what happened on Bloody Sunday would be a first step in building such a bridge between the British Government and the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. If anyone doubted that efforts at reconciliation and mutual understanding were urgently required, they would have only had to watch Spotlight which was broadcast on BBC last Tuesday night. A large group of young people from both sides of the divide took part in the discussion. Some of them were willing to explore new avenues and to look forward. However, it was depressing to listen to the large number of speakers who were only willing to look back. It proved that all the ingredients are there for another generation of sectarianism and mistrust.

It seems possible that the Northern conflict will continue to simmer for another 25 years. We must do everything to ensure that does not happen. I also urge the Unionist politicians to discuss the political future of Northern Ireland in a spirit of compromise. While the absence of an IRA ceasefire is the biggest single obstacle in the way of political progress, there is a duty on Unionist politicians to show an interest in abandoning their "no surrender" and "majority takes all" stance. They must commit themselves to the creation of a partnership society where both traditions are fully recognised and respected.

I accept the Unionists are rightly proud of their Britishness, but being British in Northern Ireland appears to be different from being so in Britain. Modern Britain is a cosmopolitan society. Cities such as London, Birmingham and Bradford are melting pots of nationalities, religions and cultures. The Unionists are loyal to Britain, but does the Britain to which they are loyal exist anymore?

There is no doubt that any peace settlement will of necessity require tough decisions by the Unionists. However, before any of this can happen, the IRA must call a halt to its campaign of violence. Unless that happens, no British Government will be asking the Unionists to make any tough decisions.

I am also concerned that the current talks will be abandoned. When talks were abandoned in 1992, it took many years to get them back on stream. Although they seem to be going nowhere and people believe that nothing will happen until after the British general election, I would hate to see them called off. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland, who have suffered so much over the past 25 years, to keep them going and to keep their hopes up.

I thank Senator Honan for sharing her time with me.

The ongoing work of building a lasting peace in our country must continue despite the recent setbacks. Trying to achieve a permanent settlement where everyone can live in harmony is the great task facing this generation. The tremendous work which went into building the peace process must not be lost because of the actions of a few, particularly when a majority of the people want peace and prosperity. The present difficulties in Northern Ireland will not be easily resolved in the short term, particularly during the British general election campaign when the parties are seeking to gain greater support. However, we must continue the process and urge everyone to remain peaceful until we resume the talks after the election.

The marching season is a difficult time each year, as we saw last year in Drumcree and across Northern Ireland. It causes great bitterness and division among local communities. The British Government must act immediately to set up the parades commission if last year's events are to be avoided. I urge the Government and the Tánaiste, who is meeting Sir Patrick Mayhew later today, to strive to keep the process alive. We hope that by the end of this year the peace process will have developed further.

I was in touch with the Leader of the House and he has agreed to extend the time for the debate.

Acting Chairman

I cannot do that unless the Leader of the House is here.

He has given his permission.

Acting Chairman

Does the Acting Leader agree to amend the Order of Business?

I suggest we extend it by ten minutes because there are few Members left to speak.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish to share my time with Senator Byrne.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Members for giving me an opportunity to speak as I represent the Border counties.

I join with my colleagues in appealing to both sides in the North to renew their efforts for peace. Those of us who live in the Border counties remember what it was like when the ceasefire was announced. I was near Goma in August 1994 when the bush telegraph sent a message to us that a ceasefire had been called. When I arrived home there was a euphoria in the Border counties as people headed North to visit Armagh and Belfast which they had not seen for years. I spent an afternoon in Armagh during the Christmas season soaking up the atmosphere. It was incredible to see people who had not been in the North since 1969 enjoying the freedom.

There were many economic benefits as well. Throughout that Christmas period and the following summer, it was difficult to get accommodation in Belfast. There was a complete renewal of the economic system in Northern Ireland. It is disheartening that this renewal did not take place when it mattered most and the ceasefire broke down. That was a disaster of enormous proportions for everyone and its effects were felt across the whole island.

As other Members stated, it is important to try to maintain our optimism but it is difficult to do so when account is taken of the obstacles and incredible prejudice that exists in Northern Ireland. The Government and Opposition parties are united in trying to remain optimistic and bring about a resumption of talks. Politicians should continue to appeal to both sides, particularly the republican movement, to renew the ceasefire. When the last ceasefire broke down, many people concluded that it had been a tactical move rather than a concerted attempt to bring about peace. Repairing that damage will be difficult. If the republican movement intends to call a new ceasefire, it will have its hands full trying to convince people that it is not another tactic.

Genuine responses are required from people in Northern Ireland. It will be incredibly difficult to bring about another ceasefire but the rewards of doing so are enormous. We must remain optimistic and take every opportunity to try to create the kind of milieu that will bring about such a ceasefire and genuine talks. I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to contribute.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue. My first comment is "Let there be peace", but it must be peace with justice for all. I watched a television programme earlier in the week of an interview with Bishop Daly about the events of 25 years ago. He referred to the hovels in which families were obliged to rear their children and stated that conditions were appalling, there was overcrowding and people had no hope of obtaining employment.

The British Government should have the decency to acknowledge that injustices have occurred in Northern Ireland. A number of my brothers worked in the United Kingdom and I do not know why the fair and just system in operation there did not apply to Northern Ireland. Had there been fair play in the past, had people been given decent homes and employment and had they not been discriminated against on the basis of class, creed or political affiliation, the trauma that affects not only Northern Ireland but the Republic would not have occurred. Bishop Daly highlighted the conditions in which people were forced to live and, while they state many things, British Government Ministers never confirm that they permitted this to develop and that it is there duty to rectify it.

The British Government allowed a period of 18 months to pass during which every Member of Government and Opposition parties in both Houses contributed to the development and maintenance of the peace initiative. I know of no other country where people would have been permitted to waffle and twist words for 18 months and allow a ceasefire to collapse. Lives are being lost and the current situation will affect future generations in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Following the ceasefire, people began to invest money in Ireland and tourists from the Republic visited Northern Ireland.

It is sad that the British Government played politics for so long and did not co-operate with this Government and its predecessor to develop and maintain peace. That would not happen in any other country. The British allowed the situation in Northern Ireland to continue for many years and they have a duty to apologise for and be honest about Bloody Sunday. If they cannot admit that a serious mistake was made when innocent people were killed, how can they expect people who were mistreated for generations to respect law and order in Northern Ireland?

I hope that peace will return to Northern Ireland because young people must be given the opportunity to remain there and live in a free and just society. People living in the Republic, regardless of class, creed or political affiliation, have enjoyed the benefits of such a society since independence. Why is that not the case in Northern Ireland? I am sickened that some Unionist politicians refuse to acknowledge the grave injustices visited upon the minority community in the past, which created the problems in Northern Ireland. Until those injustices are acknowledged, there will not be peace in Northern Ireland.

I wish the Government success in the future in trying to regain the peace initiative created by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds. The present Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have done everything possible to maintain that initiative but the blame for its collapse lies with the British Government because it wasted the time available. There cannot be peace without justice, particularly in respect of housing, jobs, etc. The situation has become so crazy that people cannot pray in their local churches. If the various churches — Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, etc. — had come together 30 to 40 years ago, engaged in discussions, stated that everyone prays to one God and that the bitterness should stop, it is possible that 25 years of slaughter could have been avoided. In recent years, the churches have made various efforts towards gaining peace and it is high time that this occurred. Church leaders have a role to play but they were inactive in the past when they could have neutralised the bitterness that existed.

I hope that common sense will prevail in the future. I wish the Government success in trying to revitalise the peace process because it is in the interest of everyone, particularly young people, to do so.

Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.