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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 11 Mar 1999

Vol. 158 No. 13

British-Irish Agreement Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am honoured to have the opportunity, on behalf of the Government, to introduce this legislation in Seanad Éireann, which completed all stages in Dáil Éireann last night. Similar enabling legislation has been enacted this week in Westminster. These items of legislation are intended to give effect, as appropriate, to the four international agreements supplementing the Good Friday Agreement, which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I signed in Dublin Castle on Monday. As I said in the Dáil, this Bill represents a major step forward in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and in the transformation from conflict and division to peace and co-operation.

The Bill essentially provides for the establishment of the North-South and British-Irish structures envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. The bulk of the provisions in the Bill relate to the establishment of six North-South implementation bodies, which was the most substantial of the agreements signed last Monday.

The Bill and its associated agreement effectively put flesh on the bones of the Good Friday Agreement which stated, in broad terms, that the implementation bodies would implement on an all-island and cross-Border basis policies agreed in the North-South Ministerial Council. It said that the bodies would "constitute a necessary public function" and have a "clear operational remit".

It gave an absolute commitment that the two Governments would make the necessary legislative and other enabling preparations to ensure the bodies, once agreed, would function at the time of the entry into force of the British-Irish Agreement and the transfer of power to the new Northern Ireland Assembly. The functions of the bodies were agreed among the Northern Ireland parties on 18 December last and the necessary legislative arrangements are before us in the Bill. Most of the other arrangements are also spelled out in the Schedule to the Bill and any outstanding arrangements will be in place by the "go live" day, so to speak.

The other agreements covered the establishment of a North-South Ministerial Council, a British-Irish Council, and a British-lrish lntergovernmental Council which will replace the Anglo- lrish Intergovernmental Conference established in 1985.

I regret that both Houses have not had more time to study the detailed provisions of this Bill or the agreements from which they flow. I expressed my appreciation to Members of the Dáil for the manner in which they met the difficulties posed by the urgent need to pass the legislation quickly, and I repeat my appreciation to Senators for the manner in which they are dealing with the Bill, having regard to the exigencies of the timeframe. Senators will, I hope, understand that agreement was not reached at political level until late last weekend at which point the Bill was completed. The equivalent British order was tabled and debated in the House of Commons on Monday of this week and passed all stages in the House of Lords on Tuesday. The Government was keen to have our legislation tabled and enacted in the same broad timeframe. We are grateful to both Houses for their helpful and constructive approach in facilitating this.

The six implementation bodies agreed cover an important and diverse range of public service activity. In overall terms the bodies, once up and running, will involve some £56 million in annual expenditure and will have a total staff of about 880 people. Waterways Ireland is being established to run and promote the island's navigable waterway system. It will have immediate responsibility for the Shannon-Erne waterway and for all the island's currently navigable waterways from 1 April 2000. The body will be responsible for the promotion, including marketing and development, of the waterways. It has tremendous tourism potential for both parts of the island, as already signalled by the success of the Shannon-Erne waterway.

The Food Safety Promotion Board will have responsibility on an all-island basis for an area of key concern to both producers and consumers alike. It will, inter alia, exercise functions with regard to the promotion of food safety, research into food safety, communication of food alerts and surveillance of food-borne diseases. The image of the island of Ireland as a green and clean source of food can be further enhanced by the work of this important body.

The Trade and Business Development Body carries real potential for greatly increasing economic interaction on the island, and can bring genuine practical benefits to North and South.

The Special EU Programmes Body will have a significant role to play, including in the formulation of programme proposals under the next round of EU Community initiatives. It also underlines the continuing critical contribution being made by the European Union to the consolidation of peace and reconciliation on the island, something greatly appreciated by us all.

The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will be responsible for the navigational aids system for the whole island and will have responsibility for the development of aquaculture and marine tourism in the Foyle and Carlingford Loughs. It will take on the existing functions of the Foyle Fisheries Commission and have responsibility for corresponding functions for Carlingford Lough.

The North-South Language Body, through its two separate agencies, will be responsible for the promotion of the Irish language and of Ullans and Ulster Scots cultural issues on an all-island basis.

I would like to refer briefly to the structure of the bodies. Broadly speaking they will operate along the lines of our semi-State agencies. Four of the bodies will have boards, they are the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Trade and Business Development Body, the North-South Language Body and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. Waterways Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body will operate as executive agencies headed by chief executives reporting to the North-South Ministerial Council.

The Bill sets out in detail how the agreed functions are to be exercised and describes the structures of the bodies. Once the enabling legislation is in place, the focus will be on ensuring that the bodies are in a position to function effectively from the "go live" date, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. In order to ensure that the bodies can function effectively from the outset, provision has been made for interim chief executive officers to be in place pending the appointment of definitive chief executive officers, by open recruitment in most cases.

Decisions will have to be taken shortly on the locations and headquarters of the bodies. In arriving at these decisions, every effort will be made to ensure a fair geographical spread, North and South. Yesterday in the Dáil there were a number of pleas and good contributions from Deputies who were anxious to have some of the headquarters located in their constituencies, and account will be taken of their views in that regard. There will be a balance of location on both sides of the Border. Account will also be taken of the location of the existing staff of the bodies to be transferred and of any particular requirements of individual implementation bodies.

It is also the intention that where there are boards, these will be in place as soon as possible. The Bill provides for the secondment of staff from the public service dealing with the functions being transferred. This would be on an interim basis and would facilitate the bodies getting up and running as quickly as possible.

In addition to the six implementation bodies which are provided for in the Bill it is worth recalling that the Good Friday Agreement also provides for the identification of at least six matters for co-operation where existing bodies, rather than new structures, will be the appropriate mechanism for co-operation in each jurisdiction.

The 18 December agreement reached among the Northern parties identified six areas as suit able for initial consideration by the North-South Ministerial Council in this regard. These areas are transport, agriculture, education, health, environment and tourism. In each case a number of matters of mutual interest have been identified and the relevant Departments, North and South, are currently preparing draft work programmes for consideration by the council.

As is the case with the implementation bodies, the matters identified represent key and significant areas of Government responsibility. On tourism, the 18 December agreement provides for the establishment of a publicly owned company which will be established by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. This company will subsume the activities of the existing Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative. It will carry out overseas marketing and promotion activities for the two tourist boards and will establish overseas offices for that purpose.

There has been worthwhile North-South co-operation for many years and the level of this co-operation has deepened and intensified in recent years. Much of this co-operation has occurred under the aegis of the Anglo-lrish Intergovernmental Conference and much has been of an ad-hoc nature between public and private interests. However, studies have consistently shown that the potential for co-operation to the mutual benefit of both parts of the island has never been fully tapped. What is new about the arrangements we are debating is that, for the first time, this co-operation can be carried forward in a structured and systematic way. Once the North-South Ministerial Council is up and running it will oversee the implementation bodies we are providing for in this Bill.

The remit of the council is very broad. In addition to overseeing the implementation bodies, it will provide a framework for the two Administrations on the island to work together on all matters of mutual interest and benefit coming within their competences. This process of co-operation holds enormous potential for the people of this island and for their common good. At last we have the means through which that potential can be developed and realised.

In providing for the establishment of these bodies, we have been keen to ensure that the rights of citizens, in so far as they interact with the bodies, would be protected. The provisions of the Ombudsman Act, 1980, will apply to each of the bodies. Any necessary liaison and consultation with the Ombudsman in Northern Ireland is provided for. Each of the implementation bodies will be subject to the data protection legislation applicable in each jurisdiction. Here again, arrangements are being made for liaison and consultation between the relevant authorities, North and South. As there is no statutory freedom of information regime in the North, the Agreement provides that the responsible Ministers, North and South, will, as soon as practicable, draw up a code of practice on access to information. Similarly, it has been agreed that each body will draw up a code of conduct for approval by the North-South Ministerial Council which will set out its aims and values, its obligations to the public and the accountability and conduct of its members and staff.

Parliamentary and financial accountability are also fully provided for. Bodies will submit annual accounts to our Comptroller and Auditor General and to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland, who will, in co-operation, examine and certify the accounts. The bodies will provide full access to their records by the Comptroller and Auditor General who will have full accounting and audit access, including to carry out value for money studies. The members of the body will also be required to appear before, and otherwise co-operate with, the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the Committee of Public Accounts.

While the necessary legislative and other preparatory arrangements to implement these aspects of the Good Friday Agreement have primarily been a matter for the Irish and British Governments, there has been close consultation with the Northern Ireland parties, in particular with the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Féin. I wish to acknowledge the constructive role they played in the development of the agreement to which this Bill is giving effect.

As Senators will recognise, a great deal of this Bill is of a highly technical nature. A number of existing bodies and delivery mechanisms are being dissolved or transferred into the new implementation bodies. A substantial body of legislation on our Statute Book is either being repealed or substantially amended. Considerable work has been undertaken across the full range of Departments to bring the arrangements this far. Clearly the work has been guided by an acute awareness of the political sensitivity of many of the issues involved.

I would like to place on record my appreciation, and that of the Taoiseach and the Government, for the work of my colleagues in Government and their officials. The dedication and commitment of all those involved, particular of those in the Anglo-Irish division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach, has been immense. I express my gratitude to them for their dedication and patriotism. In particular, I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, whose contribution, we can all agree, has been outstanding. I also want to express my appreciation for the work of my colleague in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and to the immense efforts of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and my good colleague and, I hope, my friend Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, and her excellent officials.

Ministers and Departments are already rededicating themselves to ensure that the necessary arrangements will be in place for the bodies to function effectively from devolution or "go live" day, in tandem with the other institutional arrangements provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.

The tabling of this Bill is a further significant step along the road of implementing the Good Friday Agreement. It is about co-operation and partnership. More than anything else, it is about a new beginning on this island. It is about ensuring that never again will it be blighted by conflict. By working together on practical matters of common concern and interest, we give ourselves the best possible chance of achieving that goal. Much progress has been made in implementing the Agreement but we still have some way to go. We all know the nature of the remaining problems. Let us redouble our efforts in the coming days and weeks to overcome these problems. The prize is very great indeed, and it is in sight.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The welcome from my party for this Bill is unequivocal. We support it in principle but I have some problems with some aspects of it, certain parts of which are still not clear. There will be teething problems with the implementation of parts of the Bill and there is one part which I regard as flawed. However, these are points of detail but I express my total support for the principle of the Bill which will receive a total welcome from my party.

We need not fool ourselves that we are giving this Bill strict parliamentary scrutiny but what we are endorsing is a direct outcome of the Good Friday Agreement. It has taken longer to put together than might have been anticipated a year ago. Parts of the Bill bear signs of agreement reached late at night after a long process of negotiation and some aspects are flawed or incomplete. However, the fact that the Bill exists is, in itself, a major achievement. More importantly, it is an indication that the Good Friday Agreement has withstood all the tests and challenges flung at it since it was signed almost a year ago.

For the most part, the cross-Border bodies will have real power. Hopefully they will deal with real issues in a real way to the benefit of people on both sides of the Border and on the island as a whole. Apart from what they may achieve in real terms, the bodies are a concrete manifestation of the new relationship between the two parts of this island and between this country and Great Britain. It is a sign of a new maturity for which we have waited too long. We all hope this Bill is a further step towards lasting peace on the island and towards the settling of our problems in a lasting and fair way.

I join the Minister in paying tribute to officials in the Anglo-Irish section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the Department of the Taoiseach. Their work, dedication, imagination, energy and, most importantly, their selflessness over many years have helped every Government in trying to resolve these problems. We are extremely lucky to have had public servants of such calibre over the years. Many of them could have made much more money if they had left the public service to use their talents in the private sector.

Looking back over the past 70 years, it is extraordinary how little co-operation existed until recently between the two parts of the island. It is almost as if we lived in different universes. The biggest part of the fault for this lies on the Northern side of the Border, going back to the abandonment of the Council of Ireland in the 1920s which could have been the mechanism through which co-operation could have been built up quietly over the years. However, it never got the chance to operate. In the 1930s and 1940s, Seán Lemass began a process where there was consultation on the railways between the Great Northern Railway company and CIE. As long as nobody noticed, a great deal of quiet work was done. In the 1950s, the Foyle Fisheries, which was the brainchild of James Dillon in the 1948-51 Government, was established. It came into operation in 1952 and the fisheries helped people on both sides of the Border to resolve specific problems to their advantage.

Events in the 1960s are relevant to what is happening today. When Seán Lemass began the process of rapprochement and the building of relations with Northern Ireland after his meetings with Captain O'Neill, the archive files of those years which have been opened show the enormous degree of foot dragging which took place on this side of the Border. Many vested interests were threatened by the possibility of cross-Border co-operation. The files show that Seán Lemass had to consistently prod his Ministers and his civil servants for ideas and to prevent back sliding. It is obvious how deeply the partitionist mentality had begun to take root in politicians and the Civil Service. The Minister should look at these files and see the extent to which he may have to exercise some of the impatience of Seán Lemass. Hopefully that will not be necessary, but it is worth reading the files.

It is important to note the enormous amount of co-operation over the past 15 years. This has been especially true with regard to security and policing. The leaders of the Garda Síochána and the RUC should be proud of the good relationship, often in the face of unpopularity, between the two bodies. The fact that the Garda may be used as a model for the type of police force which eventually will be established in Northern Ireland is a well deserved tribute. The level of co-operation, often at times when it was unpopular, has been impressive.

On a visit to the North five or six years ago, we were briefed by the permanent heads of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The good relationships most of them had with their opposite numbers in the Republic was most impressive. A great deal of quiet behind the scenes work was ongoing. It was away from the headlines but understanding was being built up and common positions were being reached.

The real test will be the extent to which vested interests – I will speak on behalf of a vested interest later and I hope I am not contradicting myself – may try to prevent these bodies taking root. There are some notable omissions from the list of bodies where it has not been possible to reach agreement. However, it is better to run with what is available than try to get everything on board at the same time. In some cases the vested interest may have a right to be angry at what is happening because there has not been a great deal of consultation with those who will be affected by it. Perhaps it was not possible and there are problems which have not been resolved to date.

The Minister addressed the issue of the political accountability of the bodies. He raised the prospect that the Comptroller and Auditor General in each area will scrutinise the accounts and that the Ombudsmen will have jurisdiction in both areas. He also raised the likelihood that the bodies will be answerable to the Joint Committees. I look forward to the day when a crusty Paisleyite from Armagh appears before Deputy Jim Mitchell and the Committee of Public Accounts or when a civil servant from Kerry appears before a Paisleyite chairman of a committee in the new Northern Assembly. However, much more work is needed to ensure the political accountability of these bodies, especially given the almost zero input which the Houses of the Oireachtas and the House of Commons had to the legislation. We are endorsing the proposals rather than debating them in any meaningful way and without any prospect of changing them. We should apply our minds to the issue of greater political accountability in the near future.

In establishing new bodies, the creation of a new layer of bureaucracy should be avoided. We do not want to use the Italian example where the empire went, Mussolini arrived and a new layer of bureaucracy was welded onto the old layer, but after Mussolini went and democracy arrived another new layer of bureaucracy was imposed. The two or three layers of bureaucracy had the intention of doing the same job, but none of them did it. It is important that the need to get the bodies up and running and to have full representation does not result in inefficiency and the creation of needless bureaucracy. There should be real benefits in terms of economies of scale and the infusion of new ideas and expertise from the various jurisdictions. If at all possible, the creation of unnecessary bureaucracy should be avoided.

The Bill is not taking place in a vacuum. The urgency of its introduction is understood. It is an attempt to speed up a process which, through no fault of anybody on this side of the Border or most people on the other side, is faltering and needs a new impetus. The legislation is being introduced against the background of an impasse in one key area of the agreement. It is also taking place against the background of a worrying undercurrent of violence in the North.

The guns are silent but there are acts of viol ence and intimidation on a daily basis against Catholics in exposed areas in Northern Ireland. The flashpoint of Drumcree has not been resolved, and it does not appear it will be easily resolved. There is a continuation of horrific so called punishment beatings and we hear stories about splits in the IRA. There are worrying reports about the alleged involvement of IRA people in the Dalkey robbery where those involved were prepared to use guns if necessary. There are also reports of IRA involvement in the shooting in the south inner city recently. There are worrying undercurrents and, sadly, a mindset still exists which says no to decommissioning and explicitly says yes to the continuation of the policy of the ballot box and the armalite

The Good Friday Agreement and events since then are a real achievement and they are solidly based. However, it is not inevitable that it will succeed. There is no inevitability about anything in politics. If there is to be an Executive which is inclusive of all the parties the Minister mentioned, it must have Sinn Féin members. This is why the decommissioning impasse must be resolved quickly. Sinn Féin knows that the people of Ireland spoke loudly in the two referendums, North and South. It sees that major reforms are under way in Northern Ireland. Ten years ago these reforms in the areas of human rights, prisoner releases and the police following consultation with both communities might have been unthinkable.

Sinn Féin now sees the establishment of these all-Ireland bodies and it knows there is enormous good will. People who do not like Sinn Féin and abhor what it did in the past nevertheless understand it is essential that the party sits at the Executive table. All sides have taken risks to get there, but the principle must be restated that, in a democratic society, there is no place for guns under the Cabinet table or outside the door of the Cabinet room. There is no place for people who say that, unless they get their way, they reserve the right to resort to violence and to continue to keep in existence their illegal army. Sinn Féin should know it has the backing of the two Governments and of all parties in these Houses in the desire to see it within the Executive. It has the support of the President of the USA and the endorsement of the European Union and the referenda. It is now up to Sinn Féin to facilitate, which many of its members want to do, a form of words and gestures which will allow for the beginning of decommissioning and allow David Trimble, who has taken great risks, to proceed as First Minister, with Séamus Mallon, with finalising the details for an inclusive Executive.

We do not have to be optimistic; we have seen that almost every problem in the past year has been resolved sooner or later. This is the one outstanding problem, and if the people in Sinn Féin want to see a better future for their children and a framework within which they can grow and realise their aspirations, that will only be provided if this last barrier is removed. I do not wish to harangue Sinn Féin or criticise it, just to point out that everyone wants to help, if they can, to enable it overcome this last obstacle. It would be a terrible pity at this stage in proceedings if this issue were not overcome because of failure to move. If the war is over as Sinn Féin says, it should not be impossible to surmount.

I wish to deal with some specifics in the legislation. The Bill is extraordinary in that it remodels in one fell swoop large areas of our administrative structure. Six new bodies are being created, other bodies long in existence are being abolished and powers are being redistributed. All this is happening by Government fiat and without the detailed debate expected. There are days of debate in both Houses when even the smallest board is remodelled but that has not happened this time. The House of Commons and the House of Lords barely debated the matter; at least we are having some debate on it. As an experienced parliamentarian and someone who has great respect for Parliament, I am sure the Minister shares the view that, because of the overriding needs we all accept, this debate is being truncated and the legislation is not receiving the searching treatment all of us would wish. Mistakes are probably going to be made in the legislation, so what will be the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas as these bodies take shape? Is what happens today a fait accompli? Is it all over or will we be consulted about various aspects of it through new legislation over coming months?

I am concerned about the proposal to abolish the Commissioners of Irish Lights. I was a member of the organisation for six years and got to know its workings well. It does not make sense to me to abolish the organisation because it is already an all-Ireland body and always has been. Its membership comprises people from both sides of the Border who have always and through the most difficult times worked in co-operation in seeking to provide the highest standards of safety for those at sea. It is an extraordinary body with its own traditions and is impressively dedicated to its mission statement of safety at sea. It is also highly efficient, having undergone major internal structural reforms at its own instigation in recent years. In addition to being a North-South body, it is already an east-west body, the nature of shipping knowing no bounds and the organisation being involved with shipping in the English Channel and elsewhere.

It appears the Commissioners of Irish Lights were not consulted about the abolition of the organisation. This was an example of the organisation being combined with Foyle Fisheries to create a completely new body. I have nothing against the development of an aquaculture body. However, the Minister and those involved should re-examine the case of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is clear from the briefing document we received that there are enormous problems which have not yet been addressed and may end up proving more difficult than any good result. I have not spoken to people in the organis ation about this nor have I been lobbied. I am speaking from experience. The Commissioners of Irish Lights could stand alone as a North-South body. To interfere and destroy a tradition which has been built up over a couple of hundred years will not help us in our aims and may well do damage instead. I will raise some specific questions about this on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill because it is an enormously encouraging step forward. All parties and groups can take pride in what is being achieved. The Minister knows I always had great respect for his late father who was a truly remarkable public servant. He would have been proud to see the Minister steer the legislation through the House.

Hear hear.

I thank the Senator.

I am privileged to have the opportunity to support this historic Bill and agree with Senator Manning that it is appropriate it should be the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, who is steering the legislation through. His late father would have been very proud, as is the country, of his efforts, work and dedication alongside those who have assisted him – the Irish and British Governments, the United States Presidency and all the parties in Northern Ireland – to make the Bill possible and bring it before the House.

As we approach the first anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is a good time to reflect on how far we have come on the road to peace. This island has suffered for too long at the hands of the men of violence and its true potential has been restrained because of fears engendered by decades of unrest. The Bill represents a major step forward in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and in the transformation from conflict and division to peace and co-operation. We must seize with both hands the opportunity the Agreement presents.

The South has in recent years experienced unprecedented economic success built on a platform of a young and well educated workforce, a highly motivated private sector, a favourable corporate tax regime, a modern telecommunications infrastructure and a positive climate for industrial prosperity. All this was started by good government. We must now seek to build on that success so that the island as a whole can benefit from the new potential which the Agreement offers.

The Bill marks a watershed in the development of the peace process. It is an historic step on the road to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, previous holders of the office, Dr. Mo Mowlam, Mr. David Trimble, Séamus Mallon, who was a Member of the House and an effective Senator, the SDLP, the Sinn Féin party, the UUP, the President of the United States of America, Mr. Bill Clinton, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Tony Blair, George Mitchell, and everyone who took part in the painstaking work of negotiating the settlement to allow for the formulation of the Bill.

I pay tribute to former Taoisigh who all played their part. Senator Manning mentioned the former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, on his contribution. All Taoisigh since the foundation of the State would have wished to see this Bill go through the Seanad. I pay particular tribute to my colleague and friend, former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, who achieved the first ceasefire, for his confidence, determination, dedication and commitment. As one who lived in a neighbouring county to the province of Ulster, he realised and understood the opportunities which this would present for the development of the midlands, Ulster, the west and the north-west, which have suffered as a result of the violence in the North over the past 30 years.

I worked in every parish in the North in the 1960s and witnessed at first hand the tremendous business people there. They were the leaders in my field at that time. The South was only a young developing State. When one conducted business in the North one always knew that one would be doing business with shrewd people. All that activity was decimated by the violence.

I am delighted about the future for tourism on the island of Ireland. On 18 December we were told that the Agreement provides for the establishment of a publicly-owned company by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, two tremendous organisations which have worked under extreme pressure over the past 30 years to keep an industry going. They have been marvellously successful. Tourism is one of the top three revenue earning industries and I predict that it will be the top money earning sector of the economy in five years, when we will be able to look back at the united effort of the two tourism boards. This company will subsume the activities of the existing Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative. It will carry out overseas marketing and promotional activities for the two tourist boards and will establish overseas offices for that purpose.

This is one of the greatest decisions that has been taken here in the past number of years. What may be achieved worldwide for Ireland is astonishing. We are a friendly nation and a friendly people to those who visit. They enjoy our company, the scenery and the hospitality. We will be coming together to sell Ireland, from the mountains of Mourne and the Giant's Causeway to the beautiful Lakes of Killarney, as one tourist attraction.

I could never understand how divided our people were when they were living in Ireland or in the North. When I met friends from Canada, South Africa or Australia, whose origins were in Belfast, Dublin, Longford, Westmeath or Castlepollard – they were all Irish people without div ision. This Agreement gives us a remarkable chance to grow the tourism business to unprecedented levels. We have seen over the past few years how tourism has grown, but that is as nothing to how it will grow over the next five to ten years.

What is new about these arrangements is that for the first time co-operation can be carried forward in a structured and systematic way. I endorse the Minister's statements in that regard. The six implementation bodies agreed cover an important and diverse range of public service activity. In overall terms, the bodies, once up and running, will involve £56 million in annual expenditure and will have a total staff of 880.

It was not easy to reach this historic Agreement. Many of us never thought we would see the day when provisions to set up all-Ireland bodies would be implemented. I am sure the grandfather of Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, who is in the House, would be only too pleased to be in his position, hearing the contributions of Senators on this Bill.

It is important that we continue to communicate freely with all parties. I hope we will shortly have the widespread transmission of television stations, North and South, whether they be by RTE, UTV or BBC. I regret that the transmissions of our national broadcaster, RTE, cannot be received in certain parts of the North. I realise that commercial arrangements will have to be made but it is time that this was done. We have nothing to fear from communicating with each other and transmitting programmes about our day to day lives, culture and hopes.

I agree with Senator Manning that the Garda Síochána must be complimented for its great work and co-operation with the police force in the North. They took risks throughout the years and, unfortunately, they had to pay the price as some of their members were wounded or killed. The level of co-operation in recent years has helped to build confidence among the various voluntary organisations and all communities in the two police forces.

I welcome the Bill. We must not lose sight of the consensus of the people of Ireland who voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. It behoves us to continue to work to fulfil our obligations under the Agreement. We must continue to strive for agreement on all aspects of the implementation of the Agreement. This Bill is a watershed for generations to come.

May I share my time with Senator Norris?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the House.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, said that the tabling of this Bill is a further significant step in implementing the Good Friday Agreement, and that it is about co-operation and partnership. With previous speakers, I regard this as an historic occasion. There is a slight danger of almost feeling that we have got the task behind us and we can relax because it is such an historic occasion. However, the Minister is correct that this is a further step along a road which, we believe, will take us towards long-term peace. Let us not relax, congratulate ourselves and celebrate at this stage. It is a reminder to us of how important it is that we make it work in the years ahead.

My mother and father came from the North. My father came from County Down. His mother came from Saul in north County Down while his father came from Attical outside Kilkeel in south County Down. My mother came from north County Armagh and my parents were married in Dún Laoghaire.

I lived in Northern Ireland and I am steeped it in. I fear that, those of us who live away from the North and do not cross the Border, sense and appreciate the difficulties there have been there. Visiting Northern Ireland is almost like reading a history book. When one has relatives, friends and close links with Northern Ireland one can identify the experiences of the community there. My sister's husband was shot dead in the troubles, leaving her with seven children. Therefore, I am emotional about every step in the Northern Ireland process. I am aware that this is only one further step on a long and difficult road. It is an historic step which will succeed only with co-operation and partnership but which can bring peace.

I congratulate those who have been involved in that long process. I include politicians, civil servants and the others who worked on this process in past years. I particularly acknowledge the work of Mr. T. K. Whitaker. He is now in his eighties and still active and enthusiastic. When I had dinner with him last year he told me how he received a telephone call from a contact in the Northern Ireland Civil Service to say that the then Prime Minister Terence O'Neill would like to think that the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, would accept an invitation to travel to the North. That contact between dedicated civil servants and their co-operation with politicians helped to establish those first links. I see a great similarity between those events and what is happening today. Civil servants and politicians do not always get the praise and recognition they deserve. Much work behind the scenes has brought us to this point and the introduction of this Bill.

Let me turn to the Bill and to what it attempts to achieve. Last May, at a meeting of the Food Marketing Institute in Chicago, I was asked, at very short notice, to tell the meeting about Northern Ireland. In trying to explain the difficulties and history of Northern Ireland and the various strands of the Good Friday Agreement, I realised that the implementation of the Agreement will not be easy. Today, we take a further step on the difficult road of implementing the Agreement.

This Bill establishes six implementation bodies. It is interesting to look at the six bodies which have been selected, particularly in the light of the great success we have had in tourism and in other areas where we have learned to co-operate in the past. In establishing these bodies we seem to have selected tasks which will yield great rewards. If we can manage to make these bodies work both sides will realise how much more can be made to work along the way.

Waterways Ireland is an ideal selection for co-operation. I cannot think of a better area of co-operation than that covered by the Food Safety Promotion Board. I know the Newry and Dundalk area very well and the co-operative work being done there in trade and business development is an example of what can be done successfully in other places. The Special EU Programmes Body provides an opportunity to discover what can succeed in this area. Senator Manning has expressed a concern about the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. He may know more about this subject than I do, but it seems to me to be an ideal area for co-operation. The North-South Language Body will also be useful.

How can we make sure that these bodies will work? This is the exciting challenge which lies ahead. If we can make these bodies work, many other successes will follow. Let us imagine that each of these bodies is a newly established business. One of the first things one does in a new business is to look for best management practice. The idea of best management practice must be instilled into those who are given the task of making these bodies work. When I was chairman of An Post I realised that the Ministers and Secretaries Act placed a constraint on the company's ability to be entrepreneurial and willing to take risks. The State recognised this constraint and established a structure which allowed State-sponsored bodies to take risks and make mistakes. We must avoid bureaucracy; we must not allow these bodies to become simply another layer of bureaucracy. If we follow best management practice we will avoid that.

Another basic business premise is to "stick to your knitting". One should not try to do too much. In this Bill, at least four of the six bodies deal with areas where one can "stick to one's knitting". Waterways and food safety are perfect examples. Another key concept is "differentiation". We must continually ask if we can do a better job than was being done before. We must ask if a success can be achieved by these bodies. If that is done, the rest of the country, even those who are uneasy about cross-Border co-operation, will see that it works and the practice will spread.

The necessary dedication and commitment will depend on the people who are selected to head the bodies and work in them. Dedication and commitment are two other good business practices. If one does not have those one will not succeed.

Yet another good business practice is to look for success. If one can find successes and build on them one will continue to be successful. I think of our successes in sport. Consider how life changes when the Irish rugby team plays, and occasionally wins. There is no barrier between North and South when that happens.

The final good business practice is to listen to the customer. These bodies must listen to those who are to benefit from their activities. If this is done we will build organisations which will thrive and succeed in the years ahead.

My rugby coach in Newbridge College, Fr. Hegarty, was once speaking to us about attacking and defending teams. I interrupted him to ask which was the attacking team. Did it depend on the position of the ball on the field? He thought for a moment and said, "No, the team in possession of the ball, even if they are on their own back line, is the attacking team". We are putting the ball in the possession of people who are on their own back line. These six implementation bodies are on their own back line. Whether they win will depend on the job they do.

I wish the Minister well and I wish for the success of this Bill which is the first step along the road.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As some of my colleagues remarked, he has a long family interest in this matter and probably shares my feeling of quiet satisfaction that matters are moving in a generally positive direction. I extend my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy Andrews, and the officials who have been heavily involved at all levels in Iveagh House and other areas of Government. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the quiet work done behind the scenes.

The extraordinary significance of this Bill is clearly demonstrated by the unusually high number of civil servants in the Seanad ante room. I doubt if they have come to gather huge amounts of wisdom from the debate in the Seanad for a number of reasons, the principal one being that, as the Minister appropriately acknowledged, we have had not had time to scrutinise the detail of the Bill because of the necessary rapidity with which it made its way to this House. I presume that is also the reason there was no explanatory memorandum with the Bill – at least, there was none with my three copies – which might have been a helpful digest.

However, the Bill is obviously very significant and, having read it quickly and listened to the Minister, my colleagues and I would have no hesitation in supporting it enthusiastically. I should also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, who has played a quite crucial and vital role, with her engaging personality and her contacts, especially through her husband, with various groups in the North.

This is a very positive step and a good day's work. It is appropriate that it is a modest step because one must choose between having a foot in the door and a toe in the water. This is not so much a foot in the door for republicanism as an opportunity for the Unionists to dip a toe in the water of these new institutions and be reassured about the temperature and the comfort involved in this kind of procedure. For that reason, it is appropriate that these measures are modest. They are building on many existing measures, such as the co-operation on the Foyle fisheries and tourism. However, it is very important that we do not make extravagant claims for these bodies so that we do not weaken the position of those Unionists who now find themselves in a position where they can support them.

It was highly significant that the Minister stated today:

While the necessary legislative and other preparatory arrangements to implement these aspects of the Good Friday Agreement have primarily been a matter for the Irish and British Governments, there has been close consultation with the Northern Ireland parties, in particular the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Féin. They played a constructive role in the development of the Agreement to which this Bill is giving effect, and I want to acknowledge that in this House today.

That, in itself, is an advance. Three very disparate groups – the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP – are co-operating with the Irish Government in assisting the framing of the Agreement and, presumably, are prepared to agree, at least in general terms, on the provisions of this Bill.

The constant chorus from Sinn Féin and others is that there has been very little movement. However, I am astonished and amazed by the degree of movement by the Unionists. The old Unionist hymn sheet with the words "Not an inch" and "No surrender" seems to have been magically transferred to Sinn Féin, who are now the ones saying "Not an inch" and "No surrender". I am astonished by the reasonable tone of the Unionists.

I listened to Mr. Nesbitt on the radio at the weekend and I was very interested in the malleable, flexible approach he was taking. He was even referring to some of the Sinn Féin people by the first names, as if they had some degree of social amiability – perhaps they do not, but at least he was recognising them as human and not characterising them as monsters, which was the old Unionist language. It is very important to recognise there has been a degree of movement. The other day David Trimble invited Gerry Adams and some of his colleagues to discussions in Stormont, to see if they could break the logjam. Perhaps it was posture and for public consumption – for the optics and cosmetics – but it would have been unthinkable two or three years ago for a Unionist leader to invite Sinn Féin representatives to Stormont for discussions about legislative programmes and parliamentary progress.

It is very important to recognise there has been a change in the Ulster Unionist Party. Perhaps it is too much to hope that this would happen in the Democratic Unionist Party. However, if Northern Protestants are as pragmatic as we are always told they are, I would like to think that they will also change.

I believe Mr. Adams and his colleagues are quite serious, sincere and committed, although they have great difficulties. One of the ironies is that Gerry Adams' life has now been threatened by his former colleagues who object to him taking the democratic road. That is a worrying concept.

I hope that, apart from these institutions, there will be a continuous monitoring of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in other areas. I am thinking here in terms of decommissioning in the broadest possible sense. There are still punishment beatings and shootings. Most sinister of all, there is a clear armed conspiracy continuing in the Republic against the State. The murder of Detective McCabe was followed by the systematic intimidation of witnesses by the Provisional IRA; in the past few days there was the shooting and attempted murder of a citizen in Dublin city. I wondered at the time if there was a republican connection and, according to yesterday's newspapers, there is a very strong suspicion that republicans are intimidating witnesses. There was an extremely sinister comment in the Irish Times yesterday that these republican elements had moved into the drugs crusade in the north and south inner city areas of Dublin in order to be of political assistance to Sinn Féin. It is time Sinn Féin clearly and unambiguously disassociated itself from that because it is the reverse of democracy. We must be very careful as long as there is continuing suspicion of an armed conspiracy against the State.

I support the establishment of Waterways Ireland. My colleague, Senator Quinn, spoke about the necessity for this. We have the Ballinamore Canal in Leitrim and we can work along those lines. It is not a very ambitious plan but it will be very good for tourism. We have a huge job to do in terms of tourism. I am going to the US on Sunday, where people will tell me they would be afraid to come here because of the bombs. They are talking about Kerry, Dublin or Galway – they do not differentiate geographically.

I also support the establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board. However, let us not be dragged down to the standards of the United Kingdom, in terms of its dealings with Monsanto. I wish I had time to say more about Monsanto. I hope we will hold the line here in that regard.

There will also be the Trade and Business Development Body and the Special EU Programmes Body. Agriculture seems to be missing, although perhaps I have just not spotted it. I presume there is some degree of co-operation on agriculture, which seems a prime area to me. I listened today to the compliments being paid – which I think are correct, at least in the short-term – to the Minister, Deputy Walsh, on the negotiations in Brussels. People were saying we had made a terrific breakthrough by political manoeuvring and that it was likely some of the Northern counties would creep in on our coat tails in regard to agriculture and regional classification. The forward looking policies of the Republic in these areas are of immediate advantage to people in the North. I imagine they are aware of this.

When we forget politics completely, it is obvious in geographic terms that the landscape and agricultural terrain is the same north and south of the Border. We have common interests in areas such as agriculture and fisheries.

My final point is this – and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence – can we do something about RTE? It is virtually impossible to receive RTE radio broadcasts once one goes beyond Newry. That is intolerable. RTE is an important instrument for letting people in the North know we are decent civilised human beings and for taking some of the pressure off. Can we attempt to make RTE radio available throughout the whole island?

I am sure Senator Norris will be delighted to know that RTE can be received on medium wave across the Border. He can tune in the next time he is there.

I will. That is the problem with RTE. It puts everything decent on medium wave and people cannot hear it down here, particularly religious services. That is another complaint.

I welcome this legislation. I take Senator Manning's point that to an extent we are nodding it through and expressing our relief and pleasure at seeing it, but not scrutinising it closely. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to raise detailed issues on Committee Stage. The overwhelming reaction from all sides of the House is to welcome and commend the Bill.

The signing of the four British-Irish treaties in Dublin Castle last Monday by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State may have been a fairly low key event, but its historical significance should not be underestimated. It represents the essence of the Good Friday Agreement as it provides for the institutions and bodies to underpin the new relationship between North and South and between Britain and Ireland.

The treaties are a product of painstaking negotiations by officials on both sides and great credit is due to them for their Trojan efforts. Earlier the Minister commended all those at political and official level who have been involved. In modesty he could not refer to himself so it is up to us to point to his role. We cannot underestimate the huge efforts made through the years, particularly in recent times, by officials and politicians.

These treaties offer the prospect of normalised relations in the future between the two parts of this island and between two neighbouring sovereign Governments. There is limitless potential in the new arrangements. Over the years, sectarian violence in Northern Ireland has often placed an insurmountable barrier in the way of reasonable co-operation between North and South, particularly in the area of business. However, if we strip away the violence and the sectarian division and put in its place a close relationship based on mutual trust and confidence, we can have a vista of unprecedented opportunity. If we remove the fear, doubts and misgivings and put in their place a strong bond of friendship, we have a future of rich promise throughout the island.

The current impasse over the establishment of the new executive in Northern Ireland has given rise to speculation that it may all be in vain and we will see a process so carefully constructed fall to pieces. We cannot allow the pessimists and peddlers of a doomsday scenario to forget all that has been achieved and all we stand to lose.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed just under one year ago, and well before we reached that historic pass, we knew we would encounter obstacles along the way. The success rate in overcoming the obstacles strewn in our path has been tremendous. The current crux over decommissioning is fundamental to the process. We hope an accommodation can be reached which will enable the new democratic structures in Northern Ireland, envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement, to become a reality. We cannot forget the immense prize before us – a new political order underpinned by lasting peace.

How many of us thought we would see the day when the Houses of the Oireachtas would make provisions for cross-Border bodies? I have no doubt the establishment of the six North-South implementation bodies will bring considerable benefits to all people of this island and enable us to move forward together in a spirit of partnership and co-operation. Earlier Senator Manning gave a historical reference to this.

I particularly want to refer to the new trade and business development body which will be the shared responsibility of my Progressive Democrat colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney. It will develop new approaches to cross-Border business development, focusing on research, training, marketing and quality improvement. It will make recommendations to increase enterprise competitiveness in a North-South context in areas such as skills availability, telecommunications, information technology and electronic commerce. It will promote North-South trade and supply chains. It is also required to bring forward proposals to the new North-South Ministerial Council within three months of the development of a North-South equity investment fund. The new body will have a special focus on science and technology and initiate a number of programmes in this area with the aim of increasing competitiveness. In other words, the new body will seek to bring normality to the trade and business dealings between the two parts of this island.

I particularly welcome this development for business. Many of us who are involved in and have experience of North-South business links know the axis of business involvement in the North has shifted towards Great Britain. I am familiar with the notion of a business person in Northern Ireland calling a colleague, not in the Republic, but in London, Manchester or Birmingham. Great Britain rather than the Republic has become the natural axis and that must change for all our sakes and for the future development of the country. This new body will help such development.

The six implementation bodies agreed are not narrowly focused. They represent a diverse range of public service activity. Everyone has his or her own areas of experience and interest, and mine is in business. A body such as the Food Safety Promotion Board is being sought and is badly needed in the Republic. A body that can sell the image of the island of Ireland as a green, clean source of food, as the Minister said, can do nothing but good for industry North and South. Co-operation between North and South will be of immense value to industry in this country and to selling the image of the country abroad.

Senator Norris referred to agriculture. One of the great selling points of our island is its green, clean environment and we must work on this. The Food Safety Promotion Board can make an immense contribution in this regard. There is not sufficient research on food safety in this country. Hopefully, it will enable leading edge research.

Regarding the Special EU Programmes Body, because we are seen to have used EU funds wisely, perhaps many people in the North will look to us to see how we have managed to develop the country with the help of EU funding.

The Minister described in detail the six implementation bodies. Once these bodies are up and running, they will involve approximately £56 million in annual expenditure and will have a staff of more than 800. Each body will have a clear operational remit and will operate within the sort of autonomy which characterises the functions of our own semi-State bodies. This is extremely important.

It is anticipated that the North-South Ministerial Council will be the principal focus of cross-Border co-operation and there is a determination to ensure that this will be a vibrant and dynamic institution, with a dedicated secretariat which will address a whole range of areas of common interest and mutual advantage. The council will meet at least twice a year in plenary format, and regularly in each sectoral format.

Notwithstanding the current difficulties, I feel a great sense of excitement about the new arrangements. Democracy, having taken a back seat to violence for so long, is taking root in Northern Ireland. The interaction between the new Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour will soon be at a level which would have been unthinkable four or five years ago. We must not lose sight of the fact that the new institutions will not exist to serve themselves; their purpose is to represent the interests of people North and South, and to act in a manner which serves the common good. The relationship will not be one sided. We must enter these arrangements not on the basis of what we can gain from our northern neighbours but what we can offer to our mutual benefit. The new confidence we have gained, mainly because of our economic success in the past few years, means that we will bring a great deal to this process. I am glad this is taking place at a time when there is a new found self-confidence in the country.

The Northern Secretary's announcement on Monday that the deadline for agreement on the formation of a new Executive has been put back until the end of the month provides some breathing space for the participants who are travelling to Washington in the next few days. While we caution against any expectation of a breakthrough, we must be conscious of the crucial role which President Clinton and various White House staff and officials have played in the past in moving the process forward in times of acute difficulty. I hope that, in addition to drowning the shamrock, the politicians of Northern Ireland can use their Washington visit to reflect on the great distance they have travelled on the road to a new accommodation, and the great tragedy it would be if all were to fall at one of the final hurdles.

The process we have embarked upon is becoming more and more resilient, and is sufficiently resilient to withstand the current difficulties. The passing of this legislation underpins that fact. There is a solidity and strength about the process now which augurs well for the future. Obviously the achievement of final agreement on all the outstanding issues is tantalisingly close. It is perfectly reasonable for Unionist politicians to harbour doubts about Sinn Féin's participation in an Executive ahead of a credible gesture on decommissioning. It has never been more important to draw a clear line between violence and the pursuit of political goals through exclusively political means. I accept there are no pre-conditions in the British-Irish Agreement relating to decommissioning, but the absence of an initiative in this regard damages the basic trust and confidence which are so central to this process. I hope that real progress can be made on the issue over the next few weeks and that as we approach the first anniversary of the British-Irish Agreement, we can put in place all the remaining pieces of this political jigsaw.

We must never forget that the vast majority of people, North and South, are anxious that their democratically elected representatives would display the qualities of leadership that are necessary to make this process succeed. For far too long, destructive minds have been allowed to dictate the agenda in Northern Ireland, and there is a spill-over into the Republic of this destructive mindset. Unfortunately, we see this every day.

The British-Irish Agreement has been about constructive and imaginative minds being applied to a new agenda, which offers the prospect of a lasting peace and balanced political settlement. The legislation we are discussing today is the latest manifestation of that good work and marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this island. There is a lot of work still to be done, but we are much further down the road than we were. I commend the Bill to the House.

I support the British-Irish Agreement Bill. By its nature, and by admission of the Minister, it is rushed legislation. I am mindful that in giving it broad support and commending the cross-Border institutions, it will probably have to be revisited and revised. I am sure the Minister will refer to this fact and to the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in terms of amendments or revision that may become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. I would like also the role of the Attorneys General in relation to revising the legislation to be laid out and indicated clearly. I welcome the legislation. We could not have envisaged a short few months or years ago that we would be passing legislation to create cross-Border bodies. The importance of this should not be under-estimated, albeit understanding the necessity for the rushed format of the legislation.

The acceptance of the British-Irish Agreement by all parties in the South, under a Fianna Fáil led Government, is a clear and unambiguous statement that civil war politics is over in Ireland – and not before time – and has been replaced by a new exercise in self-determination. I suggest also that our European membership has fundamentally altered our relationship with Great Britain. For over 700 years this country had an unhealthy, morbid and adversarial relationship with our nearest neighbour. I believe the 1790s was the pivotal decade in the evolution of modern Ireland. That decade witnessed the emergence of popular republicanism, loyalism, separatism, the Orange Order and Maynooth College and culminated in 1798 with the Rebellion and the Act of Union of 1800, which defined subsequent relationships between Ireland and Britain.

For the first time in this generation we can look beyond our narrow British obsession to the wider European world. We can learn much there about cultural diversity, pluralism and about the transcendence of bitter centuries old conflict. As we have refocused towards Europe, we have become more tolerant and more understanding of Britain, which is now our partner in the European Union. We are no longer dominated, intimidated or obsessed by it, and freedom from fear has liberated us from knee-jerk hostility. European involvement has liberated us from a parochial obsession with Britain, laying the basis for a modern mature relationship. We need only witness progress in the last year or so with the signing of the British-Irish Agreement and the visit and address of Prime Minister Tony Blair to the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no better example of the modern mature relationship between us and our near neighbours than the legislation before us.

Europe has helped us to define our place in the wider world in ways which have been enormously beneficial to us, and taught us to respect ourselves more fully and to engage in what is best and strongest in our tradition. I feel confident that as a nation we are increasingly able to celebrate our cultural inheritance in an entirely positive way. Our European experience is mainly responsible for this. I am also grateful that we can express our cultural inheritance free from the excessive Nationalist baggage it was forced to carry for so long and which crushed its true spirit.

In the 1900s Thomas Kettle the Redmondite MP made the following remark: "My only advice to Ireland is to realise that if she is to become more genuinely Irish she must become more European". His remark is over 90 years old but it is appropriate today and is perhaps even more true now than in his time. We are only now seeing the wisdom of his remarks. He was also willing to act on his principles. He joined the British Army and fought in World War I on the principled basis that Britain was on the side of the small nations. He was killed leading his men in a charge at the Battle of the Somme. He dreamed of a free, united Ireland in a free Europe.

There are many aspects to the Good Friday Agreement and there have been many developments in the past 12 months. Before coming to the specifics of this Bill I would like to remind the House of other aspects, apart from those which the Bill deals with. The other range of issues deals broadly with the equality agenda and the need to promote the establishment of a normal and peaceful society in the North. There is the issue of setting up the two human rights commissions. Our colleagues across the Border and in Britain are ahead of us on this issue. The Northern Ireland Act was enacted before Christmas and it provided for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Our legislation on a human rights commission is at an advanced stage. Legislation to amend the Nationality and Citizenship Act is being prepared and it was part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Independent Commission on Policing in the North has been referred to and, like others, I commend the excellent relations between the RUC and the Garda Síochána. Both organisations continued to have a close relationship during the difficult times when it was not profitable or popular for either of them, and now there is a great synergy between them. Citizens in both jurisdictions benefit from it.

The release of prisoners is another ongoing issue. Both Governments have introduced legislation to implement their commitments under the Agreement to put in place mechanisms which provide for an accelerated programme for the release of qualifying prisoners. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched a review of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system in June last year. A consultation paper was published in August and the observations that it sought last October are still being analysed.

The decommissioning issue – apart from what we are discussing today – remains the one major difficulty on the Good Friday Agreement agenda.

Although formation of the Executive remains a key outstanding issue, considerable progress on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been made in recent weeks. On 16 February the Assembly endorsed a final report by the First and Deputy First Ministers on the areas of the North-South implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council, the Civic Forum and produced a final determination on Government Departments. On 8 March the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed supplementary agreements providing for the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The Anglo-Irish Conference of the 1980s will be replaced by the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Legislation enabling the establishment of various implementation bodies has been tabled in the Dáil and at Westminster and we are addressing this matter in the Seanad.

Despite progress in these areas it has not proved possible to resolve the impasse on the formation of the Executive and decommissioning. Under the terms of the Agreement all parties confirm their intention to use any influence they may have to achieve decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years. Sinn Féin has appointed Martin McGuinness to liaise with the decommissioning commission and on 18 December the LVF became the first paramilitary group to decommission weapons when a small number of weapons were handed over to the international decommissioning committee for destruction. Their act warrants note and commendation. It may be symbolic but it is extremely important.

Intensive work is continuing, but there is little sign at present that either side is prepared to move from its stated position on decommissioning and the formation of the Executive, with Unionists demanding progress on decommissioning before the formation of the Executive and Sinn Féin asserting their right to ministerial positions without pre-condition.

The Good Friday Agreement contains the following words: "All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all parliamentary organisations". To me it could not be made clearer. The guns may be silent but we still do not have decommissioning or disarmament, and without them we will not have security and lasting peace. We need to have the Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Féin at the table and part of the Executive. However, no one will be able to come to the table when they have guns underneath it or outside the door, so to speak.

I, along with everyone in this House, appeal to the parties concerned to find a formula of words and to do whatever is necessary to go that extra distance to accommodate one another in relation to the current impasse. I hope that with perhaps the wisdom of Solomon or the patience of Job they can find a formula that will bring us that extra distance. Over the past 12 months there have been such historic achievements and there must be a formula that will bring us that last step to ensure we have decommissioning and all parties involved in the Executive. Last May people in the North and South voted overwhelmingly for this when they endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and there is a mandate for nothing less. I hope a formula will be reached within the next few days.

I thank all politicians North and South, our Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and all the civil and public servants that supported them in their endeavours, for their understanding of this complex issue, the commitment they gave in terms of time and energy and I congratulate them on what they have achieved to date. I hope we will put the final step in place very soon.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Manning, that we have the best and brightest civil servants in the Anglo-Irish section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach. A huge responsibility rests on them to find formulas and advise their respective politicians in unscrambling the last difficulty that remains in relation to the Good Friday Agreement.

On 1 March the Secretary of State circulated the standing order to all parties by which seats on the Executive will be allocated in proportion to the number of seats they hold in the Assembly. This standing order on the formation of the Executive will come into force at the next meeting of the Assembly and will take precedence over all other business of the Assembly. The Secretary of State recently indicated her intention to trigger the d'Hondt process in the week starting 29 March – the week of Good Friday, 12 months later.

The Assembly has been meeting in shadow form without exercising legislative or executive powers since the elections. As we know, that Assembly at its 1 July meeting elected David Trimble and Séamus Mallon as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively. Agreement was reached on 18 December and this provided for ten departments which the Executive will oversee. The answer to Senator Norris's query about agriculture is in this area. The areas the Executive will oversee, include agriculture and rural development, environment, regional development, social development, education, higher and further education, enterprise, trade and investment, culture, arts and leisure, health, social services and public safety, finance and per sonnel. In addition, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will have an economic policy unit – quite an outstanding array of areas of competence.

The outstanding issue for the Assembly, as I said, remains the formation of its Executive, and I hope the pieces will be put in place. Full powers will only be devolved to the Assembly when the British-Irish Agreement enters into force, and this will occur when all the bodies to be established under the Agreement come into existence; these are the six cross-Border bodies outlined extremely well by the Minister in his presentation. I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the point raised by my colleague, Senator Manning, about the future of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is the precedent to which we should be looking for the creation of bodies today. It is hard to understand, in the absence of an explanation, why it should be dissolved. If it is not broken, why fix it? It seems to be the solution to a problem and not the problem to be solved so, in the absence of background knowledge, I strongly support the case for the retention of the Commissioners of Irish Lights in the formula of the particular cross-Border body to which it refers.

I started by saying that the 1790s can be seen as the pivotal decade in the evolution of modern Ireland. If that is accepted, then an honest and accurate understanding of it is not just of scholarly interest but it has important implications for current political and cultural thinking. It is precisely because of its enduring relevance that 1798 has never passed out of politics and into history. The United Irishmen's vision was of non-sectarian democratic and inclusive politics which could attract and sustain all Irish people in all their inherited complexities. Rather than seeing religious, ethnic and political diversity as a disabling problem, the United Irishmen saw it as a glorious opportunity to construct a wider more tolerant and generous vision of Irish identity. Rather than grimly clinging to its divisive past, the United Irishmen sought to create a shared future.

Some 200 years later and a shared future, this exercise in creating representative Government and direct democracy is the most fitting and dynamic memorial to the ideals of the United Irishmen. We spent the past ten years in Wexford, three or four years throughout the country and last year commemorating 1798 with thousands of different events. What we are doing today and what has happened since the Good Friday Agreement is the most dynamic memorial to the ideals of the United Irishmen in its helping to complete a task the United Irishmen attempted. We are completing this task, I suggest, with the agreement and consent of the people of Northern Ireland today.

Senator Doyle, you are five minutes over your time, there are many other speakers and we have less than an hour to go.

I apologise. We have completed the task the United Irishmen attempted and in Wolfe Tone's great words that task was "To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenters".

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille seo. Bille tábhachtach is ea é. Tá sé ar cheann de bhunchlocha na síochána san oileán seo. Lá mór é, lá stairiúil, lá dar saol é seo. Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo agus táim buíoch do na Seanadóirí eile a thug an caoi dom labhairt ar an mBille.

I have been very moved listening to the debate, and was particularly moved by Senator Quinn who has, oddly enough, deeper roots in County Down than I have. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, left the Chamber before I could refer to his ancestral connection with the constituency in which I reside. I am left a little discomforted by Senator Norris as the new multi-cultural all purpose Ulsterman and find myself with one foot in the door and the other in the water, but I will try to maintain my equilibrium in the time allotted to me.

I, too, would like to join in the tributes to the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office and elsewhere and the leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland, for this Agreement, what is represented in it and what we are asked to assent to. As one who has escaped from that anthill, I was glad to hear the tributes paid to the civil servants, North and South, because these things do not happen without an enormous amount of dedicated work. I would like to add my paean of praise to that and say that in both jurisdictions we are lucky to have people of the quality of those civil servants, and I know many of them who have working so diligently on this for a long time. Agreements such as this do not come out of the air; they represent long hard hours of exchanging drafts, bargaining, pushing and a great deal of professional skill.

This is one of those cases where the process is more important than the product, although the product itself is not negligible. Part of that process has been evidenced in the fact that these bodies have been agreed by the parties in Northern Ireland and that is an enormous advance. It is the work of reaching that agreement which has brought the added respect for each other which has been noticed by Senator Norris.

Although the debate today has had a North-South dimension, we should also remember that the Agreement provides for east-west dimensions as well. That is hugely important to the Unionist people because, in all these documents, we are talking about finding a new way in which people of differing and, in the past, deeply hostile tra ditions can live together on this island and share the archipelago as well. The east-west dimension, therefore, is important, as is the North-South one.

I agree with Senator Norris that it is fitting that we recognise the extent to which Unionists have moved on this part of the Agreement not only in substance, but one is struck now by the type of language people use. It is much more respectful and constructive, which is an extremely hopeful sign. We owe congratulations to Mr. Trimble and his colleagues for the leadership they have shown in what has been for them a particularly difficult and sticky area.

I do not want to move into the subject of decommissioning or use the Agreement as a stick with which to beat anybody. I, like Senator Doyle, hope and believe that a formula can be reached which will get us out of this impasse. People are working away at this diligently and in the belief that the soufflé is in the oven I am resisting the temptation to open the door, thereby spoiling it.

However, this is one milestone in the implementation of the Agreement; most of the others are falling into place. Now we need the Executive to sit so that powers can be devolved on parties on all sides to create the circumstances under which the Executive can be set up. I look forward to seeing Sinn Féin representatives on the Executive as I believe that they will make a considerable contribution. Sinn Féin has very able people who will make able Ministers. However, as a resident of Northern Ireland I look forward to the transfer of power to people for who I can vote, or against if I do not like their performances.

This is the prize for which people in Northern Ireland have waited for a long time. There is so much at stake and we have come so far that one can only appeal to the political sense of the parties, their diligence and the sense that there is nowhere else to go if it does not happen this time. I recently read a reference by Lady Faulkner, widow of Brian Faulkner. She said that after the Sunningdale Agreement he said it would be 20 years before we got a chance like it again. It has been 25 years and the prospect before us is to seize the hour and move ahead or lose the impetus.

Senator Manning stated that it was not every day of the week that one got to knock down large slices of public administration and build anew. The plans or specifications have not been seen and I realise that has been necessitated by the nature of the negotiations. However, like other Senators, I hope structures will be built in to ensure that there is, indeed, parliamentary accountability between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly and that opportunities can be taken to amend or fine tune the new institutions.

It is a voyage of discovery in many ways. People must learn to trust each other and these are concrete areas in which to make a beginning. I am delighted to see the inclusion of the waterways. The reopening of the Ulster Canal, the link ing of the Erne and Shannon systems with Lough Neagh and the Lagan could be a wonderful tourist boost. As one who contracted food poisoning in Dublin before Christmas I am delighted to see that the control of food safety is highlighted as it is an important area.

I welcome the concentration on the Irish language, particularly the inclusion of Ulster Scots or Ullans because if we talk about multi-culturalism and people receiving and respecting our traditions and values, we must pay the same respect to theirs. There is a long and vibrant literature tradition in Ulster Scots, including the speech by Jemmy Hope, a Templepatrick weaver, who was one of the 1798 Rebellion leaders, and I am glad that has been accommodated. I am a strong supporter of Irish language schools in Northern Ireland and I trust that they will also benefit. It is an extremely interesting cultural development given the enthusiasm, professionalism and the energy which they display.

It may be cynical but the composition of some boards is in inverse proportion to their functions or powers. Why are an advisory council and an advisory board needed for food health? Some of the more powerful bodies simply have a chief executive. The body dealing with North/South co-operation on European affairs will be enormously important and problems will be created when the Irish negotiating position is different from that of the United Kingdom, as happened this week in regard to agriculture when Northern Ireland farmers found themselves caught in the middle and were much better served and represented by the presentation of the Irish case; there may be more of the same.

I hope, like Senator Quinn, that young, trusty, imaginative people will be appointed to these posts and allowed to get on with it. I am worried that the functions of a number of existing bodies are protected. I have long been a student of institutional behaviour and I am aware of how people defend their turf. I may well have done it in the past but if these bodies are to work, Ministers on both sides must make it clear to all the agencies under their influence and control that the policy of both States is to make the Agreement work. It is hugely important that it works well and it should not be frustrated by people protecting their new territories or holding on to functions or powers.

The secretariat of the council is a prime candidate for decentralisation from metropolitan centres. I recall being involved in this work in 1974 when there was a strong suggestion that Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of the country, was a fitting centre for the then council of Ireland. I commend that location for consideration to Ministers and others concerned with these decisions.

The Agreement represents an enormous step forward but we are building the framework for peace, not peace itself, and it will require constant attention, monitoring, encouragement and enthusiasm. It would be a pity if sights were nar rowed by the structuring of cross-Border or non-Border relationships to the extent that all the other bodies engaged in North/South co-operation saw it as the task merely of these structures and not anyone else. I recall that when I was the head of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland we had the most cordial, helpful and constructive relationship with our colleagues here. We had no difficulty whatsoever co-operating on and sharing information and services for the benefit of sick people, North and South. I hope that will be encouraged and continued.

There is already a huge range of relationships and networks at professional levels between North and South, for instance, the Corrigan Club where surgeons get together. Part of the raison d'être of the North-South bodies is the encouragement of that kind of sub-structure to ensure all citizens can play a role and that everything is not left to the bureaucrats, the politicians and the political parties. We are at an historic point; the North-South bodies are a further building block in the attainment of peace and there are not many more to be put in place.

The Good Friday Agreement is a seminal document. It will be viewed for a long time to come as a new way of approaching government and the tensions which exist between nations and states, a new way of accommodating difference. We must cherish such difference because it adds to the richness of the broad tapestry of national life.

We must now move forward in the spirit of the Agreement. In a sense we must, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, begin to bind up the wounds of a nation. As Louis MacNiece's father said some 60 years ago, we must begin to put the things of the past and the things which divide us behind us and concentrate on those things which bring us together. It may have taken 60 years for the penny to drop but we do, at last, seem to have a receptive audience. This is a day for hope and one on which I am happy to be in this House.

I am grateful to all the Ministers and officials who worked to bring this Bill forward. I am also grateful to Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness and others who worked in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and the leaders of civic society in Northern Ireland, many of whom were women, for their role in holding things there together for many years. We owe a debt of gratitude to many people, too numerous to mention here.

The Irish Association is an all-island body which was established in 1936 to promote cultural, economic and social co-operation between the two parts of the island. As a member, I have in recent years seen great efforts and magnanimous gestures made to advance co-operation between North and South. This Bill formalises that co-operation.

Like others, I am extremely concerned about decommissioning. Perhaps, as Senator Maurice Hayes eloquently said, the soufflé is rising in the oven and we should not open the door and disturb it. I am more concerned about the continuation of the paramilitary beatings which are occurring on all sides with a greater degree of frequency. No formula seems to have been found to achieve their cessation.

Senator Hayes alluded to the informal contacts currently in place. While I am glad the Food Safety Promotion Board has been set up, it is just the beginning. I am concerned about the whole health picture and am well aware of the growing co-operation on a daily basis between both parts of the island. The royal colleges have existed as all island bodies for 300 years in the case of the College of Physicians and 200 in the case of the College of Surgeons. An all-island public health institute was set up in Dublin last year, the chairperson of which is a Belfast woman. Practical issues make people realise the importance of co-operation.

Hospital plans for Northern Ireland and the Republic are currently being considered. We would be well advised to co-operate in this area because the number of hospitals in Ireland must be reduced. Decisions on what hospitals should go should be made bearing in mind what is best for people on both sides of the Border. Consultants in health board areas adjacent to the Border are currently being shared between the two jurisdictions and many general practices are also co-operating. There is also co-operation in regard to services for mental handicap. We must keep practical considerations to the fore.

I really believe we are on the road to success when I see the Reverend William McCrea and Mr. Martin McGuinness both campaigning in the Assembly for the retention of Dungannon hospital in order that pregnant constituents who have handcuffed themselves to the beds there will not have to move to Craigavon hospital. This is co-operation at its greatest. I hope this Bill will place an emphasis on practical issues, such as health.

Senator Hayes and several others spoke about putting the past behind us. We must also become very active about the future, particularly from a practical point of view. I have been involved in health and education research and it was rather depressing to discover that research funding for a project in Northern Ireland – which might be better associated with a project in the Republic – would receive more funding if it associated with a project in Great Britain. We must seek to ensure that this kind of practical issue does not arise in the future. We should ensure that research projects are judged on merit, not in regard to the jurisdictions in which they are carried out. Very few institutions can carry out major research work on their own and so must collaborate with others. If, for example, the incidence of problems in regard to homocysteine and heart disease would be best investigated on an all-island basis, it would be a pity if people in the University of Ulster felt they would be better off co-operating with researchers in Liverpool than Dublin because they would receive more funding. The implementation bodies must ensure those sort of issues are addressed. This is a very exciting day and I feel sure we can look forward to greater progress and co-operation in areas of practical significance to citizens on both parts of this island.

I am very proud to be in the Seanad today to witness the introduction of this important Bill which represents a fundamental step in the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement which the Irish people endorsed so strongly during 1998. The new cross-Border bodies will establish a true national identity as to their functions, which has not been experienced in the past. The Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of the six cross-Border institutions will provide a great challenge to all Irish people to work together to make our society more equitable and fair for the most vulnerable sections and to change remaining prejudices. They will serve to provide a future we can share and look forward to.

The establishment of the cross-Border institutions will provide the bed-rock for greater co-operation and development as time goes by. Trust, and the needs of our people, will provide us with an opportunity to extend the bodies' functions to change people's lives. Goodwill exists among the people to move forward to a more inclusive society.

I welcome the establishment of the institutions and think that as a basis of political and institutional development there is tremendous potential for them to become notable structures. The potential for development is unlimited. The Bill provides a framework for the establishment of positive structures on the basis of working together and putting our interests together for the development of our island as a whole. This will be an important element in planning, especially in the way we spend moneys and plan future developments.

There is tremendous potential in the context of Waterways Ireland for opening borders and building trust. It provides a great opportunity for expansion and interaction between people.

I also wish to refer to the Trade and Business Development Body. Prior to this there has been great interchange and cross-Border business development, particularly in the food and drink sectors. One only has to consider the agricultural sector and the number of excellent producers from Northern Ireland who sell huge quantities of produce to the South and attend the food and drink exhibitions in the RDS. Over the years they have built up great confidence in business, despite Border restrictions, etc., and they have been instrumental in the development of the food sector. A great opportunity for further development now exists, given the changes in the agri culture and food sectors, particularly as international promotions will be on a Thirty-two County basis.

The Special EU Programme Body has implications for both Governments as we must plan future funding in a coherent way on a Thirty-two County basis. This is very positive and such interaction will lead to a greater understanding, trust and confidence between people on the island. The interaction of our cultures, North and South, and the influences of the east-west dimension involving the Scottish and Welsh people will give rise to great opportunities. This can only lead to greater trust for the future.

I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Government, the officials, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and others who participated in bringing forward this Bill. It is important to mention the part played by Sinn Féin and the mature way in which it negotiated the changes in its own organisation which were necessary to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and this Bill. That party has shown a maturity which is welcome and which has allowed the situation to progress. I am sure it was very difficult to bring this about in the context of the party's structures. Such maturity must be recognised and respected.

It is also important to respect, recognise and admire the great work of the Ulster Unionist Party, its recognition of the rights of the minority and its acceptance of political development, involving the participation of all the communities in the North and South. People such as John Hume, David Trimble, David Irvine and other public representatives, including my colleague, Senator Maurice Hayes, who serves on the police commission in the North, have given great support and understanding to political development both North and South. Their work is paying off in a very positive way.

Agreement and trust were the essential factors in forging the Good Friday Agreement. The inflexibility now shown in relation to decommissioning between Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party must not be allowed to continue. This difficulty between both sides must be resolved and the basis of trust and understanding which flows through the Agreement must underpin this issue. This is the important base from which we can resolve the few outstanding issues which are creating uncertainty. The progress made so far must be considered and brought to bear on the little inflexibility being currently shown. The maturity shown to date should be sufficient to bring confidence to the parties and allow them jump that hurdle. Progress can be brought about on the basis of the strength of participation shown to date.

I look forward to the establishment of the new Executive, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. These institutions will provide a new national concept in the context of the Bill and will bring forward a new national identity. They will also bring about enormous change to the economic, political and social structures in Ireland into the next century.

I welcome the Bill and am delighted to take part in the debate on it.

I welcome the Bill. I have great hope for its substance and its objectives and I congratulate those involved in bringing developments to this stage. Many people have been involved and we know the amount of work which has gone into the process, both at the highest level of leadership and from the many officials on both sides.

We are putting in place a statutory framework for the British-Irish Agreement and the documents signed on 8 March, and establishing the practical bodies to ensure we can fulfil the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement. The legislation concerns the North-South Ministerial Council, which is a natural interlocking and interrelated body of the Assembly, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Fundamentally, we are talking about North-South and east-west relations.

As many Members said, this is an historic and defining moment. We are approaching the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and we are on the eve of the Millennium. We are at the point where 30 years of violence is, hopefully, finally coming to an end. We expect a new dawn.

In the past we thought we had reached defining moments. We thought the Sunningdale agreement of 1974 was a way through the violence to a peaceful solution. It was the first brave attempt at power sharing. Unfortunately, it faltered, although not through a lack of activity, energy or good work and intention on the part of those directly involved. In the main it faltered through a lack of firm leadership on the part of the Government involved.

A second substantial effort was made to bring about a solution with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In that instance a totally different approach was taken with the two Governments making an over-arching arrangement concerning the conduct of relations between the two islands. This Agreement did have firm leadership but a limited amount of democracy and limited means by which the people on the island and in Northern Ireland could have any say in the running of their affairs. It made progress but it could not be the ultimate solution.

Further progress was made in the 1990s with the production of various documents and the interaction between the two Governments and the US Government. The 1994 ceasefire was the next substantial effort to bring about a solution. That solution did not come about because of a lack of firm leadership. The ceasefire ran into the sand and violence erupted again.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Superb organisation and leadership were involved in the framing the Agreement which puts in place a skilled and complex inter-related range of structures and activities. I compliment the great work done by the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and the US President who participated with all the parties to the Agreement, the end result of which is before the House.

Since the signing of the Agreement we have had 12 months of relative peace. However, there has been the worst tragedy since the Troubles began with the horrific bombing in Omagh. On both sides of the island, there is a worrying range of punishment beatings and paramilitary activities. They have not gone away and a strong potential for violence lurks under the surface as manifested in the extent of violence by paramilitaries on both sides.

While we have had 12 months of relative peace we do not have a permanent peace. We are coming to the defining moment when decisions will have to be taken. The Secretary of State has postponed the establishment of the Executive by one month to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The anniversary of the signing of the Agreement falls on 2 April and that is the final moment for putting together the package which is so eagerly sought.

Much work has been done by the two Governments. They have always acted in good faith. This may not have been so perceptible in the 1970s and 1980s but they are now at one and are anxious to see a resolution which will bring peace to both communities. They have shown their good faith by the way in which they have responded to the terms of the Agreement in so far as is within their ambit. There has been an accelerated programme of prisoner releases. No one has been waiting for the full implementation of the Agreement to begin that process.

The Patten commission is considering the reform of the RUC and will report in a few months. A commission on decommissioning chaired by General de Chastelain has been engaged in an intensive round of negotiations with all concerned. There has also been a significant level of demilitarisation – barracks have been closed, troops have been withdrawn and high profile, armed military activity has decreased considerably.

The Governments have been patient midwives in implementing this process but it is now a question of the ability of the parties involved to deliver on their commitment to the process. The parties have been active and supportive of the process and they must face up to the entirety of that process and facilitate its further development. It will be difficult to go further without dealing with serious questions, particularly decommissioning. This issue has almost become a precondition in the rhetoric of one side and its absence is a precondition in the rhetoric of the other.

The marching season will soon begin. People have been marching in Drumcree for the whole year and marking the anniversary of that event with weekly displays of opposition to the situa tion which exists there. However, we cannot progress unless the issue of decommissioning is resolved. I have faith in General de Chastelain's ability to construct a formula. He will only have one opportunity to do so but that opportunity is upon us. Over the next four weeks we will see the realisation of this opportunity. I have always been an optimist and the resolution of this issue will involve the two Governments, the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and the President of the US. The flurry of activity taking place is very important and is at the same intensity as that which took place 12 months ago.

This Bill involves the practical implementation of the Agreement, the breaking down of barriers and the creation of structures which will allow pluralism to develop. We have always had an absence of pluralism. There has been a physical and geographic Border which divided the communities but we have also had a psychological border in people's minds. The Bill includes proposals for North-South structures in terms of a North-South Ministerial Council with various implementation bodies and proposals for a Council of the Isles. The North-South Ministerial Council is essential to providing the level of consultation, co-operation and action which will realise some meaningful activity on both sides of the Border and in a cross-Border manner.

Very relevant implementation bodies have been chosen. Some might say they lack substance but they cover the entire gamut of human activity. They relate to water, food, language and trade. In addition, the European Union Programmes Body will provide a large number of co-operative initiatives. I understand INTERREG, Leader, the programme for peace and reconciliation and a new programme, Equal, are likely to appear in the new Community Initiatives. What timescale is involved in terms of the European Union's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the Community Initiatives and special programmes? Will it involve only the current negotiating period from 2000-6 or a longer term commitment to ongoing programmes under the special EU initiative? Will the Minister indicate the amount of funding which will be made available for the initiatives which will be set up under the special programmes?

Waterways Ireland is an important development which will embrace the entire island in a geographical and symbolic sense. My constituency, Dublin Central, is located on the River Liffey, which is one of the country's main waterways. If the Minister has difficulty locating bases for some of the implementation bodies, I would be happy to suggest a site.

So would I.

I am sure Senator Gallagher could pinpoint one in Tullamore and there might be another one in Cork in Senator Ryan's area. However, the River Liffey would be an ideal spot. The Taoiseach might be interested in this suggestion also.

The Food Safety Promotion Board is also extremely important in view of the discussions which took place in Brussels in recent days in agriculture. It is obvious that a new approach to how this island is promoted as a green, clean source for the production of food is needed. An enormous amount of work can be done in that regard on a joint North-South basis.

The North-South Language Body is important for Scots Gaelic, the Irish language and the Manx language on the Isle of Man and the associated heritage. They are all-embracing activities. With regard to the Trade and Business Development Body, I hope some of our economic success can be exported across the Border. The six bodies are most welcome.

The Bill does not deal in detail with the structure and format of the east-west arrangements. In so far as practical implementation and putting in place structures which will unite the people on the islands are involved, more teasing out and a more detailed presentation is required on how east-west matters will progress. This would be particularly useful for the Unionists in Northern Ireland who have a greater natural affinity with Scotland, England and Wales than other traditions on the island.

What will be the composition of the British-Irish Council? How many countries or jurisdictions will it involve? What will be the totality of representation on the council? How will its membership be determined? Will it be on the basis of the two sovereign Governments which will have the lion's share of representation or will it involve some form of equality in terms of representation? Whatever about locating the waterways body on the Liffey, where will the new council be based? Will it be located on one of the islands? Will it be based in Iona, as suggested previously, which was the centre of early Celtic and Christian civilisation? It may be remote but it has links with all the areas that are likely to make up the British-Irish Council. I am sure certain people would find it useful for their off-shore accounts. However, Iona should be considered in the deliberations.

What will be the future of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body? How will it fit in? What will be its role in terms of the east-west relationship given that a new body will be established? What will the body do? Will it have any statutory or legislative powers? Will it be an implementation body that will concentrate on co-operation on cultural arrangements or will it be more formally structured in terms of the implementation bodies which will be established as semi-State bodies with their own boards and executives?

A voluntary structure is missing from the proposals. There is no citizens' forum and ordinary communities, North and South, would like a structure which would act as a clearing house. This is not covered by the implementation bodies. It could be a mechanism which would allow ordinary people, North and South, operating in a voluntary capacity to interact and make links in various organisations.

I am delighted to welcome the Bill. This is a day of hope. It is the beginning of the maturing of relationships between the people on the island and I am optimistic for the future.

Ba mhaith fáilte mór a chuir roimh an mBille seo. Is lá stairiúl é seo. It is a day we never thought we would see and it is another step on the road to lasting peace and prosperity. No part of the country has suffered more than my area of north Sligo and north Leitrim as a result of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

I recall the exodus of people on 29 September 1969, towing their caravans from Galway and other parts back to the North. This was the first day of serious trouble in Northern Ireland and it robbed us economically. We lost our tourism industry and much cross-Border business. At that time there was no difference in prices between the North and South and there was great co-operation in many areas, including tourism and electricity supply. The day a young man tried to dismantle the electricity link between North and South was sad. Unfortunately, he was burned to a cinder, although he was successful in breaking the link.

Only ten years ago the North-Western and North-Eastern Health Boards established co-operation with the health services in the North. I was the chairman of the health board at the time and I was delighted co-operation and a good working relationship was established. Thankfully, this remains.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

I was speaking before the break about the unpleasantness in the North and the damage that caused to the tourism industry not only in my part of the country but in the country as a whole. Since the first ceasefire in 1994 there has been a marked improvement in numbers visiting the country. The publicity Ireland received during the Troubles kept people away.

We are now at a critical and difficult stage. As the song says, "The longest mile is the last mile home", and that is certainly the case for the peace process. I appeal to the media not to tell people of different parties what they said 12 months ago or at other periods and try to box them in so that they give answers they perhaps never intended to give thus causing further dissent. They should play a positive role and give every help they can. There is a saying, "If we do not sow flowers in the path of life, let us not sow thorns". I appeal to the media to sow flowers.

I pay tribute to all Taoisigh from Charles Haughey to the current incumbent. They all played a part in this process. President John Fitz Gerald Kennedy said, "Success has 40 fathers, but failure dies an orphan". While I pay tribute to them all, I mention two in particular. Deputy Albert Reynolds took a major step forward when he brought Sinn Féin to Government Buildings. He received much criticism for it, nevertheless it was the right move. He took another big step when he brought about the first ceasefire. The current Taoiseach has played a major role. All of us know the trauma of losing a mother. We have only one and it is a sad occasion when she dies. It is a time when one remembers one's childhood. During those sorrowful days, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, stayed with the peace process night and day.

I was delighted President Clinton was not impeached. He has been the greatest ambassador for peace in this country. He played a leading role. He stayed up at night keeping the phone lines open between the British Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the various political parties to iron out problems in the Good Friday Agreement. That was wonderful work, and we should not forget those people.

I appeal to all politicians in the North to heed the words of Thomas Davis:

What matter that at different shrines we pray unto one God?

What matter that at different times your fathers won this sod?

In fortune and in name we're bound by stronger links than steel;

And neither can be safe nor sound than in each other's weal.

That is as true today as ever. We must unite to work together and co-operate. I congratulate Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams for coming together. If they can sit at the same table to sort out their problems, surely the people in the wider area and their supporters should back them. I appeal to them to do that, and I hope a form of words will be found and that both sides will compromise. Politics is the art of compromise. Unless there is compromise, we will not have peace.

There have been sad times in the North. The Civil War created great divisions. It took almost 50 years to heal the rift. During the Second World War – the Emergency – the Local Defence Force and Local Security Force were formed and people of all groups and parties came together. This also helped heal the rift. However, the rift is wider in Northern Ireland than here because many people have lost their sons, daughters, fathers or mothers. In such circumstances it is hard to be tolerant or forgiving, but there have been atrocities on both sides. I appeal to the two sides to try to come together. Time is a great healer and those sorrows can be healed.

The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland said when the Sunningdale Agreement broke down that it would take 20 years before we would reach that level again; it took 25. I hate to think what would happen if this peace process broke down. There would be a bloody war in Ireland. For all our sakes, I appeal to people to sit down, compromise and give peace a chance, because all can be gained by peace but only hardship can be gained through war. I pay tribute to all who have brought the peace process so far and look forward to a peaceful and pleasant Ireland where the people, North and South, can unite and work for the betterment of all.

Today is an historic day, it is as historic as the day the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was debated. The Bill is being debated in a more constructive and less heated manner than the Treaty. We have progressed and matured dramatically in our political and personal thinking and in our vision of Ireland and its place in Europe and the world. The parties which have led us to this stage which has borne fruit in the form of the British-Irish Agreement Bill, 1999, must be highly commended. Everyone involved at all levels – the membership of both Governments involved in negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement, the various political parties of both Nationalist and Unionist views, the parliamentarians from Great Britain, the private people and organisations which made contact with various parties over the years who drew people together and got them to talk informally and understand from where each side was coming – must be commended and complimented for their wonderful work. The officials from all sides, from the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Marine and Natural Resources and Education and Science here and in Great Britain must be complimented on the trojan work done in a diligent and committed fashion long into the night in many cases.

Finally, we have a Bill before us which will implement part of the Good Friday Agreement by establishing the Ministerial Council and the Ministers of State in the British-Irish Council. This must be warmly welcomed and highly commended.

When the debate on joining the European Community took place in 1972, we heard a great deal of scaremongering about the future of our identity and sovereignty. All the arguments put forward at that stage have proven false. On the contrary, since Ireland became a member of the EU our identity as a nation and a people has strengthened, not only on this island but right across Europe and the world. Fears were expressed when we joined the Community that by participating in this massive union we would lose our cultural identity and that our language, music and traditions would become less identifiable. On the contrary, Europeans have become extremely interested in what we have to offer on a cultural level. Our traditional music, song and dance have gone from strength to strength and have received acclaim throughout the world. People from all over Europe come to Ireland to listen and partake in our cultural activities. Therefore, we need not be fearful of change or wider involvement with cultures and backgrounds which are different from our own. The real issue is that the two communities on this island can involve themselves in a practical, pragmatic way to live in harmony and peace for the overall benefit of all communities.

Compliments were paid earlier by various speakers to the various representatives of the political parties. It is right that the leadership of the Unionist and Nationalist communities would be complimented. Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams undoubtedly faced great difficulty within their respective parties in bringing to fruition what has been achieved. They must be complimented on their courage and the steps they had to take to bring their parties to that point. It took a major change of heart. The fact that they have been supported by their parties is commendable, as is the mature approach with which both parties view the overall situation.

The assistance provided by the American Government, President Clinton in particular, and former Senator George Mitchell, must also be put on the record. In the final analysis, without the assistance from the US we would not be in a position to debate this Bill.

One could argue, of course, that the Bill divides or shares the powers of this and the other House with Northern Ireland. It is commendable that we are doing so because we are showing that we are mature. This is just a small island on the periphery of Europe. We need to survive on the European and world stages, and we can only do so with co-operation and the effective meeting of minds and hearts on all sides.

The proposals for specific bodies in the Bill relate to pragmatic areas. I would have preferred to see even more detailed proposals on a political front but I am sure that, in time, there will be greater political involvement at a legislative level.

The specific details of the implementation body on food safety is commendable, particularly given that there has been so much cross-Border trade. Much of this trade, in the form of cattle, was illicit. Senator Leonard is present and I recall her father referring to what happened across the Border in debates on agriculture over the years. Now there will be an all-Ireland body engaged in greater vigilance and work to enhance rather than detract from these activities. It will bring a degree of formality to the conduct of business. That is commendable.

An organisation will be set up to foster trade and business development. That is extremely commendable because over the years there has been informal contact. IBEC and other organisations have operated North and South of the Border. It is interesting, however, that there was much less trade between Northern Ireland and the South than in other jurisdictions where similar borders existed. I hope the opportunity for trade between the two communities will be enhanced and will increase in the years ahead.

I am interested in the development of Waterways Ireland and the immediate transfer to it of the Shannon-Erne waterway. All navigable waterways will be transferred by 1 April 2000 and there will be three regions. I hope the Minister will be in a position to elaborate on what exactly is envisaged in that area in his concluding remarks because it involves the fishing, boating and other interests of many communities across the country. What will happen to existing harbour authorities on these waterways in 2000? What will be the legal position of the existing harbour authorities, such as the Shannon Estuary Harbour Authority? Will they be affected? Will there be a new scenario? The harbour authority at New Ross is another in which Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, might be interested. It would be nice to get some clarification on these issues and how they will be managed because a great deal of work and consultation will be needed. It is important that there be no rancour and that it is done with goodwill.

There is huge potential for tourism in this area. A greater movement of tourists between North and South can be developed with the opening up of that waterway connection for the sake of the two communities. There were difficulties with marine related matters in the past, such as the rod licence dispute. Being aware of the sensitivities in this and in the harbour areas, it is important to view this matter carefully.

It is to everyone's advantage that we co-operate closely on the question of EU membership and work jointly in procuring the best possible advantage for all of Ireland from the various EU programmes. Mr. Trimble and Mr. Mallon recently went like John the Baptist to Brussels and Bonn to support both Governments. Their action was a precursor of the Special EU Projects Body and I hope such co-operation will continue.

I welcome the fact that the London based Commissioners for Irish Lights will be replaced by the General Lighthouses Authority for the island of Ireland. This will be an advantage to the whole of Ireland. I hope that when the new body is operational it will take a negative view of the proposal which has been made to the Commissioners for Irish Lights to erect a Loren C mast on Loop Head.

We are at an important point in our history. I hope the issue of arms decommissioning will be resolved soon and that the Northern Ireland Executive will be established on a formal footing so that work can commence to benefit the communities in Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland.

Everyone who has had any part in the development of this issue must realise that 30 years of violence must come to an end. Thousands of families from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland have suffered appallingly because of the political situation. It behoves all of us to ensure that this conflict comes to a peaceful and satisfactory conclusion. For the people who have suffered in the conflict, the Agreement is the silver lining of a cloud that has hovered for 30 years. They deserve equality of status regardless of their class or creed. There will be no place for violence in the new political culture. I commend all those involved for the work they have done to date and I wish them every success in the future.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I had the privilege of listening to the Minister for Foreign Affairs this morning when he introduced the Second Stage. This is an historic day for Seanad Éireann. I am happy to say that Senator Manning's contribution was positive and that the Senator was at his best when speaking this morning. We should reflect carefully on what he said about this legislation.

This is an historic day in the development of the Agreement which was signed on Good Friday last year. It marks the beginning of the end of the divisions which have beset this country. This legislation does not mark the conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement but it puts flesh on the bones of that Agreement. The six bodies established by the Bill may not be all-embracing but they cover a broad spectrum of what is needed to bring the two parts of Ireland together in an economic, social and fundamental way.

No one can say that problems do not lie ahead in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. Senator Quinn and others referred to arms decommissioning. This issue is part of the Agreement but it will not destroy the Agreement. A timescale for decommissioning has been laid down. If all the armaments in Northern Ireland were decommissioned today they could be replaced tomorrow with arms bought on the side of the street in many countries throughout the world. I would not like to see the resolution of the difficulties between Britain and Ireland and between the two parts of Ireland derailed because of an obsession with decommissioning.

It is important that the IRA recognises that the majority of people inside and outside Ireland do not want to see the resumption of the tragedies that have beset this island and Great Britain for too long. Too many innocent people have been killed indiscriminately by the godfathers of violence who implemented violence from the comfort of their homes outside the areas of conflict.

Last week this House discussed the question of the Kurds and the return to Turkey of Mr. Ocalan. He has not been in Turkey since 1984 but he brought about the systematic killing of people in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Some say that if he had returned to Turkey he would have been killed. If that had happened, the lives of thousands of people, Kurds, Turks, Syrians, Iraqis or Israelis, might have been saved. I cannot condemn too strongly the godfathers of violence.

The six bodies which this Bill establishes are very important because they bring together many activities including trade and transport. It is very important that the promotion of the Irish language and the Ulster Scots connection be provided for. A survey published last week shows that the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht has decreased dramatically. The new North/South Language Body embracing both parts of the island might give an impetus to the establishment of a responsible and effective body for the promotion of the ethnic languages on the island.

The Trade and Business Development Body is extremely important. However, it cannot be totally successful, because, irrespective of how it is developed, as long as we have different taxation regimes in the North and South it cannot be anything other than a promotion body for the island. A large number of companies will still be attracted to the South by the 10 per cent and 12.5 per cent company tax rate. Their headquarters and capital development programmes will be in the South but, under the present regime, there is a possibility that the majority of the jobs will be in the North. They will not be successful because they will be labour intensive.

It is vitally important to have North-South coherence on the formulation of programme proposals under the next round of EU Community initiatives. As was said this morning, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, together with the Taoiseach and their officials, did an exceptional job in securing an excellent boost for the Irish economy and farmers – out of what seemed to be nothing – within the reform of the CAP and the anti-farmer lobby in Europe. If there had been a coherent approach by the northern and southern agriculture sectors, the northern farmers would have done much better in the CAP negotiations. As a result of the negotiations of the past few days, the southern farmer will be significantly better off than his northern counterpart. This is due to the strength of our negotiating agriculture team compared with the weakness of the British team. It is a matter for Great Britain how it deals with the problems of the countryside and farming. The current British Parliament is not rural oriented, whereas we still have a good rural orientation in the Oireachtas.

It makes excellent sense for us to have an overall tourism promotion package for the North and South. Rivers and people cross borders. When I went to Donegal last weekend I was pleased to find that one is no longer stopped at Aughnacloy. I did not see one RUC man or any indication of a military presence, not that I was worried about that, on my way through the North. It often took a long time to drive through Aughnacloy and I hope the removal of that division will be enhanced by this legislation. I was once pulled in outside Strabane, just across the Border from Lifford, and had to wait four hours while they took the seats out of my car. I did not think that, in my lifetime, I would be able to drive in my lifetime from Lifford to Strabane, to Omagh and on to Aughnacloy without seeing the physical presence of a military establishment. I am delighted by that.

Some 880 jobs will be created, although there has been no indication whether civil servants will be seconded to them. I hope the board member ship of the four bodies will not be chosen on the basis of proportionality but that the members will have expertise in the areas for which they will be responsible. I am not suggesting it was wrong for political parties to have had an input into the selection of board members in the past – I have the greatest regard for 99 per cent of the members of State boards, irrespective of which Government appointed them. However, in the new era of responsibility, the balance should be in favour of expertise rather than political allegiance.

Senators Manning and Taylor-Quinn referred to the Irish Lights Commission. It is not an area of major concern to me because the Irish Lights ships are no longer manned, with 90 per cent of the workforce gone. My wife's first cousin was in charge of the last Irish Lights ship. He says it is a pity they are gone but, c'est la vie.I thank everyone who was involved in the Good Friday Agreement on the British and Irish sides – the civil servants, Oireachtas Members, the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland and all the politicians in the North from all sides of the political spectrum – for getting us to the stage where the Oireachtas can pass this legislation. It has been said we have not had much time to discuss the detailed provisions of the Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill should be recommended very highly and should be passed as quickly as possible.

This is a hugely important and welcome day. I congratulate all those involved – advisers, civil servants, politicians of various parties and many people on the ground on both sides of the Border. It is a tremendous achievement to have come this far and to see this legislation. It is mindboggling, in the context of what we have been through over the past 30 years, that we now have joint legislation which covers the whole island.

This Bill addresses the central aspect of the Good Friday Agreement, but it should be seen in the wider context. The first aspect of the Agreement was the establishment of state Departments in Northern Ireland. That is hugely important and relates to many matters in the Bill which refer to specific Departments.

The reason I mentioned them is that I greatly welcome the introduction of more normal politics to Northern Ireland. As someone who has work responsibilities there and deals with issues there on a daily basis, I look forward to the time when we will have politicians from the North, who were elected by people in the North, having responsibilities in the North. These are important aspects. This will not quite be a first, in that Mr. Mawhinney was a native of Northern Ireland; however, he was as distant from the needs of the people there as anyone I have ever seen. I look forward to dealing with people in charge of Departments in the North who, I hope, will make a serious difference. Going beyond that, today's legislation dealing with the implementation bodies would fit in snugly with it and, as an adjunct to it, will be the areas of co-operation which were also mentioned in the original document. They include areas of great interest to me, for example, education.

Beyond that the Council of the Isles will have a different impact. It is important that in considering the impact of these different structures, we do so, not on the basis of the threat they might pose, but on the basis of the great potential and opportunity which lie in us making decisions for the two islands together and this island as one. The issues of a united Ireland and our relationship with Westminster and Britain will change forever in a most positive way. It is important that we make these arrangements work.

I do not have time to go through all the legislation but I want to focus on a number of issues, the first one being Gaeilge. I resent the way Gaeilge has been captured by one part of the community on this island, especially by one part of the community in the North.

Hear, hear.

The Nationalist side has used it as a divisive tool to separate people. They have almost used the language as a weapon and I resent and regret that. As someone who received his education through Irish and who never spoke English to a teacher until third level and as someone who loves the language and uses it on a daily basis, I find the way it has been purloined into a weapon of war and the way the other side has accepted it as a symbol of opposition, absolutely extraordinary. It saddens me.

From that perspective I welcome greatly the Government's decision to identify Bord na Gaeilge as the progressive side of the Irish language movement in this country. It represents that which is good amongst those promoting the language. They do not see the language as clubby, divisive or elitist but as something for the people to be spread among the people. I welcome that and have great confidence in Bord na Gaeilge, a confidence I would not extend to some of the other eagrais atá i bhfeighil na Gaeilge agus a bhfuil sé mar aidhm acu athbheochan na Gaeilge a thabhairt i gcrích. Ní bheidh athbheochan na Gaeilge againn sa tír seo ach tá gach seans ann leis seo go mbeidh níos mó measa ag daoine ar an teanga ná mar a bhí riamh cheana. De réir an méid atá sa Bhille seo inniu, bheadh stádas ag an teanga nach raibh aici riamh cheana.

I look forward to the time when people from the other tradition see the language as part of their culture. I know that this may be the stuff of rose-tinted spectacles but if we could get to a point where there is respect and interest, people could learn more from it.

I believe those who pushed Gaeilge as an important issue needing a department in Northern Ireland with responsibility for it will rue the day. It was used as a weapon in negotiations. I am delighted a department of state will have responsibility for Irish but it will create a huge challenge to people who are unable to deal with it. I have dealt with many of those who pushed for department of state for the language in the North and I have rarely met a less progressive group of people. I have rarely met a group of people who have done more damage to the language. I cannot put it in stronger terms.

In my vision of Gaeilge on this island, a child from the Gaeltacht in Donegal could continue his or her education through Irish in Coleraine, Ballymena or wherever he or she wants, within financial limits and constraints. Everybody on our side agrees with that, but the corollary of that is that the teacher from the Protestant Unionist tradition in Ballymena who wishes to take up a job in Drogheda or Dingle should be able to do so without being excluded because of his or her lack of Irish or his or her attitude towards it. That balance must exist.

It is important for the implementation body that we do not allow the so-called United Irelanders to push us into a partitionist education policy. Every time I discuss this with them, they come up with one system for the North and another for the South. That will not work any longer. I hope that in this implementation process there will be rules for the whole island which will mean concessions and progress from both sides in order to achieve a working solution which will be appreciated and respected.

It would be a mistake to think we can have Gaeilge as a compulsory subject in two thirds of the island and non-compulsory in the rest of the island. I have argued with Ministers in the North to get support for Irish language education which has been greatly undervalued and under-resourced. I have visited every Irish language school in the North, and they do tremendous work. They involve community spirited people with a huge amount to offer and they need support. The most positive element arising from the Good Friday Agreement is that they have found their place in the sun and they deserve it.

However, I do not want to create a ghetto. I do not want to allow people who pretend they have the interests of Ireland and its language at heart to push us into a corner; to put a barrier around my language as a division against the rest of the people with whom I share this island. I feel very strongly about that.

Muna dtarlaíonn sé go bhfuil meas ag daoine i ngach aird den tír seo ar an teanga, ní eireoidh lei. Ní féidir dul ar aghaidh le córas amháin do chúrsaí teangan sa Tuaisceart agus córas eile sa Deisceart. Caithfimid a thuiscint go mbaineann an Ghaeilge le cultúr na tíre ar fad – leis na hAondachtóirí, na Caitlicigh, na Protastúnaigh agus mar sin de. No matter what their outlook or attitude, there must be a relationship between them and the language.

Sin í an aidhm a bheidh againn leis an mBille seo inniu. Muna bhfuil Gaeilge éigin ag pobal uilig an oileáín seo agus gaol éigin acu leis an teanga, níl ag éirí linn. We do not want people to be remote from the language. I do not mind them discussing it and having views on it. They do not have to be able to speak it le go mbeadh tuairim acu ar an teanga.

I do not want people to be excluded.

In the west Kerry Gaeltacht we know and accept that if two people are speaking in Irish and a third person who does not speak Irish joins the conversation, we must change to English. That is normal practice in any part of the world. It is only good manners and I would like to see more of it among Gaeilgeoirí on the east coast. I do not want to allow policy in this sensitive area to be directed by people who are Irish language speakers only, people who have clear and inflexible views on it. It is hugely important that those put in charge have vision, openness, inclusiveness and a sense of Ireland, that is, a sense of all people in Ireland from both cultures.

I would like to develop this point to consider where Gaeilge interacts with other areas, for example education. A crucial point is the recognition of qualifications. We currently have an extraordinary circumstance whereby teachers trained in the South are fully recognised in the North, but teachers trained in the North are not recognised in the South. This is a matter for ministerial decision. Because of decisions made by the last two Ministers for Education, after a period of three years, people trained in the North will be recognised in the South. We have also got to the stage where people qualified in the North with an Irish language qualification are recognised in the South. If a teacher who graduates from Stranmillis College in Belfast wishes to apply for a job in a school in the Irish Republic, they must pass a difficult examination in what is known as scrúdú cáilíochta na Gaeilge, and if they wish to teach in a Catholic school, they must have a diploma in the teaching of religion – in other words, they are being excluded.

Recently just three miles from here, a school without a teacher, having gone through due process, was not allowed appoint a teacher who was of the wrong religion. I sweated blood in this House last year during the debate on employment equality legislation, but I lost the argument. However, I now see the results. This week I spoke to a Protestant teacher with superb qualifications who cannot be employed in a Catholic school because of these ridiculous regulations, which we are all part of and which we said were important. This is not a sense of Ireland.

I represent an organisation which has in the main in the North a Catholic membership, even though the rules of the organisation are that it should be open in every way and that it cannot be racist, sexist or discriminate against people on the basis of religion. However, the reality is that my colleagues in the Ulster Teachers' Union in the North represent in the main Protestant teachers and my organisation represent Catholic teachers. Both organisations work closely together, sharing views and advising each other. We are aware of what is wrong but there is very little we can do about it. I hope that what is taking place today will help move matters forward.

I would like to have as an objective the Treaty of Rome with the free movement of people and the free recognition of their qualifications throughout the island. It would be good to begin with education and Gaeilge so that parents, pupils and teachers could move freely between institutions and structures North and South. This does not seem like an impossible dream – I will believe it when I see it.

I welcome the Minister of State here to discuss one of the most important pieces of legislation introduced in this House in the last 60 years. This is important legislation given the effect it may have on some of the southern Border counties, which have either most to gain or lose by the progress or non-progress of the peace process. I have said before in this House and elsewhere, that the Border counties, particularly Cavan and Monaghan, have been in limbo because very often people south of and including Dublin believe the Border counties are part of Northern Ireland. Because of the Troubles over the last 30 years, these counties have been hindered in their economic development and in the tourism industry, mainly due to the adverse publicity which has always been the hallmark of Northern Ireland. The only industries that have developed and continue to be successful are indigenous, where people are loyal to their counties and their workforce.

I want to express the gratitude of people, North and South, to all those involved in bringing the peace process to the stage it is at today. I want to mention in particular the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the British Prime Minister and all political leaders in Northern Ireland for their continued efforts, despite many hurdles, in bringing the process to this stage. At present, the media are concentrating on the decommissioning issue. I do not intend to home in on the impasse which exists at present, but I understand the difficulties both leaders in Northern Ireland are experiencing. They must deal with their own parties and no one wants to be seen to lose face or to give in on any issue. However, the future of this country is more important than any individual, and I appeal to both leaders to do whatever it takes to solve this problem.

Unfortunately, politics in Northern Ireland has been dealing mainly with Unionists against Nationalists, Catholics against Protestants. Therefore, it is a change for politicians in the North to have to deal with democratic politics. This Bill is a major step towards the inclusion of politicians in Northern Ireland in basic politics.

The setting up of the Board of Inland Waterways will be a great opportunity for the development of tourism in the Border counties, particularly in my county. Under the Bill appropriate studies and appraisals will take place in relation to the possible restoration of the Ulster Canal. The Bill reads that: ". . . the Body will, with effect from such date as NSMC may decide, be responsible for the restoration of the Ulster Canal and, following restoration, for its management, maintenance and development. . . " If restored, the Ulster Canal will run from Lough Neagh, connecting with Lough Erne, and on to the Shannon. This project will result in an ideal opportunity for cross-Border co-operation. I have had a number of discussions with the Taoiseach on the issue and he outlined that the First Minister, Mr. Trimble, is in favour of pursuing the project. This will cost in excess of £100 million and we will be depending on EU funding. However, it is an opportunity which cannot be missed because it will have consequences for tourism and the development of many rural villages and towns that have been damaged by the Troubles over the last 30 years. The restoration of the Ulster Canal will also be of economic benefit for counties Monaghan and Cavan. I hope we will bite the bullet on this issue because the restoration of the canal could be a flagship with enormous possibilities.

Perhaps I should put down a marker that there are a number of ideal locations in my county, particularly in Clones, which was particularly damaged being within one mile of the Border. This town has suffered untold damage as a result of the Troubles and Monaghan would be more than willing to accommodate such a body.

I also want to refer to the Food Safety Promotion Board. I wonder whether this body will be just a talking shop. The Bill says that the board will be responsible for the provision of safe food and that the responsibility is shared with producers, processors and distributors. The public is aware of food safety standards so it may be more appropriate if we use the Food Safety Promotion Board to promote Irish food abroad. A number of products are well known worldwide, for example, various alcoholic drinks and Kerrygold products.

County Monaghan produces 40 per cent of the turkeys and 100 per cent of the ducks for domestic consumption. There is also a strong mushroom industry in the county. These businesses and agricultural enterprises straddle the Border with their operations on both sides of it. This is an ideal opportunity to promote these products on an international basis.

With regard to the Special EU Programme's Body, we must note reports in today's press indicate that Ireland's future grant aid will be severely threatened with the new regional and social funding plan. All indications are that these funds will be reduced from the year 2000 and will have dried up by 2006. We were fortunate to be able to avail of the Cohesion Fund for the past number of years. In the future the Cohesion Fund will be evaluated on an annual basis. I hope we will have early disqualification from the fund because of the economic development in our area.

The Minister referred to a number of areas in his speech, particularly education and tourism. There are a number of projects taking place at present in which schools from the North and South participate. A number of pilot projects aimed at primary schools operate in my county linking three schools in the South and three schools in the North. They have developed an education programme and deal with a number of issues such as the background history of both schools, their progress to date and computer studies. They also communicate regularly using the Internet.

These programmes have resulted in participating children having a greater respect for children from a variety of religious backgrounds. My generation now brought up to be suspicious of our counterparts in the North. In order to rid ourselves of the hatred and suspicion and to create a better future we have to mould children at a young age.

My constituency is an inland county and its tourism industry is based on our rivers and lakes. On a national level my area has been ignored by Bord Fáilte along with a number of other counties in the midlands and the Border region. My constituency has more in common with Counties Armagh and Fermanagh. There is a great need and potential for the development of the tourism industry in these counties. An all-Ireland tourism body has not been set up yet but such a body would reap dividends.

I was born the year the Troubles started in the North. I live just a mile south of the Border and my mother's family live beside a military post in County Fermanagh so I have grown up with the Troubles. It is impossible to describe the change in attitudes on both sides of the Border which has been evident since the ceasefire was put in place. However, for as long as I have been crossing the Border I have always been met with courtesy by the military personnel. It is great that people can now walk the short distance across the Border to visit their relatives or friends without being stopped.

I am delighted to be here to discuss this Bill because it is one of the greatest items of legislation. People who have grown up with the Troubles can now enjoy peace and I hope the ceasefire in operation for the past few years will continue for the rest of my life and longer.

I was a member of the Peace and Reconciliation Forum which met in Dublin Castle in 1995 and 1996. While preparing for today's debate I reread my papers and reports from the forum. It is instructive to look at all the excellent work that was done with regard to the economies of the North, the South and along the Border. I was glad to see the amount of common interest that existed in those areas, although that common interest was very rarely realised in any way. There has not been a greater failure to create a single market for goods and services between two regions that had more in common.

Northern Ireland was never a viable economic entity on its own. Its overriding economic interests lay in a good relationship with the rest of the island and, indeed, the same can be said about the Republic of Ireland. It was particularly important at the time of independence because there were far more industries located in the North at that time. In 1920 Belfast city was larger than Dublin and it had the best industrial base on the island, yet we put up political and economic barriers between the two parts of Ireland.

In 1920 King George V opened the Northern Ireland Parliament and on that occasion he asked Irishmen on both sides to offer a hand of friendship to each other rather than pursue the madness which he saw at first hand. During the 1930s, commencing with the economic war, the economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland grew greater. The partitionist mentality was solidified and fortified even more so by the political attitude on this side of the Border, although there is much we could say about that on the other side of the Border towards that particular question. The very people who railed against partition in a political sense in these Houses, especially the leader of a major party in the other House, did more to build and consolidate partition than anybody else. It is strange that the barriers to trade which we introduced in 1930 at the commencement of the economic war or a little earlier were not done away with until the Anglo-Irish trade agreement of 1962. Those barriers remained solidly in place for more than 30 years.

It is against that background and in this context that I am delighted we have reached a day when these Houses are enacting such legislation. It establishes implementation bodies in six areas of activity, although I would have liked other areas to be added. Senator O'Toole spoke about education. I would like to have seen some educational initiatives here. I would also have liked to have seen initiatives in the prime economic area of agriculture. Surely we have a major common interest in that particular industry which, unfortunately, was not included. I take it that, as time goes by, these things will grow and they will be added on to the activities of these implementation bodies or, I hope, we may have separate implementation bodies for them.

One must also record regret that there is not an implementation body on structural matters, particularly in relation to roads, which would integrate the road, electricity and water systems on both sides of the Border because it makes economic sense and grows the level of political co-operation. It would build solidarity if these areas of activity were approached jointly with joint implementation bodies to oversee them.

Cohesion funding is particularly applicable to the five counties on our side of the Border, counties DonegaI, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, and are particularly relevant to the seven district council areas on the other side in Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry, Newry, Strabane, Omagh and Dungannon. I remember a report was done for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. There is little difference in terms of economic condition and characteristics. Both areas have some of the poorest regions on the island and comprise approximately 20 per cent of the land mass and 15 per cent of the population. One finds among those who are working of that 15 per cent that, generally speaking, their average income is lower. One finds the income arising from agriculture is lower on both sides of the Border. Their economic development has been stultified by the very same issues of violence and security which have impinged on economic growth and stimulation for over 70 years. All these things are common to these regions on both sides of the Border, and I have no doubt those people have to welcome this because they have been in the front-line of the conflict on this island.

I have much interest in tourism as I happen to be a director of one of the tourism boards. While I am naturally interested in what is said here, tourism is not specifically mentioned in terms of an implementation body but, nevertheless, the North-South Ministerial Council will have a major role in this regard. Tourism is extremely important to the Irish economy and is the second or third largest component of it. In pre-Troubles Northern Ireland, tourism was an extremely important component, but it was more than halved between 1968 and 1975. In fact, in those days for every three visitors to the island of Ireland, one was destined for Northern Ireland exclusively. That proportion of tourism take for the island declined from over 30 per cent in about 1968 or 1970, prior to the Troubles, to less than 20 per cent by the mid-1970s. It took until at least the late 1980s for Northern Ireland tourist numbers to get back to what they were in the late 1960s. Despite the influence of the Troubles on tourism in the Republic – this was referred to by a number of speakers, including Senator Farrell – it continued to grow and become an ever larger component of our economy.

The inheritance for Northern Ireland is that tourism is no longer a major component in its economy in the way it is a major component to the economy of Scotland, England – although one may find that difficult to believe – Wales and Ireland. That has been the damage to the economy of Northern Ireland and a major area of employment creation and what is called visible export. It has lost out to a greater extent than we have. No doubt the tourism initiatives which will be taken by the joint council of Ministers will be very welcome.

I particularly welcome the implementation body in relation to Waterways Ireland and the remarks in the Minister's speech and in the Bill about the Shannon-Erne system which will be taken over by the implementation body dealing with that area. That has been a singular success. I live very close to the River Shannon, a major component in the Shannon-Erne waterway system. I would like to make a pitch for Boyle which would be an ideal location for this particular body. Some 880 people will be employed, some of whom will be deployed from other areas, in these implementation bodies. It is a significant number which is to be welcomed because 1,000 people working on anything will have a major impact. I take it there will be good people who will push their agendas forward with good political direction.

The Minister said that, broadly speaking, the bodies will operate along the lines of semi-State agencies. Four of the bodies will have boards, viz., the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Trade and Business Development Body, the North-South Language Body and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. Waterways Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body will operate as executive agencies headed by chief executives reporting to the North-South Ministerial Council. I would like it to be located in a place like Boyle which happens to sit on the Shannon waterway. East Roscommon is bounded solely by the River Shannon and covers at least half the total length of the river.

The Special EU Programmes Body is particularly welcome. As a result of developments in the mid-1990s, such as the Downing Street Declaration and the ceasefire, the EU committed itself to a special development fund for the Border region. There is no doubt that there is need for integration in terms of how money is spent on both sides of the Border. Many administrative problems result from there not being a meeting of minds on how money is to be spent or a project aligned when it straddles both sides of the Border. I wish that implementation body every success. I hope its remit will not be confined to the Border counties in the Republic and the district councils in Northern Ireland in terms of the development of roads, telecommunications and energy sources but that it can be seen in an all-island context.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach seo inniu. Seo lá iontach tábhachtach i stair na tíre seo, go mbeimis anseo ag cur reachtaíocht trí Thithe an Oireachtais chun struchtúir agus áisineachtaí a bhunú ar mhaithe le comhoibriú idir an dá chuid den tír seo ar son an phobail ar fad.

I am deeply honoured and delighted to be a Member of this House on this historic day as legislation is passed which will set up implementation bodies for North-South co-operation in many areas of mutual benefit, especially trade, tourism and transport. The Bill will be expedited quickly with the full co-operation of all Members.

There is a need for urgency to ensure that the momentum of the Good Friday Agreement is not lost. There have been signs in recent months of a return to the old days with the increase in activity of illegal organisations. Indeed, the memory of the Omagh bombing is beginning to fade. The stand-off at Drumcree is ongoing with the new marching season just around the corner. The Leader of the DUP wants to add the name of David Trimble to those of Terence O'Neill, James Chichester-Clark and Brian Faulkner, men who tried to resolve our difficulties on this island.

Senator Hayes referred to the comments attributed to Brian Faulkner after the failure of the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement when he said that it would take 20 years to achieve anything comparable on this island. As Senator Hayes said, it took 25 years, but we may never have such an opportunity again if the Good Friday Agreement falls at the last hurdle. It should be remembered that subsequent to the failure of the 1974 agreement, party colleagues of Faulkner failed to receive a mandate in the next general election. We could face a similar parallel in the European elections in Northern Ireland as the DUP tries to turn the elections into a second referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

It is horrendous to think what could happen if we fail on this occasion. Everybody, North and South, loyalist and Nationalist, will be losers. We do not want another generation of misery. Mo Mowlam's words should be recalled. There is no big plan in place and there is no alternative to Mr. Trimble.

However, many signs of goodwill are present on this occasion which were was not there when Seán Lemass and Terence O'Neill met many years ago. Sinn Féin has the backing of both Governments to try and solve the problems that arise. It has the support of the Members of this House and most of the people on the island, except hardliners, to try and reach an accommodation. Unfortunately, that is the direction in which we will travel if solutions are not found in the coming weeks.

It appears that the British Government has given a three week stay to save the Agreement. Both Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party still provide hope through their willingness to meet and discuss the problems. The treaties before us pave the way for North-South bodies and the British-Irish Council. Both Governments have prepared the way for devolution and it is now up to the parties themselves to finish the job.

There are many signs of hope and goodwill. A simple example is the success of Ulster rugby and the way it embraced the entire island. I recall as a young man watching the Down team, with which Senator Hayes was closely associated, bring the Sam Maguire cup across the Border for the first time. There was goodwill on both sides of the Border among Nationalists and Unionists following the success of that team.

The Bill provides for the implementation of six bodies. The Trade and Business Development Body needs no discussion. The benefits that could be reaped with the development of trade are self-explanatory. The Food and Safety Promotion Board will promote safety and hygiene of food produced, distributed or marketed throughout the entire island. The quality of Irish food is famous throughout the world. Unfortunately, in recent years the same could not be said of food from Northern Ireland. Difficulties were seen during the recent BSE crisis because of Northern Ireland's link to Great Britain. I hope that I never again see the day that the Garda and Irish Army are positioned along the Border to monitor the movement of livestock. I hope that day is gone and that the North and South will work together for the benefit of the island and the full development of our food industry.

The Special EU Programmes Body will have a significant function in regard to the post-1999 Structural Funds and undertake grant administration and other managerial roles in respect of INTERREG and North-South elements of other initiatives. It will assist both Governments in their objective to get a special programme of funding for Northern Ireland and the Border counties in the post-1999 period for which there is a great need. Ireland is making a big issue of Objective One status and why all the counties in its application should be included. However, people in the rest of the country should think about the need for funding in the Border counties and Northern Ireland. The Border counties never received their fair share of EU funding under the peace and reconciliation programme.

The Foyle, Carlingford, and Irish Lights Commission Body will tap into the huge potential for development in aquaculture, angling and marine tourism in Counties Donegal and Louth. The under-development of aquaculture to date has been a serious concern in the Border region. There are many opportunities for employment in and development of the marine industry. Senator Manning referred to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. I cannot see why that has been highlighted because it has been an all-Ireland body since its inception.

I particularly welcome the North-South language body. It gives full recognition to the Irish language in Northern Ireland for the first time. Nowhere, apart from the Gaeltachtaí, has there been such use of and love for the Irish language as among the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. Nationalists have been frequent visitors to the Gaeltacht, particularly to my area of Donegal and the villages of Gweedore and Glencolumbkille. Many people who attended coláiste samhraidh during their primary and secondary school days continue to visit these areas on holiday for many years afterwards. I note the body will promote the Ulster Scots culture issue. We should remember that many people in Ulster are descendants of Scottish planters; there are also strong links between the Irish language and Scottish Gaelic.

Other speakers referred to Waterways Ireland which will be responsible for the promotion, marketing and development of our waterways. There is immense tourist potential for the country in this area. The Erne-Shannon waterway and the Ballinamore to Ballyconnell Canal are a start in this regard. I look forward to the linking of the Erne-Shannon waterway with Lough Neagh through the Ulster canal and on to the Lagan and Belfast. I hope it will be possible some day to travel from Limerick to Belfast by river and canal and also from Dublin to Ballyshannon. Any developments in this area will open up the beauty of Ireland, especially Northern Ireland and County Fermanagh. The lakes of Fermanagh are comparable any day to the lakes of Killarney.

In addition to the six implementation bodies, the Good Friday Agreement provides for other areas of co-operation. Northern Ireland political parties have identified six other areas for initial consideration through the North-South Ministerial Council. They include transport, agriculture, education, health, environment and tourism. I am glad the Agreement will result in the establishment by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board of a publicly owned company. The company will take over the activities of the existing overseas tourism marketing initiative. This is a welcome move and, on the basis of continued peace in our island, it will allay the fears of many people throughout the world who believe that the Troubles affected Cork and Galway to the same degree as Ballykelly, Omagh or Béal Feirste. The development of tourism on this island should be more integrated, and not just for the purpose of overseas marketing.

The Minister stated that the potential for co-operation which would mutually benefit both parts of this island has never been fully tapped. The tapping of this potential will be achieved particularly in regard to the development of the tourist industry. The magnificent development of the tourist industry in Kerry did not occur solely due to the county's natural beauty. The existence of Shannon Airport and the availability of State grant assistance to Bord Fáilte were major contributory factors. There is an international airport in Belfast and regional airports in Donegal and Derry. There are also places of natural beauty, such as the Glens of Antrim, the Giant's Causeway, the Mountains of Mourne, the lakes of Fermanagh, the Poison Glen in Dunlewy in Donegal and the hills of Donegal. We now need an integrated structure to develop tourist infrastructure in Ulster.

We, in Donegal, have suffered 30 years of the Troubles and have received insufficient State funding to develop our tourist industry. The Minister referred to the imminent need to decide on the location of the bodies' headquarters. Senators Leonard and Connor referred to the possibility of locating these in towns in their constituencies. A request was also made in the Lower House to locate bodies in Dundalk and Monaghan. I urge the Minister to consider County Donegal, a county which has suffered greatly economically as a result of the Troubles and the fact that it has been geographically cut off from the rest of the country by the Six Counties.

The costs involved in setting up the bodies will amount to £56 million. It has been suggested that £14 million will come from Britain and the balance from the Irish Government. I would have expected our neighbour to contribute more in view of our long history of turmoil and strife. Over the years, when the possibility of a United Ireland was mentioned, the costs involved were cited as one of the reasons it could never happen. The fact that there has been no objection to or negative media comment on the cost of establishing the implementation bodies, shows how much our economy has prospered in the past ten years.

I want to refer to some comments made earlier. I was not enamoured of the comments made by Senator Norris in regard to the issue of "no surrender". I thought we had left that behind us long ago. The Senator should remember that not all Unionists are fully in favour of the Agreement; indeed, the DUP is totally opposed to it. Neither do all Nationalists, particularly those in Northern Ireland, support Sinn Féin. The Senator's comments were very unfair.

I hope the Agreement is successful and that these bodies will be successfully established. I want to see the continuation of free movement along our Border. Senator Lanigan stated that when he visited Donegal last week, he was able to move around freely in the absence of Army checkpoints. I appreciate that free movement more than anyone else, having to cross the Border each time I travel to Dublin.

I wish the Bill a speedy passage. I referred to Mr. Trimble earlier. I also believe that Mr. Adams has a huge part to play in ensuring that this Agreement reaches fruition. I trust he will receive every possible support in that regard. If Messrs. Adams and Trimble fail, we will be in for many a dark and harrowing day.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, to the House on this historic day. This is very important legislation and I compliment and congratulate the Taoiseach for his outstanding contribution to this process. I also pay tribute to my Government colleagues and the departmental officials for their work and dedication. This has been a long and delicate process which required great sensitivity on the part of everyone involved. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill at this time.

I come from a tradition where the North was spoken about regularly. I feel very strongly about peace and bringing our country, North and South, together. I welcome the fact that we are now putting some flesh on the Good Friday Agreement. The implementation bodies are a step forward. The bodies are interesting and will serve to embrace all aspects of our Irishness. They will help us to work together to achieve peace in Ireland for all its people.

Waterways Ireland will promote and market the navigable waterways of Ireland in conjunction with The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. I also welcome the establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board. The Trade and Business Development Body facilitates economic interaction between all business and trade on the island. Also being established is the North-South language body. We should hold onto our Irish language and culture and everything to do with out Irishness. The issue is broader than the Irish language and I very much welcome this body. Anything to do with Ireland must be linked with European Structural Funds and we need a body such as the Special EU Programmes Body to make a case for Ireland.

There is much work to be done in terms of our membership, but the fact that they are prepared to establish the bodies on a provisional basis, determining location, headquarters and staff from North and South, is a clear indication that a step forward is being taken. Under discussion are the staff which will be involved and the money necessary to get these bodies off the ground.

It is clear that much work has been done in preparing the Bill. I would like to have had more time to assimilate all the information but I appreciate and understand why it is necessary to pass the legislation fairly quickly, and what better time than in the run up to St. Patrick's Day? The Bill is a milestone in the history of our Irishness.

I would like to see us moving forward with the other bodies associated with transport, agriculture, education, health, environment and tourism. These are very important areas and are relevant in terms of a North-South link. That link in terms of education and tourism has taken shape long before now, with many primary and second level schools interacting with colleges and schools in the North. We also introduced draft legislation on Tuesday regarding the qualifications authority, another way forward in terms of career pathways, enabling people to move from one educational institution to another throughout the island without inhibition. In the past it was difficult for those North of the Border to get into a college in the South as they did not have the necessary qualifications or a qualification in Irish to allow them access to various courses. The qualifications authority will help in the transition from one institution to another.

We are moving in the direction of a holistic approach to our thinking and towards implementing ways in which we can bring all our people together, North and South. In bringing our Irishness together we are identifying that each person is entitled to their own space to pursue their own way of life without encumbrance from the other side. There is enough room for all of us to have a very good quality of life.

There can be no going back. We have arrived at this stage through the Good Friday Agreement and the referenda clearly indicated that we cannot go back. There is still much sensitivity and many problems must be overcome. I compliment Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams for their work in keeping us on a straight path. It has not been easy for them over the past number of months. Currently, for every move forward there are two moves backwards and there are major problems yet to be overcome. We should all work together in whatever way we can, as politicians and as people with a feeling for peace. This is our opportunity to take a step forward. This debate gives us an opportunity to complement that step. Hopefully more bodies will result from this legislation and will bring us closer together and copperfasten once and for all the Good Friday Agreement, thereby ensuring the result we want, namely, peace throughout the island with all our people working in harmony, allowing space for each side to identify for themselves what they want for their culture and accepting that there must be space for other people who live on the island.

I am delighted to contribute to this debate and wish the legislation a speedy passage.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an tAire Stáit, Dr. Moffatt. Go mór mhór cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille um Chomhaontú na Breataine-na hÉireann, 1999. It is a great honour for me to be a Member of the House on this very historic occasion and to speak on this very important legislation.

Some years ago I travelled on a regular basis to Northern Ireland to see my sister who lived in south Armagh. Until last year her son was a regular player on the Armagh county team. I remember on one occasion she was hospitalised in a certain town in Northern Ireland and the nature of her condition precluded her from eating. However, she could drink and she expressed a wish for a certain type of water. I went to the canteen to get it, accompanied by her daughter. I put my hand in my pocket to pull out a ten punt note and immediately my niece grabbed my hand and said "Do not flash that around here". We have come a long way, thank God.

I listened in particular to the comments of my colleague, Senator Bonner, and how it would be easier for him to move about in conducting his daily business as a Member of the House commuting to and from his home in Donegal. Fifteen or 20 years ago I recall travelling to south Armagh to be greeted by half a dozen guns carried by the RUC and the British Army. Thank God those days are gone – may they never return.

This Bill is common legislation intended to encompass the aspirations of all people on the island, especially as it refers to the north eastern counties of Ulster. In tandem with my colleagues I congratulate successive Taoisigh, especially our current Taoiseach, and Gerry Adams, John Hume, Séamus Mallon, David Trimble and all who were party to bringing us to this stage. It is marvellous to be here to discuss this Bill and the North-South bodies.

Great progress has been made on the Agreement over the past few months. The basis for a new partnership Government has been agreed. This week the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed four international agreements providing the legal basis for the establishment of other political institutions outlined under the Agreement – the North-South Ministerial Council, the six North-South implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The Bill provides for the implementation of institutional aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, for the participation of the Taoiseach and Ministers in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council and enables the Taoiseach to introduce regulations to overcome any difficulties which may arise in the implementation of the Bill. That is a very practical measure and is to be very warmly welcomed.

The Bill provides for the functions, structure and power of each of the implementation bodies. There are six implementation bodies, including the Food Safety Board. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moffatt, whom I have the pleasure of welcoming to the House, has responsibility for food safety. He more than anybody else in the House will appreciate the importance of the regularising and the meeting of minds in the context of this body which will have an all Ireland remit. This makes common sense, something which has not been all that common in the affairs of Northern Ireland. I am pleased that the vast majority of people want this to come about, hence the legislation before the House.

The Special EU Programmes Body will have an important role to play in relation to post-1999 Structural Funds and will also advise the North-South Ministerial Council and the Finance Departments of the negotiation of the post-1999 community initiatives, and of the proper chapter on co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The passing of this Bill will herald an historic day for the Houses of the Oireachtas and will be a great tribute to the work and conviction of all associated with the peace process, particularly the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern. The implementation and operation of these bodies is a vital cog in bringing the divided parts of the island together and will be essential in ensuring that matters of mutual interest are pursued in a co-ordinated way. Hence the establishment of these bodies.

The Bill is passing through the House at a crucial time for the peace process and we support the Taoiseach and all associated with that process in their efforts to ensure that the decommissioning impasse is broken and that an inclusive Executive is put in place as soon as possible.

If the Irish people are famous for anything it is their welcome. When we speak of welcome we speak of "fáilte" the Irish for welcome. The Irish welcome is unique and is our greatest drawing power. From many dealings with people in Northern Ireland the warmth of their welcome is comparable to our own and a common tourism approach makes a lot of sense. When holidaying abroad people used to ask me if it was safe to come to Ireland. I pointed out that I come from the Republic where there is no strife and that they were referring to the north-eastern part of the island which is under the control of Britain. People were amazed that Ireland did not have a common tourism approach. Thankfully this issue will be addressed by the bodies being set up.

In the area of trade and commerce there will be provision for companies which wish to stand on a common platform to advance their operations. The Bill also provides for the North-South language body which will take the form of a single body with two separate parts – one dealing with the Irish language and the other dealing with Ullans and Ulster-Scots cultural issues. I am familiar with Scotland and, as someone with more than a passing interest in Irish, there are many similarities between Scots Gaelic and Irish, with the exception of a few words.

As a result of the funding and enthusiasm from the Northern side, this body, which will have more than double the staff of Bord na Gaeilge, should give a significant impetus to the promotion of the Irish language. The agencies within the body will operate almost completely independently and this will ensure that the Irish language agency will be able to operate in Irish which is stated in the Agreement to be its working language. This is very important for anyone who professes to have the welfare of our language at heart.

The Food Safety Promotion Board will have responsibility in an area of key concern to the public as indicated by recent debates and controversies. This body will have an all-Ireland remit in the promotion of food safety and will work in association with existing food agencies, North and South, which will continue to be responsible for inspection and enforcement. The importance of this measure cannot be over-emphasised.

Senators Leonard and Bonnar referred to sport. The pride which all people on the island had in our rugby team brings into focus the many areas which are common to the people of this island. In addition to the immediate transfer of the Shannon-Erne waterway to Waterways Ireland, all the island's currently navigable waterways will be transferred to this body from 1 April 2000. The body will have a three-region structure – eastern, western and northern. My father and grandfather were lock-keepers on the Royal Canal which, thankfully, is being opened for navigation. It will be wonderful that, not alone will the Royal Canal be navigable from Dublin to the Shannon and back up the Grand Canal but, in an all-Ireland context, one will be able to spend weeks on our inland waterways without touching dry land. That is a welcome prospect and another measure of the practical results of this Agreement.

Senator Ó Murchú and I have more than a passing interest in traditional music. There are many great Irish music performers in Northern Ireland and the bringing together of all the cultural aspects on the island will bring a new focus to traditional Irish music. That is a wonderful development. It is important that our games are greatly assisted by the introduction of this cul tural body. People may say that it does not have any relevance but I disagree and that will be proven in time.

One of the disadvantages of speaking in a debate such as this after so many Senators have spoken is that much of what one would like to say has already been said. I wish the measures in the Bill and the bodies well. There are those who want nothing to happen, such as the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. These people are for nothing and against everything. They have nothing to offer but the same old fire and brimstone. They are coming from nowhere, going nowhere and born out of nothing. To all the parties to this Agreement, to those who voted for it, to those involved in drafting this legislation and to the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas I say that we should be proud. This is a proud day for Ireland and I am delighted to be present on this historic occasion to welcome this important Bill.

Fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit agus roimh an Aire Stáit. Lá stairiúil é seo i stair na hÉireann agus lá dearfach é freisin. Tá an dearfacht sin préamhaithe sa dóchas agus tá sé de dhualgas orainn go léir, agus ní amháin sa Teach seo, féachaint chuige go bhfásfaidh dul chun cinn as an dóchas sin. Ach an príomhrud ná go bhfuil struchtúr á chur le chéile anois, struchtúr a cothóidh an timpeallacht chuí chun an dul chun cinn sin a dhéanamh. Ag an deireadh braitheann gach rud ar dhaoine agus is cuma cá háit a mbíonn na daoine sin. Tá géarghá le hidirbheartú agus comhrá idir dhaoine, gan a bheith ag brath ar chinnlínte sna páipéir nó ar an teilifís. Tá sé i bhfad níos tábhachtaí a bheith nádúrtha agus tuisceanach.

Ag féachaint siar ar an gComhaontú seo agus ar an obair a déanadh le cúpla bliain anuas, is léir go raibh daoine sásta am a chaitheamh agus íobairtí a dhéanamh chun gach iarracht a dhéanamh i dtreo an dul chun cinn. Ní raibh sé éasca agus is minic a bhí daoine réasúnta diúltach faoin bpróiseas a bhí ar siúl ach toisc go raibh daoine foighdeach agus tuisceanach agus sásta leanúint ar aghaidh lena n-iarrachtaí, sáraíodh ar chuid de na deacrachtaí a bhí ann. Bunaíodh struchtúr a d'fhéadfaí tógáíl air agus táimid go mór faoi chomaoin ag an Taoiseach agus ag an Aire agus ag an Aire Stáit mar aon leis na daoine go léir a chuaigh rompu agus a chéad thosaigh an próiseas.

Ag éisteacht le daoine anseo agus sa Dáil inné, is cinnte go bhfuil aontú ann. B'fhéidir go bhfuil difríochtaí béíme ann ach go bunúsach tá daoine ag iarraidh oibriú as lámh a chéile ar son na tíre.

Cuid de na rudaí a dúradh inné agus inniu, ní déarfaí fiche bliain ó shin iad – bhí daoine beagán faireach ag an am sin agus iad i gcónaí ag féachaint ar cad a bhí ar siúl ag daoine eile.

Na gníomhaireachtaí a luadh anseo, is gníomhaireachtaí a rabhthas ag caint futhu le fada an lá, B'fhéidir go raibh cuid de na rudaí ag tarlú ach ní raibh aon struchtúr foirmeáilte ann chun seirbhís a thabhairt dóibh. Ach anois tá na struch túir fhoirmeáilte sin ann. I gcás na turasóíreachta, mar shampla, ní raibh sé ciallmhar iriamh poiblíocht a dhéanamh ar son na tíre seo agus a bheith ag caint faoin Deisceart agus faoin Tuaisceart mar ní raibh aon tuiscint ag daoine lasmuigh den tír ar na téarmaí sin.

Is féidir anois labhairt anois mar gheall ar thír amháin agus a rá go mbeidh fíorfháilte roimh dhaoine a thagann isteach anseo. Má bhaineann siad taitneamh as áit éigin sa Deisceart beidh siad in ann dul ar aghaidh ansin go dtí an Tuaisceart nó a mhalairt. Rud bunúsach i gcúrsaí turasóireachta is ea é sin.

Bhí áthás croí ormsa gur tugadh tús áite don Ghaeilge agus go bhfuil Foras Trasteorann á bhunú di. Táim cinnte freisin go gcabhróidh an cultúr agus an Ghaeilge chun daoine a shnaidhmeadh le chéile. Tá ár seanoidhreacht i bhfad níos láidre agus níos sine ná aon deighilt polaitíochta a tharla idir an dá linn.

There have been many debates in the House on Northern Ireland and virtually all of them took place against the background of tragedy and trauma. They were generally based on the most recent incident and it was difficult to in any way promote a sense of hope or a constructive approach to the problems which beset this island for many centuries.

Today is an historic occasion because we are talking from a positive base. The discussion is based on the detailed analysis, negotiation, compromise and agreement which brought about the current progress. I compliment the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, their predecessors and all the officials connected with the process. There were times when it was much easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle. However, because people with patience, tenacity and vision were involved, an effort was always made to light a candle and to direct us forward rather than backwards. The main reason for this was that nobody could contemplate what going backwards would mean.

We had emerged from a nightmare which touched not only the immediate victims but everybody who listened to sad news. It depressed everybody and the first reaction was to close our minds and decide not to be part of it. This meant the problem was left to people with much more extreme views or who were less representative. However, I am glad the middle ground remained strong in that regard.

Some years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I passed through Checkpoint Charlie on my way to East Germany. I understood what a barrier or border meant because one physically passed through a small cage. Subsequently I brought a group of Germans to Ireland and to the North. Their perception of a border was similar to Checkpoint Charlie. As we crossed over the Border, they asked where it was because it was not physically evident to a great degree. When we brought them to an event which involved both traditions and there was a discussion on matters of common interest, they could not perceive or observe any border between the people.

This environment existed at all times and there was a gradual acceptance that things could change. However, it was always understood that they could not change unless a structured approach was taken. Over the years many people spoke in simplistic terms about a united Ireland, but there was seldom any definition of what that would involve. However, most people never considered how a united Ireland, if it became a reality, would work and how all the people would be represented. In recent years, consideration has been given to the realities of the situation often against the background of a changing world and a changing Europe.

No political philosophy which is vibrant, realistic or relevant to the people whom it is supposed to serve can remain constant and steadfast. It must be organic and change at all times. This is particularly the case where something has such a strong, ongoing, historical background. If one considers the players in the current Agreement in the North, undoubtedly there was no perceived common ground. There was little dialogue and any which took place was usually through the headlines of newspapers or scare stories on the radio and television. Yet, as people meet and work together, perhaps respecting each other's traditions and points of view, there is always some focus for common ground. This may be humanity, economics or ordinary decency. It may be the image of a country or a community on the international scene. However, there is always something on which they can focus.

I have no doubt that when the cross-Border bodies meet, because a specific focus is involved which has a relevance to all, irrespective of political ideologies, they will grow and develop and enhance each person involved. Part of the problem we have had in Ireland with ideologies, be they republican, Nationalist, loyalist or Unionist, has been the ghettoised approach to ordinary community life based on something which may have happened 300 to 400 years ago. One of the factors which perhaps moved us forward was when we saw a Europe developing in which it was possible for people who had come from a background of aggression, oppression or violence to work together for the simple motivation that they never wished to revisit the hell from which they had come. The same applies in a minuscule form in Ireland.

Even in a mercenary or commercial sense, I often thought how difficult it must be to market two parts of Ireland as a holiday destination to a discerning visitor. It must have been a marketing nightmare to talk in terms of the Republic or southern Ireland or the Six Counties or Northern Ireland, when, at the same time, "Ireland" was one of the most marketable names we had. Surely no one envisaged that, if a person went to Monaghan or Donegal, their discovery of the country would end there because of a perception of an invisible line. It was an insult to people's intelligence that that might happen.

Never was that more underlined than when people wished to trace their roots. The 40 million people of Irish extraction in North America are not all Nationalists. There is a strong Orange tradition in Toronto, for example. I have met people of that community in our two branches of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann there where they work with the other tradition. They hold Orange parades but they still identify with and feel part of Ireland. When any of those 40 million people wish to trace their roots, surely no one would suggest that their research of their family tree must be circumscribed by an invisible line. I am glad that both traditions in genealogy have come together in the Irish Family History Foundation and the Irish genealogical body established with the assistance of the Taoiseach's Department.

Perceptions are often more important to some than reality. However, one of the cross-Border bodies I am pleased to see and which will be one of the first to be established is that of the Irish language. There was a commitment to the language at all stages, perhaps more on the Nationalist side, but also on the other side. However, because of political considerations, that commitment often had to be low profile. I have no doubt that the language and our heritage, which is much older than any recent political divisions, will have a cohesive rather than a divisive influence.

I am glad to be part of the historic process taking place here. My main hope is that whatever difficulties may exist between republicans and Unionists will be resolved for the betterment of all on the island and for the Irish diaspora. We know the difficulties and we cannot minimise or simplify them. However, when I heard the other day that Gerry Adams and David Trimble could sit down together in the midst of what seems a difficulty which cannot be overcome and that David Trimble could still emerge from the meeting and say some positive progress had been made, I realised it behoves us all to push that hope further. I compliment all connected with the process.

I am delighted on behalf of the Government to conclude the Second Stage of the Bill. I thank all who contributed for their positive and supportive approach to the Bill and to the agreements signed by the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, and myself at Dublin Castle on Monday to which the Bill gives effect. While there will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to consider matters Senators may wish to raise regarding individual sections of the Bill, I wish to refer briefly to a number of specific issues raised on Second Stage.

Several Senators expressed concern about the lack of time for scrutiny by the House. This is a matter of great regret to me and the Government, but Senators also expressed understanding for the reasons for the haste with which we have had to move and I appreciate the manner in which our requirements were met in that regard.

The question of accountability was raised. The arrangements being put in place by the Bill and the Agreement are comprehensive in terms of ensuring accountability to the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is important and right. It will be up to all of us to ensure these arrangements work effectively.

On the specific question of revisions to the legislation and the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in that, section 5 provides a mechanism for removing operational difficulties within a timeframe of the next three years. This section is subject to the provisions of section 6, which stipulates that any regulations proposed under section 5 must be laid before both Houses and are subject to a positive resolution of both. If Senators wish, we can deal with this more fully on Committee Stage. It was dealt with comprehensively in the Dáil and a number of amendments were sought and acceded to.

Regarding dispute resolution, which was raised this morning, I wish to inform the House of what is intended. In addition to the Agreement establishing the implementation bodies, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I exchanged letters on Monday providing for consultation between the Irish and British Attorneys General to address any problems arising out of divergent judicial interpretation in the two jurisdictions of the legislation on the bodies. The wording of the letters was agreed between the two Attorneys General. This was an important issue for us in the negotiations, although the fact that the detailed arrangements are primarily provided for in the common text of the Agreement and not separately in divergent legislation should minimise the likelihood of difference.

The question was raised whether the consultation arrangements would come into effect only after a problem had emerged. While consultation is provided for in the case of such a difficulty, there is also an obligation on the two Attorneys General to report within six months of the entry into force of the Agreement on whether any additional steps are required, and this applies regardless of whether any problems arise in that period.

I thank the Attorney General and his officials for their enormous contribution to the preparation of this Bill and the Agreement. In doing so, I acknowledge the kind comments of Senators about the work of the Government and its officials in the preparation of the Agreement and the Bill. While my Department, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance and the Attorney General's Office have been involved in a central capacity, I put on record our appreciation of the work of all other Departments involved with the six implementation bodies. Their commitment and dedication has been extraordinary and we have the fruits of their labours before us. We owe all concerned a great deal of gratitude and I put that on the record.

Tourism was raised by several Senators, including Senator Cassidy. I share their optimism about the potential in this area. It is being handled by means of a new all island company and arrangements for its establishment are well advanced.

Agriculture was raised by a number of Senators, including Senator Norris. I share his view of the importance of agriculture and take this opportunity to again congratulate the Minister, Deputy Walsh, and his team for the fine outcome they achieved this morning in the CAP reform negotiations. I am glad to confirm that agriculture is one of the six areas identified in the agreement of 18 December concluded by the Northern parties which will be the subject of intensified co-operation through existing machinery, under the aegis of the North-South Ministerial Council. We all know how strong the commonality of interests is between North and South in the area of agriculture, and I look forward to the new impetus which can be given co-operation between North and South in this regard in the council.

Senator Manning queried the proposed abolition of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. I trust that there will be an opportunity for this matter to be discussed more fully if he so requires, but to meet his point at this stage I should say that the decision to include the Irish lighthouse service in the new aquaculture and marine affairs body was taken by the various parties in the North and incorporated in the 18 December agreement concluded among them. The lights service will be incorporated en bloc in the new body and will function as normal as an agency of that body, and there will be no diminution of service or compromise on safety under the new arrangements.

The position of harbour authorities was raised by Senator Taylor-Quinn. I understand that the harbour authorities will not be affected in any way by the new Waterways Body. Harbour authorities do not control or manage any of the waterways being transferred to the body.

Senators Costello and Leonard asked about the timescale involved with the Special EU Programmes Body. The body will have initial responsibility relating primarily to the INTERREG Programme and the EU Peace Programme, and will have expanded functions in relation to the EU Community initiatives post-1999. On the matter of funding, there is £30 million yet to be drawn down under the current peace programme, and £6 million under INTERREG. Negotiations are currently under way with the EU Commission with regard to the new round of Structural Funds. We would expect to at least maintain our present level of funding for the initiatives which will come within the remit of the Special EU Programmes Body.

I agree with the many Senators, including Senator Maurice Hayes, who commented on the significance of the fact that this Bill is the product of agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland and between those parties and the Irish Government. It is probably fair to say, as many Senators did, that the agreement on these bodies represents a new watershed in co-operation and interaction between us all. It certainly bodes well for the future.

Senator Costello raised the east-west structures. The Bill before us is, of course, primarily concerned with giving domestic effect to the provisions of the agreement I signed last Monday on the six North-South implementation bodies. It was not strictly necessary – this point was made with some robustness in the Dáil – in legal terms to refer to the British-Irish Council in the Bill, but we felt it desirable to include some provision in view of the importance we attach to it and the fact that there is equivalent provision in the British Northern Ireland Act, 1998.

The arrangements which have been agreed with regard to the British-Irish Council are effectively those set out in Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement. The initial membership is that set out in paragraph 2 of Strand Three of the Agreement:

. . . . representatives of the British and Irish Governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, when established, and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Any further extension of this will be a matter for the British-Irish Council itself.

The secretariat of the British-Irish Council will be provided by the two Governments. It is not envisaged that it would necessarily have a single location. A number of people, more particularly in the Dáil, made a pitch for areas like Dundalk, Monaghan and Cavan on this side of the Border. There must be a balance. Proposals for the work of the council are currently being developed by officials. They are likely to include such topics as the environment, including Sellafield, transport links, education, culture and sport. The work of the British-Irish Council will be a matter for itself to elaborate.

On the issue of interparliamentary links, the Government strongly supports the formation of new North-South and east-west interparliamentary tiers, building on the excellent work of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, which has done so much to break down the superstitions and mythology about which Senator Ó Murchú spoke eloquently. I was a member of the first British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and some of the views of my British and Irish colleagues were extraordinary. After a not too lengthy period, the suspicions and myths between the two groups broke down and we became strong friends with a common purpose, one which we are now achieving. There was a most remarkable change of attitudes towards each other. However, the question of interparliamentary tiers is a matter for Deputies and Senators to consider with their counterparts in other legislatures. It is an important element in all of this. I consider it fundamentally important that the parliaments of Scotland and Wales, when they are formed, and Westminster, the Oireachtas, the Assembly and the Manx Parliament get together at some stage in the future. However, that will be ordered by the legislatures and their members in due course.

On the question of civic contacts between North and South, Senators will be aware that paragraph 19 of Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement provides for:

. . . . . consideration to be given to the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two Administrations, representative of civil society, comprising the social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues.

This matter will be pursued vigorously once the Northern Ireland Administration is in place.

It is worth recalling that about 20 months will have elapsed between the referendums in Scotland and Wales and the establishment of devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff. In about half that time, the progress made in implementing the Good Friday Agreement – a much more complex and multi-faceted document – has been remarkable, and gives the lie to those who assert that no real advances have occurred in that time. It is important to remember that progress has been made across the board, and not just in relation to institutional matters. It is important to remember that the alternative to what has happened in the past 30 years is what we are discussing, which seeks, as Senator Manning said in his forceful contribution, a permanent peace on the island of Ireland to the advantage of all regardless of their ethos.

Meaningful and worthwhile North-South institutions were and are an integral part of the overall balance of the Agreement for Nationalists, a counterweight to the Assembly and to constitutional change, and they must be worked vigorously. The institutional aspects of the agreement have been somewhat overlooked since last year, such has been the preoccupation with other issues, but they are of immense long-term significance in providing the framework for a new beginning in all our relationships, through which we can transcend the troubled history of this island and these islands. In the longer perspective of history, the achievement of these bodies, and of a North-South Ministerial Council and a British-Irish Council, should not be discounted or taken lightly.

The six implementation bodies agreed represent an important and diverse range of public service activity. The bodies, once up and running, will involve some £56 million in annual expenditure and will have a total staff of about 880 people. Each of the bodies will have its own distinct mission and organisation. In the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, each will have "a clear operational remit". From day to day it would be our intention that each will operate with the kind of practical autonomy which characterises our semi-State bodies, but they will operate within a common framework and on the basis of certain key principles.

In the long-term, we see the North-South Ministerial Council being the principal focus of North-South co-operation. Work is proceeding on the detailed procedural arrangements for the council, which we are determined to ensure will be a vibrant and active institution with a dedicated secretariat, and which will address the entire gamut of areas of common interest and mutual advantage. The council will meet at least twice a year in plenary format, and regularly and frequently in each sectoral format.

Arrangements are also being made in respect of the British-Irish Council, which has an important and complementary role of its own, although arrangements in respect of its secretariat have not yet been finalised.

It is our hope and determination that it will indeed soon be possible for devolution to the Assembly and to an inclusive Northern Ireland Executive to take place. As several speakers have emphasised, this urgently requires a resolution of the outstanding problems. As I said in my opening remarks, we all know what they are. To falter at this stage, when so many hurdles have been overcome and with the winning post in sight, would be both unthinkable and unforgivable. Dialogue must continue and must be intensified so that the bright promise contained in the Good Friday Agreement, given operational form in this legislation, can be realised.

I have great pleasure in commending this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.