Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 11 Mar 1999

Vol. 158 No. 13

British-Irish Agreement Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages. SECTION 1.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

This section gives the Taoiseach authority to bring the Bill, when it is enacted, into operation. Can the Minister indicate the length of time this will take? Does the Taoiseach intend to bring the legislation into operation piecemeal?

I understand that the totality of the Bill will be given effect and it certainly will not be brought in piecemeal. That would fly in the face of what we seek to achieve, that is, a total package. As has been said in a mantra that relates to the Agreement itself, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

As to when the Taoiseach will trigger the mechanism that will bring in whatever regulation is necessary to give effect to the Bill, that would depend on all the elements of the Bill coming together in due course.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

The section is very clear but does the section mean that it will not be possible for civil servants to substitute for Ministers at meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council, as sometimes happens at meetings at European level?

The Senator has raised a very interesting point which gave rise to much discussion yesterday in the course of debate in the Dáil. The general view, and my advice, is that Ministers and Ministers of State exercise an Executive function. As has been quite properly pointed out, in the European Union where a Minister may be missing for one good reason or another, an official may sit in to represent the Minister. I see no trouble regarding that. My response to a similar query in the Dáil was that I would always prefer – although my preferences are not enshrined in the Bill – to see a politician in situ. During the start up of these proceedings I hope a Minister or Minister of State will always be present. This is not to undervalue or diminish the contribution made by officials. Senator Manning will agree that the Civil Service has been hugely important in the history of this State and has given a tremendous service. Initially, the Executive functions exercised by Ministers and Ministers of State will be paramount and necessary. Presumably, there will be a evolution or viva voce transfer to civil servants by Ministers where they are not available.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

This section is similar to the provision, when the Constitution came into effect in 1938, that for the first three years it could be amended by ordinary legislation. Is the intention of this section similar?

I can foresee situations where the Taoiseach or the Government may have to intervene and sort out immediate problems. Is it intended that when that is done, the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas will be sought? Will the approval of the Oireachtas be sought before the Government acts or will confirmation be sought afterwards? Can such regulations be introduced by the Government without the approval of the Oireachtas?

This section gives the Taoiseach power to do "anything which appears to him or her to be necessary or expedient". These powers seem generous and I always have a difficulty with the word "expedient". It is not always clear for whom the action concerned is "expedient". The section does not include an in-built consultation mechanism for the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach's actions must be confirmed subsequently by the Oireachtas but there is no provision for prior consultation of the Oireachtas.

I am grateful to Senators for raising this matter. There was quite a substantial discussion on this question in the other House and I was able to accede, in an amendment, to the views of Deputy Bruton and Deputy De Rossa. Deputy De Rossa, in particular, had a concern that matters of a minor technical nature could be dealt with by the Taoiseach without reference to the Oireachtas, taking account of the 21 day rule – I mean, of course, the Taoiseach of the day. The situation now is that all amendments, whether of a minor technical nature or a major nature must be referred to the Oireachtas as a matter of practice. There is no leeway whatsoever.

Section 5 is a provision of a type usually included in Bills which have the object of establishing new bodies or putting new administrative procedures in place, particularly where formulation of the relevant legislation has been done at speed. It is not always possible, in such circumstances, to envisage at the time of drafting all the minor, practical, policy and legal difficulties which may arise. The provision is designed to provide an opportunity to remedy matters after the Bill has been passed.

As Deputy Costello has indicated, section 5 is widely drafted. I concede that. It must be interpreted in a constitutional manner. This means that nothing done under this section may go beyond the principles enshrined in the Bill. Section 5 clearly sets out the parameters and circumstances under which this power may be exercised. Any regulations made thereunder must not stray beyond those parameters.

The purpose of section 5 is to give effect to the Bill. The section is also subject to a temporary limitation of three years, emphasising that it is intended to operate only for a transitional – or teething trouble – period. Moreover, regulations under section 5 are now, arising out of the amendment, subject to Dáil and Seanad scrutiny under section 6.

There are numerous provisions for such a division. These include the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, and the Waste Management Act, 1996. This section would not be used to legislate for any substantial amendments of the Treaty. Such amendments would require the agreement of the British Government in consultation with the North-South Ministerial Council. That should answer the queries which were quite properly raised by the Senators.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 6 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

To clarify the position for Members, different Ministers will deal with the queries of Senators relating to their own portfolios. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will then return and continue with his part of the Bill.

Would it be possible, with the indulgence of the House, to take Parts II and IV together as they both relate to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands?

I have no difficulty with that – it makes sense.

I move:

That consideration of sections 14 to 23, inclusive, be postponed until sections 24 to 30, inclusive, have been disposed of.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

This may seem a naive question, but we are here to get information. The waterways are currently in the ownership of the Government. The transfer of powers means that the body corporate being set up will effectively become the owner of the waterways of Ireland. Am I to assume that the Irish and United Kingdom Governments will become the joint owners, so that the Republic of Ireland will have technical ownership of the Erne, the Ulster canal and all the other lakes and rivers in the North and, conversely, the United Kingdom Government will have legal ownership of all the Southern waterways, rivers, lakes, etc.?

This is a body corporate and, as such, it will own all the assets. There is provision here to hold or dispose of land or property. It is not that it is joint ownership – the body will have the ownership as a body corporate. Like any body corporate, it will own the assets under its control.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 10 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We will now move to Part VI.

Sections 24 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 28 stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with the transfer of functions to the new body. My query relates to the gaelscoileanna. Will the Minister give us a clear indication of the bodies that operate at present? There is a table of bodies in the section but I do not see any mention of the gaelscoileanna. Will responsibility for them be transferred in the fullness of time, as part of the new body?

My concern is similar to that of Senator Costello. I am sure the Minister of State is acutely aware of the controversy surrounding this aspect of the North-South implementation bodies. We are looking for assurances for all those actively involved in the promotion of the Irish language, more so in the Republic than in the North, because my understanding – which I am sure the Minister of State will clarify – is that those in the North are content with what is being proposed but there is not similar contentment in the South. I would be grateful if the Minister of State used this opportunity to reassure those organisations which feel excluded. There is a perception that only Bord na Gaeilge will represent the views of the Irish language organisations and those involved in the promotion of the Irish language on this side of the Border.

Maidir leis na heagrais a bheidh á athrú go dtí an foras nua, an ionnan é sin agus a rá gur sin deireadh an sceál, ná an féidir cur leis an liosta amach anseo?

A number of issues have been raised here. It states in subsection (1) that all the functions of Bord na Gaeilge have been transferred. The gaelscoileanna organisation is currently funded by Bord na Gaeilge. All activities, such as Irish language newspapers, which are currently funded directly by Bord na Gaeilge are transferred by one sentence in the Bill which transfers all the functions of Bord na Gaeilge to the new foras. In addition, certain named organisations on the table in the Bill, which are now funded directly by the Department, are being transferred. In reply to Senator Ó Murchú, there is provision in the Bill to add or subtract any organisations, as is seen fit, to or from the list in the table.

As Senator Mooney said, there has been some controversy about this. I am not absolutely clear what this controversy is about. However, it is a compliment to me, my predecessors and, in particular, to the civil servants of our Department who have been dealing with the Irish language organisations. My understanding is that the Irish language organisations are somewhat concerned about being moved from being financed by an agency which they found easy to deal with, and which also gave them direct access to the Ministers and the efficient civil servants, to the foras. I take that as a deep compliment to the Department, and one in which I join, not only as a Minister of State but from my experience of dealing with it over 23 years as a co-op manager.

However, we should look at this in the wider context. Most of the bodies referred to – Gael Linn, Conradh na Gaeilge, an tOireachtas, Comhlachas Náisiúnta Drámaíochta, Cumann na bhFiann, Comhluadar, Iontaobhas Ultach and Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge – already operate on a 32 county basis. It would be extraordinary to set up a 32 county body but to not transfer the funding to a 32 county basis. To put it in simple terms, we have 32 county bodies which, for historical reasons, were always funded on a 26 county basis; it is a logical step to fund them now on a 32 county basis. This is a step in the right direction.

The second issue relating to funding is that, because of the new 25:75 ratio that will exist and because the Northern state did not provide significant funding for the Irish language, the total pool of money made available to the Irish language will increase quite considerably. That must be recognised as a step forward.

Due to worries expressed to me by the Irish language organisations that an ever increasing monolith of a foras – which, of course, would have a board of gaelgeoirí – would swallow up all the money and that the central bureaucracy would grow at the expense of the earnáil dheonach, there are two provisions in the Bill which cover that worry. The Ministers in this case will be able to give specific and general instructions.

The worries alluded to by Senator Mooney are unfounded. Once we get over the teething problems and change this cause of worry, we will realise that this is a landmark day for these organisations in terms of the recognition of their all-Ireland remit.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his clarification. In the context of the new foras, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will have the right to make appointments to the new body. In light of the Minister of State's remarks, can he assure me that there will be the widest possible representation on the new body which will reflect the points he made and the organisations he mentioned which have expressed this concern?

In making appointments to any State body, a Minister tries to appoint, to the best of his or her ability, the people he or she thinks will best carry out the functions of that body. I have already made appointments to Bord na Gaeilge and all those appointed were more than suitable for those appointments. The Senator can rest assured that will be the case here. We will look for the best people for the board of Foras Teanga whose aims are clearly defined and relate, in general, to the promotion of the Irish language. Provision is made in the Bill that those appointed to the new board will have competence, knowledge and interest, but obviously the two Ministers and the ministerial council will have the prerogative of nominating them. It is only right that the power lies with those democratically elected people.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

On section 29 and the dissolution of Bord na Gaeilge, concern has been expressed that this may simply be a matter of playing musical chairs and moving one block of administrators from one State body to another. This is linked to my earlier question about appointments. Will the Minister of State give an indication at this stage if the current membership of the board, the chief executive, the chairman of Bord na Gaeilge, who is a well-known figure, and the secretariat of Bord na Gaeilge will be transferred en bloc in whatever configuration the Minister chooses? Will the Minister of State give an indication of his plans in this regard?

I would like to pay tribute to all past and present members who have served on Bord na Gaeilge over the years and have done Trojan work. The board will cease to function the day this provision comes into force. The 12 people – six of them recently appointed and six of them appointed some years ago – whose terms would run out in October 2000 will cease to be members of the board of Bord na Gaeilge and will have no automatic right to re-nomination.

This is also obvious from the arithmetic. The new board will consist of eight people, North and South. The present board consists of 12, so even if one wanted to re-nominate everybody, it would be an impossibility. It will be a totally new board. That will not exclude those who have given fine service from being appointed to the new foras. However, people from outside the current board will not be excluded from appointment. It is as if we prematurely came to the end of the term of this board and are talking about a new scaled-down board.

The staff will automatically transfer to the new authority and extra staff will be appointed because of its increased size and functions compared to Bord na Gaeilge and its North-South role. The existing staff of Bord na Gaeilge will be transferred at the same salary. The issue of appointing a chief executive will be a matter for the board but an interim chief executive will be appointed.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 30 agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That concludes Part VI. We will now return to Part III concerning the Food Safety Promotion Board, section 14.

The Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, will take Part III.

Section 14 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

My question may be slightly academic but it also concerns some of the other boards. It has long been the custom that new State boards being established have a name in Irish. Most new boards established in recent years are referred to as such, for example Forfás and Forbairt. The new bodies referred to in the Bill are referred to in the English language only. Perhaps it is too early now, but is it proposed that the titles of these boards will only be in English or will they also have an Irish language title? Has any thought been given to this?

As we are talking about the status of the body, perhaps my question relates more to section 16, but I will proceed and I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will inform me if I am not being relevant.

As the House is aware, in recent months we established a food standards body with certain important functions. It was an opportunity to bring food standards up to date and to prepare for the millennium so the people could feel safe about food and the entire food chain. I understand, and the Minister of State who has expertise in this area will know, that in recent times his UK counterpart has established a similar body to look into food standards and safety. I am curious to know what the status of the recently initiated body in this country will be vis-à-vis the recently constituted body in the UK.

The question on the names is a good one. I do not think it has been addressed, probably for reasons of magnanimity more than anything else. On Senator Mooney's question, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland will remain and the Food Safety Promotion Board is a new all-Ireland body. They have not yet completed their deliberations in England, it is only at White Paper stage. The Food Safety Promotion Board will be an all-Ireland body primarily associated with promotion.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

With regard to the functions of the body, which are related to the Agreement, and the Minister of State's earlier answer, are there distinct differences between the legislative model in this country and what has been proposed for the UK? Am I right in saying there is not an exact correlation, and although there is agreement on many aspects the proposed UK legislation will differ in some important respects? Will that come within the ambit of the new body? If so, does the Minister of State foresee any conflict due to the lack of parity between the two pieces of legislation?

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is completely independent. In the UK that will not be the case because, as the Senator may know, it will probably be financed by the major food producers. It is not comparable. In Ireland, in addition to the Food Safety Authority, we will have the all Ireland authority which will be mainly concerned with promotion. It will have six main functions; the promotion of food safety, research into food safety, communication of food alerts, surveillance of food borne diseases, promotion of scientific co-operation and linkage between laboratories in developing cost effective facilities for specialised laboratory testing.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: That section 17 stand part of the Bill."

In relation to the table in section 17, given that the body will be responsible for food quality promotion, is it proposed to have a particular stamp representing the body in relation to food? Subsection (3) refers to activities and food inspections. How does the body propose to operate in a visual fashion when it has conducted its business? Will it provide a logo, stamp or some defining character?

Quality matters are not a function of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or the Food Safety Promotion Board. This comes within the remit of the Department of Agriculture and Food. It will promote food by way of conferences commenting on the various aspects of food safety and hygiene in relation to the dangers of contamination and development in the food sector.

What about quality assurance matters?

Quality assurance has nothing to do with safety, only with quality per se. This mat ter will be dealt with by the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 18 and 19 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

I ask for clarification on this section. When I read Part 3 of Article 2 of the Agreement on the exercise and functions of the body, I get the impression that it was written by some of my colleagues in the Commerce Faculty in UCD, so impenetrable is the English and so difficult is it to find out specifically what this board will do. Since we are among friends, could I ask the question politely about this trade board. The descriptions tend to be very vague and very aspirational. Is this because it was not possible to get agreement from the trade boards, North or South, to share some of the functions they are carrying out at present? I would like three or four simple sentences in English to get some idea of what this board will do.

There are no problems North or South on this issue. The board will promote the whole island in a commercial sense and Enterprise Ireland and FÁS will be dealing with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. This will make it easier to carry on commerce on an all island basis.

If Enterprise Ireland and the Trade Board are doing their job, why will this board be doing something similar? First, will it do something that is not being done by an existing body; second, if not, what will it do, and third, what boards will cede some of their functions to make this happen?

The body has a range of functions in co-ordinating, advising and implementing the various areas. There is duplication in many instances already, for example, in relation to R&D. Regarding tendering throughout Europe and the rest of the world, it might be an advantage to have co-operation between North and South because one company might be able to fulfil one aspect of a tender in the South and an aspect in the North of Ireland. Therefore, they would be able to generate more trade and be in a better position to get foreign contracts.

The Minister has not persuaded me, and he has not persuaded himself either.

This strikes me as a recipe for incredible bush wars between the various agencies in this area. It is the only part of the Bill that is vague and does not seem to be clearly thought out. It seems to be the lowest common denominator of what could be achieved without upsetting vested interests.

Senator Manning's point is an important one because bodies, North and South, are concerning themselves with the development of trade and business. Very often ne'er the twain shall meet, but will the setting up of a new body help the twain to meet?

If Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and their counterparts in Northern Ireland operate effectively, is there scope for linkage, because we are setting up a new body which is concerned with cross-Border development? In terms of the two existing bodies battling away on their own turf, is there a procedure whereby the entire plethora of bodies can work together?

I would like clarification regarding this Bill, for example, Part 3 of Annex 1 to the Agreement on the exercise of functions. Will we have an opportunity to debate these Parts, since they are part of the Bill? I raise this matter because what we are currently debating under sections 21 and 22 relates to what seems to be definitions of "Body" and status of same, yet the exercise of functions goes into considerable detail, especially in relation to the questions raised by my colleagues. It does not seem that their questions bear relation to the exercise of functions in Part 3.

They do, it is stated in the Bill that the functions are in accordance with paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Agreement.

Part 3 which deals with the exercise of functions is very specific as to the role of the bodies. I sometimes get confused about what the bodies will do, particularly in relation to Enterprise Ireland. We sat in this House passing legislation setting up Enterprise Ireland and incorporating An Bord Tráchtála into it. We are all aware of the intense competition between the Northern Ireland Enterprise Board and Enterprise Ireland, formerly the IDA. There is a difference in tax rates and incentives between North and South. In the context of trade and business, are we talking about one body that will attract industry into the island of Ireland or are we talking about a body that will develop business within the island of Ireland?

It will be involved in business within Ireland. It has nothing to do with the IDA because they deal with inward investment.

Enterprise Ireland will continue to do its job in the South. The new board will adopt a new North-South approach to business development and, therefore, the work will not be duplicated. The bodies will complement each other. The staff performing certain functions will transfer from Enterprise Ireland to the new body.

My worst fears have been confirmed.

Question put and agreed to.


Is it agreed to take Part V and Part VIII together? Agreed.

Sections 21 and 22 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill".

I want further clarification on the functions of the body. The Minister referred to this body and to special EU programmes. There is also an extensive description in Part IV of the annex and its activities. Will the Minister elaborate on the large number of EU bodies, such as INTERREG, etc.? How much work has been done on this so far? Is the establishment of this body part of previous negotiations with the EU or is it just outstanding measures that are being dealt with under the 2000-2006 negotiations? Will the commitments made with regard to EU contributions be honoured? What are the parameters of this body? Will the Minister indicate what the future parameters will be with regard to the timescale involved and the amount of contributions?

The INTERREG programme between the North and South, its successors in the post-1999 period and the successors to the Leader and employment initiatives form part of the special programme for Peace and Reconciliation. The successors to those programmes will come under the remit of the special EU programmes body. The new shape of those initiatives post-1999 will be set by the special EU programmes body.

With regard to Annex 4, section 23 provides that a range of functions at present carried out by the Department of Finance here and the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland – joint managers of the peace and INTERREG programmes – including the management and monitoring of the programmes, will be transferred to the body. The body will adopt a new pro-active approach to the support and encouragement of an ever-increasing range of North-South co-operative actions along the lines set out in the comment chapter. Senators probably are aware that the comment chapter was first published as part of the respective national plans in 1993.

I am interested in EU programmes post-2000 because I come from a Border county. My question relates to a section on the exercise of functions. This refers to post-1999 Structural Funds. Under Annex 1 to the Agreement it – meaning the body – will be asked to bring forward "following consultation with all relevant interests" proposals in relation to the application of the post-1999 CI in the comment chapter.

I am a member of the Irish Central Border Area Network which has two sister organisations called the North-West Border Group and the East Border Network. The North-West Border Group was set up in the early 1970s. It was a far seeing initiative by people, including Senator McGowan. It has successfully bridged the gap in the democratic deficit between the two parts of the island by bringing together elected local representatives and officials from the local authorities in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone in order to pursue a commonality of interests on the social and economic front. The East Border Network comprises the elected representatives and executives of the Newry and Mourne District Council, Armagh-Louth County Council and Monaghan County Council. ICBAN is the newest organisation – it was set up in 1995. All these bodies pursue a commonality of interests in their regions.

With the onset of negotiations for post-1999 Structural and Cohesion Funds those bodies decided to get together before Christmas in Enniskillen where they agreed to initiate a series of integrated area plans for the Border region, North and South. This is a very forceful group comprising 26 local authorities and district councils from the North and South. They politically represent almost one million people from both sides of the Border. The first fruits of their initiative was the launch of a transport infrastructure study three weeks ago. The study was presented to the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, Lord Dubbs, and our Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, at a function held in Omagh.

This section relates to the consultation element of the bodies. The representative groupings have already met with the Taoiseach in this House. They have also met TDs and Senators representing all political parties from the Border region. Next week a representative group, of which I am a member, will visit the Minister of State, Mr. Murphy, in Stormont buildings. The message is the same. What role will this grouping have in the consultation process? It must have a full and substantial role. People living in the Border counties will no longer accept the position where successive operational programmes from 1979 onwards have been decided by well meaning civil servants and their political masters without due consultation.

I do not want to go down the road on what happened in 1979 and 1984 and, to a lesser extent, from 1984 to 1989. I would be grateful for a response from the Minister, although he may believe he has been thrown at this without prior warning, on how we can logically exclude a grouping such as that I outlined from any consultation process in the context of how money will be spent in the areas to which I referred in the Border counties, North and South. It is the most deprived socio-economic area on the island, and that is accepted by both Governments. Indeed, the thrust of Government policy is that spending by the Department of Finance post-1999 will emphasise those areas because they have lagged so far behind.

I am making a plea for a substantive and significant role for the representatives of the Border groupings which, as I outlined, have a substantial mandate behind them. To put the question in an easily answerable way, can the Minister give me some indication of how the structures will operate which will allow the type of consultation outlined in the section?

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. He obviously has a much greater hands-on knowledge than I. As he and all Members know, the EU Programmes Body will be a truly devolved body which will co-ordinate and complement the work of the three cross-Border networks mentioned specifically by him. There will be the fullest consultation between the body and the cross-Border networks in the drawing up of the proposals, which is the fundamental point the Senator made, for the new programmes and for the integrated strategic plans which will be put in train. The Senator's point is well made.

Question put and agreed to.

I move:

That consideration of sections 31 to 38, inclusive, be postponed until sections 39 to 56, inclusive, have been disposed of.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 39 to 48, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 49 stand part of the Bill."

This is a normal section in a Bill of this type but there has not been the normal type of scrutiny of this legislation by both Houses, a fact conceded by the Minister. We are after all abolishing half a dozen bodies today, creating half a dozen new ones and restructuring a wide area of the public service. There is provision earlier in the Bill for the Taoiseach to intervene if things are not working out.

While I know we cannot do so today, I would like to see this section strengthened. In addition to the laying of the reports, the relevant Oireachtas committees should be instructed, as part of their work, to review on a regular basis the functioning of the new bodies, especially in the early period because there may well be need for changes in legislation. For the most part, these bodies are new and there may be aspects which are not working and need strengthening and changing. Parliament should have a role in overseeing how they are working and the proper way to do that would be through the Oireachtas committees. I urge the Minister to ask the Government to ensure the committees to make this part of their remit.

I support Senator Manning's worthy proposal. Perhaps I could tweak it a little by making a suggestion. One presumes the Minister will be requested to attend when the Oireachtas committees debate these reports and, if it is practical, perhaps it would be an opportunity, in the interests of an all island act of reconciliation and peace, to invite the Minister representing the Northern part of the island on the North-South bodies to attend. Will a structure be available? Will the Minister from this part of the island only attend? We will be deliberating on the report of an all island body and there will be a North-South Ministerial Council element involved. I wonder if that would be possible. I do not want to take away from the general thrust of what Senator Manning proposes.

I do not want to delay matters but I support what has been said. As I understand it, an annual report of each body will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. Presumably, it would be within the remit or the preserve of each House to decide how it wishes to proceed. One House may decide to have a full debate on the issue and invite the Minister to respond. It would, however, be desirable if there was scope for such a report to go before one of the committees. Each House should not be tied down in terms of how it will proceed with an annual report. It could request a Minister to come to the House, as the Senator suggested, and that a Minister from the Assembly be present as well. I presume the option is there for each House to decide if it wishes to proceed in a different way and perhaps have the opportunity to send it to a committee.

I was very interested in what Senators said and believe we may have gone a little further than intended. A fundamental point was raised by Senator Manning. The arrangements for accountability before the Houses will mirror existing provisions covering bodies which come within the audit remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General within this jurisdiction. This will include the requirement to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts on request. There will be reciprocal arrangements for Northern Ireland. In fact, any member of the body can be requested to appear or co-operate with the Northern Ireland Assembly committee or committee of these Houses. It is already set down in the legislation that a wide-ranging exchange of view may take place. Whether or not we can take the next step is an issue which will probably arise as we see these bodies operate and function. The fundamental and important points raised by the Senators are covered, as they should be.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 50 to 56, inclusive, agreed to.
Sections 31 and 32 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 33 stand part of the Bill."

I return to a point I made at some length on Second Stage and which the Minister addressed in part in his reply. He said the decision to dissolve the Commissioners of Irish Lights was taken by various parties in the North and incorporated into the 18 December agreement concluded amongst them. I would like further elaboration on that. It is not everyday we get a chance to repeal an Act passed in the 50th year of the reign of George III. The Dublin Port (1786) Act is one Act we are repealing at this stage.

I will try to put the point as succinctly as I can. The Commissioners of Irish Lights has been an all-Ireland body. It has functioned well and incorporated in some ways the best of North-South co-operation. If it is working well, why abolish it?

There does not seem to be any organic relationship between the merger of their functions with those of the Foyle Commissioners. It is appropriate that the Foyle Commissioners should be upgraded, as it was one of the first cross-Border bodies. At the time of its establishment it was hoped it would be the beginning of what is now taken for granted. I have a bad, unworthy suspicion that will not go away that among civil servants and those in charge of administration, the Commissioners of Irish Lights is perceived as an untidy body. The commissioners perpetuate themselves, have a nice lifestyle and have a good table at their office in Pembroke Street. However, they are also independent and do not fit into the neat arrangements which those in public administration like.

The Minister of State can disabuse me of this unworthy notion. Did civil servants or those who run public administration see this as a good opportunity to move this body into a neater, more controlled arrangement? I am willing to accept what I say is unworthy, that it is not the case and that all the pressure for this came from within Northern Ireland. These arrangements do not do anything to improve safety at sea through aids to navigators, etc. They remove an all-Ireland body which has existed for a long time and which worked in an efficient, accountable and honourable way. It is to be merged with a new body and there is no generic association between the two.

I would not dare tell the Senator he is wrong. I understand that he was a commissioner and, as one who lives under the shadow of Hook lighthouse, I am aware of the value of the com missioners and the Irish lights service throughout the years. It has been the most underestimated body in the country. It has done fantastic work in terms of saving lives and has saved more lives than it has claimed credit for. The commissioners have done magnificent work but I am sure they will understand what is happening.

The Minister of State should tell them that.

I reiterate that this was agreed at a meeting in the North by all parties and the implementation body is the result. I would hate to think the Senator's suspicion could be confirmed. I will not confirm it, but I share much of the sentiment expressed by him.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 34 to 38, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

Throughout the Schedule there are references to the development and licensing of aquaculture. This legislation refers almost exclusively to Carlingford and the Foyle areas. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources announced an initiative prior to Christmas relating to the development of aquaculture in the Border region. No further announcements were made on this. However, he referred to the development of aquaculture and the appointment of a small secretariat, as yet unplaced or unnamed, which could not happen until the North-South bodies were implemented.

I appreciate that I am throwing this at the Minister of State and do not necessarily expect him to answer the specific question. Does this Bill relate only to the Carlingford and Foyle areas? I want to make a play for the establishment of the secretariat in my home town, Drumshanbo, which is in the middle of the Border network and on the edge of Lough Allen, where there already is a developed aquaculture programme. In a town with a population of 750, two or three Government jobs and a permanent secretariat would be a very welcome addition to the local economy. Obviously, I must await the implementation of the body and see how it functions in the short-term before I will be able to continue my lobby for the location of the permanent secretariat. Why does this legislation deal only with the Carlingford and Foyle areas?

It concerns only the Carlingford and Foyle areas because they are substantial areas which need attention. Aquaculture is being given a new emphasis here and in the North and I assure the Senator the Minister's announcement will be followed through soon. It is our intention to develop aquaculture to its fullest potential.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

This is a fine and historic Bill. It charts the framework for a new era in co-operation on this island. It does so on a basis of mutual interest and in a way that threatens nobody. For too long, we have stood apart from each other on this island, divided by mistrust and misunderstanding. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and now in bread and butter detail under this Bill, we have a means to end that isolation and mistrust and work side by side for the good and well being of all people on this island.

The history books will look well on the Bill. It contains the basis for a real "outworking" of that new beginning that dawned last Good Friday. We, in the Government, look forward to playing our full part on the North-South Ministerial Council and ensuring the bodies function effectively and well, as intended. We, of course, also look forward to working fully on the east-west institutions referred to in the Bill.

I thank the Opposition for the constructive approach taken in dealing with the Bill. This reflects well on all Senators who spoke. We regret, because of circumstances which Members understand, that more time was not available. The Government greatly appreciates the co-operation of the other parties in that regard. I appreciate the remarks made by Senator Manning in relation to my family. I am grateful to him for them.

This Bill is in many ways the product of the work of many Governments, Ministers, and Members of this House down the years. All can take, and deserve, great credit that the fruits of their labour can at last be harvested. I take great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

I compliment the Minister on the manner in which he brought this Bill through the House today. It is probably one of the most important Bills on which any of us will ever have the opportunity to speak. It will alter or begin to alter relationships North and South and, eventually, east and west. The most important thing about today's debate is the spirit in which it occurred which indicated that there is consensus between all parties in the Republic in regard to Northern Ireland. That must be a great source of strength to the Government as it continues the process of finding a lasting and just settlement.

I endorse Senator Manning's comments and compliment the Minister not just for this legislation but for the manner in which he has carried the good name of Ireland. He has done so not merely in his brief as Minister for Foreign Affairs, but in delicate and sensitive negotiations North and South. When he referred to his late father, I could not help but hope that if his generation is looking down on us, they will feel some sense of pride that the hopes and dashed dreams of previous generations have perhaps been realised in a small way here in recent days. This Bill may fulfil many of our forefathers' political aspirations, particularly from the period 1919-22 and in the context of what the Government of Ireland Act was about. The sentiments expounded at that time were subsequently shrouded by the tragedy of civil war. Perhaps we are back on track now in a political sense. This legislation will I hope lead to a better understanding between the people of this island, North and South.

I do not want to seem too parochial but I hope the Minister will avail of every available opportunity to encourage Unionists to take up the two vacant seats on the British-Irish Parliamentary Body. The seats have been vacant since the Minister was a member of the body; I am privileged to be a current member and it is a matter of great sadness and regret to members of the body, British and Irish, that the two seats remain vacant during its plenary sessions. We will meet at the end of this month in County Clare and it appears the Unionists will not be present. Perhaps these few days may act as a catalyst to encourage them to take their place at the table. They have nothing to fear. If their point of view is not presented, that will result in an imbalanced argument about the future political direction of the island. What better way to express their view than to attend a meeting of a body which represents the two sovereign parliaments? I know the Minister feels strongly about this and hope he will use the example of parliamentary democracy at its best, exemplified in these Houses in recent days, to inform the Unionists that we would welcome their dialogue and have no wish to exclude them.

I wish the Minister well in what is perhaps the most onerous task undertaken by any Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs in recent years. It seems at times that because peace broke out, everything is fine. It is not; things are very much balanced on a knife edge.

I would like to be associated with my colleagues' remarks and compliment the Minister on his good work here today, the courteous and open fashion in which he presented the legislation and responded to all the points made and the contribution he has made over the past 12 months in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.

Today, we have been providing a further framework for progressing the Good Friday Agreement. That is a very good day's work. It now remains for us to ensure progression occurs. I hope the process will bear fruit and that the next time we discuss these matters, we will do so in the knowledge that the goods have been produced.

We have been talking about cross-Border bodies. We can talk about bodies forever but it is people who create relationships and interact with each other. I would like to see some means being arrived at to allow ordinary men and women in the street to interact on a straightforward basis in terms of cross-Border relations. It is relatively easy to establish institutions but it is more difficult to find the wherewithal for people to interact with each other. That is where the challenge now lies.

I thank the Minister for the good work he has done; we all look forward to the Bill's successful implementation.

On behalf of the Government, I thank the Minister for introducing this major and historic Bill in the House today. It has taken many long days and late nights to complete the package and the Minister has guaranteed himself a place in the history books through his efforts to achieve peace and prosperity for all. I thank all of the other Ministers and civil servants who attended today's debate.

The fullest co-operation was forthcoming from Senator Manning, leader of Fine Gael Party and Senator Joe Costello, leader of the Labour Party. I thank them sincerely for that. They can be assured of our co-operation in the future. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach who presided over the proceedings.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I wish to be associated with the remarks of previous speakers. No praise is too high for my ministerial colleague whom I have known for many years. I compliment him on his dedication; the sojourn has been a long one and he and the Minister of State have worked very hard in recent months.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tuesday, 23 March at 12 noon.