The Order of Business today is No. 1, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Committee Stage, to the taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
The Cathaoirleach will be aware of my request under Standing Order 29.
We will come to that later.
The Leader will be aware that the Government repeatedly tells parties throughout the island and in Britain that there can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. How is it, credible, therefore, for the Government to tell us that there can be no change to the Agreement when last October, in discussions with the IRA, it attempted to change the Agreement, to which we all signed up and accepted in 1998?
A commitment was made to both Houses in 1998 that the brutal murderers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe would not be let out of prison under the early release programme. That commitment was also made to Mrs. McCabe in 1999 in correspondence from the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In the context of the latest revelations, which were confirmed today by the president of Sinn Féin, that policy had the full support not only of this House, but also of the Irish people. The Government is now attempting to change that policy without recourse to the McCabe family or this House.
The Government's actions have been disgraceful in the circumstances and it is vital that a statement is made on the matter by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, who has been huffing and puffing about the IRA over the past four months although he and his like were involved in secret negotiations last October to secure the release of the killers in question. This is terrible and the House needs to debate the matter.
It is a certainty that when a person puts his life on the line for this country, we, as citizens of a republic, have an obligation to defend the memory of that person, to ensure the courts uphold the law and that those responsible for crimes against that person are adequately charged and serve their time in prison. The memory of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe has not been honoured in any way by the actions of the Government and the revelations about those actions over the past 24 hours. We need an urgent debate on this matter not only to maintain the integrity of this House and this Republic, but also the integrity of the peace process itself.
The House should be reminded that, on three or four occasions in the past 20 years, it debated capital punishment and its elimination. Senator Ross brought forward a Private Members' Bill on one occasion. We discussed the matter during Private Members' business and the final legislation was introduced by the Government. There was considerable agreement on both sides during that debate and one of the issues on which there was absolute agreement, apart from the abolition of the barbaric practice of capital punishment, was the importance of the fact that those responsible for the deaths of gardaí on duty serve their full sentences.
I could not agree more with the points raised by Senator Brian Hayes. We have frequently been quick in the House to criticise and ask questions of gardaí. On occasions when they put their lives on the line, we must be seen to stand with them. I do not understand what the Government is doing regarding this matter. The courts have spoken on it and we should live with it. The Cathaoirleach is from west Limerick and has seen this matter from both sides, but even given that deals must be done at certain times, I cannot understand the form of negotiation that begins by putting one's trump card on the table for somebody to respond to. This shows absolute ineptness. I mentioned second-termism before. In this context, if certain deals have to be done, they should be done after due consultation, negotiation and discussion and, particularly, with sensitivity to the needs of the families involved.
I, too, would like a clear statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this issue. His approach to this matter is extraordinary and in stark contrast to his approach to eight or nine young people who expressed their disagreement with the Government on issues of international politics in a way that many in this House did over the years at the same age and who had the law applied to them by the Garda. They were rightly brought to court but were not given bail at a time when criminals are walking free, garda killers are being told they can walk free and there is a revolving door system in jails. In a democracy, we should encourage people to speak out and express their views, within the law obviously, but there should also be a certain sense of proportion in the way with which people are dealt. There is no proportion in a justice system that puts demonstrating students behind bars without giving them bail and allows garda killers to walk free. I simply cannot agree with it.
I do not intend to propose a vote of sympathy but I note with regret the tragic passing of Mick Doyle this morning.
That is a matter for the Leader of the House.
With regard to the issue the Leader of the Opposition raised, it is clear the Government has participated in underhand negotiations with the republican movement about the possible release of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Everybody in this island was outraged at the cold blooded and brutal manner in which Detective Garda McCabe was murdered on that fateful morning in Adare in 1996 by members of the IRA. It is, to say the least, disappointing to discover through the BBC that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Taoiseach were party to negotiations that could have possibly resulted in the early release of those prisoners.
There is a number of things wrong with this proposal. First, it undermines the Good Friday Agreement. The Taoiseach explicitly stated in the Lower House in 1999 that these people would not qualify for early release in the context of the early release programme under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Second, in 1999, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, wrote as follows to the detective's widow:
I hope that what I said at the meeting provided you with assurance that there is no question of granting early release to those concerned, either under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement or, for that matter, on any other basis either. I want to assure you now, formally and in writing, that the Government's position, right from the beginning, was that the men concerned are not covered by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that their transfer to Castlerea will have no bearing whatsoever on the question of early release. They will serve their time in Castlerea just as they would have in Portlaoise.
It is an affront to the memory of Detective Garda McCabe and a profound insult to the family to get a written commitment from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and many verbal commitments from the Taoiseach that these people would not be released only to discover from the BBC last Friday that this is exactly what the Government was planning to do. It is unspeakable. This was not contained in the programme for Government and the expressed views of the Taoiseach and Ministers in this regard could not have been clearer. I share the anger expressed in the House today and call on those responsible for these underhand consultations to come to the House to debate this sensitive and important issue.
I am aware the House debated the disabilities issue recently but a statement from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform yesterday confirmed that some of the measures needed in the disabilities Bill and which have been sought by the Opposition and disabilities rights groups will not be included. Will the Leader exert as much pressure as possible on the relevant Minister to ensure the Bill is published before the European and local elections? There is a presumption in some quarters that the proposed Bill will not go any further than the Disabilities Bill that was shelved prior to the 2002 general election. The Bill should be published before the elections.
I commend to the House the thoughtful, considered and balanced contribution by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Brady, to the discussion of the current difficulties in the North. It was an exercise in church statesmanship and we look forward to other church leaders coming forward with similar thoughtful contributions.
With regard to the matter raised by Senator Brian Hayes, everybody was disgusted by the killing of Detective Garda McCabe. The Fianna Fáil Party in Opposition made it clear that the killers would not be covered by any agreement. They were not covered by the Good Friday Agreement and, whenever they are released, it will not be under the terms of that Agreement like everybody else who falls into that category. They were explicitly excluded from it.
They have now served almost eight years so "early release" is not really the appropriate term to use. I have great respect for what the colleague of Detective Garda McCabe, who was shot and seriously wounded, had to say on the subject in an interview recently. The peace process and agreement in the North has a moral purpose. If all we want to do is moralise, we might as well not have started with the peace process in the first place.
While I have no intention of moralising on the matter, coming from west Limerick I know of the profound effect this tragedy had on our area. I am well aware of the Government's commitments, which have been consistent on this issue. The views of the people I represent in the area would very much reflect the Government's thinking up to now. However, the leak to the BBC, regardless of its source, has now happened. Limerick people now believe it is rather disingenuous and inconsistent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has been very outspoken in lashing out at the IRA and Sinn Féin, to take a vow of silence on this issue.
Along with those in my area, I want clarity from the Government. Is what is said now consistent with what the Government stated in the past and does it intend to release the murderers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe or not? In my area people have been appalled that the perpetrators might be released. If this was a bargaining chip used in the last round of negotiations, why has the information been released now? Are we being softened up for the release, which may happen shortly?
I do not intend what I am about to say be hurtful to anyone. I deplore the murder of Detective Garda McCabe and I sympathise with his relatives. I equally deplore the murders of 306 RUC officers. I live near the widows and children of some of those RUC officers who were asked to make an enormous sacrifice in the interests of the peace process. By and large most of them did so on the basis that it is the price to be paid. These people should have been covered by the Agreement all along. I could have lived with a situation in which nobody was released. There was a strong argument for not releasing anybody on either side until they had done their time. However, one knows the politics of the situation and the difficulties of negotiations.
It seems invidious to make distinctions between those who murdered gardaí and those who murdered RUC officers. This runs the risk of giving the impression to people in Northern Ireland that somehow it was acceptable to murder an RUC officer or, in any case, was less culpable than murdering a garda. We need to think very clearly and for a long time about this. People on all sides in Northern Ireland were asked to make a sacrifice and pay a very high price — and they did so. People in this part of the country should be prepared to accept that and, if asked, to make the same sort of sacrifice.
I agree with Senator Mansergh about Dr. Brady's intervention, which by and large was judicious. As a member of the Church of Ireland — not a Free Presbyterian — I was absolutely horrified to hear the truculent, ignorant and abusive response of Ian Paisley Junior who, during a radio interview, persisted in referring to Archbishop Brady as "Mr. Brady". I found that especially offensive considering that his father has a degree from Bob Jones University yet is referred to politely as "Dr. Paisley".
Senator Mansergh is again right on the McCabe matter. We must accept the practicality of the issue. If the release of the prisoners leads to the disbandment of the IRA and the destruction of its weapons, which is the only context in which the Taoiseach indicated it was possible, it is a sacrifice we should humbly ask the McCabe family to accept. In the same context, Senator Maurice Hayes referred to RUC widows and families who have had to accept this. However, it should be noted that these prisoners were not covered by the Good Friday Agreement. While the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave a categorical assurance to the widow at the time of their incarceration, she has not been consulted since. The matter should be explained to her most particularly. It is very clear that the IRA lied about the killing by saying it was not involved. Its political leadership, which is the same as the IRA leadership, is now telling a different story. There are many areas of confusion in this which should be addressed.
I wish quickly to raise two other matters. While I have raised one in the past couple of weeks, it is only today that I have documents to give to the Leader. I am revolted by the dishonesty of the President of the United States of America who claims to be horrified and disgusted by what has gone on as if it involved the actions of a collection of people down the chain of command. It is United States policy. I have documents which I will photocopy and give to the Leader which indicate that Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped at JFK Airport and exported to Syria to be tortured in the presence of CIA operatives. This is contract torture. As the Leader indicated, this came from the top. The language was set at the top. The leadership welshed on the International Criminal Court and said the Geneva Convention did not apply. It established the prison at Guantanamo Bay and exported methods and personnel from there to Abu Ghraib prison. This is clearly a matter of policy. The leadership had the reports and has known about this for over a year. It is lying through its teeth if it says it did not. It is not acceptable. The Taoiseach should raise these matters on a case-by-case basis and name the people involved when he meets President Bush.
On the same basis, I ask that in his meeting with the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, the Taoiseach raise matters involving Tibet which have been of concern to this House. I apologise to the mandarin opposite whom I see smiling at my Chinese pronunciation which I am sure is quite inferior to his. Perhaps he learned Mandarin at his minor public school.
The elaboration of names is unnecessary.
Can one not even name the Chinese Premier? He would love it.
Senator, you should stick to the point. There are time constraints.
The Taoiseach should urge the re-opening of negotiations with the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the release of the Panchen Lama who was kidnapped ten years ago. The Taoiseach should also urge the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. While the Cathaoirleach has said it is not proper to name people, doing so is the only way of getting them out.
The Senator has released half a dozen.
If she can find him, will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to the House to debate the failure of the Government's policy to ease inflation in the housing market? We saw in today's press that some €17.5 billion has been borrowed from lending agents by young couples trying to acquire a house of their own. This proves Government policy has failed. House prices have increased by 20% in the past 12 months. The housing strategy has failed. It is time to get cronyism and the Government's policy of looking after vested interests out of the way and to release more land on which to build houses.
The Government has failed to deliver on its policy to deliver houses for young people trying to set up a home of their own.
It is sad to hear a Member of this House say we have to pay a price for peace in this country. Anybody who has lived and been in communication with the people of Ireland for the past 20 years realises a price has been paid by people on all sides who suffered murder at the hands of those who went about dealing with matters their way.
Members of this House do not understand the public's feelings in this regard if they think the release of the murderers of Detective Garda McCabe is the last issue to be settled before we move forward. Is this another price? Are Sinn Féin and the IRA moving the goalposts on a daily basis? What next, following the release of Detective Garda McCabe's murderers? How can we expect the Garda Síochána to have confidence in the system when we brush aside the murder of their comrades? How can we justify this and say we must accept it in order to deal with outstanding issues? It is time the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, came to this House and stated clearly and unequivocally if this is the final issue on which we must deal with the IRA or if we are to hear of more. It is imperative the Taoiseach and Minister stop equivocating and express their final decision in this regard.
Will the Leader request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to this House to tell us if CIA operatives, encouraging or ordering the torture of prisoners in Iraqi prisons or those described as contractors — mercenaries would be a better description — are passing through Shannon Airport from the United States of America? The Irish public is of the opinion that only members of the armed forces are passing through Shannon Airport. However, it appears that may not be the case.
I add my voice to those who have raised serious questions regarding the possibility of the early release of the murderers of Detective Garda McCabe. The Taoiseach has a duty to tell this House what are his plans, if any, in regard to this proposal.
I wish also to draw Members' attention to the "Prime Time" programme regarding people with intellectual disabilities aired last night. It highlighted, once again, the plight of many families throughout the country trying to cope with children and adults suffering such disabilities and the lack of services available to them.
The disability Bill has not yet come before us. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, to bring it before us prior to the local elections.
I agree with Senator Bannon that not alone do we need a debate on housing but we need an urgent debate on the value for money being provided by local authorities and the enforcement or lack of enforcement of the planning laws. There are many sharp differences in that regard as Members will be aware. It would be timely for the Leader to arrange such a debate.
I support the calls for a debate on housing. Some 170,000 new houses were built in the UK last year and some 67,000 new houses have been built in Ireland this year, a remarkable achievement.
I join the calls for a debate on Iraq. I have come to the conclusion that the way to end war is not with war, as was suggested with the war to end all wars, but with peace. I am disturbed by what is happening in Iraq and I believe we would benefit by having a debate. I regard the United States as a benevolent big brother and I am disturbed to see things happening which I do not associate with the American people or with their aspirations. I would welcome a debate on this matter.
As many Members raised the issue of Detective Garda McCabe, God rest him, I will read some paragraphs from a statement given to me by the Government. Of course, it will not satisfy everyone but it will put matters in context and we can then talk in a less formal way about the issue. The statement is long. I shall not read all of it but merely quote five of the paragraphs:
This issue remains on the agenda. Sinn Féin have made it clear that they are unable to convince the IRA leadership to move away from violence, as we all want them to, without the Castlerea prisoner situation being resolved. [Those convicted are in Castlerea Prison].
The Government can consider the early release of these prisoners only in the context where the complete ending of paramilitarism by the IRA and decommissioning is assured.
The Government cannot see any prospect of a restoration of the Good Friday Agreement in the absence of such a definitive outcome.
If the Government were to make such a decision it would be doing so in a context where this island would be looking forward to an entirely new situation in which the IRA had become a thing of the past.
If such a situation arises, the concerns of the McCabe family, Detective Ben O'Sullivan, his colleague, the gardaí and the public at large will continue to be central to the Government consideration of the matter.
I would prefer that this statement be read formally in reply to Senators and I will go through——
Why does the statement not refer to complete decommissioning?
I am repeating the statement which was given to me.
Does the Leader accept it?
Everything said here today is sincerely felt. However, people view this matter from different perspectives. I admire the honesty of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in talking through this situation openly and fully.
They were flushed out by the BBC.
It was disingenuous of them. They must realise that Sinn Féin and the IRA are going to do the same thing.
Order, please. Allow the Leader to reply without interruption.
Senator Brian Hayes raised this matter and I know he will call for a vote under a particular Standing Order, which is his right. I understand his viewpoint and that of Fine Gael. Senator Brian Hayes has a right to express his views in this forum and he did so with great passion.
Senator O'Toole asked why the Government's trump card has been put on the table at this stage. Senator McCarthy spoke on the same matter. He also asked if full rights for people with disabilities would be granted by the disability Bill. I think it has been made clear that rights as defined do not appear to be, but we have not seen the Bill. Senator McCarthy asked if the Bill would be published before the European and local elections. I will inquire about that and I hope to have an answer tomorrow. Report Stage of the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill will be debated this week in the Dáil. I hope we will debate the Bill in the Seanad next week.
Senator Mansergh drew attention to the statement of Archbishop Brady, which was, indeed, very fine. He also spoke of his respect for the views of Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan, the colleague of Garda McCabe.
Senator Finucane asked for clarity. I believe the statement I have read gave that clarity, in so far as there can be clarity about such matters. That is where the difficulty lies.
It is a feature of the Seanad that we can have different viewpoints depending on where we come from. In that context, Senator Maurice Hayes spoke of the remarkable generosity of the widows and families of murdered RUC men and the sacrifices they made.
Senator Norris referred to the response of Mr. Ian Paisley Junior to Archbishop Brady and also to the situation in Iraq. There will be a debate tomorrow on Africa and development co-operation. I hope there will be a debate on Iraq next week if the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, is available. The Senator asked that the Taoiseach raise these issues with President Bush when he visits Ireland. I hope he will.
We are daily assailed on radio and television by the situation in Iraq, which is far worse than before. Senator Norris also asked that the Taoiseach raise the issue of the Dalai Lama with the Chinese Premier.
Senator Bannon called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to come to the House to debate housing strategy.
With regard to the comments of Senator Ulick Burke on the price paid for peace, the Senator was referring to an earlier contribution made in the context of the sacrifices of widows of murdered RUC officers and the generosity of their responses when questioned. The Senator can pluck half a sentence from another contribution but if it is not taken in context, it may not be correctly understood. While there is no doubt this is a serious matter, there will be pain for everyone involved if it reaches that point.
Senator Henry wanted to know the status of American personnel travelling through Shannon Airport, about which I can inquire. There was a recent article on the matter and I understand the Senator's concern.
With regard to Senator Terry's point, it would be of no avail for the Taoiseach to come to House to discuss the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe or its impact on future events, and this would only cause further pain. I saw only the end of the "Prime Time" programme on disability. I can find out for the Senator whether the disability Bill will be brought to the House before the local elections.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of value for money in regard to local authorities and Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the situation in Iraq.