I welcome the Taoiseach to the House. We will now deal with No. 3, statements on Northern Ireland issues. I call on the Taoiseach to begin.
Northern Ireland Issues: Statements.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address Seanad Éireann following some very significant developments in the peace process. On 28 July, when the IRA announced an end to its armed campaign, I said that its words must be borne out by actions and on 26 September, we saw verified actions when General John de Chastelain announced the completion of IRA decommissioning. Finally, the IRA has yielded to the will of the people, as expressed in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. It has given up its weapons to pursue its aims by exclusively peaceful means. In doing so, it has also accepted the unequivocal demand of the Oireachtas, on behalf of the people, that violence be brought to a permanent end.
The future of Ireland can now be determined by elected representatives, working for all of the people in a purely peaceful and democratic way. I have worked for this outcome for the past seven years, to fulfil the mandate the people gave me in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. This was a mandate to secure a permanent peace on this island and to help build a new future and new friendships among everyone on the island and between Ireland and Britain. In spite of the many setbacks and disappointments, I have continued to pursue that goal because, as a constitutional republican, I was convinced that it was the only way to achieve a lasting settlement of the Northern conflict. I was joined in this endeavour by many people and I express my gratitude to everybody who played a part in getting to this point. There are many people of all parties and none, of all creeds and classes, who have worked for peace, not least distinguished Members of this House, past and present.
I would like to thank in particular Senator Martin Mansergh, whose contribution to the peace process over the years has been invaluable and highly influential. I would also like to mention Senator Maurice Hayes who has worked for many decades in public service, North and South. It is also appropriate to recall today that a Member of this House, Senator Billy Fox, lost his life during the Troubles. We remember him, and all the other victims and survivors, at this time.
We have not yet completed our task but we can be happy that we have come further than many people ever thought possible. It is my earnest hope and strong belief that next year will see the return of the Northern Executive and Assembly and the North-South Ministerial Council. They are an essential part of the democratic framework in these islands and represent the best and only hope of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous future.
In a context where progress is being made and trust and confidence are being restored, there is also an opportunity to address the issue of Oireachtas participation by Northern representatives. As I stated in the Dáil, what I will propose will be sensible but modest. It will be faithful to the recommendations of the all-party report. There is no question of granting Northern Ireland MPs speaking rights in the Dáil. Nor will our proposals cut across the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement but they can complement the North-South parliamentary forum under the Agreement, which we hope to see established soon. The British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body is already in existence and thriving. There is also a distinguished history of Northern appointees to this House to build on. This is ultimately a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and I will make proposals directly to all of the other party leaders shortly.
The Government will also, towards the end of this year, bring forward proposals for dealing with the question of so-called on-the-runs in the context of a verified end to all IRA paramilitary and criminal activity. I reiterate that there will no concessions in respect of anybody involved in the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.
I have described the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning report of last week as a landmark development. The report of the IICD confirmed that the weapons of the IRA are gone and that they have been disposed of in a manner that has been witnessed and verified. The report states that the IRA has now placed the totality of its arsenal beyond use. I accept and welcome that assessment.
Last week, I met General John de Chastelain and his team and thanked them for the work they have done. I am sure Senators join me in that and also in thanking the independent witnesses. Fr. Alec Reid and Reverend Harold Good have done the people of this island a great service. It adds to their work for peace over many years. The task they undertook to witness IRA decommissioning required not only integrity, but also personal courage. They told of how they watched the entire process, minute by minute. They said that beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned. Their statement was compelling and it was clear. All who heard it knew that they were hearing the truth.
The IICD has now reported on four separate acts of decommissioning. The most recent, final report was of a programme, over several days, from dawn to dusk. The general spoke of very large quantities of weapons and made clear that the amounts involved were consistent with the inventory prepared by the security forces. Very detailed inventories were made and these will be published when all decommissioning, including of loyalist weapons, has been completed. I accept the general's view that an amount of confidentiality was necessary in order to ensure that decommissioning happened. His approach has been vindicated by events. IRA decommissioning has now been removed as an obstacle to progress. That is my view and the view of the two Governments. It is important to be clear on this and to move on. Ultimately, if decommissioning is to have any meaning, it has to be an accomplished fact on the ground. The people will know if it is real or not.
There is another equally important dimension to our demands of the IRA, that is, that it ceases all paramilitary and criminal activities. We need to be convinced that all IRA paramilitary and criminal activity has come to an end. The next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission will be published this month and will give an indication of progress on this issue. There will be a further IMC report in January.
There are, of course, other challenges to be faced. These were set out by Tony Blair and myself in July. They include the restoration of the political institutions, the ending of loyalist paramilitary and criminal activity and the resolution of policing issues. Having seen the completion of decommissioning, and if there are positive reports from the Independent Monitoring Commission, I believe the way will be open to a full resumption of dialogue on the restoration of the political institutions. I call on all concerned to use the period ahead to reflect on the progress already made and to prepare for the next steps back towards democratic, devolved government in the North. That is the only way we will ever begin to get reconciliation between the two communities. It is also the only way that the real problems that affect people, in health, education, the economy and social exclusion, can begin to be addressed. There is no substitute for democratically elected local representatives dealing with these issues.
Events of recent weeks and, indeed, of recent days have shown that the problem of loyalist criminal and paramilitary activity remains acute. We need to see an end to criminality that, far from helping or protecting communities, only adds to their suffering. We need to see the removal of loyalist weapons from the equation. It is these weapons that pose a present danger to the community. They have been used in recent weeks and months for murder, attempted murder, crime and racketeering. The use of guns and explosives against the police force during the recent riots was truly shocking. It was absolutely unjustified and it cannot and will not be rewarded.
We need to consolidate the progress on policing. The role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is central to a future free of paramilitary threat. In my view, the absence of full cross-community support for the police service is a dangerous threat to the hard won peace that we all enjoy. The PSNI has grown in stature as the Patten reforms have been rolled out. As I said recently in the Dáil, the bravery and impartiality displayed during the recent riots was outstanding.
The Government stands four-square behind the Patten reforms. There will be no turning back from the new beginning in policing. That is why the Government continues to call on all parties to give their support to policing in Northern Ireland. In particular, we have made clear to Sinn Féin that it must deal with this issue. This is not just for the common good, but also for the good of the communities and the people it represents. Democracy and the rule of law are fundamental to a resolution of all of the issues that lie before us.
Clearly, despite all the progress we have made, a significant challenge now lies in rebuilding the trust and confidence of the Unionist community. I understand that. The events of recent months, in terms of how the Governments would respond to an end to the IRA's activities, had been signalled in advance in various public documents, including the Joint Declaration of 2003. Events such as decommissioning and security normalisation are very welcome. It is unfortunate that, because of the delay in getting to this point, an incorrect perception has been created of a one-way stream of concessions. The Good Friday Agreement is a very balanced document. The peace process is conducted in an even-handed way. The outcomes have already been significant and positive for everyone on these islands. Peace, increased prosperity, equality and reform benefit everybody.
The Good Friday Agreement also established the principle of consent and removed the South's territorial claim on the North. It has helped bring an end to the IRA's armed campaign and the decommissioning of IRA weapons. The Agreement provides the basis for democratic government and a prosperous shared future for everybody.
Regarding decommissioning, people will need time to reflect. I welcome the positive stance taken by some Unionist leaders and leading representatives of the Protestant churches, including Archbishop Robin Eames and the Presbyterian Moderator Dr. Harry Uprichard, following the IICD announcement. Everyone is entitled to form their own opinion. It is not just a question of expecting Unionists to do what others want in time. They must be persuaded and convinced they can trust those who seek their trust. This is not a veto on progress but it is a reality that we must all recognise and address. I believe that trust and confidence can be rebuilt and the Government will do its utmost to assist that process.
The task before us all now is to build a better future and Ireland. This must be an Ireland that is a warm home for everybody who lives here and a cold house for no one. Everyone must feel secure and respected. Above all, the task ahead is, therefore, one of reconciliation. We must achieve a wholehearted and genuine reconciliation with the Unionist people. They have a right to live in peace on this island. Their culture, identity and aspirations must be respected. We also have a right to our aspirations, which can be advanced using only peaceful and democratic means. We must have a deeper dialogue with those who do not share these aspirations. We cannot just talk past them about what we want. If we are to talk of unity, let us talk of uniting people and not just territory.
A shared future will not come easily. Apart from making political progress, we must make progress in the hearts and minds of all the people. We must confront sectarianism and hatred wherever we see them on all sides. We must build more friendships between North and South, Catholic and Protestant, Britain and Ireland. We have achieved far more than people sometimes realise. Relations between Britain and Ireland have never been better. There are growing links between North and South and there is huge potential for developing an all-island economy, building infrastructure and providing better services. We are working hard to tap all of this potential.
Many people have suffered at the hands of these weapons that have now thankfully been removed from our lives. This suffering should never have happened. Decommissioning of weapons does not heal the pain and loss. We will not forget our sad and tragic past. We cannot undo the damage done but we can ensure that no future generations will suffer this pain and loss. The Government will uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the principle of equality. We will play our part in building peace, prosperity and reconciliation. There is no going back to the bad old days. We are building a better future, a shared future.
On behalf of everyone, I thank the Taoiseach for attending the House today and leading this debate on Northern Ireland, for which we have called for quite some time.
Like the Taoiseach, I pay a tribute to the work of Senators Mansergh and Maurice Hayes over the ten to 15 year period that has brought us to where we are today. It was significant that the Taoiseach reminded the House that the last Irish parliamentarian murdered by the IRA was a Member of the Seanad, Senator Billy Fox of my party. He was killed for no other reason than being a Protestant who lived along the Border. In reminding the House of this awful event the Taoiseach has put all of the hurt and suffering of the past 35 or 40 years in context.
I welcome the Taoiseach. It is fair to say the last time he visited the House there was a significant difference between the Government and my party on issues regarding Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. I welcome the Government's change of policy to adopt the position we argued for in our very substantive motion of April 2004. I do not mention this issue to be churlish, only to say there is an important political point to be made. The period between January and July of 2005, when the IRA needed to recognise that the way forward was to make the act of decommissioning a reality, was important because the IRA was not pampered or given additional promises. It was told it must face decommissioning, which it did.
We should now examine the new concessions sought by the DUP. The day after the decommissioning event some weeks ago, a document issued by the DUP outlined a range of additional new concessions to which I would encourage the Irish and British Governments not to concede.
As long as the lowest common denominator in the political process continues to demand additional concessions from both Governments in all of our names effectively, we will not get the type of progress we need. I know this to be the view of the Taoiseach. For example, the concessions sought by the DUP on the policing board are unfair and unworkable. They should be rejected on this basis.
Decommissioning was a great event for Ireland. Successive Irish Governments have sought to bring it about and the Taoiseach deserves credit for his role over the past number of months in helping to persuade people to make that move. However, decommissioning must take place at other levels. We must witness decommissioning of the substantial criminal empire that alleged republicans have put in place on these islands. Do we need any additional evidence of this reality when today, on the very day we are meeting to discuss this important matter, we discover that the Assets Recovery Agency in Northern Ireland has obtained a warrant of the High Court in London to investigate the ownership of 250 houses in Manchester with a net asset value of £9.6 million sterling? This is property that is allegedly in the ownership of the IRA. It is astonishing that republicans who wanted to fight absentee landlords for many years are now going into the business of renting accommodation in a very large United Kingdom city.
This is a fact. We must decommission the substantial empire the IRA has amassed by criminal means in recent years. Last week, Senator Minihan put it very well when he stated the IRA was not going out of business but into business. It is the kind of business we must be very careful of and expose, which is the view of every democratic political party inside and outside the House. How can we possibly fight against a political party that allegedly washes dirty money through clean, legitimate operations? Sinn Féin is not a normal democratic constitutional party. While its statement of 28 July on decommissioning is welcome, we must see further evidence that it has travelled the road we all travel on a daily basis. Only when it has divested itself of its empire and illegitimate police force, which attempts to pervert citizens in both jurisdictions, will it be considered a normal constitutional party.
I thank the Taoiseach for meeting members of the Rafferty family recently. They were grateful he would meet them and listen to their case, the details of which he knows better than most. I will use this opportunity to look to the future, be positive about these developments and demand that the substantial criminal empire that is Sinn Féin-IRA be decommissioned. Through these means, we can welcome Sinn Féin into normal constitutional politics.
I join with Senator Brian Hayes in thanking the Taoiseach for attending the House at a very important time in our history. In the years to come, we will hopefully look back to read this debate and reflect upon the pivotal period of Irish history in which it happened. We must look forward as well as back. I compliment the Taoiseach on his qualities of patience, perseverance and, above all, persuasion over the past years, particularly over the past 12 months when there were many shrill voices to which he could have succumbed. Some of these voices had reasons for being so shrill when it appeared as if decommissioning was not about to happen. We all felt a great sense of wearinessand déjà vu and were left wondering when something would happen. In such a period, in what may be described as a lacuna, it is very easy to lose sight of the big picture, for which we were all striving, and to seek to speak shrilly to no effect.
We were very fortunate in having the patience and, particularly, the persuasion of the Taoiseach and in being able to listen to his words. We are very honoured — I know the Cathaoirleach will join me in this — in having people like Senator Martin Mansergh and Senator Maurice Hayes in the House. They will be worn out with the compliments because everybody who speaks will repeat them but it is the truth. We have been the recipients of their wisdom, careful words, caveats and deliberations. We continue to read Senator Mansergh's contributions very carefully. Last Saturday's edition of The Irish Times contained a very good article by him entitled “Let the Reality of Decommissioning Sink In”.
In a way, I understand the long delay of Sinn Féin-IRA with regard to decommissioning. People will ask me why and say that there should have been no delay. There should not have been a regime of murder and maiming but we must remember that Sinn Féin-IRA had an enormous body of people to persuade. It would not be a matter of getting up one morning and saying that it would dump the arms. There would be far more mayhem if decommissioning had been advanced that way. Sinn Féin-IRA had disaffected republicans or republicans in particular situations and it had an enormous body of opinion to bring with it. If it did not succeed the entire effort would be have been aborted. It is not because Sinn Féin-IRA played the long game, although it did so earlier. It played the careful game at this juncture, which had to be done, otherwise the decommissioning process would have failed.
I strongly welcome the Taoiseach's certainty regarding the PSNI. From time to time, we are washed over with scéileanna about the PSNI. I believe it has proved itself to be competent, careful and of the highest order of public service, particularly in working through the reforms in the Patten report. There is also certainty about the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. I thank Members from the other side of the House who were strong and robust on this issue, which has been put to bed. I am sure that Mrs. McCabe, whom I heard recently on the radio, has faith in the Government's stand on this matter.
In the same way as I spoke about understanding how Sinn Féin-IRA had to bring its people along this path, I equally understand that the Reverend Ian Paisley could not simply come out the next morning and say that he believed the testimony of Reverend Harold Good and Fr. Alec Reid and that both men were very strong and principled people. This is where the Taoiseach's persuasive qualities come into play. Reverend Paisley also had to play a long game and persuade his people because he is now the head of the Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland through democratic means. When I heard the Taoiseach's kind remark that he understood the Unionists' point of view, it struck me that both bodies of people have to play a long game otherwise they would not have been able to be embracive.
If Wolfe Tone is around somewhere, he would smile at the fusion of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter in the union of Fr. Reid and Reverend Good in this process. They were united in the fruitful dispatches they made. The clear truth shone from General John de Chastelain, who is every inch a soldier, and the two reverend gentlemen. I very much welcome this and I believe we are all convinced by the very straight evidence they gave. We await the further reports of the Independent Monitoring Commission — one this month and the more important and definitive one in January 2006.
In his speech the Taoiseach said: "The Good Friday Agreement established the principle of consent and removed the South's territorial claim on the North." I appreciate that. It is so true. Consent is now an international characteristic that is built into many peace agreements and recognised as a principle dating back to the days of Woodrow Wilson and agreements made after the First World War. It is hugely important. I will welcome the day when we say and sing "A Nation Once Again", not based on territorial claims but on the principle of consent.
To demonstrate parity of esteem, may I share my time with Senator Ross?
Senators Norris and Ross have three minutes each.
I welcome the Taoiseach to the House. It is always good to hear his balanced reports on progress. There has been progress and quite a large proportion is due to the Taoiseach's dogged determination to pursue the course of peace in Northern Ireland in very difficult days. We have had decommissioning, which was a major and spectacular event. I was out of the country at the time but the story was all over the international media. It puts us in a position where we can hold our heads up with a certain amount of respect. We had to wait a long time for it but at least it was done without a major IRA split, which is very significant and important.
It is tragic that each generation seems to have to learn that the use of force is futile. Even when I was a child in school, we learned that the application of force creates an equal and opposite force. Both sides eventually realised that they could not win militarily. I am glad that they did but at such a cost. This lesson has not yet been fully learned by the governments on the neighbouring island and in the United States of America with their adventure in Iraq. I wish to God that they would learn it soon.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach is considering the questions of representation and speaking rights. He has excluded the Dáil, which only leaves this House, so I presume there will be some move here. We have an honourable tradition in this regard in the House, exemplified at present by Senator Maurice Hayes. I also pay tribute to other people who have not been mentioned. One of them is Seámus Mallon, with whom I disagreed on so many of what were called "moral issues". However, he is a man of the utmost integrity, as was the late Gerry Fitt.
There has been movement on the Unionist side. I was very pleased to see the Reverend Ian Paisley going into a Roman Catholic school, meeting with the children and condemning the barbarous notion of the desecration of graves. As a member of the Church of Ireland, I absolutely condemn this kind of behaviour. It is barbarism of the worst sort. Decent people, whatever their disagreements, respect the tribal dead of each side.
We all know there are still problems with Sinn Féin and the IRA. It is not just the news coming from Manchester; it is much closer to home. There are lists of pubs around Dublin that everybody believes have been secured with hot money from the IRA. When I watched "Questions and Answers" approximately six weeks ago, I saw a Sinn Féin representative from the other House. Perhaps I should not name him but I am sure the Taoiseach knows who it is. His initials are "M. F.". He was asked about fund raising and the way Sinn Féin bankrolled all its elections. An individual mentioned bank raids and the Sinn Féin representative calmly replied that this was what he termed "armed fund raising". This suggests that Sinn Féin is a party that is only mildly tainted by constitutionality.
Senator Norris has three minutes left.
In that case, I will yield to Senator Ross.
I also pay tribute to the Taoiseach for his extraordinary patience through this very difficult period and his wonderful talent for settling disputes of all kinds, particularly this most difficult one which has confronted this island for centuries. While it may not be solved, it has certainly been greatly ameliorated by his efforts. It is very refreshing to see all-party agreement on and support for what the Taoiseach has done.
Having congratulated all those involved, including those Members of this House, such as Senators Mansergh and Maurice Hayes, who have played such distinguished roles in bringing peace to this island, it is right that a message should go from Senators Brian Hayes and Norris about the fact while that the IRA may have gone away — hopefully it has done so — its legacy is still with us. Senator Brian Hayes was very courageous to say in this hour of great joy and triumph that while the war is over there is a real danger from these people because they are running what I believe the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform called a parallel type of operational government in this country. The amount of money, property and assets managed by those who are the legacy of the Provisional IRA is horrifying. We underestimate this at our peril. It is possible with very little investigation to find out who is doing what and where.
I will not name anybody in this House but records are open to the public which could lead people in the right direction on this matter. These people are very sophisticated about where the money goes and how to hide its ultimate destination and the ownership of the companies that control what is happening. This is happening in fashionable parts of Dublin, in Donegal, in pubs, hotels and properties. It is particularly prevalent in the obvious cash-based businesses.
I ask the Taoiseach, when he replies, or whoever replies for him, particularly to address the issue of money laundering which is a major problem. Hot, illegal, untaxed money is being washed through the system in a legal way. Let us hear what is being done about that.
I do not wish to spoil the party today. It is a wonderful day and time for the Taoiseach and the country to mark what has been achieved so far.
I welcome the Taoiseach to the House, and welcome his words. I echo the congratulations to him on the work he did to bring us to this happy point. I will mention others who deserve congratulations later. When these events were discussed in the other House last week the Taoiseach made the important point that we should greet them not in a spirit of elation but fully conscious of the burden placed on our island by the actions of the IRA. Those words must be endorsed.
There are mixed emotions in the response to these events. While there is relief that the large cache of arms has been destroyed, there is also great regret for the number of people killed over 30 years and the effect of that on their families and loved ones. Those emotions will permeate my words.
We all express gratitude to, and have faith in, General de Chastelain and his colleagues on the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. They have done this island a great service and one that will not be forgotten. We should compare the phrase, "not a bullet, not an ounce" with the statement from P. O'Neill last week following decommissioning, "the IRA leadership can now confirm that the process of putting our arms beyond use has been completed". The gulf between those positions was bridged by the work of General de Chastelain, Andrew Sens and Tauno Nieminem.
The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning proved its credibility throughout the process. I accept without reservation the general's word. I also accept the commission's assertion that confidentiality was necessary to ensure that decommissioning happened.
Despite that necessity we heard the compelling evidence of the two independent witnesses. I stated here last week our appreciation for the work of Reverend Harold Good and Father Alec Reid. Their experience must have been quite distressing because not only did they have to witness the acts of decommissioning in the presence of people who had been terrorists but they put their words and reputations on the line. They were scrutinised by the world's media. Their evidence was compelling, vital and very truthful. Everybody accepts that large quantities of arms have been decommissioned and there is no doubt about that.
The general and his team reported that a large arsenal of ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, handguns, explosives, explosive substances and other arms, was put beyond use. That is a significant achievement.
Whether this represents every single piece of IRA weaponry is a more debatable issue. The IRA may not even know what or where is the totality of its weaponry. In any event, as a criminal outfit, the IRA has recourse to serious moneys to acquire new arms just as any criminal group can. That will always be the case. The point is that a large quantity of arms has been decommissioned and IRA volunteers have been instructed to engage in the democratic process through exclusively peaceful means. That is a welcome development.
Senator Ross referred to the phrase "the IRA has gone away". It may be true in a military sense but not in other senses. Sinn Féin may use decommissioning to paint the triumph of constitutional nationalism over violence as some kind of victory. It may even try to use it to airbrush from history the Northern Bank raid, the McCartney murder, the Rafferty murder and many more. That should not be allowed to happen because week after week in these Houses, as many of us can recall, we heard about Le Mon, Loughinisland, the Miami, Enniskillen, Narrow Water. That should not and cannot be forgotten.
It remains to convince the people that all IRA paramilitary and criminal activity has ended. Scepticism is understandable given that the scepticism which some of us expressed about major events in the past, for which we were criticised, proved to be well-founded, even when significant advances were made. The Government has made it clear that the Garda Síochána will continue with all ongoing investigations and undertake its responsibilities to the fullest in respect of IRA criminal activity.
I await the next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission to be published later this month and the full report next January. They will be key moments. Judgment on the character of Sinn Féin and the so-called republican movement will rightly be withheld until positive reports from the Independent Monitoring Commission are received and decommissioning is an accomplished fact on the ground.
It is incomprehensible that people would not want to control their own affairs and govern their society. The people of Northern Ireland deserve to see their political institutions restored, loyalist paramilitary and criminal activity ended and outstanding police issues resolved. While scepticism is understandable and to a degree welcome, politicians in Northern Ireland must act in the interests of their constituents and respond to their needs. I urge all to do so and to respond positively where they can.
If we are to look optimistically to the next 30 years we should consider the responses and confidence-building process in Northern Ireland in the context of the 30 years of tragedy that befell families on these islands.
I salute all those who took part in this process, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister for their patience and diligence in pursuing this matter, and Senator Mansergh. Other names have been mentioned but I wish to add Sam McAughtry and Senator Gordon Wilson who brought a great degree of wisdom to this House on these matters. There are many unsung heroes in public and private life who helped too. I wish they may see the final reward of their work in permanent peace and the emergence of stable domestic democratic politics, based on mutual respect and the principle of consent.
Politics can sometimes be very silly. I wish unequivocally to compliment the Taoiseach, without any qualification. Years ago when some people asked me what was the most important quality voluntary organisations needed in lobbying I said "stamina". They asked what were the second and third qualities to which I again responded "stamina". I compliment the Taoiseach on his stamina in dealing with this issue. He deserves all our compliments. He has contributed something to the country that we and our children will appreciate.
I wish to add to the names of those who have been deservedly praised. My good friend, John Robb, educated many of us regarding the realities of two things, the first being Northern Ireland Protestant life, and the second the continued existence of a tiny but very real Northern Presbyterian republican tradition — non-violent, I hasten to add.
I support the Taoiseach in his statement that there was never any moral justification for the campaign. I have frequently asked, publicly and privately, those who supported violence in Northern Ireland how they felt morally superior to Martin Luther King and that they could do things in the name of injustice that he never felt morally justified. The same is true of Mahatma Gandhi. In the Taoiseach's presence, I say that the decision of a senior RTE journalist to use the names of Mr. Adams and Mahatma Gandhi together was a gross insult to the latter. There is a fundamental difference between them in that one man never organised, supported or participated in violence against anyone, while the other, unfortunately, took a different view.
Like everyone else, I accept the validity of the decommissioning, which was a sincere effort on the part of the IRA. I accept that there may well be stragglers. I accept the word of the witnesses and congratulate them on their work. I acknowledge that we are moving on and recognise that some people might have to wait a while to understand it. However, as I have said before, I will not accept people who feel free, politically and morally, to point the finger at all our inadequacies and everything that went wrong over the last 20 years, claiming superiority and being accorded a certain credibility in the media as the new radical party. Perhaps, over that time, we were a little distracted from other things because of a morally reprehensible campaign. Then they tell us that it is time we all looked forward. I am really tired of that; let us all look forward and leave history to be dealt with by historians, but let not some of us be told that we must look forward while others are entitled to pick over the bones of selected issues. Let us all move forward together; that is what I believe.
I look forward to the acceptance of policing and participation in policing structures by all players in Northern Ireland politics. I also look forward to an unequivocal acceptance that on this island there is only one group known as Óglaigh na hÉireann. I have often said in this House that there are not two Óglaigh na hÉireann groups, one capitalised. There is only one, and there is now a very valid question regarding others who claim the name. We accept that they have decommissioned their arms. They say that they are ending all their other activities. What are they doing? I would like someone from that movement to tell me. They do not exist any more. They are not around and say that they do not undertake any actions, so what are they doing?
I do not mean this in any negative way. It is part of the process of winning trust. I have a problem with a march in Dublin at which small children wear paramilitary uniforms and carry plastic weapons.
I know that they are only plastic, but because of what happened in this State and country over 30 years, I never bought a toy gun for any of my children, owing to the repulsive overtones to which we had all had to adjust. I find the idea of children marching, even with plastic guns, along O'Connell Street, repulsive and incompatible with the newly averred commitment to peace and democracy. I pay tribute to the Protestant clergymen in Northern Ireland who have stood at interfaces in periods of intense sectarianism with their Roman Catholic neighbours in their defence against the more extreme forms of loyalism. We need to do so.
I was taken by a phrase the Taoiseach used. He said that we must make this island a warm home for everyone. Of course, we all agree. At the risk of rankling ever so slightly, I wonder whether the Mater Hospital and St. Vincent's Hospital are a warm home for Protestants after the events that were uncovered this week.
I welcome the Taoiseach to the House and congratulate him on the culmination of 11 years of effort, eight of them as Taoiseach. He has every right to be enormously proud of the progress made and of his unique contribution to it. He has brought to fruition the aspirations and efforts of every Government since the foundation of the State. We no longer have an active IRA or paramilitary weapons in our midst. It was a great honour to work for a head of Government with such decent and humane instincts, who was never concerned about striking poses or earning glory for himself but about getting the business done, often in a quiet, what may be termed a "keep the head down" manner. For that reason, not everyone realised the sheer number of hours spent on effort and patient conciliation that went into the process.
Perhaps I might be permitted to mention some of those who helped the Taoiseach, particularly regarding decommissioning. The role played by Tim Dalton, until recently Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was outstanding. He was a great servant of the State. I might also mention successive Secretaries General in the Department of the Taoiseach, Paddy Teahon, Dermot Gallagher and, today, Michael Collins. The assistant secretaries were also outstanding people. In the Department of Foreign Affairs, there were Seán Ó hUiginn, DaithíÓ Ceallaigh——
The Senator should not read out a list of names.
——and Brendan Scannell. It is appropriate that their role in an absolutely historic achievement be recorded, and I may be in a better position to state the facts than others.
There are obviously still many problems to address. Some of them have already been referred to in this House. There are the questions of clearing up criminality, policing, devolution, and dealing with sectarianism. I have been encouraged by the forward attitude adopted by many Unionist and Protestant leaders in the North in trying to tackle something that is totally unacceptable in any civilised society. A tribute has been paid to General de Chastelain, who once again exemplifies patience and perseverance, as Senator Mitchell did during the talks. Both men could easily have walked away. Fr. Alec Reid has been with the process from the start and is in some ways its alpha and omega.
The various parties have all made important positive contributions. I believe that Mark Durkan of the SDLP is in the House today. I praise the Ulster Unionist Party, despite the fact that it has been punished for its pains, and even the DUP for its recent behaviour, however critical I might have been in the past. It is also appropriate, although it may go against the grain with colleagues, to praise the substantial achievement of the Sinn Féin leadership, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and their colleagues. I have no more time than anyone else for their role in the conflict. However, I admire the way in which they have managed to extract themselves and their movement from the strategy of violence. There are no precedents in Irish history for what has been done and the stage at which we have arrived. Moreover, I am aware of few such precedents abroad.
I propose to share time with Senator Coghlan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome last week's decommissioning which was a recognition by the IRA that it could not bomb 1 million Protestants into a united Ireland. One hopes the IRA is now committed to peaceful means as the only way of securing its objectives.
I joined Fine Gael in the early 1970s when our policy on Northern Ireland encompassed unification by peaceful means and with the consent of a majority in the North. This policy has remained the same and I am pleased that many other parties have adopted a similar approach. Such a policy formed the basis of both the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement and ensured the issue of consent was given sufficient emphasis.
We have always supported a unified approach to the Northern question. I join previous speakers in complimenting everybody involved in the peace process through many years. It is time for Sinn Féin to offer its support to the PSNI and to become involved in the policing board. It is appropriate that we should wish the vice-chairman of the board, Denis Bradley, well following the attack he suffered at the hands of thugs. No other name can be given to the perpetrators.
I compliment the members of the policing board and offer support to the PSNI which is of paramount importance for the future of good policing and good relations within the North's communities.
The Taoiseach said he would deal with the issue of so-called on-the-runs at a later stage. I hope any such persons with an involvement in the death of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe will not come into the equation if consideration is given to some type of amnesty. That murder was a crime whose perpetrators fall outside the remit of the Good Friday Agreement.
I compliment the Taoiseach and all Members who have spoken on this issue. It is likely that each of us may repeat other Members' words because nobody in this House, as a democratically elected public representative, could disagree with anything the Taoiseach or Members have said. I compliment the Taoiseach on his role in the peace process. Nobody has invested as much time and effort in that process and nobody has achieved so much. He has attained the results which eluded his predecessors. In addition, I compliment Senators Maurice Hayes and Mansergh for their contributions. There is no need to repeat all they have done.
We have waited more than a decade for this development. Notwithstanding this long wait, it is most welcome. We all applaud the work done by General John de Chastelain, Fr. Alec Reid and Reverend Harold Good and the manner in which they communicated that achievement. All reasonably minded people accept it for what it was, a total decommissioning of the IRA's weaponry. This is a marvellous development for our democracy, representing the final abandonment of the republicans' dual strategy, described by Danny Morrison as the armalite and the ballot box. Despite our objections to what happened in the past, we must, as Senator Mansergh said, acknowledge the leadership Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness have given. The inventory is consistent with the arms decommissioned. Republicanism's public representatives have clearly chosen politics and democracy. That is the only way in which the political process can move forward.
We look forward to the restoration of devolved government. The commitment to the criminal justice system on the part of Sinn Féin is central, especially the question of policing. We all accept that policing is the cornerstone of democracy. There can be only one Army and one police force. I look forward to the Independent Monitoring Commission's reports this month and in January. I also anticipate loyalist decommissioning. Intimidation and extortion by loyalist paramilitaries must end sooner rather than later.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt. I hope he does not mind that I wish to address the spirit of the Taoiseach as if he were still here. It is a great day for the Taoiseach and we are glad of the opportunity to congratulate him on his contribution to the peace process, which is not only enormous but crucial. A mutual friend, Chris Patten, once described the Taoiseach as a "canny operator whose calculatedly unsophisticated style masks a clear mind, a mastery of detail and tactical wizardry". This was in reference to his role during the EU Presidency but it fits the bill on this occasion. I would like to be associated with the remarks of Senator Mansergh, particularly his reference to the work of the public servants who were involved in securing decommissioning.
What I particularly appreciated about the Taoiseach's speech was not only its content but its irenic and generous tone and its focus on reconciliation. The task for this political generation and possibly the next is to secure reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Without that, no other unity is achievable or, if achievable, is worth much. People must dedicate themselves to this task. I too recognise the work done by the Sinn Féin leadership to achieve this and acknowledge what it meant to the republican movement and those who bore arms, whatever our opinion on the use of those arms, to give them up.
Unfinished business remains and one aspect of this is policing. I am grateful to the Taoiseach for his kind remarks. However, I believe the most useful contribution I have made is as a member of the Independent Commission on Policing. I spoke to the chairman, Chris Patten, some days ago and we discussed how all the members believe we did a decent job. Moreover, we all believe the PSNI has made much more progress at this stage than we thought it would. Only one development is needed to bring it the rest of the way and that is the participation of young men and women from republican areas with the support of Sinn Féin. The sooner this is done the better. Punishment beatings and vigilantism, much as we find them reprehensible, are a form of social control. If this is taken away, who will protect old ladies and children from attackers or rapists? There is an absolute need for policing in these areas and Sinn Féin must recognise that. Apart from this, one looks forward to loyalist decommissioning and to a concentrated attack on sectarianism.
My view on the question of direct representation in the Oireachtas may seem strange given my membership of this House.
However, the constitutional principle of no representation without taxation, dating back to the Boston tea party, militates against it. It also runs the risk of subverting the Agreement itself.
The Agreement provided elaborate balancing structures. If we frighten off Unionists by suggesting they are on a rollercoaster which takes them inevitably to the destination of a united Ireland it is not only subversive but problematic.
I agree with Senator Dardis on the need for a local administration. Only a local administration will work. Even if direct rule Ministers are efficient and responsive, and there is no indication the present crowd are either, they cannot do the job.
In terms of the review of the Agreement it is important to ensure there is cross-community based responsible government. The DUP may be correct that, from an administrative point of view, not everything worked well last time. I would not die in the ditch with the d'Hondt principle or a system that did not have collective cabinet responsibility. None of us could work in such a system. I wish the people involved well and congratulate the Taoiseach not only on his achievements but on the leadership he provided in his speech today.
I welcome the Minister of State and associate myself with the words of congratulation and acknowledgement to all concerned, namely the Taoiseach, Senator Mansergh and others behind the scenes. It is an extraordinary achievement.
Some people upbraid political parties for confronting Sinn Féin but it is healthy. It means that party is being welcomed into constitutional politics. They are part of the game now and must take the ups and downs of political life. They are fair game now that they are engaged in the challenge for the hearts and minds of voters. There is nothing wrong with that and I do not consider it mean-spirited for political parties to take their chosen positions.
The condition of Protestant working class estates is a problem. I recall the pictures of Mo Mowlam visiting the republican section of the Maze and seeing prisoners in their smart suits and well-cut clothes looking clean, tidy and respectable. Then she visited the loyalist side and met men with enhanced muscular development, tattoos and short hair. The difference was striking and will take generations to break down. We need to win trust and confidence among those people. In the loyalist community working class estates are completely cut off from political representation and see no value in politics, no gains to be made from a process from which they are disconnected. This at variance with the republican side who see politics as a way forward. Richard O'Rawe's book about the H-blocks and the attitude of the Sinn Féin leadership to the transition from the gun into politics is interesting.
The point Senator Maurice Hayes made about reconciliation is crucial and is worth focusing on. I have dealt with Northern Ireland all my professional life and could present chapter and verse about the importance of local administration. The Sinn Féin Minister for Education was superb because he was from Northern Ireland and sympathetic to all sides. It was refreshing to deal with a Minister who was rooted in the area. A previous Minister, who later became chairman of the conservative party, was ineffective, even though he was born in the North.
The Minister will have been aware from his career as a teacher that in the North they had a policy called education for mutual understanding and cultural heritage. It did not work because the bar was too low. Members of the two communities met twice a year and played a game of soccer. They did not play Gaelic football or cricket. Part of the mutual understanding was that there were lines that were not crossed.
Tolerance was the next big idea and is a fine aspiration. Cardinal Newman said tolerance was the mark of an educated person. However, it does not bring us far enough and does not breach the problem we have created in the North which will take generations to undo. It does not bring us to the reconciliation about which Senator Hayes spoke. Ultimately it means not just giving space to people, but understanding them and being ecumenical. As we have learned from other parts of the world it is not about the space we give each other but the quality of the engagement and interaction between us. That does not happen at present. The day we take down the peace line will be a bigger day than this week.
That is right.
That is what we need to try to do. Children are born in a Roman Catholic hospital, live in a Roman Catholic housing estate and go to a Roman Catholic school and, after being looked after in a Roman Catholic hospital are buried in a Roman Catholic graveyard. It is the same on the other side. Why can the children of this island not be educated together and follow a common curriculum in their schools? Why can the sash and the shamrock not be in the same history programme? Why can we not celebrate our differences and recognise the importance of such events as the Battle of the Boyne? It is because there is no more stomach for it in the South than in the North. We cannot even have an all-Ireland policy for the Irish language. Instead a partitionist approach exists to which Sinn Féin and the Catholic Church subscribe. The political establishment adopts the same stance. Somebody needs to take the courageous step of bringing these issues together. We should begin with what young people learn in schools.
My colleague Senator Dardis has outlined the views of the Progressive Democrats so I will avoid duplication. I extend congratulations to the Taoiseach on his statement in the House today and on the role he has played in bringing the process to its present stage. The announcement of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning that it has overseen the completion of IRA decommissioning is welcome and I add my voice to expressions of gratitude to General de Chastelain and his team. I am as relieved as anyone that the IRA has put its vast array of weaponry beyond use. I accept the word of the IICD and of the independent witnesses, Reverend Harold Good and Fr. Alec Reid. The scepticism from some quarters, if somewhat disappointing, is not unexpected. I will focus on two specific points, decommissioning as a political weapon and the decommissioning of mindsets. I will be pilloried for homing in on these two issues, for being a naysayer, ignoring the silver lining and staying under the cloud. These weapons should not have been there in the first place. I will not celebrate and congratulate people on this issue, and I will not forget or ignore.
Decommissioning is a political weapon, and a temptation remains to lose sight of disturbing events and allow the relief from decommissioning to numb our senses. This is understandable but it is, to a degree, a deliberate trap set by the so-called republican movement. The entire process has been exploited by Sinn Féin from the beginning. Before the ceasefire the arms of the IRA were used in anger to attempt to force democratic parties in Governments to meet Sinn Féin's demands. When that strategy failed, the arms of the IRA were used as the ultimate bargaining chip to ensure that Sinn Féin could maintain a veto on progress and undermine the central ground on both sides of the political divide.
Decommissioning is even now being used by the so-called republican movement in two ways. First, in the North we see decommissioning celebrated in Nationalist areas to a greater extent than in Unionist areas. In some cases, we see decommissioning celebrated to a greater extent in Nationalist areas than was the ceasefire of 1994, with flag-waving, the beeping of horns and victory parades. Mr. Adams proclaimed on the day that the IRA's courageous decision was the correct thing to do. However, the group should not be congratulated for doing what it did. Sinn Féin will exploit what they can, when they can and where they can. Decommissioning was the party's largest chip, and it had to ensure it received the maximum benefit from it. Selling it as a victory in the North was one part of this, and it was sold as what was good for Nationalists must be bad for Unionists.
The second way that decommissioning is being used is evident in this State. The welcome move on arms is being exploited to its full potential in this jurisdiction. I would be first in acknowledging the effort being put into bringing the IRA to this point, and such effort should not be without political reward for those brave and sensible enough to make it happen. The reward for the effort should only go so far, however, and should not be stretched to conceal criminal behaviour, thuggery, racketeering, paramilitary beatings of teenagers, bank jobs, the slaughter of Robert McCartney, or the cold-blooded murder of Joseph Rafferty.
I will conclude on the decommissioning of mindsets. At the time of the tragic hunger strikes, black mourning flags on homes and lamp posts became commonplace across the country. We witnessed marches with hundreds of protesters carrying black flags silently in mourning. Just 24 hours before details of the IRA decommissioning emerged, some 3,000 people attended a carnival in Dublin city centre. Sinn Féin representatives acted as masters of ceremonies on the stage outside the GPO, introducing musical acts and theatrical performances. A number of poets and musical acts were also present, and children posed with people in paramilitary garb with fake machine guns and balloons.
We require a decommissioning of mindsets, as how much more appropriate would it have been if so-called republicans had marched with 3,000 black flags to mark decommissioning and the end of physical force republicanism? How much more appropriate would it have been for the memories of 3,523 people killed during the Troubles and the 1,706 people killed with IRA weapons?
I wish to be associated with the words of congratulations to all involved in bringing about the historic decommissioning process of the past week. Many Members have paid tribute to people who contributed in many ways to what has come about. There were omissions, however, as I listened to the debate up until now.
I wish to record the part played by the leaders of Fine Gael-led Governments from the past, beginning with Liam Cosgrave and his efforts with the Sunningdale Agreement, which constituted the first steps to peace in Northern Ireland. Following from this, Garrett FitzGerald as Taoiseach played a part in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was a major step forward at the time. Many people criticised him for his work in that instance, and I wish to record that he contributed in a major way to the bringing about of decommissioning. In more recent times, John Bruton played a part.
Many speakers today have paid tribute to General John de Chastelain and his work, but I wish to record that his appointment, and that of Mr. Mitchell, were monumental steps forward in the progress seen today. A name that has not been mentioned today is John Hume of the SDLP, who put his political head on the line when he was the first to reach out a hand in political friendship to the IRA and Sinn Féin.
I would appreciate if these people were recognised and not forgotten in this episode. It has been stated that there is a huge commitment and risk involved for people who made initial steps. Criticisms were meted out by various commentators and sections of the media at people who made a commitment and placed their heads on the political line over the years, going back as far as the Sunningdale Agreement. I have always resented the way these people were described, with John Bruton being called names such as "Unionist John" and other derogatory terms. These criticisms were very unfair, and were made by people who did not have a commitment to the peace process down the line.
I acknowledge the contribution of the Taoiseach and Ministers down the years in the work to date. They have made a great effort to talk and bring on board their counterparts in Northern Ireland. I also acknowledge the part played by respective British Prime Ministers during the period in question, and the former Unionist leaders who made an effort but were pushed aside by the fury of those who did not want peace at that stage.
I endorse what has been said by Senator Brian Hayes with regard to the unfinished work. It is good that decommissioning has come about and that the guns are silent, but there are still skeletons in the cupboards that must be removed for us to be finally content that all people on this island can live together and support each other for the benefit of future generations.
I wish to share time with Senator Jim Walsh.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate as, owing to my background, I have always been interested in the affairs of Northern Ireland throughout the years. Today is an opportunity to congratulate the Taoiseach on the political time he has put into attaining this result. There is no doubt that were it not for his leadership and persuasive skills we would not be debating this issue today.
I acknowledge also the work of my colleagues Senator Mansergh and Senator Maurice Hayes and many public servants behind the scenes and all the parties who got involved in reaching the Good Friday Agreement and moving it forward. Following a stop-start process during the past seven years the decommissioning of weapons was an historic day for all of us. The way forward from here on is through the ballot box.
The future, the political side, has to be looked at in other ways. How do we move forward? In his contribution the Taoiseach referred to that issue in terms of how we reconcile all parties in the North and bring about confidence and trust. Those are key words that one must not lose. If that confidence and trust is not restored in the minds and hearts of the people in the North of Ireland we cannot move forward. All political leaders, North and South, have a huge role to play in bridging tho gaps and creating the friendships, North and South. It has to be done through an all-Ireland economy, through Departments and Ministers working with the reformed institutions in the North of Ireland. If it is not approached in that way we cannot go any further.
I have listened carefully to the comments on suspects, criminality and the sectarianism. We acknowledge it still exists but we must move forward. However, if we do not have confidence and trust in the man in the street and in the communities North and South we cannot move forward. All of us have a role to play. We must not look back but try to bring everybody forward. We must convince the leaders, particularly those on the Unionist side, that this is a role for all of us. This is an historic day. We can move forward and ensure there is no more sectarian violence and that we will co-operate with the PSNI. There is a message for all of us that we want to proceed through peaceful means and we have arrived at that stage. Let us move forward from there.
I thank Senator Ormonde for sharing time. I join with those who paid tribute to the Taoiseach, not only for his fine contribution to the House but for charting the vision for the future in Northern Ireland. It was symptomatic of the leadership he has shown throughout the whole process. I welcome the decommissioning and acknowledge it must have been a difficult decision to subscribe to for many who had served within the IRA. It was a prerequisite for the normalisation of society in Northern Ireland. If aspirations are to be advanced the normalisation of society was one of the first steps in that regard. I would hope that the encouragement, criticism and pressure that many constitutional politicians brought to bear on Sinn Féin and the IRA to advance to the decommissioning decision will be brought to bear with the same level of commitment to ensure the loyalist paramilitaries follow suit and disarm and terminate the criminal activities in which they are involved. Civilised society demands no less from those who live within those societies.
The issue of policing has been raised. Undoubtedly, Nationalist confidence in policing would have been given a major boost by the manner in which the police dealt with the loyalists in the North. I realise there was criticism from the Unionist community of the enthusiasm of the police. Nonetheless it was a step forward.
There are further steps to be taken by the police. The whole issue of sectarianism which was alluded to by Senator Maurice Hayes and others is a blight on society in Northern Ireland. According to reports it appears that not every area in Northern Ireland gets the same even-handed approach from the police in tackling that cancer in society. There is further progress to be made. The participation of all on the Nationalist and republican sides in policing will be a step in advancing an even-handed acceptable policing of society in Northern Ireland, which is essential.
With regard to Oireachtas representation for Northern Ireland representatives, I caution against developing a partitionist mentality in this regard. Some of the comments I have heard would appear to indicate we are becoming partitionist in our thinking. I would welcome active and full participation from Northern Ireland representatives in these Houses. As Senator Maurice Hayes has said it is important that is done in a way that does not alienate Unionists. The objective should be to have Unionist representation here to make its case in the Houses of the Oireachtas as part of the dialogue and interaction that is needed between communities, North and South, and between communities in Northern Ireland in order to lead to the reconciliation that everybody recognises is the way forward.
I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Taoiseach mar gheall ar an tsárobair a dhein sé maidir le próiseas na síochána. Mar a dúirt mé sa Teach seo cheana, níl aon amhras ormsa ach go bhfuil áit faoi leith bainte amach aige i stair na hÉireann, agus, ar ndóigh, do gach éinne eile a chabhraigh leis chomh maith.
On a previous occasion here I availed of the opportunity when commenting on the work of the Taoiseach to say that I believe he had already secured a positive place in the annals of Irish history as a result of his work on the peace process. I commend him and all others and, in particular, our two colleagues who have been rightly mentioned here, Senator Mansergh and Senator Maurice Hayes, two men of the highest calibre, who have not just demonstrated wisdom but courage, balance and vision. They were particularly important.
If one looks over the debates in the Official Report one will find fluctuation from one incident to the next. It was always important that we had an anchor to ensure that whatever progress was made could be built on. In his contribution today, the Taoiseach rightly asked who could possibly have envisaged years ago that we would reach this juncture. That is correct. In years to come we will look back on this debate and, hopefully, judge progress on the sentiments and aspirations being expressed here. I would hope one of those occasions will be when we are welcoming a united Ireland when all the people on this island together, irrespective of party politics or religious persuasion, will come to the realisation that we have one island, that we live in a greatly changed world, that we have much in common and have proved time and again it is possible to harmonise different policies and aspirations.
We all realise and are fully conscious of the import of the famous dictum, "All it takes for evil to prosper is that good men do nothing". That is one of the reasons it was necessary for us today to try to bring about a democratic approach to the difficulties. In regard to the evil that took place for decades in the North of Ireland many good men and women acquiesced and said nothing. A fascist, paramilitary-style police force — the B Specials — ran riot against ordinary, honest to God people in order to uphold a corrupt and undemocratic regime on this island. The RUC was a sectarian police force and there is absolutely no doubt that, as a result of the many independent inquiries we have had, its members were up to their eyeballs in collusion with loyalist terrorists. Look at what happened concerning the collusion with British security forces as regards the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We had to push that inquiry to one side because we could make no progress. Names such as Finucane, Hamill, Nelson and others are a testimony to the corruption that existed in the North of Ireland and that was also perpetrated in the Republic.
It was not my intention to say such things until I realised that in the intensity — and I would say it is with goodwill — of the current momentum, there seems to be a move to consider only the sensitivities of the Unionist community, which is right. However, it is not right that there should be no perception of a conspiracy of silence when it comes to the outrageous sectarian attacks which are being perpetrated against Nationalists and Catholics in the North of Ireland by loyalists, with insufficient condemnation from Unionists. If we go down the road once more of creating an imbalance then it could be said to us in years to come that the reason that evil thrived was because good men and women said nothing.
We all have memories of the terrible days we have come through, but we are also well aware of the magnificent opportunities now at our disposal. Over the years I have had nothing but the most co-operative relationships with the Unionists of Northern Ireland. I had a good friend in Sir Robert Kidd who was the former chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I was chairman of a body of which he was vice-chairman. On many occasions, I travelled to the North of Ireland with Mr. Paddy Teahon for meetings on specific issues in the North. Even though one may come from a different political background and tradition, I never encountered any difficulties because we were not dealing with megaphone diplomacy.
We must be sensitive about the views of Unionists but we must also be sensitive about the views of Nationalists. I praise the leadership of Sinn Féin. As Senator Mansergh said, this is unprecedented in Irish history; the Leader also pointed to that fact. Only for that leadership, which is so committed and astute, I fully accept that we would now have splits and further violence on this island.
My proudest day will be when representatives from the North of Ireland come here to debate issues of common cause in a balanced way. I salute the Taoiseach and others of all political affiliations who have contributed to this historical development.
Those who might have difficulty in understanding the words "patience" and "perseverance" have only to study the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to discover a living example of those terms. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, has played a supportive role since taking over his current portfolio. Senator Mansergh and Senator Maurice Hayes have acquitted themselves extremely well in this regard. Equally, I agree that the leadership of Sinn Féin, including Mr. Gerry Adams and Mr. Martin McGuinness, played a pivotal role, as did Mr. John Hume. Let us be realistic because these are the facts. Ulster Unionists also took brave steps and went where others feared to tread, although some of them have been punished for doing so. There was a steely determination on the part of the Taoiseach, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, John Hume and others of that ilk in pursuance of the objective that, thankfully, we are celebrating today.
A number of speakers in this debate, including the Taoiseach and the Leader of the House, referred to the fact that injustice and force attain nothing. It should be recalled that the first banned civil rights march in Northern Ireland, in October 1968, came about as a result of injustices, including the fact that people with no property were not entitled to vote. All such injustices brought about the situation we are discussing today.
While we welcome decommissioning, I also hope that we will see loyalist arms being decommissioned. In condemning the murder of a Member of this House, Senator Billy Fox, I hope the murder of another elected representative, Councillor Eddie Fullerton, will also be condemned. I hope the perpetrators of those dastardly acts will be pursued and brought to justice. The word "collusion" looms large in one's mind when speaking of the murder of Councillor Fullerton.
Both traditions in the North have shown leadership but, to use the words of Mr. David Trimble, now that the DUP is in the driving seat it will have to drive. There are responsibilities upon the DUP to do so, given the ongoing attacks on Catholics.
I did not include Senator Brennan who indicated earlier that he wished to contribute, although I did not see him do so. Will Senator Glynn give some of his remaining time to Senator Brennan?
The Minister of State has to reply.
The Minister of State will have two minutes.
This situation presents a challenge to all concerned. Triumphalism and provocative marches must cease. The PSNI must be impartial in enforcing the law. A number of people who visited here, led by a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, highlighted the seriousness of loyalist violence. They said that when a telephone call in complaint was made to the PSNI, the person who made the call waited 45 minutes for someone to speak to him. A call acknowledging the initial complaint was received two and a half hours later. That is a typical example of delayed reaction. There must be peace but it has to be peace with justice. The PSNI must be impartial in enforcing the law.
I thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate. I thank the Taoiseach, the Minister of State and the leaders of all political parties who have played a leading role in the decommissioning that has occurred. I come from Adare, a rural part of County Limerick, where all religions and none work together for the betterment of our community and country. In recent years, we saw an atrocity in our village when Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was shot dead and an attempt was made to murder his colleague, Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan.
I welcome the decommissioning that has taken place and wish the Taoiseach every success in working for the betterment of our country in future.
I am privileged to have been present for most of this debate and am proud of the pivotal role the Fianna Fáil Party has played in bringing peace to this island. I wish to be associated with the remarks of those who referred to the work of Senator Maurice Hayes and Senator Mansergh. The latter Senator has worked with many leaders of our party. I echo the words of those who praised the work of the Uachtarán of Fianna Fáil, Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. I have been privileged to work closely with him and have witnessed his powers of persuasion as well as his negotiating skills of which we are all aware. Many speakers also mentioned his patience, clear thinking and leadership in representing our party's position. It is a matter that is very close to our party.
I also acknowledge the leadership of Sinn Féin and the many parties that have worked so hard, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the Women's Coalition. There are many unsung heroes who have worked hard over the years. When I was Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs I became closely involved in supporting the work of then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Taoiseach and I am still very involved in every way I can be with the Taoiseach. We have talked about Sinn Féin and the work it has done. Senator O'Toole and others mentioned the working class Protestants, which was how he described that community. Senator Ó Murchú mentioned people on the Unionist side. Like many Senators, I too got to know many such people including loyalists like David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson. Such personal relationships are very important in politics.
We all know that Northern Ireland is a divided society. John Hume and others have articulated this very well. In travelling there for the best part of two years with the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and talking to all the parties, I realised the amount of disadvantage and unemployment in, let us call them, working class Protestant areas; this was also the case in working class Catholic areas. We call them such, as that is the way it is. Following meetings with people like Billy Hutchinson, David Ervine and others I felt it was a great pity we could not move further in reconciliation and joining hands across the peace lines. The real issues for politicians in the South are dealing with disadvantage and unemployment. One could not but feel fortunate to have a society where we are free to deal with areas of disadvantage and give people opportunities. In many ways communities are imprisoned economically and socially because of the system and the pain and suffering experienced over many years.
I am privileged to have supported in my small way the Taoiseach and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, in trying to cross those barriers. We have made major progress under the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in reaching the point of IRA decommissioning. However, much more remains to be done. References were made here to reaching out to other communities. The Taoiseach said we need to build further friendships between North and South, Catholic and Protestant, Britain and Ireland. He has shown tremendous leadership.
I make one slightly partisan note. In the other Chamber, an Opposition Member suggested that the Taoiseach should always have officials with him when holding these meetings, which shows a lack of understanding of how to deal with conflict resolution.
Let us consider the relationship between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The Taoiseach has had to hold many meetings. Someone decried that he met people in his constituency office, which I believe is to his credit.
At late hours and early hours he met various individuals to move the process along and full credit is due to him. While it is great to have official meetings in Government Buildings, Iveagh House, Stormont etc., it is vital to have informal meetings moving the process along. All those meetings were held for the right reasons which is why we are where we are.
Many Senators expressed concern about Sinn Féin, money laundering and assets. The assets of the IRA are held illegally by that organisation and those assets will be pursued relentlessly. The law has not changed and the forces of law and order will continue to uphold that law.
When is it proposed to sit again?
On Tuesday, 11 October, at 2.30 p.m.