Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Questions (111)

Charlie O'Connor


223 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2318/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Together with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy MP, I co-chaired the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Farmleigh House on 22 January. I was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Jane Kennedy MP and John Spellar MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland also attended. This was the sixth meeting of the conference since the suspension of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland in October 2002.

At the conference we reviewed political developments, including developments since the Assembly elections in November and the continued efforts to restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, based on cross-community support. The conference reaffirmed the two Government's commitment to the full implementation of the Agreement and discussed the forthcoming review of its operation that will be convened on 3 February. There was an exchange of views on North-South and east-west matters, including the current work programme of the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.

We also reviewed the current security situation at the conference. We welcomed the reduction in violence in 2003 but noted with concern the rise in paramilitary violence in January and discussed ways of tackling it. We also reviewed the prospects for the further normalisation of the security profile in Northern Ireland. The British Government agreed to ask the Independent Monitoring Commission to report on the issue in conjunction with its report on paramilitarism.

The conference noted the increase in paramilitary crime and discussed ways of dealing with it, including through ongoing co-operation between the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Assets Recovery Agency. There was a discussion of the Ombudsman's report on the murder of Seán Brown and the Chief Constable outlined the action that would be taken in response to it. The conference also considered a range of criminal justice matters and recent developments in the area of human rights. In regard to the latter, both Governments agreed that the current difficulties relating to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission must be quickly resolved. Following our discussion of the Cory, Barron and Stevens reports, the need for the four remaining Cory reports to be published as soon as possible was acknowledged.

We had a useful discussion on the continuing implementation of the two Governments' joint declaration of 1 May 2003. It emphasised the importance of the delivery of these wide-ranging commitments. Officials were directed report back on them at the next meeting of the conference that is scheduled for March.

I also availed of the opportunity to raise concerns about the nationality requirements that restrict recruitment to certain civil service posts within the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I have arranged for copies of the conference communiqué to be placed in the Dáil Library.