Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (23)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

16 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the review of the Good Friday Agreement; the Government's priorities for the review; the time he expects the process to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4198/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement was convened on 3 February 2004. This review was provided for within the terms of the agreement itself.

It will provide a valuable opportunity for us to collectively examine all aspects of the operation of the agreement and rededicate ourselves to advancing those areas where progress has, to date, been modest or disappointing. In that context, we particularly wish to see an early restoration of stable political institutions, with a definitive end to all forms of paramilitarism, irrespective of their nature or source.

While the restoration of devolved government on an inclusive basis is a key priority for both Governments, it is also important to recognise that the Good Friday Agreement is wider than devolution. Both Governments have responsibilities to meet in ensuring that the non-devolved aspects of the agreement within their respective competences continue to be implemented. We remain fully committed to advancing the implementation of the non-conditional aspects of the Joint Declaration and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will closely monitor progress in this regard.

The review was formally launched at an opening plenary meeting on 3 February. I jointly chaired this round table meeting with the Secretary of State. It included representatives of all the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Between now and Easter, the review will meet two days per week, with the exception of two separate recess weeks. The meetings will take place in various formats, including bilateral, trilateral and plenary sessions. The agenda is comprehensive and will cover the full operation of all aspects of the agreement. In April both Governments will carry out a stocktake of the progress made. Over the coming weeks, all parties will have the opportunity to put forward their views on all aspects of the operation of the agreement and the Governments will listen carefully and respectfully to all contributions.

As both Governments have previously indicated, the fundamentals of the agreement are not up for negotiation in this review. As stated by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair, our intention is that the review should be short, sharp and focused. Nevertheless, in the light of the practical experience over the last six years, there may be scope for pragmatic and sensible changes to be made to the workings of the agreement. The Government is open to considering such changes, as long as they are consistent with the fundamental provisions of the agreement and attract a wide measure of consensus support among the parties.

Last Monday, Strand One issues were discussed in bilateral meetings between the British Government and the parties. While the Government does not directly participate in these discussions, we have been appropriately informed of developments in Strand One by the British Government. On Tuesday, both Governments held a series of trilateral meetings with the parties to discuss Strand Two, Strand Three and other aspects of the operation of the agreement. In these discussions, where I was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary of State was accompanied by Minister Spellar, I found the approaches of the various parties to be progressive and constructive and I look forward to further positive engagement in the weeks ahead.