Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (79)

Willie Penrose


58 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 22 January 2004. [4202/04]

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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 2004. I was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy 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 seventh meeting of the conference since the inaugural meeting in December 1999 in London. The conference on 22 January reviewed political developments, including developments since the Assembly elections in November and the continued efforts to fully restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, based on cross-community support. The conference reasserted the two Governments' commitment to the full implementation of the agreement and discussed the review of the operation of the agreement, which was subsequently convened on 3 February 2004.

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

The conference noted the increase in paramilitary crime and discussed ways of dealing with this issue, 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 Séan Brown and the Chief Constable said he fully accepted the police ombudsman's report and had appointed a team to review the case. The conference also considered a range of criminal justice matters and recent developments in the area of human rights. Following our discussion of the Cory, Barron and Stevens reports, the conference acknowledged the need for the four remaining Cory reports to be published as soon as possible.

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. Finally, the conference reviewed the continuing implementation of the Joint Declaration of 1 May 2003 and it agreed to review progress in greater detail at the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in March 2004.

I have arranged for copies of the conference communiqué to be placed in the Oireachtas Library.