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Northern Ireland Issues.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 25 May 2004

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Enda Kenny

Question:

1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister to discuss the Northern Ireland peace process on 2 May 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12555/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Question:

2 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister in Dublin on 2 May 2004. [12593/04]

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Enda Kenny

Question:

3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 30 April 2004 with the SDLP leader, Mr. Mark Durkan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13272/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

4 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in Dublin on 2 May 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13335/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

5 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the contents of the new road map for Northern Ireland that he discussed with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in early May 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13458/04]

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Gay Mitchell

Question:

6 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent talks held in Dublin with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14502/04]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

7 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15382/04]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

8 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland. [15383/04]

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Oral answers (43 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, together.

I met an SDLP delegation led by Mark Durkan on 30 April when we discussed a number of issues focusing particularly on the prospects for political progress in Northern Ireland. My discussions with Prime Minister Blair on Sunday, 2 May focused primarily on Northern Ireland but we also had an opportunity to discuss European matters. The Prime Minister and I are determined to achieve a basis for the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

The issues that must be addressed are clear. We will continue to explore all opportunities of making progress. We are intensifying our efforts and contacts with the parties. Those parties in Northern Ireland now in a position of leadership in their communities must play their part. With sufficient political will, leadership and courage, the culture of paramilitarism can be ended, trust and confidence can be restored and a democratic accommodation between Unionists and Nationalists can be secured and sustained.

I raised the Pat Finucane case with the Prime Minister. Judge Cory said that this is one of the rare cases where a public inquiry takes precedence over a prosecution. I agree with Judge Cory's views and the Government will continue to press for a public inquiry in this case as soon as possible. My discussions with the Prime Minister also touched on the report of Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on the Barron report.

The joint statement issued after the meeting with the Prime Minister has been laid before the House. The two Governments are agreed that our shared objective is the restoration of devolved inclusive government in Northern Ireland. Over the coming weeks and months, we will work with the parties to this end and endeavour to secure delivery on the commitments needed to restore trust and confidence.

We would like to make progress in as many areas as possible before the summer break which would provide the basis on which we can resume with a positive foundation in the autumn. As I have said, the issues involved are clear. However, it is at this time premature to speculate about what may be achievable and the timeframe within which it can be achieved. In recent weeks, there have been worrying reports of an upsurge in sectarian attacks. It is important that everyone with influence in their communities does everything possible to ensure these attacks stop and tensions are reduced. Everyone appreciated the work done last year which ensured we had the most peaceful summer in many years. This work must continue and contacts be maintained at interface areas. There can be no greater confidence building between communities than people working to ensure we have peace on the streets and another peaceful summer. This would also provide a very positive context for the political process in the period ahead.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. Following recent questions the Taoiseach admitted the release of the killers of Detective Garda McCabe would have taken place if circumstances had permitted last year. I have some questions on this issue, as the people of the country and the McCabe family deserve openness and straight answers.

Did the deal the Government attempted to make with the IRA last October involve the ending of all criminal activity as well as paramilitary activity? The Taoiseach will be only too aware that Detective Garda McCabe was killed during a bank robbery and that the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission detailed numerous criminal activities involving paramilitary groups. Is the deal done last October with the Provisional IRA irrevocable now as we move through the summer to further discussions on the peace process? If the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, had not backed away from the agreement at the 11th hour last October, does the Taoiseach consider the killers of Detective Garda McCabe would now be free?

Obviously we will continue to try to build on the deal of last April and October. It did not change much, frankly, between April and October, as the basis of the arrangement was very much the same. Paragraph 13 referred to the end of paramilitarism in all its forms under the definition in that paragraph. As far as we are concerned that includes the effective ending of the IRA as an organisation that has anything to do with criminality, paramilitarism or anything else. The IRA would say it is not involved in crime but as far as we are concerned everything in paragraph 13 would end.

If we had achieved total completion of the deal we would have honoured it, as I have told Deputy Kenny in the last two weeks. Unfortunately we did not get near that, and it was not just a matter of the David Trimble issue. A number of things went wrong at the very end and my views were very clear even before we went to Hillsborough on the day in question. Our verification process, and those of everyone else, had been built into that agreement. Those processes would have applied to us, the British Government, the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and other parties to a lesser extent.

Going forward, the reason we put so much effort into that conclusion last year was that it was before the elections. Now the structures and parties have changed and we have a different set of negotiations. It is not the same so it is not a matter of everything from last year moving forward into this year. The agenda and dynamic are different, as are the policy documents, given that parties won and lost in last year's elections as a result of various manifestos. The format for negotiations this year is different but we hope the end result will be the same, namely, the end of paramilitarism in all its forms, the initiation of inclusive institutions and the verification of whatever is agreed. The International Monitoring Commission and the independent international Decommissioning Body are the two main mechanisms to arbitrate on what is delivered. We are trying to construct a new arrangement and, as Deputy Kenny will appreciate, that will be a slow process because there is no direct engagement and the talks are not at a stage where the DUP and Sinn Féin negotiators deal with each other. Part of the process will be to achieve that.

The Taoiseach will be aware that, as Leader of the Fine Gael Party, I was given a number of confidential briefings on the Northern Ireland peace process last year, for which I was very grateful. There was no reference in any of those briefings to the release of the killers of Detective Garda McCabe. In that context, in March 2003 when the Minister for Foreign Affairs met Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, in an attempt to agree a range of measures to restore the Assembly and the Executive, is he aware whether the possible release of the McCabe killers was part of those discussions or was mentioned to Mr. Adams by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Government? Was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform aware the release of the McCabe killers was part of the settlement towards which the Government was working? Did he agree at that stage that the killers of Detective Garda McCabe were eligible for release? I want to make that perfectly clear because in my recent travels around the country the public expressed its concern about this issue, having voted for the Good Friday Agreement in large numbers on the strict understanding the release of these persons was not part of that Agreement.

I accept Deputy Kenny would not have been briefed on all the matters. I do not think he would have been briefed on OTRs or the McCabe issues. I reiterate — I understand people can be uncomfortable with these issues — over the years in many of these circumstances I have had to give clearance at Christmas time and other times for the release of republican prisoners. The Christmas before the Good Friday Agreement I approved the release of the whole group, approximately 20, over the Christmas period. At all times our goal is to try to convince those who have been involved in violence and paramilitarism to move away from that. Not all the issues raised in this context are comfortable issues. The issue was raised in this House and elsewhere in 1998 that there was an inconsistency in our view in the South that we had negotiated an agreement in the North where people were being released who recently had been engaged in all kinds of horrendous activities. We made that point clear at the time. We claimed that, whether it was inconsistent, this was an act of criminality. We claimed that when this crime happened there was a doubt about who did it — the Deputy will be aware that at first there were denials — and for that reason we said we would not deal with it.

The Sinn Féin leadership made it clear at all times that it believed this was inconsistent. It fought through the High Court and the Supreme Court and lost on those grounds. Equally, it made clear that, at the end of the negotiations, which we are seeking, it would expect this issue to be completed and dealt with. We have moved on a considerable number of years — it is seven years since some of these prisoners were released. One of the original five was released and obviously others will be in prison for up to another five years. I know it is difficult for the families, but if we are to get an end to paramilitarism and violence and to work towards a constructive beginning, we must deal with this issue. Quite frankly, we must deal with this issue as part of the end game. It is not something to give away or trade off, but in the end this is where we would come to ultimately. I have made this clear to the Garda representative bodies, I know the families are aware of our position as well and I understand the reason they would not agree with it. The OTRs, persons on the run, are part of this arrangement. If one deals with the issue of OTRs without dealing with the persons charged with the manslaughter of Detective Jerry McCabe, one would find oneself in a situation where somebody, perhaps a person on the run who may have been involved in murder, would have gone through the certification process of declaring himself or herself an OTR, obtained clearance and would not serve a day while others who would have gone through due process would have served seven or eight years. That is the rationale in bringing this to an end.

I cannot be sure who has OTR status. I have explained before, but people did not focus on it, that I understand from what is known by the Garda Síochána that there would not be that many cases of OTRs, persons on the run, but who can be certain of who is living in the jurisdiction? I have no doubt that somebody who had been involved in a horrendous event could come forward as an OTR and under that system, he or she would get clearance. The same would happen in the United Kingdom. If we are to bring the matter to completion, we must face up to these issues. We are endeavouring to end paramilitarism, and deal with all the issues outlined in paragraph 13 and which I have outlined time and again. We are seeking an inclusive working executive and we are moving towards having everything verified.

I do not wish to duck any of the issues. If one states that one is not prepared to consider issues such as OTRs and the Oireachtas report, another issue which I am anxious to progress and on which I have answered questions recently, one will not achieve the end of the IRA as we know it. That is not to say the disbandment of the IRA, because it may become an old veterans group or whatever role it may play in the future. Mr. David Trimble came up with some imaginative ideas on this a few years ago, but we will not come to the end of it until we deal with them.

We have a decision to make on whether we get to the end of this. I do. I am prepared to take the heat on these issues and explain them because I think it is worth it, even if some issues are difficult. We do not have that many difficult issues compared with the number the people in Northern Ireland have had to face.

Do the continuing statements in recent months by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicate a change in the Government's assessment of the republican movement?

The Government has been assessing the republican movement. I may be wrong but I think even since last October, people are facing up to moving towards the end position. That will come to fruition only when matters are completed. The issues in the Joint Declaration, such as equality, policing and so on are very difficult.

To answer Deputy Rabbitte's question, I think republican thinking is coming to terms with trying to deal with these issues. To give a balanced view on this, it is not easy for them when they are not engaged directly with the DUP in talks. It is difficult for the DUP because of the history of the situation, but I increasingly detect from both sides a willingness to try. It will not happen overnight or over the next few weeks, but there is a willingness to do this. That is the belief of Government. Some of my colleagues would perhaps try to force that more than I would. In the end, I believe these matters can only really be done by negotiation.

I welcome the remarks made by the Taoiseach that he detects — I forget the phrase he used — in terms of the republican movement——

A willingness.

——making the final move. Will the Taoiseach be a little more forthcoming with the House in terms of how the average person watching or reading this debate would reconcile that with the remarks of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or with the findings of the Independent Monitoring Commission? Will he say something on that? Is he saying the movement away from paramilitarism has not been stalled and that progress is still being made? Will he be a little more forthcoming on why he assesses that to be the position?

The Independent Monitoring Commission has given its report and we have seen what it has said, including what it said about the ten killings last year, practically all of which were loyalist. There are issues. It is for me to give a fair position. There were a large number of events in Northern Ireland this weekend to which little or no attention was given. I will not give a blow-by-blow account but there were attacks on Catholic homes, gas-propelled bearings were shot at the home of a member of the SDLP, there were attacks on members of the Nationalist community and there has been considerable trouble in some of the interface areas. There are ongoing events, many of them emanating from loyalism.

As Deputy Rabbitte knows, I have taken an even hand in this and have also engaged in trying to work with the loyalists groups. If one can ease the pressure in regard to those matters, one does not get as much heat in the republican areas.

Obviously, the IRA still exists, recruits and engages in some training but compared with the situation a year or two ago, it has de-escalated. As Deputy Rabbitte knows, we had problems last year with criminality. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's position on that, whether people liked it or not, helped to break some of those links. There was a debate about whether former IRA people were engaged in criminal activity for their own benefit or for that of the IRA. I do not know. I think that is an open question, but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform highlighted and put the heat on that. Some people were engaged in it; if not current republicans, then former republicans. Heat was put on them. I do not want to go into what happened and the security information but the Minister highlighted things that were going on in the port of Dublin city. They were not imaginary and there was real criminal involvement. It has been necessary to press that case and to speak about it.

I mentioned some of the remarks made by Dr. Paisley recently. Reading that full speech, some of the things he said were perhaps not too complimentary, including some of the things said about Archbishop Brady. However, behind that is a willingness to try to find a way forward, and many people are trying hard to engage. We know that it is not happening quickly enough, and I continually make the point to the republican movement that, in these modern times — ten years since the first ceasefires, not to mention earlier events — it should not have taken so long. However, that it has taken that long is the position in which we find ourselves. If people are sincere and genuine, we can make progress.

Otherwise, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the International Monitoring Commission will tell it as they see it in their next reports. People will dispute their views and say that some board members are not fair. Despite all those arguments, the bodies are seen internationally as being international bodies. If we do not achieve progress, that is what we will see. They are determined to tell the story as it is. People are realising that it might be an uncomfortable position come October.

I assure Deputy Rabbitte that there are people in the commission and working with it who would be very happy with that. Either people correct their ways, or we will read a great deal more about it. That is not a threat from the commission or me, but a question of putting the facts in the public domain. The process of moving away from paramilitarism and related criminality, the existence of which is disputed, and the question of how people come by their money, will continue to come to the fore if people do not bring matters to a conclusion. All that brings pressure.

I know how everything that we say during questions on Northern Ireland is analysed much more widely than most other things. As we come into the autumn, if we have not moved to devolved government and an administration, someone must start answering for that to the people of Northern Ireland. I will not be slow in highlighting our efforts. However, people will have to answer for their positions. People stood for election and put forward their manifestos last November. The British and Irish Governments are doing all that they can to accommodate dialogue and make it happen. I do not believe we will have devolved government before the summer; that is not possible. However, I certainly hope we will have it by early autumn, or late autumn at the latest — well before the anniversary. It is very clear what is necessary. I need not go into all the detail here in reply to Deputy Rabbitte. I have said in detail what I mean by that and what steps must be taken to achieve that. We must make that progress. People will analyse that. People in all parties and groupings need to help us to bring matters to a conclusion.

Will the Taoiseach revisit his claim that the Castlerea prisoners lost their case in the Supreme Court, given that that is factually false? I invite the Taoiseach to correct the record, since anyone will know that that is not the case, no matter how often it is repeated or how hard the Taoiseach tries to peddle it. Is the Taoiseach aware that his utterances, today and previously, are not always helpful, particularly his position regarding the IMC, which is a body not catered to, recognised or established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement but outside it, and imposed against the will of the party representing the largest body of nationalist opinion in the North of Ireland not to mention the extent of its representation throughout the island? Is the Taoiseach aware, or has he forgotten when he talks about parties elected last November, that the Assembly has been collapsed on a number of occasions, not by the hand of Sinn Féin, but as a unilateral action on the part of the British Government, with which this Government is supposed to be an equal partner in overseeing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement? Clearly the Irish Government is a junior partner and at that, too often unprepared——

——to properly flex its position as the voice representing the Irish people, not only in this State but recognised and acknowledged by nationalist opinion throughout the island of Ireland. The situation is serious. As regards the Taoiseach's meeting of 2 May with the British Prime Minister here in Dublin, how exactly did he press the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and the Oireachtas committee's report based on Mr. Justice Barron's findings? This is the month that records the 30th anniversary of the tragedies visited on this city and on my home town. Did the Taoiseach demand in clear unequivocal terms that the British Government fully co-operate in the release of all the information it has? Did he indicate that one of the recommendations and the clear demand of the families is for a full cross-jurisdictional public inquiry? Did he press that and if he did what was Mr. Blair's response, aside from the Taoiseach's statement after the meeting, which gives no solace to those who want to see the establishment of truth and justice as regards that case? The Taoiseach has acknowledged and I would like to ask him about the events of the recent past: for months we have seen the continual efforts of some — including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and his friends in the Independent Newspapers network — to lay the blame for obstacles to progress at the door of Sinn Féin. Is it not the case that there is a collective responsibility on all parties including the Taoiseach's and this Government, to ensure that the current difficulties are overcome?

Is that a question or a lecture?

What is the Taoiseach's position as regards the escalating loyalist activities in the North of Ireland? He has alluded to the fact that these have increased in the recent past. We have seen the murder of a man, only a week ago, in the LVF-UVF feud.

The Deputy must confine himself to questions. Two other Deputies wish to contribute and the House would like to facilitate them.

These are questions. They may not be the ones the Ceann Comhairle wants to hear, but these are questions and I will ask them in this House. We have been listening——

No one is stopping the Deputy from asking questions, but he is not allowed to make statements.

We have been listening to plenty of talk in every other regard. Is the Taoiseach aware — or the Ceann Comhairle, if he wants to answer it — that there are loyalist attacks, including ongoing threats, on the homes of Sinn Féin and SDLP elected representatives? He was happy to mention an SDLP member earlier, but what about attacks on the homes of Sinn Féin elected representatives? Is he aware that this has included attempted abductions of nationalists, pipe bombs left at the home of a Sinn Féin member in Ballymena and attacks on a number of nationalist homes, including one in Portadown? Will the Taoiseach call on Unionist politicians to work actively and publicly to oppose these sectarian attacks by Unionist paramilitaries, particularly as we move towards the most sensitive time of the political year north of the Border? We do not want to see all of the hard work invested in recent years unravelled. We want to see a peaceful summer.

I could give an equally long answer. The answer to most of those issues is "yes". I have answered some of them already, in my reply to Deputy Rabbitte, about loyalist activities. I mentioned the SDLP because that incident happened this weekend. It is the latest in a series of issues which I have also mentioned. I would prefer to expend my energy in moving on. If we keep going back on these issues we will not get very far. We all want to see an end to the stopping and starting of the institutions. Deputy Ó Caoláin is correct to say we have seen many of them but he is incorrect when he says they were all unilateral acts that had nothing to do with anyone or anything. He knows himself——

Indeed I am not wrong. Was the Taoiseach's hand involved in the collapse of the institutions?

It took Deputy Ó Caoláin six minutes to ask questions and he should now allow the Taoiseach to answer without interruption please.

The Ceann Comhairle should not get too rushed. He is always issuing health warnings now I will give one to him. Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

The Deputy will leave the House if he does not allow the Taoiseach to answer his question.

I will answer Deputy Ó Caoláin's question. If I had managed to convince the Prime Minister — the Deputy said I did not do so actively enough — to get things up and running just after Christmas it would have come back down again through the actions of people associated with the Deputy and his party.

The Taoiseach should withdraw that remark.

It would have done.

Nobody associated with——

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me a question but he did not like the answer.

The Taoiseach should address his remarks through the Chair please.

I am sorry. I apologise.

Deputy Ó Caoláin will leave the House if he does not allow the Taoiseach to answer. Deputies Sargent and O'Higgins have submitted questions and they are entitled to answers so Deputy Ó Caoláin may not take up the rest of the time.

The Taoiseach should give us more.

I am entitled to an answer.

The Deputy may not take up the time until 3.15 p.m.

The Deputy is not entitled to dictate an answer.

I should not have to listen to abuse continuously.

The Government continues at every level to make progress on the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I have raised this again with the Prime Minister and will try to make as much progress as possible on this. He is aware of the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which I support. We must see what progress we can achieve on this issue. It comes down to whether we will have an inquiry similar to the Cory inquiry, either in the United Kingdom or in Northern Ireland, or in both under the one jurisdiction. We have made our position clear on the question of having that kind of investigation, as we have on the Finucane case. I have already answered the other issues raised by the Deputy.

Has the Taoiseach had time to think about the suggestion put by the SDLP, the Green Party and others about an interim arrangement to get the institutions in Northern Ireland up and running again? The suggestion is for a ten-member commission appointed by the two Governments to replace the Executive in the interim. Does the Taoiseach agree such an arrangement would allow the Assembly to get back up and running and that it would be an improvement on direct rule, given that the commission would be accountable to the Assembly?

Does he agree that the drift in policy is playing into the hands of anti-Agreement parties? In light of that and other constructive proposals and suggestions coming from other parties, including those in the Opposition, has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to think about his promise to involve Opposition parties in the review of the Good Friday Agreement? Has anything been done to develop that idea and to facilitate that process? In his discussions with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, has the Taoiseach discussed the implications of the forthcoming referendum on citizenship in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and, if so, has there been any outcome to those discussions?

The SDLP plan for the restoration of the Assembly, the North-South ministerial bodies and the British-Irish Council through the appointment of an administrative panel to run the Departments is being raised in the review. The party will pursue it further when the discussions resume. There are several other constructive suggestions and proposals. Every party has put forward comprehensive suggestions and positions which are now part of the review process. Some have been tabled, some have already been discussed and some are continuing.

Ultimately, in any deal, elements of those plans put forward by parties will be taken on board. There are some very good ideas, not only to devolve the institutions, but to give sustainability to them. We do not want to continue with a stop-start process, we want to achieve something that is sustainable, bedded down and will hold. Many of the proposals put forward by all parties are useful and would constructively help to do that.

In terms of the review, the parties do not meet often enough collectively. They meet separately, but I would rather we had more round table discussions. Perhaps when we clear some of the other more fundamental issues we will get to a position where people are able to sit down and deal with each other. We may then be able to get more parties around the table. We would make far more progress if it were a round table process because we would have to table papers and get everybody's collective view on them. That has not happened for one reason or another. The UUP pulled out of that process which creates a difficulty and the DUP and Sinn Féin are not yet dealing directly with each other. I think there is engagement on the papers and that we can make progress.

Some of the suggestions made here have also been feeding in to other parties and are reflected in their position papers. If we can support a review process, I expect that after the election, there will be at least three or four weeks of work on the review prior to the summer and then it will start up again two days a week. That is probably the best way of moving things forward.

There is no difficulty on citizenship in regard to Northern Ireland. We have that worked out and we made a joint declaration with the British. It does not create any problem whatsoever in the North or for people in the United Kingdom.

Did the Taoiseach discuss the situation in Iraq with the British Prime Minister? Did the Prime Minister throw any light on the disaster that has followed the invasion of Iraq of which he was a prime mover? Did the British Prime Minister apologise to the Taoiseach for misleading him and his Government in claims he made to justify the invasion of Iraq on the definite presence of weapons of mass destruction, and also apologise for convincing the Taoiseach that he should lend assistance to that invasion and be an auxiliary to it by providing logistical support at Shannon?

Did they raise the issue of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers and the abuse and deaths of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of both British and American soldiers? Since the credibility of any claim to moral or democratic standards advanced by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and the British and US occupiers now lies in the gutters of Abu Ghraib following the prisoner scandal, how does the Taoiseach propose to deal with the British Prime Minister in regard to these matters?

I answered questions on this issue the week before last. As I said in my earlier reply, we discussed Northern Ireland and European matters at this meeting. We did not discuss Iraq, but when I previously answered questions on this matter I stated that we formally and officially condemned and signalled our outrage at what had happened in the prisons to the UK and US authorities. The Deputy knows our position on the other issues. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, attended the General Affairs Council yesterday and, as at any such meeting, he encouraged the formulation of a new and clear resolution that will be satisfactory to everybody so that the international community can endeavour to bring stability and a successful hand-over to the interim administration at the end of June that will appoint a president, vice-president and prime minister. It will also have the resources to allow it to deal with this issue and will have access to an international force that will have the credibility to allow it to operate. It is into this crucial matter that we are investing all our efforts and energy. The most important aspect is to protect the sovereignty and integrity of Iraq and its people in order that direct elections can be held in the spring of next year.

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