Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (18)

Bernard Allen


159 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will elaborate upon his statement, made while attending discussions in Belfast on 12 October 2004, regarding the participation of Sinn Féin in government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25495/04]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The comments I made at Hillsborough on 12 October were in response to specific questions from the media on the implications for participation in government in this jurisdiction if the issue of IRA weapons were conclusively and definitively resolved and the DUP were asked to accept Sinn Féin as partners in the Northern Ireland Executive.

My response was clearly predicated on circumstances changing and the republican movement demonstrating that it had definitively addressed the question of arms and accepted the reality that there could not be two armies in this State. I acknowledged the possibility that, in those changed circumstances, the question of Sinn Féin participating with others in government in the South could arise.

My comments were fully consistent with the Taoiseach's views on the subject, namely, that there must be an end to paramilitarism, that we must see the decommissioning of weapons, and that there can be no place for a private army. Our Constitution provides for only one Army — Óglaigh na hÉireann — as the Taoiseach made abundantly clear last Sunday, and as I did in the interview in question.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the central objective of the current discussions, namely, the full implementation of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government is focused on two immediate and related priorities: achieving definitive closure on paramilitary activity and capability; and, in a new climate of confidence, restoring the full operation of the institutions of the Agreement on a stable, enduring and inclusive basis.

The realisation of that enormous prize of peace and political stability, which would transform politics in both jurisdictions on this island, was the main focus of my discussions with the Secretary of State last week. It will continue to be one of my key priorities in the days and weeks ahead, and I look forward to the continued support of the House in that vital project.

Although the Minister's statement did not depart from Government policy, it aroused deep controversy. If the statement was in line with Government policy, why did the Department of Foreign Affairs immediately rush out a memorandum to explain the Minister's statements? Why did it pointedly omit the expression that he hoped that Sinn Féin would be in government in the future? Since the Minister signalled that Sinn Féin would be the preferred partner in government, all things being equal, did he discuss his statement with the Taoiseach or Tánaiste before he made it? Certain media have said that the question was inspired. Since the Minister made those comments, has the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste spoken to him about them?

The whole premise on which the peace process is based is to ensure that those perpetrating violence on this island take the constitutional route from day one. We would get those involved in violence or those within their ranks who participate in it to do so. That is exactly the basis on which I made my remarks, which were quite clear. I specifically stated that there might be only one recognised Army and that, until that was the case, no party such as Sinn Féin, which in effect has a private army associated with it, might participate in a democratic process in the Republic. I made that quite clear regarding Sinn Féin. The other issue, of what would happen in the North, was also part of the thought process. The question was asked, in the event of full arms decommissioning, an end to paramilitarism, and the DUP sitting down with Sinn Féin in an Executive, whether there might be a different scenario in the South. I said that there would be one. I look forward to the day when there is no violence on this island and no guns, either on or under the table.

People must take risks for peace. That has been the hallmark of all the movement in the peace process in recent years. Let us be thankful that we have come such a long distance. Those who have perpetrated violence have also gone a long way. We must do more. One hopes that, in the next few weeks, we will see some improvement. I cannot guarantee that, but it is important that people accept that, if we achieve full decommissioning and complete peace on the island, people's democratic entitlement must be recognised.

I have no doubt that the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Ahern, was part of a softening up process for the Irish people. If Fianna Fáil were in a tight corner after the next election, they would do a deal with the Devil himself to stay in power. The Minister spoke about arms and having peace on the island, but he did not give his views on the activities of the IRA in this jurisdiction. What is his attitude towards the IRA? Must all those activities cease before his party can even consider speaking about power sharing?

At no stage in the interview did I postulate a scenario where Fianna Fáil would enter a coalition with Sinn Féin. However, it is ironic that the Deputy is saying that. In no way did I suggest that there would be a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. No person on this side of the House has had to deal with Sinn Féin in his own constituency like I have. I was born and bred five miles from the Border, where I still live. I know Sinn Féin's policies, both economically and from other points of view. I know what problems they have perpetrated in my constituency. I have said time and again for 30 years that their policies dramatically affected my constituency, particularly economically but also socially.

The time allowed for the question has expired.

I find it a little ironic listening to Deputy Allen criticise the suggestion, which was not made by me. His party said in 1992 that it would never participate in a coalition with Democratic Left. Two years later it changed its mind.

The Minister is not comparing like with like.

Big change, that.