Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (83, 84)

John Bruton


208 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a full update on the situation in Northern Ireland; his views on the meetings held at Leeds Castle; the steps to be taken to bring about the resumption of the Northern Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25230/04]

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Kathleen Lynch


223 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date in resolving the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks; the nature of the outstanding issues to be resolved; if these issues are capable of being resolved within the binding terms of the existing Agreement; if not, the nature and extent of amendments they may require; if, in the event of parties failing to agree, the British and Irish Governments will endeavour to present an alternative plan that seeks to implement as much of the Good Friday Agreement as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25302/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 208 and 223 together.

At Leeds Castle, the Taoiseach and the Government team worked hard to achieve resolutions to the four outstanding issues identified by the two Governments, namely, an end to paramilitary activity; decommissioning; stability of the political institutions; and policing, including the devolution of policing and justice powers.

At the conclusion of the talks, the two Governments stated their belief that the issues of paramilitary activity and decommissioning could now be resolved. However, consensus was not achieved on possible changes to the operation of the institutions in strands one, two and three of the Agreement. The review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement was provided for in the Agreement itself. The Government has consistently acknowledged that there may be scope for pragmatic and sensible changes to the workings of the Agreement in the light of practical experience. It has, from the outset, also made clear its openness to considering such changes, once they are consistent with the fundamental provisions of the Agreement.

Since the conclusion of the Leeds Castle talks, the Government has encouraged and facilitated dialogue with and between the parties in order to reach agreement on the outstanding issues. The former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, met all the parties in Belfast on 21 and 22 September.

The Taoiseach and I met a DUP delegation, led by Dr. Ian Paisley, on 30 September in Dublin. Since my appointment I have also met the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the Alliance Party, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope to meet a delegation from the UUP in the coming days.

Both Governments are determined to move ahead now and have emphasised the urgent need to achieve an accommodation between all sides which does not trespass against the fundamental power sharing nature of the Agreement. We remain focused on securing a comprehensive agreement that definitively resolves the question of paramilitarism and allows for the early restoration of the devolved institutions on a stable and inclusive basis.