1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39743/05]View answer
Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 February 2006
1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39743/05]View answer
2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39744/05]View answer
3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39745/05]View answer
4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39746/05]View answer
5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39753/05]View answer
6 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to visit the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39754/05]View answer
7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will convene a meeting of the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board during his next visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39755/05]View answer
8 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements in place within his Department for maintaining contact with the Ireland-America advisory board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39756/05]View answer
9 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Stormontgate issue. [40157/05]View answer
10 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the peace process. [40159/05]View answer
11 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his work in the peace process since 14 December 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40279/05]View answer
12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his most recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland. [40394/05]View answer
13 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matter discussed at his meeting on 22 December 2005 with the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde; the information the Chief Constable gave regarding the alleged operation of a spy-ring at Stormont and subsequent dropping of charges against a number of persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40395/05]View answer
14 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his assessment of the implications for political progress in Northern Ireland of the dropping of charges arising from an alleged spy-ring at Stormont and the disclosure that a senior Sinn Féin official was a long time British agent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40396/05]View answer
15 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he intends to undertake a review of his arrangements for contact and communications with political parties in Northern Ireland in view of the disclosure that a person (details supplied) was a long time British agent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40397/05]View answer
16 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his recent contacts with the British Government regarding its proposals for dealing with on-the-runs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40398/05]View answer
17 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if and when he expects the two Governments to resume talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland with a view to the re-establishment of the institutions provided for in the Belfast Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40399/05]View answer
18 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans to visit the United States around St. Patrick’s Day; the programme agreed for such a visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40401/05]View answer
19 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent contacts with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, regarding the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1237/06]View answer
20 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his contacts with the Northern Ireland political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1238/06]View answer
21 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, or with the UK administration regarding the recent Stormontgate affair; the implications of this affair for the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1239/06]View answer
22 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the PSNI Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde. [1854/06]View answer
23 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [1855/06]View answer
24 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet with the President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1857/06]View answer
25 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [1858/06]View answer
26 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the US administration. [1859/06]View answer
27 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 26 January 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2976/06]View answer
28 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in Dublin on 26 January 2006. [3103/06]View answer
29 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting of 26 January 2006 with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3406/06]View answer
30 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will be reconvened in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3407/06]View answer
31 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the recent or planned contacts with the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3408/06]View answer
32 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting of 22 December 2005 with the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3409/06]View answer
33 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will be visiting the United States during the St. Patrick’s Day holidays; if so, the itinerary for his visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3410/06]View answer
34 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the US President Mr. George W Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3411/06]View answer
35 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the reason for the delays in the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3627/06]View answer
36 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has received the eighth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission; his views on the implications of the report for future developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4182/06]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 36, inclusive, together.
The Government remains fully committed to the peace process and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We have seen very real progress in recent months. There are, of course, continuing difficulties. This is not surprising following such a prolonged conflict, and indeed centuries of division on this island, but the progress that has been made deserves to be acknowledged.
The Independent Monitoring Commission, IMC, report, which both Governments requested and which we published on 1 February, reflects the complexity of the transition which is taking place within the Provisional IRA. In a key conclusion, the IMC say it is of "the firm view that the present IRA leadership has taken the strategic decision to end the armed campaign and pursue the political course which it has publicly articulated".
The absence of evidence of IRA paramilitary activity since last July including authorised attacks, recruitment, training, targeting and involvement in rioting is of particular note and obviously welcome. At the same time, the commission identifies issues of concern that must be addressed, particularly regarding criminal activity and gathering of intelligence. The Governments do not minimise the importance of these concerns but it should be noted that in light of the progress made, the IMC recommended that the financial measures against Sinn Féin, which the commission had previously recommended, should be lifted.
We also published a further report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the IICD. The IICD's report dealt with decommissioning of loyalist weaponry and matters relating to IRA decommissioning last September. It reported on the continuing engagement of the commission with representatives of loyalist paramilitary organisations. The IICD investigated reports that the IRA had retained some of its weapons. However, following investigation of these reports, it concluded that its assessment last September regarding the decommissioning of IRA arms remains correct.
The IICD will continue with its work, as will the IMC. The Government does not take lightly the negative matters raised in the IMC report. The Garda, Office of the Revenue Commissioners and other agencies will continue to pursue illegality from whatever source. They will continue to co-operate actively with their counterparts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in this task.
I met Prime Minister Blair in Farmleigh on 26 January. The close and concerted co-operation between the two Governments remains vital as we seek to bring finality to outstanding issues and achieve full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In our joint statement following this meeting, we emphasised the importance of making progress in 2006 and indicated that the forthcoming talks with the Northern Ireland political parties would have the aim of setting out the arrangements and timetable for the restoration of the institutions as soon as possible. We made clear that the early restoration of the devolved institutions is in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. If we are genuinely and permanently to bed down progress in Northern Ireland, we cannot leave things as they are at present. We must bring matters to completion.
The talks between the Governments and the Northern Ireland political parties got under way on 6 February and are expected to last several weeks. These talks were attended by all the political parties. The Minister and the Secretary of State made clear the Governments' determination to achieve early progress through an inclusive process of negotiations with all the parties. The meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London on 1 February reflected the ongoing and growing agenda of North-South and east-west co-operation. Ministers discussed a joint paper on infrastructure development and spatial planning on the island. They noted the scope for further practical co-operation on the development of an all-island economy and agreed that a full review should be undertaken to identify existing co-operation, to analyse what is working well, to identify areas where future co-operation would deliver mutual benefits and to examine how such co-operation might best be taken forward. They agreed that there is significant potential for further co-operation on a range of infrastructure and spatial planning issues and requested responsible Departments and agencies or regulators to identify further projects for North-South co-operation and bring these forward. It was also agreed that further opportunities for joint trade promotion would be explored.
I met US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss on 30 January. We discussed the two Governments' plans for advancing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The US Government remains fully supportive of the position of the Irish and British Governments. We also discussed my forthcoming visit to the United States for St. Patrick's Day.
I expect to meet President Bush during my visit to the United States for St. Patrick's Day. The programme for this visit has yet to be finalised. I expect discussions on the peace process will figure prominently, in addition to other issues. I also expect to participate in the traditional ceremonies at the White House and on Capitol Hill and to meet the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board in the course of my visit. It has been the practice in recent years to meet the board during the course of my annual visit to Washington over the St. Patrick's Day period. My Department maintains contact with the board primarily through our embassy in Washington, as well as through annual visits and meetings. As the House will be aware, board members give voluntarily of their time and expertise in a number of ways. In addition to visiting Washington, I also expect to visit San José, California, while I am in the USA.
I met the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Sir Hugh Orde, on 22 December 2005 regarding the so-called "Stormontgate" affair. There were some detailed exchanges but as the briefing and exchanges were confidential, it would not be appropriate to go into detail. I welcomed the fact that the Chief Constable had briefed the Northern Ireland Policing Board and urged that the maximum possible information be shared with the public. There was also a helpful exchange regarding policing generally in Northern Ireland and the continuing progress on full implementation of the recommendations of the Patten report.
The "Stormontgate" case, along with a number of other issues, contributed to the collapse of the power-sharing Executive in 2002. However, the primary focus of the Governments and parties must now be on the future and the priority of restoring the devolved institutions in 2006, and contacts with all the political parties will, as previously, continue with this aim in view.
On the question of the so-called on-the-runs, OTRs, when the UK legislation was published last November, proposals for dealing with the handful of cases that might arise in this jurisdiction were announced. It was indicated that such a scheme would operate in tandem with the operation of the provisions in the United Kingdom. The withdrawal of the UK legislation means the proposals for dealing with the matter in this jurisdiction are now in abeyance pending the issue being revisited in both jurisdictions.
The question of further sessions of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will be kept under review. As of now, there are no plans for a further meeting.
Before I ask a number of questions, I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, well in the new role to which she has been appointed. I note that the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, has withstood the pressure that was reportedly put on her to stand aside. I wish the Ministers of State well in the 12 months, or less, which remain before the next general election.
I have read the report of the International Monitoring Commission, which identifies some movement in the right direction. It is obvious, however, that it falls far short of where we should be if Sinn Féin is to be truly respected as a fully democratic party. I was somewhat dismayed by the Government's reaction to the IMC's serious finding that continuing IRA involvement in criminal activity and intelligence gathering is taking place in the Twenty-six Counties, despite its specific commitment last July that such activities were to cease immediately. It is simply unacceptable, in a democratic society, that the IRA can maintain its structures, continue its spying activities for political purposes and maintain its involvement in criminal fund-raising.
I remind the Taoiseach of his response to comments made by the Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Sam Kincaid, on 18 January last. The Taoiseach dismissed Mr. Kincaid's view that the IRA is still involved in organised crime, claiming that the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Mr. Hugh Orde, had expressed to him "a different view" to that expressed by Mr. Kincaid. Did that response not prompt a statement from Mr. Orde that he and the Taoiseach had not discussed this issue? Did Mr. Orde not state that he backed Mr. Kincaid fully? Did Mr. Orde not claim that the view held by Mr. Kincaid and him had been vindicated and confirmed by the IMC? Can the Taoiseach explain why his comment directly contradicted that of Mr. Kincaid? Is it not the case that Mr. Orde issued a statement backing Mr. Kincaid fully, even though the Taoiseach had said that Mr. Orde had given him "a different view"?
The IMC report has generally been viewed as a positive report. It is important to note that there has not been any evidence of IRA paramilitary activity, such as authorised attacks, recruitment, training, targeting or involvement in rioting, since last July. It is also important to note that the report states that "the present PIRA leadership has taken the strategic decision to end the armed campaign and pursue the political course" to which it committed itself last July. A huge change is taking place in a complex organisation. The PSNI, the British Army, the Irish security forces and everyone else who is involved understands that this process will take time. I hope, obviously, that the final aspects of criminality and intelligence gathering, which are totally unacceptable and wrong will have ended by the time the next IMC report is published in April. It cannot be denied that a significant amount of progress has been made. That needs to continue if we are to build trust and confidence. I emphasise that the IMC and IICD reports have confirmed, contrary to negative reports from some quarters, that a strategic decision to pursue politics by peaceful means has been taken by the leadership of the IRA. That such a decision has been taken is not being questioned by any of the groups concerned.
There has been a great deal of debate about the issue of weapons, arising from the IMC report. I have outlined the comments I made and I do not propose to return to that issue. When I was asked about Mr. Kincaid's remarks, I said he must have some information on which to base such comments. While there have been many debates about the weapons issue, it should be borne in mind that the IMC and IICD reports do not contradict each other. The IMC has said it received certain reports, but it did not state definitively that weapons have been retained. The matter was not investigated by the IMC but by the IICD, which concluded in its report that in the absence of evidence to the contrary its statement of 26 September regarding IRA arms remains correct. I am just quoting the facts. The IICD is responsible for the decommissioning issue and it has our full confidence. The work of both the IMC and the IICD is very valuable and I am very grateful for the work which is ongoing.
I am in total agreement with Deputy Kenny on the other two points. There are a number of concerns about ongoing intelligence gathering and crime. The IRA is a complex organisation and requires time to move in transition. The next step is in April and we must also see the back of these issues. We also made it clear, irrespective of the positive developments that have taken place, including those recorded in the IMC report, that any assets acquired illegally by people or organisations, whether they have paramilitary links or not, will be fully pursued. The Garda is very active on that front in a number of areas, such as money laundering and other financial crimes. The investigations into that activity continues and there are quite large numbers of gardaí involved.
It is almost the anniversary of the murder of Pat Finucane. The Taoiseach is aware of the campaign by his family for a full public inquiry here. Judge Peter Cory recommended that after assessing all the information in the public domain. The Taoiseach recently answered a question of mine stating that he supported this recommendation. If we put down a simple, non-political motion, calling for a public inquiry, as per the recommendation of Judge Cory, is the Taoiseach and the Government prepared to support that?
The community restorative justice schemes were introduced as an alternative to the PSNI in County Down and were recommended by a member of Sinn Féin. Has there been any discussion with the British Government about the amount of money that is being paid directly into these schemes? Mr. Auld recently said that if the community restorative justice organisation were to agree to have a relationship with the PSNI, then it would be putting itself out of business. In a recent article, Garret FitzGerald mentioned five points that are clearly of serious importance, where quite a number of members of the restorative justice committees were previously members of the IRA. What is the Taoiseach's position on this? Has he had discussions with the British Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on moving this issue to a stage where communities can have a police force in which they have full and proper confidence? Have there been discussions about the level of direct payment being made in respect of these schemes?
I have recently answered questions on the Finucane case, but I would like to say a few words on it. The family has met Mr. Hain in Belfast and they are not at all happy with the latest meeting. I understand it was a difficult meeting and the family is not satisfied with the British proposals for the inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder. Our sympathies have always been with Geraldine Finucane and her family in all of this. I have had many meetings with the family and with the various groups that have campaigned for the family. We have consistently said we wish to see a full public inquiry held as was envisaged at Weston Park and recommended by Judge Cory. The circumstances of the case demand the maximum openness. That has been the Irish Government's position for years. We share the view of the family, many others and most importantly, the view of Judge Cory, that the inquiry which the British want to hold under the new legislation does not meet the needs of this case.
This is an open and shut case for us. We raised this with President Bush last year and we got him to speak at the time. I have raised this with the British Government many times and to be frank, I do not see any willingness to change its position. I will certainly look at the procedure of the motion, but in principle I have no problem with it. We can work out something on which we can all agree.
I have had many discussions on the issue of restorative justice, which was raised previously in the House. I understand the rationale and the schemes, and I have read the submissions about the schemes. I have talked at length to the political parties, including the SDLP, and to the British Government with regard to the schemes while the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has talked to his counterpart, Mr. Peter Hain, MP, and others.
I can understand all the models and arguments of how one would try to move from the current situation — many parts of Northern Ireland have moved to another situation. However, we will have difficulties if we do not deal through the police, which is the relevant point. We all know how community policing and neighbourhood watch schemes operate throughout the country — many of them operate well — but, at the end of the day, those who must make the decisions on how they operate and on the gathering, collection and two-way flow of information, are the community groups and the police. Otherwise, who will make these decisions? That is the difficulty.
That point has been made to me by religious and community leaders and others. While some of them make the point that there are some benefits to bringing people in, ultimately, the police must be involved, which is what is happening in the loyalist pilot schemes in operation at present. Until that is the case, this will always be an area involving suspicion, friction and concern, if not far worse.
That brings me back to the point I have made many times, namely, we must achieve the resolution of the policing issue. Within days, the British Government will publish the draft of its legislation and its position paper. That is where I would like to see the debate in the months ahead. It is the only way we will resolve the issue.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to question the Taoiseach on the peace process. Does the Taoiseach share my anger and frustration, and the frustration of the vast majority of citizens on the island, with regard to the constant delays in the peace process? Does he find these delays unacceptable?
Does the Taoiseach find it unacceptable that sinister elements within the British security forces can bring down institutions voted on by the people? Are these sinister forces constantly active in political life on the island? Does the Taoiseach accept that they are a constant threat to democracy on the island? With regard to the Stormontgate question, what actions will the Taoiseach take to deal with these sinister and dark elements?
Will the Taoiseach encourage the Unionist population, particularly those Unionists visiting Dublin in the next few weeks to lay wreaths, to consider laying a wreath in Talbot Street as a mark of respect to the 33 people killed and the 240 injured in Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974 by loyalist paramilitaries and members of the British security forces? Will he keep reminding Mr. Paisley and company that there were victims on all sides of the conflict of the past 30 years?
I am sure those who follow the debates in this House will take note of the last suggestion. I always say to groups I meet from all quarters that everyone must realise that there were terrible atrocities on all sides and we should respect that. I agree with the Deputy's point.
I do not want to get into the Stormontgate affair. I agreed with the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, that the meeting would be confidential and I would not discuss it. In spite of the fact that he issued a statement on one of the matters, I will not breach that confidence. It was a confidential meeting and I will accept it on that basis and will not break the agreement other than to say that all these issues are unhelpful, from wherever they come.
Unless we can move away from a situation where people and groups gather intelligence and spy on each other, or have agents or otherwise, from whatever quarter, we will not be in the democratic situation we all want to be in. All this should stop to allow everybody to move on and have a normal existence. In a normal society there are rules about these matters, namely, legislation and independent judges who oversee it. In a normal society — Northern Ireland has been relatively normal for the past decade — one cannot just act on one's own. Therefore, we should be moving away from this on all sides as it is unhelpful and the situation becomes totally convoluted by getting into blow by blow details of who did what. It becomes a bit of an endless argument. I understand the position stated by Hugh Orde and what he said to me, but I want to move on from that.
Deputy Finian McGrath will appreciate that nobody gets more frustrated than me at times about the ongoing delays. However, there are reasons for them as there are reasons for moving the process along. Hopefully, the clear statements of July and September last year have put us in a position where we are moving away from the torments of the past and paramilitary groups. There are some issues we must still move on from and these are clear and well documented. I accept it takes time to resolve these issues, but this must happen. Otherwise we will never get trust and confidence.
Last year we had, at least, an effort to get trust and confidence. I hope the meetings that have now started will lead us to what must be the agenda. The only agenda is the restoration of the institutions, based on the Good Friday Agreement for which the people voted and which is the reason we in the Republic made the decisions we did. We are committed to implementing that, and there is no other agenda. The two Governments, the US Administration and the European Union are totally committed to that path. Therefore, I do not think we should open up any other paths. I certainly will not, nor will I entertain any other because there is no point and they will not work.
We must stay with the agenda we have and try and work with the parties to get to the desired position. We have started working on it in a serious way and all the parties are committed to it. I know they all have a different endgame, but the negotiations are to see how we can move the agenda forward in the weeks ahead. As the Deputy said, there is no point in delaying. We must get to completion. We must put an end to criminality, intelligence gathering and these issues that have been highlighted. If we can do that we should be able to move to proper institutions based on the Good Friday Agreement.
Has the Taoiseach noted the Finucane family's restated rejection of any inquiry under the restrictions of the British Inquiries Act? The family made that rejection patently clear following its meeting with Peter Hain last week. Where does the Taoiseach stand on the Finucane family's demand for a full, open, public inquiry that is not gagged by the mechanism of the Inquiries Act, is he pressing for the repeal of that legislation at Westminster and has he raised the issue with Tony Blair in recent engagements with him?
Given that it is of such importance that the Finucane family and others are facilitated in their search for truth and justice, is that an issue on which the Taoiseach would seek to call a special summit meeting between himself and Tony Blair to address as a stand alone item on an agenda? I believe it is of such importance, but what is the Taoiseach's view? Does he accept that securocrats are behind the demand for the parameters to be within the terms of the Inquiries Act? If they have their way on this issue and on all matters pertaining to collusion, how and when will they ever be faced down on their continuing actions to thwart progress in the overall peace process?
Has the Taoiseach noted that the British Parliament last night took a further step towards the imposition of compulsory ID cards for everyone in the island of Britain and in the North of Ireland? The British Home Secretary, Mr. Charles Clarke, made the clear statement that it is intended to have compulsory identification cards for everyone. What is the Taoiseach's view on the matter and will he take particular decisive action to ensure that such a proposition will not come about for any citizen on the island of Ireland, particularly given the abuse of access to information by the police force in the North of Ireland by any name, and the feed of sensitive information on citizens in that jurisdiction to loyalist paramilitaries through the years?
Does the Taoiseach accept, as I do, that the introduction of compulsory ID cards for every citizen in the North is bound to cause great concern, fear and alarm within Nationalist and republican communities throughout the Six Counties? Will the Taoiseach make it clear that this is not acceptable? What is the Taoiseach's position on a previous statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding the introduction of a compulsory identification scheme for all citizens in this jurisdiction on the back of the British Government's intended implementation of compulsory ID cards on the island of Britain and the north of this island?
We have represented to the British Government in meetings most of the points and concerns made clear by groups. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has handled this issue throughout. There have been many meetings with the British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and between officials. It would be better to table a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to get a full briefing on the matter. We have put all the concerns put to us to the British Government over the past 18 months that this has been ongoing.
I said to Deputy Kenny that the Government's support, sympathies and actions have been with the Finucane family throughout. That remains the position. We have given them any assistance we can, and we will continue to do so. I have explained the reasons for this. An agreement was made in Weston Park to follow a particular strategy and we have done so. Mr. Justice Cory came down on a particular side and we supported it. It is our view, supported by the Americans and Mr. Justice Cory himself, that the British Government has not followed this. We have had many meetings on the matter and raised it at several meetings last year with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair.
I regret that the British have not shown a willingness to meet the family's needs. We are considering pursuing it, but I would be misleading the House if I stated I had any impression that the British Government was going to change its position. I have heard from the Prime Minister through his office and no indication has been given that there will be a change in the matter. We continue to support the Finucane family in its quest for the truth, and the British Government is aware of this also. The matter will not go away.
Will the Taoiseach seek a summit on the matter?
We have raised the matter at every summit and we will continue to raise the matter. It does not require a special summit. The Prime Minister knows our precise view on the issue, as does the British Government, as the affair has been ongoing for so long.
The Taoiseach left out an answer to one question.
There are three Deputies offering and we are running out of time
I wish to know the Taoiseach's views on ID cards.
The Deputy took five minutes to submit his question.
It did not take me five minutes to submit the question.
The Deputy should resume his seat and allow Deputy Rabbitte to speak.
I wish to know the Taoiseach's views on ID cards.
We wish to hear the three other Deputies before the end of Taoiseach's questions.
We would also like to hear the answer.
What is the Taoiseach's view on the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, that he will withdraw salaries from the MLAs? Does the Taoiseach believe that a democratic culture in Northern Ireland can be maintained if democratic representatives are deprived of a means of income? Does this go back to people who can rely on personal or other income to sustain themselves in politics? What impact would that have? Would it not inevitably lead to the collapse of the institutions? Does the measure not inevitably favour a well-resourced party with a large number of MPs in the House of Commons, such as the DUP, for example? Can the Taoiseach persist in trying to establish normal politics in Northern Ireland if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland goes ahead with that decision?
Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to read the proposals published yesterday by the SDLP for improved North-South co-operation and does he have an initial response to them?
Deputy Rabbitte is correct on the first issue. The withdrawal of MLAs' salaries will cause difficulties for a small number of parties whereas other parties will not be much affected. Mr. Peter Hain has said one cannot pay indefinitely salaries to elected members of institutions that have not met for several years, since 2002, and I understand that point. The solution is to end the debate by creating trust and confidence for everybody to be able to make the necessary decisions. A withdrawal of salaries while discussions are ongoing will not help the atmosphere and I hope the Secretary of State does not do that. I believe he is referring to the longer term rather than the shorter term. I do not think he will take the matter further until this round of talks move, hopefully, to a successful position.
The SDLP has briefed us on its proposals for some time and we welcome its positive contribution to the agenda for North-South co-operation and the development of an all-Ireland economy. The proposals are in line with a number of meetings we have had with various groups representing five or six business bodies in the North. The latest one, last week, focused on how co-operation can be enhanced. The main point is grounded in common sense and involves mutual benefits for everybody, North and South. I agree with Mr. Mark Durkan that the question should not be "Why co-operate?" but "Why not?", which is in line with what the Minister for Finance said in his speech in Derry last year.
We already do a lot of work across all policy areas to develop North-South co-operation, and we will closely examine the SDLP proposals to help us develop this further. The best way to do so is to re-establish the North-South Ministerial Council, which I hope will happen soon. In the meantime we will press ahead with co-operation with the British Government. The SDLP proposals are very extensive and include suggestions for new North-South bodies, infrastructure, environmental protection, harmonised tax rates, joint actions and common policies, a wide range of areas. We will closely examine all the proposals.
Does the Taoiseach accept that to many people outside the House, and maybe inside it too, the peace process looks becalmed, like a duck floating on a pond, notwithstanding that its feet may be paddling away furiously below the surface of the water? Does the Taoiseach accept there is not much happening, regardless of the activity level, and that, in light of the statement of Dr. Paisley on the President and the IMC report, the restoration of the institutions looks even more distant than it did a couple of months ago? Will he take the initiative to cast the net a little wider in terms of discussions with the parties on both sides of this House and, perhaps, with groups in civil society in order to fill the vacuum with fruitful debate rather than with the activities of dissidents on all sides of the political divide? Will he agree to a meeting with the political parties represented in this House at which a non-plenary exchange of views could be expressed on the way forward? With regard to his meeting with Mr. Tony Blair on the issues of policing and the restoration of institutions, does the Taoiseach have any hopes, beyond those expressed in public, that progress is afoot?
In a Dáil reply given to me with regard to an inquiry on Pat Finucane, the Taoiseach said "the Government wants the standard agreed at Weston Park and set by Judge Cory to be adhered to". What exactly does that mean and how has the objective been pursued? Is there any point at which it becomes unacceptable to deal with people who have walked away from the standard agreed at Weston Park? Is pressure being exerted to ensure this inquiry will be held?
I know the Taoiseach will not heed my advice to boycott any visit to President Bush this year but will he have any new proposals to put forward at his meeting with the US President with regard to the tens of thousands of Irish citizens living clandestinely in the United States? Shall the Taoiseach seek clarification on the President's reasons for misleading him with regard to the reasons for the invasion of Iraq? Will he raise the worldwide concerns for human rights which have arisen due to the continued existence of the Guantanamo gulag in contravention of natural justice and civil rights?
I wonder whether the Taoiseach read the newspapers this morning. When he arrives at the White House, clutching his bowl of shamrock, will he be wearing a bullet proof vest? I see that, not content with slaughtering innocent Iraqis, Vice President Cheney has turned his gun on a close friend whom he mistook for a duck. The Taoiseach should be careful over there.
On Deputy Sargent's questions, the institutions are not up and running but we would be wrong to think that a huge host of other matters are not moving or that successful jobs are not being done. The real basis of the peace process is that people in Northern Ireland are living in peace and moving towards better human rights and justice. That is due to the work of the policing board, the parades commission, the review of criminal justice, oversight commissioners and, in different ways, the work of Ms Nuala O'Loan. There are a great number of successful groupings, never mind North-South bodies, which are working and moving ahead.
Admittedly, the main element which we want to see are the institutions but we should not discount the efforts of people involved in political parties, including politicians, and others who are working on these matters, as well as the ongoing demilitarisation of Northern Ireland which is moving apace in terms of fewer security personnel and decreased army involvement. These are all positives and will hopefully lead us to the necessary breakthrough.
On the Finucane issue, we have made our views clear and the British Government is aware of them. We have pressed and used all our powers of persuasion on this issue. They have not shown a basis for movement on this. We have not considered walking away from everything just because of that issue but the British Government is very clear about the annoyance of the Irish Government and this House, because it has been expressed time and again.
The talks process is ongoing and wherever it is useful or necessary for us to have talks between the parties here, we are glad to do so or to brief them. I have always said to the parties that when they are coming here from the North, they should meet people from other parties too and engage with them. That has been improved on a lot in the last year or two.
With regard to Deputy Higgins's question, I will raise the matter again and I assure him that I did so last year. I will raise the proposals about the immigration issue. I have taken a very keen interest in the Kennedy legislation and have been supportive of it. There are a number of proposals on the matter but we will raise it again this year and have done so through our ambassador and more recently through the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, who was in the United States and had a number of meetings. The Attorney General will do likewise this week, to make our position clear and to try to help the plight of Irish immigrants.
The United States is well aware of the Government's view that those detained at Guantanamo Bay should be treated in accordance with the requirements of international human rights and humanitarian law. When we held the Presidency of the EU, I made these views known to the President of the United States at Dromoland Castle. I have raised the matter since then and will continue to make our position clear on the issue and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is doing the same. We will continue to co-operate with the European Parliament and the Council of Europe with regard to the investigations around the issue of rendition.