Skip to main content
Normal View

Northern Ireland Issues.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 13 June 2006

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

Joe Higgins

Question:

1 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [17722/06]

View answer

Enda Kenny

Question:

2 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. [18043/06]

View answer

Enda Kenny

Question:

3 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. [18044/06]

View answer

Enda Kenny

Question:

4 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. [18045/06]

View answer

Enda Kenny

Question:

5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister on the margins of the EU-Latin America Summit in Vienna; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19090/06]

View answer

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

6 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent contacts with the British Prime Minister in regard to the Irish peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19166/06]

View answer

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

7 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his most recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland. [19216/06]

View answer

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent contact with the British Government regarding developments in Northern Ireland. [19217/06]

View answer

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his plans for a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. [19218/06]

View answer

Finian McGrath

Question:

10 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding recent developments in Northern Ireland. [19372/06]

View answer

Trevor Sargent

Question:

11 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent contacts he has had with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20716/06]

View answer

Trevor Sargent

Question:

12 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent contacts with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, regarding developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20717/06]

View answer

Trevor Sargent

Question:

13 Mr. Sargent 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. [20718/06]

View answer

Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, together.

There are ongoing contacts with all Northern Ireland political parties. I last met Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party on 30 March. The Northern Ireland Assembly reconvened for the first time in three and a half years on Monday, 15 May. Its purpose is to prepare for the re-establishment of the devolved Executive as soon as possible and, in any event, before 24 November. We believe this is a fair and reasonable deadline.

We hope that the creation of the preparation for Government committee, which met for the first time on 5 June, will allow all the parties to engage with one another and begin addressing the issues relevant to the restoration of the Executive. We want to see early progress made to this end. Yesterday's announcement on arrangements for chairing this committee is welcome although I am conscious of the time already lost. It would be deeply disappointing if constructive effort and engagement could not be reported when the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I meet the parties in Belfast later in the month.

Time is limited and it is therefore essential that all the parties seriously commit themselves to the process that Mr. Blair and I initiated in April. In particular, there is an obvious need for the DUP to engage with Sinn Féin. These are the parties with the largest mandates and the largest responsibilities. They will occupy the positions of First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the event of restoration. It is important that they and the other parties use the time available to address the issues that stand in the way of restoration.

The Governments have repeatedly said that we hope that a plan B will not be necessary. However, as joint stewards of the process, we have also made clear that such a plan will be implemented, if necessary.

I met the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on the margins of the EU, Latin America, Caribbean Summit in Vienna on 11 April. At that meeting, we briefly discussed the return of the assembly on 15 May and our hopes for the restoration of the Executive.

On 22 May, I met Mitchell Reiss, the US special envoy to Northern Ireland. We discussed current developments, including our common wish for the earliest possible restoration of a power-sharing Executive.

It is clear that the assembly in Northern Ireland is now in a shambolic situation. The parties could not even agree on a chairperson for the committee that is supposed to steer a power-sharing Executive. They may not be able to agree an Executive in the autumn and if they do, it will not last long.

Does the Taoiseach now accept that what is being laid bare is the disintegration of the structures put in place by him, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and the political establishment on this island and in Britain because those structures were based on permanent sectarian blocs? The structures were put in place on a false basis of institutionalised sectarianism.

The dreadfully tragic death of MichaelMcIlveen and the growing anecdotal evidence of tensions of a sectarian character within communities makes it clear where the solution to this problem can be found. It is clear that will not be found in the institutionalisation of sectarian divisions in the political system but in a radical new working class politics based on the principle of bringing working class people together rather than pushing them into the arms of sectarian politicians.

Did the Taoiseach have the opportunity to discuss with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, the situation regarding extraordinary renditions and the fact that EU Governments may be assisting in the kidnapping of suspects to facilitate their transit to the United States or other countries for interrogation? Is the Taoiseach concerned at emerging developments regarding the possible proof that Shannon Airport has been used for such renditions——

That matter does not arise under the questions before us.

The assembly has been back in session since 15 May. The British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I will meet the parties later this month. It would be disappointing if, by that stage, the parties had not moved beyond procedural wrangling and trench warfare. They have responsibilities which they must discharge. Yesterday's agreement, finally, on arrangements for chairing the preparation for Government committee is welcome, although I am conscious of the time already lost and the issues concerning how much work will be done.

The committee must get down to serious discussions immediately and there must be a clear realisation that the Governments are firm about the deadline of 24 November. That is a legislative deadline passed by the House of Commons. It is not just a date in the calendar and any party that believes the deadline is moveable is making a serious error of judgment. It is increasingly clear that the patience of the Northern Ireland electorate is being tested. The overwhelming sense is that people want the politicians to get on with bringing devolution back, and that is what we want them to do as well, without waiting for some other structure or resolution.

I do not agree with the first of the Deputy's comments but I agree with what he said about sectarian divisions, which are always unhelpful and create bitterness, tragedy and difficulties. The basis of the Good Friday Agreement is cross-community support. In a society like Northern Ireland that has been divided for generations, the only way to make progress and for everyone to deal with their agendas and issues is on a cross-community basis. That is why the Executive and Assembly are structured in the way they are. It is not a resolution by Prime Minister Blair and me, it is an agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland supported by people North and South in a democratic referendum. It has the strength of the people. We now require the parties to implement it and if they moved forward with devolution in place, we would have fewer difficulties.

I have said many times on sectarianism that so much of what happens in Northern Ireland is fomented in one form or another around sectarian division, whether it is marches, causes or issues. It is an ongoing problem, how people are forced to move from certain areas, how people are pressed into sectarian areas and how those territories are marked out. All these create difficulties but there is no simple resolution to them. If there was, it would have been found long ago. It is a democracy, people have a right to vote and they vote for parties that they support.

I welcome Reg Empey's acknowledgement in the context of the David Ervine controversy of the responsibilities of Unionist parties to bring loyalist violence to an end. That was useful. Reg Empey's frank and courageous assertion that loyalists have been used by Unionist leaders is a welcome acknowledgement that the past is not as clear-cut as some might suggest. It is refreshing and healthy to hear Reg Empey's focus on the responsibility that Unionist politicians bear for encouraging groups like the Third Force and Ulster Resistance. It is a signal of recognition of the difficulties of the past.

Did the Taoiseach discuss rendition with Mr. Blair?

Is the Taoiseach alarmed by the emergence of evidence about rendition flights passing through Shannon Airport?

That does not arise. These questions refer to Northern Ireland and we have already spent 15 minutes on the Deputy's question.

Last night, "Prime Time Investigates" was about the extent of the involvement of Irish criminals in the international illegal drugs market, including Colombia, where FARC is heavily involved. Arising from the clear statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the involvement of the IRA with FARC, will the Taoiseach indicate the current position on the request to deal with the Colombia Three?

Mr. Mitchell Reiss, the US special envoy for Northern Ireland, has said that in his opinion, as in the opinion of many others, there is no reason Sinn Féin could not join the Policing Board and support the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In his contacts with Northern political parties, has the Taoiseach discussed policing? In particular, following those discussions, does he believe Sinn Féin will move to join the Northern Ireland Policing Board? The Taoiseach obviously hopes that the 24 November deadline will see the re-emergence of the Assembly in its own right. What are his views on that?

On 10 March 2006, a lorry containing spirits worth millions of euro was hijacked in County Meath. Of the men arrested in connection with the crime, two were known to have been members of the Provisional IRA, and one had been released early from prison under the Good Friday Agreement. Everyone in the House will agree that people were not released early in order to conduct such activities.

In its tenth report, the International Monitoring Commission said there were indications that some members of the IRA, including senior ones, were still involved in crime, including offences such as fuel-laundering, money-laundering, extortion, tax evasion and smuggling. It also stated that it saw no reason to revise its view that money as a strategic asset was central to the organisation's activities and that the long-term exploitation of discreetly laundered assets gained illegally was continuing here. That IMC statement must obviously be taken very seriously. Previously, it had noted that the Northern Bank robbery was conducted by the IRA, a heist planned alongside sensitive political negotiations taking place at the time. What is the Taoiseach's information regarding the hijack of the lorry and the resolution of the Northern Bank raid?

The next IMC report is due in October, a critical time in the peace process. I am sure some of the issues Deputy Kenny has mentioned will be addressed in it. Ongoing criminality in Northern Ireland, which may overflow into this jurisdiction, is of concern. Criminality of any kind cannot be tolerated, and the Garda and PSNI are making significant progress in dealing with the issue. The Deputy will have noted the co-operation of the Criminal Assets Bureau, backed up by the Garda, the Army and special units with the Northern Ireland authorities to break some of the gangs and groups who have been involved in this. The Sinn Féin leadership has also condemned that criminal activity, an important signal in its own right.

We outlined our position on Colombia through diplomatic channels in November or December. I do not think we have heard back from the Colombians, although I endeavoured to meet them on the fringes of the EU-LAC summit. We had a meeting arranged, but political difficulties in Colombia meant that the other party had to cancel. I am not aware of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform having heard anything. We set out our position and outlined the procedures regarding the courts and how the judicial process works here in the early winter. Garda investigation of the Northern Bank raid continues, and it still has several people working on it.

The report last week by the Police Oversight Commissioner for Northern Ireland, Mr. AlHutchinson, indicated that policing need not be an issue there, which is also my view. Given the reforms already in place and the fact the Patten report has been all but implemented, I hope the debate within republicanism can move on too. I welcome the extent to which the republican leadership recognises that the issue must be resolved.

Inevitably, there will be renewed focus on all these issues over the coming months as we move forward. We know that in the context of the last comprehensive discussions held in 2004, Sinn Féin was prepared to move forward on policing, including the need for security and justice issues to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive. I welcome any early dialogue between the parties on this issue, possibly within the context of the preparation for Government committee.

As its name suggests, this committee is concerned with the restoration of devolved Government and preparations to reform the Executive and take on the responsibilities on the basis set down in the Good Friday Agreement and what has been worked out in great detail for a long period. All these issues can be discussed and I hope the parties can enter into dialogue on these substantive issues and move on from painful weeks of procedural wrangling. I hope they can put this behind them and address the substantive issues.

It is pointless wrangling over these issues. There is important business to attend to in Northern Ireland, not least yesterday's announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain MP, that the first steps have been taken to revise the entire education system in Northern Ireland. This is a significant policy change which will affect the young people of Northern Ireland and their parents. The timeline for the process announced by Mr. Hain allows for locally elected politicians in the North to have a final say on an important part of this process if they agree to restore the assembly and Executive before the deadline set out in legislation. They will have an opportunity to play a role in the discussions on and decisions regarding the abolition of the 11-plus examination. If they do not reach agreement, the ban on academic selection will become law as soon as the deadline expires.

This is only one of a range of issues that are now progressing without the involvement of the political process and elected politicians in Northern Ireland. If for no other reason, I urge locally elected politicians to engage with the process and give themselves the opportunity to make real decisions affecting the lives of ordinary people who went to the trouble of electing them.

Does the Taoiseach agree that a comprehensive examination of the issue of collusion is critical to the success of the entire peace process? Did he note the attempt to kill Mark Haddock, a British agent within the Ulster Volunteer Force, which took place a fortnight ago? Does he agree that it has been widely accepted for some time that the attempt to bomb the Sinn Féin office in Monaghan town in March 1997 was the work of Mark Haddock and at least one other paid British special branch agent from the same Mount Vernon UVF gang? Has the Taoiseach noted that this assertion has been confirmed by Trevor McIlwrath, a former member of the criminal investigation department in the RUC, on BBC television and that Mr. McIlwrath also confirmed that the RUC had advance knowledge of the plan?

Was the Garda Síochána given advance information by the RUC in respect of this bomb attack? I previously asked this question but received no reply. If the Taoiseach does not have the information, he should certainly try to acquire it. The bomb targeted my political office but, thankfully, the explosive device failed to go off and no injury or damage was inflicted. Does he recall that there is a clearly established pattern of RUC special branch agents being killed before the full truth surrounding their activities has been established? Does he agree it is now more crucial than ever for the Government to press the British Prime Minister to hold a special summit with the Taoiseach to address the issue of collusion? This must be done if some of the truth in respect of the activities of British agents in this State over a protracted period is ever to be established.

Will the Taoiseach require the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to ensure that those within the British system who were controlled and directed by it and who, in turn, controlled and directed the loyalist gangs that operated from the earliest years of the conflict will be made available to scrutiny to establish the full facts? As the leader of Government and the recognised leading voice on Irish nationalism, will the Taoiseach ensure that this position is arrived at, at the earliest opportunity?

The shooting of Mark Haddock on 30 May was a shocking and appalling incident. I understand that two men have been charged with the attempted murder of Mr. Haddock and remanded in custody at Belfast Magistrate's Court until 4 July. The PSNI is investigating this matter fully and, as such, it would be inappropriate of me to comment further.

I am aware of all the issues concerning the involvement of Mark Haddock in incidents referred to by Deputy Ó Caoláin, but I obviously do not have proof of these issues. Some weeks ago, we discussed in the House the matter in respect of the case of Raymond McCord. Mr. Haddock has been widely talked about for some years as someone involved in leading a gang, including the gang that attempted to bomb the Deputy's office, and a lot of other cases where people were killed.

That has been the position. It all forms part of an enormous investigation by the Police Ombudsman, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan, into the police's handling of an inquiry into the murder of Raymond McCord Jnr by the UVF. The inquiry also covers claims of collusion between the former RUC Special Branch and the loyalist groups and loyalist paramilitaries. The Deputy's point is that all this leads to an enormous amount of collusion. We have raised this matter time and again.

Lest I forget, Mrs. O'Loan's son was viciously assaulted yesterday morning. He got a ferocious beating in an appalling incident. I put on record my unequivocal condemnation of it. Our thoughts are with Mrs. O'Loan and her family at this time. The PSNI is investigating that matter and it would be inappropriate of me to comment further. Her son had several bones broken and received severe injuries. She does her utmost to do a good job in all these cases. I do not want to jump to conclusions on who was involved. From what I have heard, it might be the wrong assumption to make. I record my sympathy with the O'Loan family and will not comment on who was involved, other than that it is a barbaric group, whichever side it purports to represent.

We have raised the issue of collusion, particularly in respect of a number of incidents, such as the Finucane case. We pursued it and continue to pursue it. There is no need for a special summit because we use every opportunity to raise it and we will continue to do so. As Deputy Ó Caoláin knows better than I, evidence of the level of collusion and of the involvement of informers and insiders appears to grow all the time. In the interests of progress it is necessary for such activities to stop because it is more difficult to bring sanity to the situation the longer they persist. We cannot investigate every single event in the past because we would never make progress if we did. However, we will continue to focus on the Pat Finucane inquiry and other areas of collusion on which we have focused in the past year or two.

I join the Taoiseach in deploring the vicious attack on the son of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan. Like the Taoiseach I do not want to draw any conclusions but it is a very worrying reflection on the nature of civil society in Northern Ireland that such a vicious, cruel assault should have been inflicted on a young man.

What is the status of the various amendments to the Good Friday Agreement, which were the subject of a comprehensive agreement in December 2004? Have they been withdrawn or are they to form the basis for the negotiations which will I hope take place shortly?

What is the Taoiseach's view on the latest report of the Police Oversight Commissioner? Does he share his concerns about MI5 being given primacy in security matters? Has the Taoiseach taken the opportunity to raise the question of restorative justice committees with Prime Minister Blair? Is there any appreciation on the British side of the concern in the wider community in Northern Ireland about the influence these committees will have with statutory backing, if for example, as is feared in a number of areas about which I have received representations, they are captured by former paramilitary people, who with the official support that is there for the work of restorative justice committees hold sway over communities in a fashion that I am sure the Taoiseach would not countenance?

The amendments to which the Deputy referred were agreed between the Governments, the DUP and Sinn Féin as part of the 2004 comprehensive agreement that dealt with the operational strands one, two and three of the Agreement. They were discussed throughout 2004 as part of the ongoing review of the operation of the Agreement. Some of the operational changes were rather technical but they formed the basis on which the DUP were prepared to work the Agreement in early December 2004. They did not form part of the recent legislative changes passed by the British Government and were excluded from the new Bill. We will inevitably have to revisit them in the coming weeks. I assume most will form part of the DUP demands during the negotiations. The British emergency legislation which provided for the return of the Assembly on 15 May did not address the matter so further legislation will be required if any of the amendments are subsequently agreed. There are sensitivities over the issues and the SDLP had very strong views at the time. In the context of an assured restoration of the Executive, I hope it will be possible to reach agreement on these amendments. At the moment, however, they are not law. They are not under discussion but I assume they will come back into play during the year, most of them from the DUP side. In fairness, it must be remembered that it was the DUP's right under the review clause of the Good Friday Agreement that there would be a review after a period of years. The amendments emanated from that review and had to be compatible with the Agreement. Since the DUP had not supported the Agreement in the first place, it was obvious that it would seek legislative changes on some issues.

Last week, the Oversight Commissioner published the 16th report on policing reforms in Northern Ireland. The report broadly spelled out a positive assessment of the pace of policing reforms there. It is clear that much progress has been made in implementing the Patten recommendations. The report shows that 124 of the 175 Patten recommendations have been confirmed as fully achieved, which is an enormous success. It is clear that progress still needs to be made in a number of key areas, including the one the Deputy raised concerning the primacy of MI5, the impact of the RPA's part-time policing bodies and the police college. Agreement has not been reached on these matters among others. We have spelled out our position on the primacy of MI5 and what should happen but there have been no new developments in this regard. Those who watch overall policing matters in the United Kingdom tell me it is unlikely that the British Government will move away from what it has decided. This was decided in the context of what will happen in the UK. I understand there is no great appetite on anyone's part to move away from this position, despite the arguments that have been made in Northern Ireland.

A number of concerns have been raised about restorative justice committees, including how they would function, who would be involved and the strictures under which they would operate. While the committees have a role in encouraging people to engage in their communities, they can only work effectively and safely where there is a direct link with policing, otherwise all kinds of extraneous issues will arise. There have been some good pilot schemes but such committees can only function properly if the police are involved, rather like neighbourhood watch, community alert and the various policing forums which operate under the aegis of Garda chief superintendents. Some people may argue that it is possible to make progress otherwise and I do not deny that but, ultimately, restorative justice committees must have a direct police input to work effectively and stop trouble in communities. That has been my view all along on the matter.

As regards the lack of movement in the peace process, does the Taoiseach have any new, radical proposals to bring the cycle of non-negotiation to an end? As for the DUP's non-participatory role, I ask the Taoiseach to urge business, union and civic leaders to use their clout to move the process forward, especially the non-negotiation aspect from the DUP sector.

Does the Taoiseach agree that those with an electoral mandate have duties and responsibilities? If so, he should urge them to get on with it. If there is no movement by November, the closure of Stormont should be considered. The Taoiseach could then invite all the Northern representatives who are interested to come to the Dáil and get involved in negotiations with parliamentarians here in the South.

Does the Taoiseach agree that elements of civic society are far ahead of the political representatives with regard to non-sectarianism on this island? A recent example involves a good friend of mine, a Shelbourne football club supporter, who was invited by the Linfield club to visit its ground. On a return visit, the Linfield supporters will travel down in a few weeks' time to watch the European match involving Shelbourne. Those in the civic sporting sector seem to be way ahead of the so-called political leaders when it comes to dealing with the issue of sectarianism. Will the Taoiseach encourage these people and support them?

That is a good point. As the Deputy knows, I have met business leaders and with civic society groups. I have urged them to engage actively and to involve themselves in encouraging the political process, and they have done so. To be fair, a number of the political parties have been working hard to make linkages and engaging with others by assisting them and trying to build partnerships. All that is very positive. What happened recently in sport, in the successful matches held here and in Derry during the Setanta Cup, at which there were no difficulties, was greatly encouraging. Many people are involved and the political process has also played a part, which I acknowledge.

The answer would be a simple one if we simply needed to implement a great new idea. The great new idea is very simple, namely, that the new preparation for Government committee gets on with its work and prepares for Government. We have given it a clear chance so that, in the coming weeks, it can deal with all the issues with which it needs to deal and come to a resolution of these issues, especially those arising between the DUP and Sinn Féin. To be fair to Sinn Féin, it is waiting and willing to deal with these issues. It is only when those two parties and the other parties join together that they can make progress. It is vital they do so.

As I have said, if we must implement a plan B, we will do so. However, that is far from what I would like to happen. The right way is for the preparation for Government committee to do its work in the coming weeks, make progress — it can keep at it over the summer, if necessary — meet the November deadline, get the Executive back up and running and be part of these major decisions. Anything else makes no sense. Important issues affecting health, education and local government in Northern Ireland remain to be dealt with, which will require the input of locally elected political leaders. We need them all to realise that.

I urge the DUP, in particular, to take on its responsibility and to work and engage with Sinn Féin in making these processes work. That is what I want and what every reasonable person would want to happen in the weeks ahead.

I want to associate myself with the remarks made and to express my utter disgust at the attack on the son of Ms Nuala O'Loan. I hope the perpetrators are apprehended quickly. It is clear that justice can win out against such thuggery.

In indicating that he welcomes dialogue and wants the parties to engage, I presume the Taoiseach is referring to north of the Border. As we have been saying, parity needs to operate North and South. Will the Taoiseach give expression to his wish for dialogue on this side of the Border and ensure that Opposition parties not only are welcome to knock on his door, which is a passive type of engagement from his point of view, but to take the initiative in establishing dialogue with parties on this side of the House to move the process forward?

Are the cross-Border bodies able to proceed now without further impediment? Will matters related to cross-Border dialogue, such as the register of persons unfit to work with children, proceed given they have been in abeyance for so long? Can other matters that require harmonisation, such as rural environmental protection, the EPA, illegal dumping, diesel laundering and so forth, also proceed? Will the Taoiseach ensure this happens regardless of what happens with the Assembly?

On the last point, the work of the North-South bodies continues on the same basis as it has in recent years. They are doing useful work in a range of areas but in the absence of an executive, they are unable to complete a number of issues. This is a pity and is another example of where important work remains to be dealt with. While there is an enormous amount of activity on health, education, business, agriculture, fisheries and in other areas, certain functions and roles cannot be completed without an executive. That continues to be a problem.

On the Deputy's first question, at this stage the engagement is at the preparation for a government committee and with the parties in the North. While I and my officials keep in touch with them on a daily basis, it remains at their level. It is an encouragement that they can get on top of this. As I said earlier, Prime Minister Blair and I will have a meeting with the parties later this month, as we promised we would last March.

Top
Share