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Tuesday, 25 Sep 2012

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Northern Ireland Issues

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

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has plans to meet political leaders in the North. [37881/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has been in contact with political leaders in the North since the Dáil recess. [37882/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet with the new Secretary to Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38803/12]

View answer

Joe Higgins

Question:

4. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any recent discussions with the political leaders in the North. [38965/12]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to visit the North of Ireland in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39018/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet with the new Northern Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. [40451/12]

View answer

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

Arrangements for my next visit to Northern Ireland have yet to be finalised. Along with members of the Cabinet, I will attend the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh on Friday, 2 November next. On 26 July last, I wrote to the leaders of each of the political parties in Northern Ireland to invite them to nominate a representative to the Constitutional Convention. On 13 September last, I met the Northern Ireland Executive Minister, Danny Kennedy, and family members of the ten Protestant workmen who were killed in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre in south Armagh. I invited the families to meet me in Government Buildings to allow me hear at first hand about how their lives have been affected by one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. On 16 October next, I intend to meet the Northern Ireland Executive Minister, Arlene Foster, and the families of victims of paramilitary terrorism from the community of south-east Fermanagh. My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, in Hillsborough on Monday, 17 September last. I understand the Secretary of State will be in Dublin in the coming weeks, diary arrangements permitting. I hope to have an opportunity to meet her. I will inform the House when arrangements have been made for my next official visit to Northern Ireland.

As a number of questions in the name of my party leader are being taken with this group, the Ceann Comhairle might indulge me by allowing me in a second time, if necessary. Has the Taoiseach been kept up to date with what happened at certain parades in north Belfast over the summer? He will be aware that tensions have been very high in the North, and in north Belfast in particular, since 12 July. I am sure he will have seen footage of an incident in which a band played sectarian songs while marching in circles around St. Patrick's Church. Another very big parade is planned for 29 September next in commemoration of the centenary of the Ulster Covenant. That is also proving extremely problematic.

It has to be said that, unlike many years ago, they are relatively few in number. However, the heart of the problem of contentious parades is still the refusal of the Orange Order and the loyalist institutions to enter into face-to-face dialogue with residents groups. It is critical that the Orange Order moves in that respect. That dialogue has to happen. Will the Taoiseach talk to us about this? I take it as read that he is following and has followed the events in north Belfast closely.

I am glad that the Taoiseach met the Kingsmills families. I want to raise with him again the issue of the Ballymurphy families which Deputy Gerry Adams has raised with him time out of number. The Taoiseach indicated previously a willingness to meet these families. I ask him today to give a date or timeframe for that meeting. As I told him before, the families are more than happy to travel to Dublin to meet him, if that would be more convenient. They are understandably anxious because what happened in August 1971 in "The Murph", as it is called, is clearly a matter of public interest, in particular the behaviour of the Paras - the Parachute Regiment - at the time. The outgoing Secretary of State, Mr. Owen Paterson, MP, took the view that an inquiry into these matters would not be in the public interest. It is very important that the families, the Nationalist-republican community and society at large understand the Taoiseach is prepared to meet the families and intervene.

I hope the Taoiseach will meet the new Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers, MP, very soon. My colleague, the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, met her last week. There is a list of issues that need to be raised with her, the case of Mr. Pat Finucane being one, as well as the ongoing stubbornness in the British system as regards the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the Ballymurphy massacre, which I mentioned. In addition, there is the continuing and festering issue of the imprisonment of Ms Marian Price and Mr. Martin Corey who find themselves in a completely unacceptable situation where it seems due process has been set aside comprehensively. Ms Price, as the Taoiseach knows, is very unwell. There are other issues relating to the transfer of fiscal powers which perhaps the Ceann Comhairle might allow me to raise at a later stage.

I thank the Deputy for her questions. Clearly, the events to which she refers, with which we are well acquainted, show how just one incident can have enormous implications, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the entire island and beyond because of the coverage they are given. One incident has the potential to destabilise a process into which so many have put so much time in recent years.

Clearly, the parade commemorating the Ulster Covenant on 29 September will be a central part of the decade of centenaries which the two Governments are agreed should be marked in as sensitive and an understanding a manner as possible. The Minister, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, is chairing the parliamentary committee of the Houses in that regard. It is particularly important in the run-up to 29 September that there be local engagement by all of those involved, as the Deputy rightly points out. There is no point in criticising the Parades Commission. That is a distraction from the main issue of ensuring there will be no further incidents which can lead to destabilisation, particularly among young people. As the Deputy knows, all of these things lead to a highlighting of the necessity to address sectarianism and all that it means, and also the importance of improving community relations across the board. We will concentrate on this in so far as we can assist.

I met the relatives of those killed in and the survivors of the Kingsmills massacre. I was absolutely struck by the genuineness of Mr. Alan Black and his account of what had happened in being hauled out of a van, the voice of the booted person involved who said, "Right," and the 18 bullets being pumped into his body. Subsequently, he could see people's faces being blown off - ordinary workmen - after the instruction was given to put a gun to the heads of those lying there. Their grief is as strong today as anybody else's. I had to assure the relatives, the families and Mr. Black that we did not have any priority in terms of loss. For everybody who lost a loved one or a family member, that speaks for itself. He made the point that they were ordinary workmen on their way back to Bessbrook. They had no other intention, but this was clearly a retaliation and an assassination of perfectly innocent men, one of whom happened to be a Catholic. I found the meeting to be a powerful engagement with people who had, in some cases, never been to Dublin before, who certainly had never been in Government Buildings before and who had not had the opportunity to meet personnel from the Government.

I would be happy to meet the Ballymurphy residents, either in Dublin or Belfast when I travel there. It is just a matter of making the arrangements. As I said, I have to meet a number of other groups. The Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, MLA, is coming down with another group from south Fermanagh soon. I will meet the new Secretary of State and there are a number of issues that clearly need to be follow through. The view of the Government, as Deputy McDonald is aware, has not changed in respect of the recommendation of Judge Cory on the public inquiries and I made this perfectly clear to the relatives of those who had been shot at Kingsmills. I look forward to meeting the new Secretary of State to discuss a number of these issues. I do not want to comment on the medical condition of any person. The question of people in detention has been raised with me on a number of occasions and it is an issue I will certainly consider raising with the Secretary of State.

With regard to the next meeting of the North-South body, there will be a range of issues which we can discuss here before we have that meeting. I will be happy to progress them in the best way possible. Again, if the Deputy wants to make contact with my Department, I will be happy to let her know when we can meet the Ballymurphy residents, either here or in Northern Ireland, whichever is the more suitable or appropriate.

I put it to the Taoiseach that, in reality, the events of the past few months have reinforced the fact that we can take nothing for granted in regard to the situation in Northern Ireland and building peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. There is a clear sense of drift in the engagement on the North with the London and Dublin Governments.

Particularly on the North-South strand, one gets the sense that there is little more than just going through the formalities of that relationship. That is partly the issue here and illustrates the degree to which, as recent events have proven, we have to remain actively involved. We must remain actively involved because things can go very wrong very quickly. During the violence that broke out in north Belfast, 45 PSNI members were treated in hospital. It was quite a significant disturbance.

The issue of parades is very important and in my view, both sides have played around with the Parades Commission. The British Government deserves to be censured or criticised for allowing the previous commission to lose credibility. They ran it down, essentially, if the truth be told. With the agreement on the devolution of justice, a new dispensation was promised. In fact, DUP and Sinn Féin representatives committed to a new order in terms of the organisation and regulation of parades and to engaging in a proactive way. However, that seems to have fallen down. One gets the feeling we are reverting to the kind of situations we experienced in the previous decade with Drumcree. We want to avoid all of that if at all possible, and there is an onus on everybody to get involved.

Has the Taoiseach received detailed reports from our people in the diplomatic service and on the ground regarding the dynamic of what is happening now in north Belfast? What does the Irish Government intend to do, with the Secretary of State and the British Government, to support the communities and the political parties in developing a new framework which would avoid the unacceptable behaviour that was witnessed in north Belfast in recent times? In that context, the parades issue is extremely important.

I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach met a delegation to discuss the Kingsmill massacre. That was an extraordinarily vicious and horrific crime, sectarian in intent and in execution, which ranks among any of the atrocities, of which there were many, in the North. There is a need for transparency concerning that particular incident and for some attempt to proactively respond to the families of those who were murdered. The Provisional movement and Sinn Féin have a role to play in that and should take a proactive lead in responding to their concerns, because their anger, sadness and sense of loss is still very raw. By any yardstick, this was a heinous crime that stands out in terms of its brutality and sectarian intention.

I met the Ballymurphy residents on a number of occasions when I was Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Taoiseach has been asked on a number of occasions to meet them and I think he should do so. He has not been able to meet them in Belfast to date but their offer to come to Dublin to meet him should be availed of because it would be useful for him to meet them in advance of his meeting with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, MP. However, I do not think he should meet them just for the sake of it. When I met them I came away - having also spoken to Sinn Féin representatives and others - with no clear sense of where the issue was heading. I am a great believer in having someone come up with an approach that will meet the needs of the families. That was an appalling massacre. The British Government has concerns regarding another Bloody Sunday-type inquiry but there are other ways to get a quick, objective assessment of that situation, perhaps by using an international grouping at the outset to do a scoping review of it and give an initial assessment. I have put that idea forward in the past but there may be differences of opinion among those concerned as to the best way forward. None the less, there is no point in just going on and on with meetings unless we have a pathway out of this that will achieve closure for those involved. That is extremely important.

The key issue arising from the events of the last few months is the need for dialogue. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has been very active in representing the prisoners in Maghaberry Prison; the issue there is that the regime is out of step with what has occurred in recent times in the North. The danger is that a situation will develop there that will become a catalyst for activities on the streets and outside the prison that do not need to happen. From my understanding of it, the issues at play can be resolved if there is political will on the part of the Executive, in whose hands the responsibility lies, given that the devolution of justice has now occurred. Informed interventions can prevent this from getting out of control.

I hope to have a briefing on the Northern Ireland situation in the next few days. With regard to the last point raised by Deputy Martin concerning Maghaberry Prison, I have heard different reports as to what is the best thing to do. I believe progress can be made and as part of the aforementioned briefing, I hope to acquaint myself with more of the details of the situation. It is true that nothing can be taken for granted; as I said to Deputy McDonald, the incident which resulted in 45 PSNI officers being injured, some seriously, speaks for itself as to how quickly matters can get out of hand. I would not like to think there would be a drift where Northern Ireland issues are concerned. As issues arise and become prominent, they focus attention and there must be constant engagement and interaction here.

I met a number of members of the Ballymurphy community last year at the presentation of awards, one of which they won in the community development category for a play they staged. However, that was nothing other than a cursory talk to the effect that they would like a meeting, to which I agreed at that time. As I said to Deputy McDonald, I will arrange that as soon as I can.

I assure Deputy Martin that I have asked all Ministers who are involved in the North-South Ministerial Council to continue to be active with their counterparts in Northern Ireland so that there is no drift and to ensure that where issues arise, they are addressed. In addition, I hope that what the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay, MLA, have been working on in respect of a parliamentary forum will come to fruition. That will be an aid to understanding communities North and South and will be a valuable addition when it comes together.

It is important, whenever people wish, to have further discussions in the House about the Northern Ireland situation as it evolves, in part because of the decade of centenaries and what that involves, but also to deal, where we can, with those issues that have the potential to destabilise communities. There is no disagreement among Members on these matters.

Unfortunately, the sectarian rioting and attacks that erupted over a number of weeks in August and at the beginning of September, especially the incidents around Carlisle Circus in north Belfast, point to new sectarian flashpoints and are worrying indications that this could continue and even worsen. It is extremely worrying that 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, when power-sharing structures and a power-sharing Executive were set up, sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland are still so deeply entrenched, and that such extreme tensions exist between sections of the two communities in the North. Unfortunately, this bears out the analysis that some of us made at the time - that, far from overcoming sectarian division, the structures that were set up institutionalised it.

Does it not follow that establishment politicians who are at the top of the structures that are based on sectarian division are basing themselves on the reality of the fact and therefore, far from assisting and overcoming it, are entrenching the sectarian divisions that exist? Unfortunately, that has been seen clearly in recent weeks in the various pronouncements from within a supposed government where the sectarian divisions are themselves reflected. Is it not also true that the structures have not delivered for ordinary people in terms of transforming their lives, given the mass unemployment, poverty, homelessness and many social ills that are as prevalent now or worse than they were 14 or 15 years ago? Whereas the vast majority welcomed the end of the futile, horrific paramilitary campaigns and the activities of the British army also, working class people and the poor continue to suffer. The reality is that elements on both sides are deliberately stoking the flames. Some forthcoming events such as the Ulster Covenant march on Saturday, 29 September are a source of tension in Belfast in particular. We must be clear that there is a right to march, as there is a right for residents not to be intimidated in their communities by marchers on either side. I put it to the Taoiseach that the most fundamental right of all is for the working class people in Northern Ireland not to be dragged back again into a sectarian nightmare. The Kingsmill massacre - the Taoiseach correctly met the survivor and relatives of the victims - was one of the worst atrocities but, unfortunately, only one in very dark years. Who wants to go back to that? It appears that some elements do, who must be isolated and resisted and their policies overcome.

Is the Taoiseach aware that there is a hopeful and important sign pointing to a way out in that a week after the Ulster Covenant march there is a march in Belfast by the Youth Fight for Jobs organisation supported by the biggest trade unions, Unite, the Northern Ireland Public Service Association and other unions? It commemorates the 80th anniversary of the outdoor relief workers' strike in Belfast in October 1932 when in the face of horrific conditions Protestant and Catholic workers united in an important struggle for rights and justice and got huge support across the community which united the community for an important period. I put it to the Taoiseach that a united march of youth, trade unionists and activists from both communities, which hopes to go through both the Shankill Road and the Falls Roads as a symbol of the unity that is needed between Protestant and Catholic working class and youth, is a development that should be supported and is a pointer towards the idea that it is a united working class and communities being empowered in that way that can overcome the sectarian divisions as well as address the horrific social evils of unemployment, poverty and homelessness, which are a source of further tension and a result of the present system that, unfortunately, does not offer a future for young people.

The points made by Deputy Higgins are all relevant. Nobody wants to see a return to rioting or sectarian violence. I fully agree with him that those communities do not want to be dragged back, as he said, into sectarian violence which ruined so many lives and communities. The very young people who were involved in some of the most recent rioting are too young - some were not born - to remember the bad situation that applied over much of the previous 30 years in various locations in Northern Ireland. It is true to say that the development of the economy and the creation of jobs and job opportunities is the single biggest benefit that can happen for any community where young men and women have the opportunity to find a job and contribute to their community. Everyone can agree on the necessity for constant interaction with communities and support for those people from both sides of whatever divisions that exist to work incessantly with young people to show them that there is a positive way forward. I was in areas in Belfast in the past 12 months where extraordinary community activists and workers go out of their way all the time to persuade young people from whatever background to take the opportunity to live their lives and not to go the wrong road too early. That is very important and it is why I fully support and will continue to work for continued funding both from the United States and Europe in that regard. That is why I signed the strategic partnership agreement with Prime Minister Cameron. This country faces serious economic challenges and so too does Northern Ireland. I agree with Deputy Higgins that the worst thing that could happen is the loss of hope for young people in communities where they see no development taking place. That is another reason both in respect of the parliamentary forum and the North-South Ministerial Council we will continue to work with colleagues from the Assembly and the Executive to, as it were, assist where we can in the development of those issues that are helpful for communities. I hope the Ulster Covenant parade will go off peacefully and, as I said to Deputy McDonald, that there is engagement and interaction at community level before it takes place so that disruption can be minimised and, hopefully, will not take place at all.

I am aware of the march Deputy Higgins mentioned in respect of the outdoor relief strike. I hope it is a positive engagement to show the political process the necessity for effective investment to create jobs. It is fair to say that when one travels to Belfast now one notes that much of the city has been transformed into a modern, welcoming city which has had extraordinary economic benefit from the tourism aspect of the Titanic and due to the major sporting engagements that have taken place there. The development of a new stadium in Belfast will have implications not only for facilities in the immediate term but I hope also in the longer term when the country either unilaterally or in conjunction with Northern Ireland can offer facilities for major international sporting events in the years ahead. Those are things that will stand to Northern Ireland and its people and are a measure of the distance we have travelled as an island in recent years.

It is not the case that everything is by any means well - I share the views of Deputies opposite that it is necessary to keep a constant engagement, involvement and understanding and to provide assistance where possible. It takes leadership and engagement at local level and support for such personnel to prevent the kind of rioting we have seen for many years. We will do what we can in so far as we can impact on that. The Government will do that with the government across the water and the Executive and Assembly. I am happy to hear from Members of this House at any time who are aware of issues that may arise that need the attention of the Government.

I thank the Taoiseach for confirming his willingness to meet with the Ballymurphy families. We will take him up on his offer and we will be in contact with him to set a date for such a meeting. I also thank him for articulating the view that there cannot be a hierarchy of victims.

As republicans, we are very supportive of and absolutely recognise the necessity for a broad truth recovery process, which must be independent and arbitrated internationally. All of us, whatever side of the argument or the historical dispute we came from, were too close to it. In order to have credibility and be effective in delivering for victims, communities and survivors across society, a process must be credible from the start.

I agree with the Taoiseach that during the past 14 years the North has been utterly transformed. The Orange state is gone. There is a new order although, of course, it is not perfect. Issues of social deprivation and poverty are acute in many areas throughout the Six Counties. We have raised the issue of transfer of fiscal powers a number of times for the simple reason that we recognise that for the Assembly and the Executive to deliver for communities, tackle the issues of unemployment and stimulate the economy to do everything that needs to be done, those powers must be held locally and exercised by people elected to position in the North. I urge the Taoiseach to give strong consideration to this matter and to take a strategic interest in it, as Taoiseach of this country. Fiscal transfer would give very many additional levers to politicians, of whatever stripe, to make decisions they are currently prohibited from making.

I refer to the parade on 29 September to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant. We all agree that in the coming years each of the landmark dates, whether the Covenant, the Dublin lock-out or the 1916 Rising, must be marked and celebrated in a way that is inclusive and commemorative but which also looks towards the future, and I welcome the Taoiseach's comments in that regard. However, in light of what happened in north Belfast during the course of the summer this particular parade gives rise to significant concern. Its route has been lodged - as the Taoiseach knows this is organised by the Grand Orange Lodge - and it proposes to pass by two particularly sensitive points. One is St. Patrick's church on Donegall Street, where there were incidents during the summer; the other is St. Matthew's church on the Newtownards Road, again a location where, on countless occasions, the Parades Commission's determinations were breached.

I return to the central point, which can be sorted out if there is dialogue. The value of dialogue around parading issues is probably seen most notably in Derry, where the Apprentice Boys march has been very successful because there was a willingness to engage. However, as things sit now, there is almost an axis of political unionism and the UVF which is refusing, point blank, to engage. What, if any, contact has the Taoiseach had with political unionism, with the leadership of the DUP, the UUP, the Grand Lodge of the Orange Order or any other organisation, to urge them to see dialogue as the way forward? There are 3,600 parades in the North, a phenomenal number. A very small number of these remain contentious, the reason being that local communities expect us and the system to respect the commitment made to them in the Good Friday Agreement that they can live free from sectarian harassment. Will the Taoiseach pursue that?

I refer to his comments on Marian Price and Martin Corey. I should also have mentioned Gerry McGeough, a third person being detained. I ask the Taoiseach not to underestimate for one second the corrosive effect of holding people when procedures have been set aside in this manner, and the potential for damage in terms of public confidence. The worst case scenario is that cases such as this can become a rallying point for the very people to whom Deputy Higgins referred. Aside from that, there is a basic human rights issue here in respect of all these matters.

Given that we have been discussing parades and communities working together, I wish to put on the record of the Dáil that year on year - I particularly note north Belfast - republicans and community activists have put in a mighty effort to keep things stable. It is worthwhile acknowledging that effort and that work.

Does Deputy Martin wish to ask a supplementary question?

I will put a number of points to the Taoiseach. Some fair points have been made in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and the transformation, at one level, in the political framework. However, the social and economic dimension has not been built upon. Many people live in areas where there is much unemployment and where significant socio-economic deprivation still prevails. In west Belfast alone, for example, a recent survey showed that one of every two children born in the area is in poverty. The same applies to loyalist communties. I was involved with others in endeavouring to bring them into mainstream civic society but that was based around an economic plan to deal with the considerable unemployment among loyalist youth. Many in loyalism were neglected in many respects by their own own Unionist hierarchies or communities, although there have been some changes.

Both Governments must act where there are flashpoints. The fact remains that, unfortunately, the number of peace walls has increased. We are not tearing down these sectarian or "peace" walls, as they are called - they are still in place, unfortunately, in spite of the great work by communities on the ground, as has been stated. The Taoiseach has met them; so have I. Our Department of Foreign Affairs has been most proactive in supporting them by funding and I ask the Taoiseach to ensure this is maintained. The funding is not large but at least it supports communities to maintain reconciliation and peace-building efforts. However, a major initiative is required to ensure the reverse does not happen for young people and those in various communities who are in danger of being sucked away, or into alternative activities we do not want. The only way to combat that is by a genuine movement in terms of an economic and social dividend that reaches into those communities.

One of the disillusioning factors involved in the negotiations around the devolution of justice was the degree to which even other political parties were excluded by the two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin. If one spoke to the SDLP, the UUP or the Alliance Party, one heard they were being brought in very late in the day to what we might call Cabinet "considerations". It was unthinkable on our part that Ministers would not receive, for example, Cabinet memos. That was the scene two or three years ago. It has improved since but there is the sense there were those who were in on the decision-making and those who were on the outside and this reflects back out into the community.

The parades issue needs both Governments to work again with the parties. I would be sceptical in some respects because this was a Holy Grail issue for many years. When it suited the parties to come to an agreement they did so, when it did not they resiled from the agreement. It is important that both Governments ensure that an independent adjudication process is in place that has credibility and teeth and will hold, irrespective of whatever factors there may be. We are in danger of a slide unless something fair, objective, independent and resolute occurs.

The Taoiseach stated, correctly, that the creation of jobs and the transformation of the economy in guaranteeing a future for youth would be key to transforming the situation in the North. Does he see the enormous and unfortunate contradiction in his position in this regard? The policies being imposed that come from the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government in London are the same policies of austerity in force here.

That is a separate matter and not for today.

The bailing out of bankers in Britain on the shoulders of working-class people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is having the same deleterious effects on the jobs and lives of our people.

Destructive austerity is causing huge social dislocation and, as the Taoiseach has agreed, is a factor in the tensions among sections of the community. I put it to the Taoiseach that, unfortunately, an Executive ranging from Sinn Féin to the DUP, the UUP and the SDLP that are enforcers of the type of capitalist austerity coming from the British Government is a factor in complicating the political situation rather than the opposite. Unfortunately, they then seek other means of trying to legitimise their position and are not above using sectarianism to try to bolster that position.

Thank you, Deputy. I am trying to get to other questions.

Regarding parades, will the Taoiseach agree that the critical issue is not parades commissions and this and that quango but communities themselves engaging in dialogue? The Orange Order must talk to the Catholic communities. Equally, the Catholic communities affected must talk to the loyalists in recognising that there are rights on both sides but also a right above all not to be dragged back into sectarian divisions.

The Deputies have raised important points. I understand the first meeting of the North South-----

It is 12 October.

Is it 5 or 12 October?

It is 12 October.

There will be 24 representatives from the Republic and 24 representatives from Northern Ireland. Congratulations to the Ceann Comhairle for his part in that.

Deputy McDonald raised the question of the transfer of fiscal powers. This is an issue I look forward to discussing with Secretary of State Villiers and, on the next occasion, with the Prime Minister when I have a chance to talk to him. Proportionately speaking, it is fair to say there has been an enormous public sector in Northern Ireland for very many years and given the way the digital world has moved, things have changed in so far as the delivery of services is concerned.

In respect of the covenant, I genuinely hope that between now and March there will be engagement from local community leaders because that is where this will be sorted out. I agree in respect of the Apprentice Boys in Derry. This is about dialogue, conversation, understanding and building trust and where that is applied, leadership must see to it that it is applied in the interest of everybody. Flashpoints in Belfast or in any location add immeasurably to the destruction of goodwill and the breakdown of that trust, which is so important for the development of communities. St. Patrick's church and St. Matthew's church are in areas that have seen eruptions previously and I genuinely hope that between now and then this can be prevented. The Deputy is aware of the visit of the Orange Order here recently. I had discussions with them about the importance of this, and they made their case in the Seanad. I thank the Deputy for those comments.

On Deputy Martin's point about the Good Friday Agreement, it did bring stability and the socioeconomic investment is critical for jobs. There is nothing worse than the destructive corrosion of hope where people see no opportunity to have a chance to work. While the funding has never been exceptional, as the Deputy pointed out, it is important and I hope to keep that in place.

I agree the parades require authenticity and transparency in their independence in the way they make their decisions, and that they should be respected. These are issues with which I have no disagreement.

To answer Deputy Higgins, the situation about unemployment both here and elsewhere is not the way we would like it to be. While recent figures show an increase of 17,000 jobs in the private sector and a reduction in the public sector unemployment is still much too high. The co-operation we show with the Executive, for instance, in giving it the benefit of our experience of visits to China for investment and in meeting with representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive, Senators, Congress people in the United States in respect of potential investment or opportunities for investment is a measure of the co-operation that we show but also of the hope that while Northern Ireland competes with the Republic in terms of attraction of inward investment for job creation, and there have been serious discussions about changing the corporate tax rate in Northern Ireland which is a matter for the Executive, we show a genuine degree of co-operation on improvement of the opportunities for jobs and so on. The traditional relationship that existed here for trade where businesses in the South tested the product from Northern Ireland for market value before moving on to Britain has changed with the opportunity within the Single Market of a much larger population but there is a great deal of cross-Border activity and cross-Border trade. That is what we like to see, and all of that should be legitimised. As the Deputy is aware, some activities are taking place that are not in the interests of our economy or of Northern Ireland. In so far as the opportunity for investment continues in the North, we are supportive of giving the Executive the experience we have had of attracting industry here because it works both ways.

The points made by the Deputies opposite are valuable for me as we prepare for further engagement with the Executive and the representatives of the people.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

Gerry Adams

Question:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Economic Management Council has met since the summer recess. [37960/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the Economic Management Council has met with the Irish banks since the summer recess. [37961/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet sub Committee on Health has met since the beginning of July. [38359/12]

View answer

Gerry Adams

Question:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the membership of the Cabinet sub Committee on Health. [38360/12]

View answer

Joe Higgins

Question:

11. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet sub committee meetings he has attended since the summer recess. [38955/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

12. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Economic Recovery and Jobs has met recently. [38956/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

13. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Economic Infrastructure has met recently. [38957/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

14. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Mortgage Arrears has met recently. [38958/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

15. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on European Affairs has met recently. [38959/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

16. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy has met recently. [38960/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

17. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Social Policy has met recently. [38961/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

18. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht has met recently. [38962/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

19. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Public Service Reform Jobs has met recently. [38963/12]

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Joe Higgins

Question:

20. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub Committee on Health has met recently. [38964/12]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

21. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub Committee on Health will next meet. [39030/12]

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Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the Economic Management Council will take place. [40450/12]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 22, inclusive, together.

The Economic Management Council has met 28 times so far this year, most recently on 19 September, and the next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, 26 September.

The Government has been working closely with the Irish banks to ensure the banking sector supports economic recovery. The members of the council last met with the banks on 26 June. The general topic of that meeting was mortgage arrears and new mortgage lending. The timing of the meeting coincided with the Government's decision to publish the personal insolvency legislation.

During that meeting the members of the council took the opportunity to set out the Government's commitment to assisting those in mortgage arrears, and set out our strategy to address mortgage arrears difficulties. The members of the council also took the opportunity to seek assurances from each of the banks that they are fully committed to addressing the mortgage arrears of their customers.

The Cabinet committee on health last met on 13 July and is scheduled to meet again during October. I chair this committee and its members are the Tánaiste; the Ministers for Health, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Children and Youth Affairs; and the Ministers of State for primary care, and disability, equality and mental health.

The Cabinet committee on climate change and the green economy last met on 2 May; the committee on public service reform on 14 June; the committee on social policy on 19 June; and the committees on economic infrastructure, mortgage arrears and on Irish and the Gaeltacht on 19 July. The Cabinet committee on European affairs met on 18 September, and the committee on economic recovery and jobs met on 20 September.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. It was remiss of me, a Cheann Comhairle, not to welcome the meeting on 12 October and to commend you for your activities in bringing that about.

It is important that the Economic Management Council, EMC, engage continually with the banks. Yesterday, we got the news that Bank of Ireland has hiked its interest rate by half a percentage point. The net effect of this is that people who are just about meeting their mortgages are put under huge pressure and moved into the terrain of mortgage distress. Without warning and without any increase in the ECB rates people received letters yesterday telling them that the rate had increased by half a percentage point. That means, for instance, that someone with a €200,000 mortgage will be paying approximately €50 more per month. That is an additional €600 each year which people have to find. Has the Taoiseach or the EMC been in contact with Bank of Ireland on this issue? Did he know it was going to happen? Did the EMC realise this was about to happen?

If it has not been in contact with the bank or met its representatives, when does it propose to do so?

I presume the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, have been present at all of the meetings of the Cabinet sub-committee on health. Were the proposed cuts of €130 million announced by the HSE but, one presumes, dreamed up by the Taoiseach's Administration dealt with by the sub-committee? Were the cuts relating to personal assistants and home care packages and hours discussed and cleared by it? Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall, attends or makes contributions to meetings of the sub-committee?

Questions relating to the activities of individual Cabinet sub-committees are not in order as such activities are covered by the rules relating to Cabinet confidentiality.

Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution precludes me from commenting on the detail of what happens at such meetings.

Bank of Ireland made an announcement about the increase to which the Deputy refers last July. It is important to state this is a commercial decision on the bank's part. The State owns only 15% of Bank of Ireland. It is not the case that the Government is in a position to issue orders to any bank in respect of commercial decisions on interest rates.

It appears that the fluctuation in interest rates is coming to an end. It seems that most of the rates are coming into the range of 4.3% to 4.5%. For example, AIB's rate stands at 3.5%, that of the EBS is between 3.95% and 4.45% depending on the loan-to-value ratio, while the position with regard to Bank of Ireland is similar, with a rate of between 4.3% and 4.5%. In addition, the rate of the ICS is between 4.6% and 4.8%, that of KBC is 4.25%, NIB, 4.35%, the PTSB, 4.35% and Ulster Bank, 4.5%. Any increase in interest rates creates a difficulty for people. What one does not want is the development of a situation where losses on tracker mortgages are being funded by increases in interest rates for variable mortgages.

The State obviously has a real interest in persons with mortgages which are either in arrears or distress. Part of the general discussion with the banks at the EMC was on their forbearance proposals in dealing with those to whom I refer. They published their-----

Raising interest rates is certainly not helpful.

Absolutely. The Deputy's supplementary question relates to interest rates, but it refers to a commercial decision on the part of the bank in question. As stated, however, the Government has a 15% share in Bank of Ireland and it is not a case of our ordering it or any other bank to reduce interest rates. I would like to believe an interest rate reduction being passed on by the European Central Bank is designed to ease pressure on people. However, the matter to which the Deputy refers relates to a commercial decision taken by Bank of Ireland. The Government has given support to those mortgage holders who bought their houses when there were enormous surges in the price of property and who are experiencing particular pressures.

The Deputy referred to the Cabinet sub-committee on health, details relating to the membership of which I have provided. A range of issues has been dealt with in the context of reform, be it in respect of the establishment of the implementation group on universal health insurance, the introduction of universal primary care and the risk equalisation scheme and the legislation to be put in place in 2013. As the Deputy will be aware, the special delivery unit became operational in September 2011 and has had a significant and valuable impact on reducing the number of patients on trolleys in hospitals. The overall surgical waiting list decreased by 7% in the past year, while the number of those waiting for over 12 months is down by 85%. In addition, the backlog of 58,000 medical card applications was cleared by the end of April. The development of chronic disease management programmes, particularly for diabetes, is also in train. When the chief medical officer of the Department of Health was making a presentation some time ago, I was struck by his assertion that we could be faced with the possibility of there being up to 300,000 in this country in the future with diabetes. The vast majority of the cases of diabetes to which he referred are preventable by means of adjusting people's attitudes, diets and patterns of activity. An enormous information campaign on the part of the Government will be required in this regard. There are so many other matters to which I could refer, including the case we discussed previously, namely, that of the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent's Hospital which opened in July and provides between 20 and 34 inpatient beds for persons suffering from cystic fibrosis.

I cannot inform the Deputy about the detail of the discussions which take place at meetings of Cabinet sub-committees. In general, however, the areas I have outlined in the context of the sub-committee on health are those which are acted upon as part of the strategy to change the health system to ensure better delivery and more effective care for every patient. Such a system will come into being when the universal health insurance model applies at the end of the Government's term of office.

What is the Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs doing in reality, particularly given the fact that there were 14,000 fewer jobs in the second quarter of this year than in the first? Consumer spending is down and every element of the domestic economy is being hammered as a result of the Government's austerity policy. Has the Administration not learned the lesson that the domestic economy is being throttled by austerity?

Níor chuala mé freagra ón Taoiseach maidir leis an gcoiste a bhaineann leis an Ghaeltacht agus cúrsaí Gaeltachta. An féidir leis a rá linn céard iad na cruinnuithe a bhí ag an gcoiste úd le déanaí agus cén obair atá ar siúl maidir le fadhbanna na Gaeltachta, fadhbanna teanga agus fadhbanna fostaíochta, eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta?

Sa fhreagra a thug mé, dúirt mé go raibh cruinniú den choiste i rith an tsamhraidh. Rinneadh cinneadh ag an gcoiste sin agus tá sin curtha i gcrích tar éis an Bhille a bheith curtha tríd an Dáil. I dtaobh an údaráis nua a bheidh ann, séard atá i gceist ná béim a chur agus iniúchadh a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí teanga agus ar na pleananna atá le cur ar fáil ó na comhlachtaí ar fud na tíre, ní hamháin sa Ghaeltacht faoi láthair ach in áiteanna ar mhiste leo bheith i bfad níos tréine as seo amach ó thaobh forbairt na teanga de. Sin an príomh rud a bheidh i gceist ag an údarás nua de réir atá leagtha amach ag an Aire Stáit anseo sa Dáil.

The Cabinet sub-committee on economic recovery and jobs is tasked with making recommendations for decisions by the Cabinet which impact on competitiveness, employment and enterprise. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has set out the Action Plan for Jobs which, in part, is being monitored and overseen by my Department. I am not really interested in coming before the House and stating 96% was actually implemented. I am far more interested in the challenge we face in making people aware of the assistance that is available for small and medium enterprises and other employers, either by means of the forthcoming activation of the partial loan credit guarantee scheme or the microfinance agency.

There are also many cases which have never gone before the Credit Review Office. It would seem that in many cases, perfectly feasible businesses operating for a number of years are being dragged down by their involvement in property or property deals either here or abroad. Such involvement has imposed a crushing burden on the capacity of such businesses to operate. These are areas that interest us with regard to the banks.

The stimulus package to which I referred will affect transport, health, education and schools. It has been announced that the work of consular staff, whose duties include promotion of trade, is having an impact on exports. This helps in the difficult work of restoring a sense of confidence to our economy. I refer to our work with our European colleagues so the European Union and the eurozone can thrive and prosper. This would have the most beneficial impact of all on Irish manufacturing and export capacity which has been very strong over the past number of years and we should keep it that way.

I am not happy with the level of unemployment. My hope is that SOLAS, the pathways to work scheme and the job creation initiative will have an impact on communities all over the country as this is crucial for supplying the lifeblood of the economy and in particular for giving young people the opportunity to stay and work at home if that is what they wish to do.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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