1. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Taoiseach if he will outline his discussions as Head of the Irish Government with the British Government about the work of Dr Richard Haass in Northern Ireland. [44108/13]View answer
Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 January 2014
1. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Taoiseach if he will outline his discussions as Head of the Irish Government with the British Government about the work of Dr Richard Haass in Northern Ireland. [44108/13]View answer
2. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has recently met Dr. Richard Haass; and if he will report on the matter. [45917/13]View answer
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Dr. Richard Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47667/13]View answer
4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the British Government in respect of the Haass talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47675/13]View answer
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has set a date for a meeting with the families of the Ballymurphy campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47696/13]View answer
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has met Dr. Richard Haass recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47846/13]View answer
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the issue of the disappeared with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48808/13]View answer
8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the issue of the disappeared with members of the Northern Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48809/13]View answer
9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he is determined to fully implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48810/13]View answer
10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if there were discussions regarding the disappeared at the recent North-South meeting in Armagh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48813/13]View answer
11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the issue of the disappeared was discussed at the British-Irish Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50145/13]View answer
12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the Haass talks with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, during the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council in Jersey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50215/13]View answer
13. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he had discussions with the British Prime Minister at the European Council meeting on 19 December 2013 regarding the Haass talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55568/13]View answer
14. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he had discussions with the British Prime Minister at the European Council meeting on 19 December 2013 on the refusal of his Government to establish a public inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer, Mr. Pat Finucane. [55569/13]View answer
15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he accepts the recommendations of the Haass report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2197/14]View answer
16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on the final recommendations made by Dr. Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2200/14]View answer
17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views on whether there will be agreement on the recommendations made by Dr. Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2201/14]View answer
18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his discussion with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, on the recommendations made by Dr. Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2203/14]View answer
19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the Dr. Haass recommendations with the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2204/14]View answer
20. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has any concerns regarding the lack of consensus on the recommendations from Dr. Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2205/14]View answer
21. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, the outcomes of discussions with Dr. Richard Haass. [2211/14]View answer
22. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, the outcome of the Haass talks. [2220/14]View answer
23. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he had with Dr. Richard Haass prior to Christmas. [2221/14]View answer
24. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has had any discussions with Dr. Richard Haass or Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan since the new year. [2222/14]View answer
25. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the outcome of the Haass talks with the US Administration since the new year. [2223/14]View answer
26. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with the US Vice President, Joe Biden, during his recent discussions in Japan, the efforts of US diplomats Dr. Richard Haass and Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan to resolve some of the outstanding issues arising out of the Good Friday Agreement. [52593/13]View answer
27. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, during his visit to Japan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52594/13]View answer
28. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the efforts of Dr. Richard Haass and Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan to negotiate resolutions to outstanding Good Friday Agreements with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, during his visit to Japan. [52595/13]View answer
29. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with the Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, during his visit to Japan, the need for greater co-operation and an all-island strategy to ensure that the Government and the Northern Executive minimise competition for inward investment between North and South. [52596/13]View answer
30. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness; if he will report the issues that were discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52670/13]View answer
31. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed the issue of the disappeared with the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3536/14]View answer
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 31, inclusive, together.
As Deputies are aware, the recent political talks in Northern Ireland on parades, flags and contending with the past under the chairmanship of Dr. Richard Haass and the vice-chairmanship of Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan concluded without agreement in the early hours of New Year's Eve. I am disappointed that the talks concluded without reaching agreement. I believe that this is a disappointment shared by the people of Northern Ireland who want a solution to these issues so that they can move forward. Nonetheless, while this particular process has not resulted in an agreement being concluded by the five parties, it is important that work continues under the stewardship of the First and Deputy First Ministers and across the five parties in the Executive to tackle the key issues facing Northern Ireland today.
It is worth recalling that Dr. Haass and his team were invited by First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to assist with the work of the working group of representatives from each of the five Northern Ireland Executive parties established to examine the contentious issues of flags, parades and the past. The establishment of the working group formed part of the Executive’s strategy, Together: Building a United Community, aimed at improving community relations and continuing Northern Ireland’s journey towards a more united and reconciled society.
I welcome the initiative taken by the First Minister, Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. This initiative did not involve the two Governments. This in itself was a positive signal that the political parties were trying to address the outstanding contentious issues. Naturally, as the two Governments were not party to the negotiations, our position has been one of support for the parties rather than to oppose or endorse any specific proposal.
Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan started work in September 2013 with the objective of concluding agreement by the end of the year. They undertook an ambitious programme of work between September and November, including an extensive process of consultation with the wider society. We have followed the discussions of the past few months closely, including through contact with the parties and the British Government. I met Dr. Haass in Dublin on 31 October, and together with the Tánaiste on 12 December, to discuss each of the issues that he had been asked to address by the Northern Ireland Executive. I assured Dr. Haass that he and his team had the full support of my Government in their work and in helping to move the peace process forward.
I spoke with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, about the Haass talks on a number of occasions, including on 19 December when we were both in Flanders to pay our respects to the men who died in the First World War. We attended the December European Council later that day. I discussed the outcome of the talks with the Prime Minister in a telephone conversation on New Year's Eve. In addition, there was ongoing close contact at official level in Belfast and London throughout the process.
The US Administration also maintained close interest in the talks. I had a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden during my visit to Japan. At that meeting we spoke about a range of issues including a brief discussion about Northern Ireland and the Haass talks. More generally, there has also been ongoing contact at official level with the US Administration in Washington.
In November, when in Armagh, I spoke to the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, about the Haass process. They were also in Japan in December and our visits briefly overlapped in Tokyo. I was pleased that they were able to join me at a reception hosted by the Irish Embassy in Tokyo. We did not have a substantive meeting on that occasion so an opportunity to discuss the Haass talks did not arise in Tokyo.
The final stage of talks was an intensive political phase in the run-up to Christmas and between Christmas and the new year. During this phase the Tánaiste spoke to and met all the parties, with Dr. Haass and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on a number of occasions. The Tánaiste was also in Belfast for the final period of talks during which he was also in close contact with Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan.
The Government's view is that the overriding objective of the follow up to the Haass talks must be to make further progress towards a more reconciled and prosperous society in Northern Ireland. While acknowledging that the issues to be addressed in the talks were difficult and contentious, I welcome that progress was made within the talks process over a short period on a number of the most difficult issues facing society in Northern Ireland today. The Haass proposals provide a basis for taking work forward on the contentious issues of parades, flags and the past.
Now is a time for the political parties in Northern Ireland to show leadership and in this context. I welcome that the five political parties in the Executive are meeting today to discuss proposals and outcomes on the specific issues to be resolved, with further meetings planned over the coming weeks. The Government stands ready to work with the Northern Ireland Executive and with the British Government, to support further efforts to achieve greater peace and the common goal of building a united community in Northern Ireland.
I met relatives of the disappeared in July 2013. Following immediately after that meeting and since then, I have publicly called on anyone with information about any of the cases of the disappeared to make it available in confidence to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains. I have not had any detailed discussion on the subject with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, the Nothern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, or the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, recently nor was the subject discussed at the last North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting or the British-Irish Council summit.
As Deputies may be aware, a series of Dáil debates on Northern Ireland are planned to take place in the coming weeks starting on 5 February. I expect that the issue of the disappeared will feature in one of those debates. I am due to meet the families of the Ballymurphy victims and political representatives this Thursday in Government Buildings.
In regard to the Pat Finucane case, the Government’s position continues to be that the British Government should fulfil the commitments entered into at Weston Park, as we have recently done with the publication of the Smithwick tribunal report. In line with this approach, we continue to call on the British Government for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This is an approach which has cross-party support in the Houses of the Oireachtas. As the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, was not at the British-Irish Council Summit in Jersey, there was no opportunity to speak with him on that occasion about the Haass talks or the Finucane case. The Government remains firmly committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements.
In regard to the St. Andrews Agreement review, and as I already outlined to Deputies last week in the Chamber, we agreed at the last North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting in November that Ministers will now examine priorities at sectoral meetings, especially as they may affect economic recovery, job creation, the best use of public funds and the most effective delivery of public services. Both the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are keen to ensure that a preliminary package of new priorities will be ready for discussion at the next North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting in June 2014.
As the Deputy with the first question is not present, I will move on to Deputy Joe Higgins.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about an alternative take on the Haass talks. Dr. Haass, in his previous life, was a key adviser to George Bush Sr. The Taoiseach might remember they launched the criminal Gulf War. He was also a key adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was one of the key architects of the criminal invasion of Iraq, and was the one who did a lying dossier about weapons of mass destruction which did not exist. Does the Taoiseach agree that the Irish and British Governments relying on an individual with this track record to bring peace to the North shows complete bankruptcy on their behalf in front of the critical issues affecting people, in particular working class and young people, in the Northern Ireland?
Does the Taoiseach agree that the experience of the past year or two years, with the flags situation and other sectarian tensions, vindicates the view that the structures in the North, the Assembly and the Executive, merely, as we said back in 1997, institutionalise sectarian divisions rather than assist overcoming them? Is it not clear that political parties in the North, which rely on sectarian divisions for their support will not bridge those divisions in any sense?
The programme of austerity and cuts dictated by the British Government, implemented by the Northern Ireland Executive and backed by the Taoiseach's Government, which is carrying out the same policies here, create further sectarian pressure with the type of poverty, joblessness and pressure on services in which they result and create conditions where sectarian divisions and alienation foster which, in turn, give rise to many of the ugly scene we have witnessed.
The vast majority of ordinary people in the North are opposed to sectarian strife and there is no way they will tolerate going back to the bad old days of paramilitarism and sectarian killings. If there is to be a lasting solution, it is outside the framework the Irish and the British Governments offer and it should be based on Protestant and Catholic working class people crossing the sectarian divide and uniting behind their real interests, namely, a decent future, jobs, homes and a future for young people, rather than the type of short-term approaches evident in the policies of the British and Irish Governments.
As I indicated in my reply, Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan were not invited by the Irish Government or the British Government but by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. As I pointed out, it was not a case of the governments being in charge of these discussions. This initiative was taken by the Executive, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. I supported inviting Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan to Northern Ireland to see if they could break the logjam and provide new initiatives in respect of flags, parades and the past. Considerable progress was made in a number of areas of those three issues. The Deputy said this demonstrated bankruptcy on the part of the Irish and British Governments but this was a case where the governments were supportive of the initiative taken by the Executive in inviting Dr. Haass.
The Deputy spoke about the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly. After very long deliberations and with the involvement of Senator George Mitchell as a central figure in brokering the Good Friday Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland have voted on a number occasions for the elected representatives to the Executive. The division of responsibility is then allocated on the d'Hondt system, as the Deputy will be aware. Nobody wants to go back to sectarian violence, which we all condemn unreservedly. I fully agree with the Deputy on that.
Under the special programme for European funding, three major proposals were withdrawn for a various reasons. The first was a €2 million allocation for the provision of facilities for museums, the second was the €20 million development at the former Maze Prison and the third was the €13 million for the Narrow Water Bridge across from the Cooley Peninsula. While those moneys were not allocated due to particular circumstances, we will have to look for alternative projects on which money can be spent.
In regard to the travels of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in attempting to improve the reputation and integrity of the economy in Northern Ireland, we invited personnel from Northern Ireland to participate in the whole programme of the EU Presidency from January to June last year, so that colleagues in Northern Ireland would be fully acquainted with what was happening. When the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister went to China, we put the vast connections of our then ambassador at their disposal to encourage them to make the best possible contacts with commercial and financial interests in China. The same happened in Tokyo.
At the cross-Border meetings, I am very happy with the level of co-operation and co-ordination between Ministers from here and from Northern Ireland on the different sectoral areas in which they work where there are implications for Northern Ireland, whether in finance, transport, education or jobs. We work very closely with our colleagues there.
I am completely opposed to sectarian strife but in these particular talks, the initiative was taken by the Northern Ireland Executive to invite Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan over here.
Both governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, were very happy to be supportive of the invitation, the talks and the progress that was made. We need to take it from there to see what further progress can be made. That is why I am glad to note that arrangements have been made for meetings among the parties over the coming weeks. Any assistance that we can give them from here and any assistance that can be made available from the British Government will certainly be supportive of the efforts the parties are making. I share the view expressed by Deputy Higgins that nobody wants to see a return to the ugly scenes of violence and the sectarian images we saw in the past.
I thank the Taoiseach for his earlier answer. I welcome his assurance that there will be a series of Dáil debates about the North and about issues arising from the conflict. We need to look at how we order our business in here. We deal with the North in an ad hoc way, usually as a result of some crisis or some other difficulty in the political or the peace process. That is not the best way to proceed. Citizens in this State expect a consistent overview and involvement of the Government and the Oireachtas in these matters. Just as importantly, citizens in the North expect the same sort of attention. As I have said to the Taoiseach previously, I want the issues of the past to be dealt with in a rational, reasoned, considered and informed way. I also want to see the future discussed. I want to see us breaking out of what can only be characterised as free-statism or partitionism. The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland agreement and an international agreement. We need to look at how we can get greater co-operation and build future relationships on the basis of equality with everyone who lives on the island. I am able enough to withstand whatever jibes or insults-----
Perhaps the Deputy could put some questions in accordance with what is on the Order Paper.
I am responding to what the Taoiseach said.
Deputies do not respond during Question Time. This is not a series of statements; it is Question Time. We have a series of questions in the Deputy's name before us. With respect, he should put some supplementary questions to the Taoiseach.
All right. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his advice on this matter. Will I have leave to come at each of my 14 questions separately?
Certainly. The Deputy is entitled to put his supplementary questions.
Okay. I want to make the point that time needs to be dedicated to all of these matters on a regular basis. I look forward to that.
I am probably the only Deputy in the House who was involved in the Haass talks. I spent the Christmas break, apart from Christmas Day, engaged in that process. I want to take issue with what Deputy Higgins said. Sinn Féin is vigorously opposed to many aspects of US foreign policy, including the awful adventures associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have to say that Dr. Haass and Professor O'Sullivan did a good job. They brought forward proposals which reflected what all of the parties had said during the discussions. It is crucially important that the Government is robust and clear on the need for all of those proposals to be implemented in full. They are not up for renegotiation. My view is that the Government here should encourage the parties in the North. Of course that should happen, but the Government's big challenge is to encourage the British Government, which does not want progressive change. The Unionist parties want to dilute, to protract, to delay and to diminish the potential for change. That will remain the case until the British Government gives them little or no option. This Government's job is to ensure the British Government faces its obligations. The British Government has been very qualified in its endorsement of the Haass proposals. I refer to statements made by the British Prime Minister in London and by the British Secretary of State. I welcome the remark by the Tánaiste on the Haass proposals, particularly his recognition of the urgent need for progress and his commitment that the issues involved should not be allowed to drift.
I would like to refer to some of the other issues the Taoiseach dealt with in his reply. The case of Pat Finucane has been outstanding for a very long time. The British Government has shown a brass neck in its refusal to fulfil the obligation it entered into with the Irish Government of the day as part of the Weston Park Agreement. The Taoiseach's meeting with the Ballymurphy families was a very good development. I thank him for meeting them. They have launched a new initiative, which seeks "the appointment of an independent panel to examine all documents relating to the context, circumstances and aftermath of the deaths of their loved ones". I want to make it clear that there is no dispute about the fact that these citizens were killed. There was no crossfire and no armed groups were active. They were killed by the Parachute Regiment, which then went on into Derry and killed people on Bloody Sunday and then came back to Ballymurphy and into the Springhill Estate and killed more people there. They were under the direct responsibility of a man called Frank Kitson, who was the commander of the British army's 39th brigade. I raise this because he was also responsible for the counter-insurgency strategy, under which "counter gangs", as they were called, were actively recruited and directed by British armed forces.
Anne Cadwallader, who works for the Pat Finucane Centre, has just published a book, Lethal Allies: Britain's Dirty War in Ireland which is based on a forensic examination of all the RUC reports of the time. She has not found new evidence, as all of this evidence was in the public record and in police files. She has discovered that over a five-year period in the 1970s, state forces in the North - the British forces - killed 120 citizens. I have read the book, which is compelling reading. The figure I have mentioned includes those killed in this State - two people killed in a bomb attack in Dundalk and others killed in Dublin and Monaghan. I would like to think that the Taoiseach should meet this woman and listen to her case. Her book relates to a small region in the North and is confined to a five-year period. I ask Deputies to imagine what might be found if a similar investigation were to cover Belfast and other places. One of the reasons the British Government does not want to deal with the past is its involvement in killings such as this.
I offer those suggestions to the Taoiseach in a fraternal and positive way. Many people are hurting. The outstanding issues in the Good Friday Agreement include the rights of Irish language speakers - an issue with which the Taoiseach is very conversant - as well as cultural and identity issues and the legacy of the past. I would like to conclude by repeating a question I asked earlier. When was the last time an Irish Government forensically went through these matters with the British Government? It is worth pointing out, without being in any way superior about this, that the British Government might need to be educated on them. Mr. Cameron was not the Prime Minister when these events took place. He was probably at school. It did not happen on his watch. I put it to the Taoiseach that this Government has a responsibility to educate the British Government on these issues, to get it to engage on the basis of agreements that have been made by successive Governments and to look to the future on the basis of equality.
The Deputy has made a number of valid points. I do not object to having reasonably regular discussions on Northern Ireland, but it is really a matter for the Whips. I agree that such discussions tend to take place when an incident happens or an issue arises and it is raised here by means of Priority Question. It would be preferable if we were to have regular debates on Northern Ireland when there is nothing other than normal activity to comment on. That is probably not possible given the kinds of circumstances that apply. I am amenable to more regular discussions, debates and conversations about Northern Ireland in the context of our interests and responsibilities as a co-guarantor. That is an issue I am happy to accept.
I look forward to meeting the people from Ballymurphy. As I have said to Deputy Adams on many previous occasions, we had arranged this on a number of occasions and for whatever reason they were not able to attend, but that is beside the point. The meeting will take place on Thursday and I will be happy to engage with them and hear their stories. If they have any propositions to make, I will also be happy to hear them. In the meetings I have had with the different groups from different sides, it is an emotional tap in many ways. There is a feeling that they need to talk about these things, and if the job I hold has any impact on that, in letting them come to the Head of Government, I am very happy to engage and listen to them to hear what they have to say. If there is an issue we can address, that is fair enough. I met the author the Deputy mentioned on a number of occasions many years ago. I would be happy to talk to her again about the forensic analysis she has carried out. I am quite sure that the personnel, both in respect of the Government here and the British Government, obviously, have access to details of the issues that happened many years ago.
I agree with the Deputy in what he said about Dr. Haass and Professor O'Sullivan. It is a difficult time in many ways with the urgency towards the end of the year and given the nature of the issues that existed. From my earlier meeting with Dr. Haass and from comments made to me by people in Northern Ireland, the issue of the flags was probably the most difficult one they tried to deal with. They proposed having a commission on identity, culture and tradition and to hold discussions throughout Northern Ireland. I agree they made a very genuine attempt and while they thought it might be finished before Christmas, they came back and tried to conclude before the end of 2013. From that point of view I genuinely hope that the meetings that are arranged between the parties will be genuine and take place with the purpose of moving on from the elements of the Haass talks that were agreed. Clearly there are a number of issues where there was not agreement and it may not be easy to get agreement. Neither the Government here nor the British Government can impose solutions on the parties in Northern Ireland. This was their initiative and we support it, but we cannot go up there, as the Deputy is well aware, and tell them what they have to do. All we can do is encourage them to explore and discuss the issues that are currently intractable and see if we can move that forward. The Deputy has been aware of this over the years on very difficult and sensitive discussions.
From that point of view, as I have said publicly and in conversations with the British Prime Minister, both Governments are very supportive of it. However, Deputy Adams knows that at the end of the day one cannot impose what might be deemed to be a solution on the parties up there. We will continue to engage and continue to demonstrate genuine interest in movement that will bring about greater cohesion in society up there and also improve the general economic strength of the Northern Ireland economy through investment in jobs, which is how to address the future. I share the Deputy's view. It is very important that we look at the question of future development in Northern Ireland. Clearly Ministers here have responsibility for cross-Border issues and that is of continued importance to us. That is why we have been engaged with the Northern Ireland authorities about the possibility of their changing their corporation tax rate to something closer to ours. That is a matter for the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have the issues of the development in Derry, which is very commendable, and the assistance we have been able to give in that regard.
In that sense on these issues from the past - parades, flags and emblems, Dr. Haass and Professor O'Sullivan made a genuine attempt but it did not get through, and not for the first time. We should start from where agreement was reached and see what can be agreed on those three areas for the future. We would be very supportive of that. If in the course of the coming months propositions that are worthy of following through on come to me or the Tánaiste, we would be very happy to engage further.
I believe we are taking approximately 13 questions together. The Taoiseach started by paying tribute to the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister on their initiative in commencing the Haass process in May. Does he agree that such initiation indicates the significant progress that has been made by the Assembly in the Six Counties? However, the failure to date to conclude the agreement indicates that the sort of progress we all want to see has not yet been achieved. Does the Taoiseach agree that the work done by Professor Meghan O'Sullivan and Dr. Haass was very substantial in nature? I am conscious they got to the seventh draft of their paper and made substantive proposals, including that two bodies would be formed to replace the parades commission, the work of the Historic Enquiries Team could be continued by a new unit which would be established with the investigative powers of the PSNI, and the formation of an independent commission for information retrieval. Does the Taoiseach agree that they were all very substantive proposals that the Government on this side of the Border could support enthusiastically? They called for everyone, who had information from the many years of the conflict, to come forward and give information. That process of coming forward and giving information would be beneficial.
The Taoiseach has said that the Government stands ready. When we look back over the past 16 years, we see that progress has been made, but the most significant progress has been made when the Government and British Government became involved directly. I appreciate a certain reticence on the Taoiseach's part. I agree with the desire for the parties there to resolve the problem. However, we marched up the hill in the run-up to Christmas and then up to New Year's Eve, and public expectations, both north and south of the Border, were raised enormously that substantial progress could be made. That progress was not achieved is potentially damaging to the morale of all those involved, to the political parties and to the community in the Six Counties.
Does the Taoiseach agree that it might have been a mistake to adopt a hands-off or arm's length approach to the situation? I say that notwithstanding my acceptance of the engagement the Taoiseach had with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, MP, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, MP, and the work being done by the Tánaiste. However, the sort of direct face-to-face involvement that we have been used to in the past was not a feature of these negotiations. In the context of the Taoiseach saying that the Government stands ready, at what point will that readiness require the Taoiseach and the Government to become directly involved in the process?
Deputy Adams has rightly raised the issue of some more organised structured periodic discussions on Northern Ireland issues. We have the North-South bodies, the British-Irish Council and various other elements flowing from the Good Friday Agreement. However, there is none the less a desire on the part of parliamentarians and on the part of very many interested parties, north and south of the Border, to see all elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.
Would it be useful for the Taoiseach to take up Deputy Adams' proposition and have quarterly discussions on the situation in the Six Counties in this Chamber? The Taoiseach has said that very often they would be about normal issues. Would he agree with me that we can all be grateful that we have lived to see the day, and reached the point, where much of the discussion about the Six Counties is about routine issues? Would he agree too that huge benefit could accrue to populations north and south of the Border if there were more active engagement on and discussion of the bread and butter issues, economic and social affairs? Would the Taoiseach give us a commitment that we could do that on at least a quarterly basis?
My point is that we would like to have debates here in which all there is to talk about are normal, routine issues that we would discuss in any event. We have North-South structures: the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association, chaired by the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I am not sure how often it meets. I will not object to Deputy Adams's suggestion, as followed by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, that there be a quarterly reflection on issues regarding Northern Ireland. We could, I suppose, have it on the basis of different sectors of the economy, cross-Border involvement in the agri-sector, jobs or whatever else. I will discuss that with the Chief Whip but I will not object to it. I need to speak to the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement about the possibility of regular discussions but Members might prefer to have the discussion here in the House.
I agree with Deputy Ó Fearghaíl that significant progress has been made over the years. When between the 1970s and the 1990s Governments required face-to-face engagement, Northern Ireland was ruled directly by the House of Commons, with a Secretary of State appointed by the British Prime Minister. Now, after the Good Friday Agreement, there is a directly elected assembly. We should never forget that and we intend never to go back on it. The people of Northern Ireland vote for it. A very specific method of making appointments and allocating responsibility was followed through with the d'Hondt system, based on the criteria set out for seats and votes required by the parties.
The Deputy's question about when it is time for involvement here is a constant, but I would not in any way denigrate or attempt to do down the initiative taken by the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister in inviting Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan to see if they could propose any further suggestions on the issues. They did, as the Deputy knows. They proposed devolving authority from the Parades Commission to the Government in Belfast, and provided for the establishment of a new office for parades, select commemorations and related protests, which would receive event notifications and promote dialogue and mediation. They proposed that the authority for public adjudication would in some cases set aside conditions on a relatively small number that require particular consideration. A seven member panel, led by a qualified legal person, would take the decisions and all the affected parties could pursue an internal review, and a judicial review, if they wished. They included principles in that for a new code to be enshrined in the law. On flags and emblems, they proposed the establishment of a committee on identity, culture and tradition to hold public discussions throughout the North. In contending with the past they called for the establishment of a comprehensive mental trauma service. This is something I came across when I met the people from east Fermanagh, Enniskillen, and the group of survivors of the Kingsmill massacre. I have no doubt that some connections of the Ballymurphy people are in the same situation.
There was also a proposal to establish a historical investigations unit with the full investigative powers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, to take over the cases that the Historic Enquiries Team is following through and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland historic unit. Where the evidence would warrant or require the investigation, the unit would refer cases to the Public Prosecution Service. That and the independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR, were the main propositions to come out of the process. It is important to note that the ICIR would not provide for amnesty for those who came forward with particular information about the conflict. It would provide that those who might come forward would have limited immunity to be known as "inadmissibility", for statements. In other words, if person X said, “I know who carried out that particular incident" or whatever else, the ICIR would not provide amnesty or immunity-----
We might need that in our own banking inquiry.
Exactly. The issue would be "inadmissibility" for statements.
They came here, consulted widely, made a very determined effort, got the parties together and met intensively on many occasions in a short period and came back after Christmas. It may not have worked but I commend them on the efforts they made and I commend the parties on their engagement. It is unfulfilled and incomplete. If the two Governments were to impose themselves on Northern Ireland, there would again be a perception of failure of the Executive. I do not accept that at all. There is an answer to every problem and there is a solution to the intractability currently in the way here but it requires movement and discussion. While one party might think it is very good, others would have a different view. I see this around the European table every time I go there. There are 27 or 28 different views of an issue and the question is how far it is possible to move a compromise that is effective and practicable.
The overriding ambition of this House is to see a Northern Ireland that is running strongly, with a clear economy, where there is peace on the streets but also the opportunity to deal with legacy issues of the past. While Dr. Haass and Dr. O’Sullivan made a great effort, we have to continue with this. Did anybody expect that they would reach a full conclusion? People we spoke to said it would be very difficult. Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan recognised that but made a determined effort and gave of their best. It is not concluded so we have to continue. The two Governments, to judge by the comments of the British Prime Minister, will be very supportive but we do not want to go up to Stormont and say, “We are taking over here, this is the way you do it”. We have to encourage the people and their supporters, take into account these sensitivities and see can we move it another little bit. This is a continuous process. The citizens of Northern Ireland deserve to see that the two Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, will keep that interest very much alive. For our part we will. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl’s suggestions and those of Deputy Adams are helpful.
In the interests of keeping one another informed, I wish to contradict flatly something the Taoiseach said. The British Government is not supportive of these proposals. The Taoiseach needs to be very clear about this.
It is supportive of the process and the engagement.
I am not suggesting that the British Government wants to see the situation slipping backwards or any of the rest of it. Of course it does not. If the Taoiseach wants an example of the British Government’s behaviour in those issues over which it has complete control, he has only to consider the flag. It is a British flag. It is the Union flag.
Arguably, the British Government could have authority over that. The Pat Finucane inquiry is an inquiry which the British Government agreed to set up and which the British Government is blocking. The refusal of the British Government to co-operate comes despite two Oireachtas motions on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
If we then come to why these particular talks did not get through, substantial progress was made, although it might not have been thought there would be republican or Sinn Féin support for a process of information recovery, which is very important. Fine Gael is very fond, as are Labour and Fianna Fáil, of sniping snidely at Sinn Féin around incidents in the past. Here, Sinn Féin is saying, "Yes, we will co-operate with this and we will work with this".
Why did the Unionists not agree to that? Unionists did not agree to that because a society called the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, which is made up of former RUC officers, lobbied them extensively in the course of all of those talks - the leaderships of the DUP and UUP told us this. They do not want the light shone on the type of activities in which the old RUC was involved, which is why the British Government has to face up to these matters. They were also lobbied extensively by the Orange Order, apart from the fact some of the people in the talks were from the Orange Order. In the Belfast context, they were also led by a small sectarian group coming from an alliance of the Orange Order and the UVF, which put on the pressure. They would not agree to a simple code of conduct which would be binding upon everyone organising a parade or a protest, they would not agree on a commission on identity to discuss Irishness and Acht na Gaeilge is not even mentioned in the communique which came out of those discussions.
Why am I saying all of this? It is not to score points. I agree with the Taoiseach entirely that the Government, Fianna Fáil and all of the parties here should be sewn into the fabric of life in the North, in a non-threatening way that is neighbourly and fraternal. That is my very strong view. It is also my view that the majority of people in the North, including Unionists, want to see continued progress. They do not want the antics we see in Belfast city centre, with people wrapping themselves in union flags, engaging in sectarian remarks, urinating outside churches and tormenting people because they happen to be from the Catholic religion. The majority of people do not want that.
My argument, and I come back to this again and again, is that if Deputy Enda Kenny does nothing in his term or terms as Taoiseach except educate and inform, it would be something. The British Government and others in Britain are open to ideas and suggestions. However, if I forensically interviewed the Taoiseach about how often this is being placed on their agenda at Executive level, I believe we would all be disappointed because he is doing so many things and is busy with so many issues. The way to get unionism to move is to get a British Government to enter into its obligations and to fulfil those obligations.
My last point, which is a point in kind, is one I made to the Taoiseach at the time. I said the Narrow Water bridge would happen if he made it happen, and he did not. I know there are costs and so on, but it will not be any cheaper the next time around and this issue will not go away. It is an issue that did not involve the British Government. It was a clear-----
Sorry, Deputy. We are dealing with Question Time.
The Taoiseach mentioned the Narrow Water in his response to my earlier question.
What is the mantra coming from me today? Without appearing to lecture or to preach, it is that the Government is a sovereign government, or what passes for sovereign in these days, facing up to a British Government, and it needs to get it to fulfil all of its obligations. One of the things I have always found about the British, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with them, is that they act on what they perceive to be their own national interest all of the time. We need to do the same thing. We need to understand the national interest is the entire island, including the Unionists. They are the people with whom we want to make peace. They are one of our great traditions - the orange is one of our great traditions and one of our national colours. I commend that approach to the Taoiseach. I thank him for his positive response to the request to have more formal and regular debates on these matters.
I think we can do that. When I was speaking to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, his Government was very supportive of the initiative taken by the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness. We can argue about the fact that it was inconclusive and about what we support do not support. I share the Deputy's view in this regard. As I said when we had the EU Presidency, when we offer any facilities or connections we have to the Executive, the Assembly and their members when they go abroad to deal with issues of Northern Ireland, that is replicated in a way by the fact that, next week or the week after, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will be on a trade mission to Singapore which is a tripartite trade mission with Northern Ireland and the British Government. This goes back to the facilities Britain always had through its reach in the Commonwealth, with better access to embassies, consuls and all of that in terms of trade. That is another manifestation of the progress made, and if it means investment and jobs, so much the better.
When the Deputy talks about informing, educating and bringing forward ideas, these are all relevant issues. Is it not from constant engagement, constant discussion and constant interaction that a breakthrough, an understanding, a trust or a solidity can actually happen, and that what appeared completely intractable in the beginning might actually begin to move through the consistency of demonstrating that what one is about is not domination but opportunity for development? Clearly, on the Unionist side there are some differences of opinion, as expressed publicly in the last period. That does not take from the fact the Haass-O'Sullivan talks were inconclusive in the sense that they were not able to conclude and agree a final agreement. I think that is where we have to play our part. Perhaps when we are in a position to put down a quarterly review process on the issues that arise in Northern Ireland across the sector, ideas from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, an Independent grouping or otherwise can be followed through at the North-South Ministerial Council, the parliamentary association or the sectoral meetings that take place with Ministers. If the citizens in Northern Ireland see a genuine interest from here and a genuine willingness to help the people and, hence, the economy, that builds a sense of trust. By that, I am speaking of developments in health, cross-Border trade, energy, education, transport and so on. These are all issues where we can visibly demonstrate that we are genuinely interested in their welfare and well-being and, therefore, in the welfare of their families for the future.
They have been here before. For years, there was a process where it was said, "I am not going to give all of the information we have about Finucane". I wish that would happen. We have differences of opinion about this and I raise it every time I have the opportunity to meet the British Prime Minister. I do not know what information is out there that is not forthcoming. However, clearly, we have had a strong difference of opinion about the necessity to have a public inquiry, arising from Smithwick, to which the Government here at the time agreed, which has now been presented and which will be debated here in the House in the next number of weeks. I know of comments made by three former members who have given an analysis of what they consider the Smithwick tribunal was actually about.
I share the opinions of Deputies Ó Fearghaíl and Adams in this regard. This is a case where one must prove one's seriousness and genuineness in the sense of engagement with communities, the authorities, the Executive and the members to show we are serious about it. As the Deputy says, so much goes on in the normal week of politics here that it is hard to devote blocks of time to do these things, as one might wish. Delegation of responsibility, the Ministers and Ministers of State and different agencies are issues at hand.
When I was at the last North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh, I met the chief executives of the different agencies. A great deal of work is ongoing in the cultural and traditional area and in the development of the canal process. All these things are very worthy of perhaps more interest than we have shown in the past. Is that not another example of co-operation that shows people that we are serious about trying to assist the restoration and building of a strong society and good economy in the North? Behind it all, people still live with their history and how geography and history have determined their personalities and views. That is an area on which we need to keep focusing. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, it is important there is the capacity to engage and interact and we will continue to do that.
I thank the Taoiseach for his response. Perhaps my call for greater participation by the governments was lacking in clarity. While taking on board everything the Taoiseach said to us and accepting that all of the participants - the British Prime Minister, the British Government and the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers - were enthusiastic about the process involved in the Haass-O'Sullivan work, the difficulty, as always, is that the devil was in the detail. When the process was concluded, we did not have anything like the same level of enthusiasm from the British authorities and the Secretary of State. What we are saying to the Taoiseach today is that there comes a point when it becomes incumbent on the Government to become a persuader. We all accept that the Taoiseach enjoys a very good relationship with Prime Minister Cameron and I can see from what he telling us that he sees a number of these problems being worked out as part of the ongoing engagement that he and his Ministers have with the British Prime Minister and his Ministers. However, there comes a point where the casual or routine engagement that may happen is not sufficient. There will come a point in respect of this issue where it must be seen that the Taoiseach and his Ministers are using their influence to persuade the British Government to become a persuader of the Unionist community because the issues are so vital. Were the participants in this a little idealistic in setting the very short time-frame for trying to seek a solution to the issues?
There is always a point where one could say that we need to take another step here. If one recalls the journey the people of Northern Ireland came through and all the difficulties over very many years, one can see that at the end of the day it required people to sit down to discuss, negotiate and get help and co-operation in putting a structure together under which the people of Northern Ireland could vote, have voted, will vote again and will elect their representatives. It is a different system to that which applied in previous years where everything was taken by one group. It is now spread because of the D'Hondt system, which was agreed to be very particular for the situation that applies in Northern Ireland. I would be loath to do anything that would in any way diminish that potential. It is important that the Secretary of State and the British Prime Minister know we are interested and beyond that, we can demonstrate our interest by working with them to devise a way forward. It is not as simple as suggesting that one can tell people what they should do. No more than any of these other intractable problems, it requires a lot of discussion.
Deputy Ó Fearghaíl asked me whether I as Taoiseach could have a deeper engagement with the British Prime Minister. That is why the preparatory work is always done by senior civil servants who meet on a regular basis so that we get to a point where we can define what we consider might be a valid suggestion, for example, with regard to engaging with the parties. What I am saying here other than that I am willing to engage with the House on that basis? We will work with the parties here and in Northern Ireland and will be supportive of the process. We might not always get agreement but if we can take small steps in a number of different areas, it can build trust and understanding on the part of the citizens of Northern Ireland that we are serious about helping them to develop the economy and create a good infrastructure and opportunities for jobs and investment as a consequence.