Thursday, 17 April 2014

Questions (39, 44, 52)

Brendan Smith

Question:

39. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had any recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State in relation to the proposed bill of rights for Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18444/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

44. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his proposals to discuss further with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive the need to establish a civic forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18451/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

52. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State or Members of the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to the Irish Language Act; the progress made in relation to this legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18521/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 44 and 52 together.

I believe that the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements provide the essential framework for the achievement of reconciliation and mutual trust in Northern Ireland and in the totality of relations between these islands. In my ongoing contacts with the British government, and with the Northern Ireland Executive, I continue to stress the importance of progressing implementation of all outstanding aspects of the Agreements.

I welcome the report agreed at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary in Dublin on 31 March 2014 on the implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreement and which calls on all parties to the Agreements ‘to maintain momentum to ensure that all outstanding provisions are implemented in their totality ’.

I continue to urge all the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly to engage in constructive discussion with a view to reaching agreement on the substance of a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights drawn up by agreement between the main parties of the Assembly could set out precisely and formally the rights underpinning a reconciled society in Northern Ireland can be based.

I support the establishment of a Civic Forum which would provide for a broad range of voices on community relations and stimulate informed public debate in relation to key societal challenges.

On my regular visits to Northern Ireland, I continue the practice of engaging with civil society representatives.

In the context of the North South Ministerial Council, most recently at our Plenary Meeting on 8 November 2013, the Government expressed support for the re-establishment of the Civic Forum as a valuable and, as yet, unimplemented provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

I am firmly of the view that an Irish Language Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland. All parties to the Good Friday Agreement recognised the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity in Northern Ireland.

In the St Andrews Agreement, the British government committed to introducing an Irish Language Act and to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.

Since the restoration of the devolved Institutions on 8 May 2007, the question of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland has been a devolved matter and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and in particular the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Ms. Carál Ní Chuilín MLA.

Officials in my Department maintain regular and ongoing contact with the Irish language community in Northern Ireland including those involved in cross-community Irish language activity.

I will continue to press in my discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive the urgent need to address this issue and to legislate for an Irish Language Act. Officials in my Department will continue to monitor this matter in their ongoing contacts with the Northern Ireland Office.