asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with members of the Alliance Party; and if he will outline the arrangements he has made for any further meetings.
Ceisteanna—Questions . Oral Answers . - Alliance Party Delegation .
: Accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Health and for Social Welfare, I met a delegation from the Alliance Party on 11 April. We discussed the current situation in Northern Ireland, the New Ireland Forum and other matters of common interest. The talks were constructive and took place in a cordial atmosphere.
It was agreed that meetings between the Government and the Alliance Party will take place at regular intervals in future.
: Will the Taoiseach give some more details as to the form these meetings will take? His reply mentions meetings between the Alliance Party and the Government. Will these meetings take place with himself or with the Minister for Foreign Affairs?
: This meeting was attended by myself, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Social Welfare. Meetings in future will similarly take place with myself, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and possibly other Ministers of the Government.
: Could the Taoiseach give any indication as to the frequency or time-scale of these meetings? Is it envisaged that they will be held on a regular basis at stated intervals and, if so, will the Taoiseach ensure that a similar standard of communication is offered to any other political party or grouping in Northern Ireland who seek it?
: The meetings will take place at regular intervals. That has not been defined but the words are used in the context of the absence of contact over quite a period of time between the Alliance Party and successive Governments. We had one meeting with them when we were last in Government. With regard to other parties our position is that we are ready, happy and anxious to meet other parties which are democratic, which exclude violence and have members elected to the Assembly in Northern Ireland. We very much regret the fact that we have not had the opportunity for regular meetings. There have, of course, been informal contacts with such parties during periods when our parties have been in Government. I had frequent meetings with members of the Unionist Party during my period as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I hope such informal meetings can continue. Meetings of this kind between the Government and the Alliance Party can at least be maintained and this is intended. I have to add that it has been the practice of all Governments to have regular meetings with the SDLP. That has continued at all times with all Governments and will, of course, continue in the future.
: The Taoiseach has touched on a question I intended to ask. It might appear from the fairly solid arrangements he has made with the Alliance Party that the same situation might not exist in regard to the SDLP but I take it that the same procedure, namely, regular meetings at stated intervals with himself and a number of members of the Government, will obtain in the case of the SDLP and any other democratic party or group in the North of Ireland who seek it.
: Any democratic party represented in the Assembly. I did not refer to regular meetings at stated intervals. I said that meetings would be held at regular intervals. We have not stated any particular interval.