Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Northern Ireland Talks.

Proinsias De Rossa


2 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will outline the matters discussed at his recent meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Brooke; if any new initiatives are planned to encourage the re-opening of dialogue between the democratic political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jim O'Keeffe


3 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he proposes any initiative with a view to securing a resumption of the Brooke talks on the future of Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

The Government have consistently made clear their desire that the talks process should continue and be brought forward to fruition. Our concern over the past months has been to assess how best matters can be moved forward in the shortest possible time. I have discussed the matter in depth at a number of meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, including most recently in Belfast last Friday, and our shared priority is to ensure that everything possible is done to encourage the resumption of dialogue.

As to the matters discussed in recent meetings with Mr. Brooke, the joint statements issued at the conclusion of conference meetings are published and available in the Dáil Library. At our informal meeting last week, we discussed a number of matters of current concern, including the talks process and confidence issues.

Obviously my question relates to an earlier meeting with Mr. Brooke. The issue at that time related to Mr. Hurd's comments that the question of a united Ireland was no longer the central issue relating to Northern Ireland. What is the Minister's response to that? Will the Minister confirm that the Brooke talks initiative in which the Irish Government will be involved at some stage is about the creation of a political framework in which all democratic parties in Northern Ireland can pursue their aspirations within the context of Northern Ireland as it exists and that they are not primarily intended to establish a united Ireland?

I have given Deputy De Rossa, and his colleagues, a very clear picture of the situation with regard to the efforts of both Governments to try to get political dialogue going. Both Governments are committed to it and have said so on every occasion. Both Governments are presently, through the conference, trying to assess the situation and how best to get talks moving again. That is our intention and we will make every effort to get talks moving again.

Will the Minister accept that the need for a political solution was never more necessary than it is today? Will the Minister accept that this need is further highlighted by the dreadful sectarian murders that have become common place? Will the Minister agree that the search for a political solution should not be in any way delayed because of the impending election in the UK? Will the Minister consider a proposal that an intiative or a declaration be signed by the leaders of all the constitutional parties in the UK and in the Republic urging the leaders on the Unionist and Nationalist sides in Northern Ireland to respond to the calls to them to get talking?

I thank Deputy O'Keeffe for his helpful and positive attitude. There is full support for what both Governments are trying to do not just within the Governments but in the parliaments they represent. In addition, it is clear that there is tremendous support among the public for what we are trying to achieve and also an understanding of the difficulties that have to be overcome. A very informed opinion poll conducted here recently, in Northern Ireland and on the mainland UK clearly showed that there was tremendous public support for what we are doing. The recent upsurge in violence clearly shows the need for progress on the political front. It shows that on a political level we have to face up to reality. People representing political party leaders will have to make a more determined effort to ensure that dialogue gets under way.

I fully accept the Minister's declaration that he and the Government are anxious for talks to resume. Nevertheless, there are certain conditions on which talks can get underway. One of those conditions is that all the participants have to be assured that their positions will not be undermined. In that regard would the Minister not be prepared to say here today that the purpose of the talks is not to change the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It is to create a framework for democratic political activity in Northern Ireland which in no way undermines the aspirations either of the Nationalist people in Northern Ireland or indeed the Unionist people in Northern Ireland but gives them the freedom to pursue those aspirations democratically and in peace. It would be helpful in getting the talks under way if that kind of declaration were made. Could I just ask, as I do not want to get up on my feet again——

Could we have brevity.

The question of security is obviously discussed at these meetings. Was the question of internment discussed and did the Government express a view on it?

That is a separate matter.

We have been told that security is discussed. Was the question of security discussed in relation to the current upsurge of violence in Northern Ireland? What was the Government attitude expressed on that? Was the question of Kevin McGovern——

The Deputy is introducing extraneous matters.

They are not extraneous matters.

Please, Deputy De Rossa, let us have no argument about the matter.

These are matters which were specifically referred to in the remarks published after the meeting. I am asking the Minister what the Government's attitude is to them.

Deputy De Rossa, you have had a fair opportunity to put some questions. Please bring your questions to finality.

If you would let me speak I would have been finished 30 seconds ago.

You have been speaking for some considerable time, Deputy.

These are Priority Questions, a Cheann Comhairle.

Yes, to which a time limit applies.

Either Priority Questions have some value in terms of giving some latitude to the spokesperson asking the questions or they are a nonsense.

Within the prescribed limit, Deputy, surely.

The prescribed time limit is 15 minutes and there are still four minutes to go, a Cheann Comhairle, so will you please allow me to continue with my questions?

I would like the Deputy to bring his question to finality.

I would be more than finished, a Cheann Comhairle, if you had let me conclude, so I would appeal to you to show some tolerance to me in this House.

This is an obstruction of the Chair.

A Cheann Comhairle, you are the person who is obstructing me.

I have a vested interest in this. I have another question on the Order Paper and I have another supplementary question. I would be glad if Deputy De Rossa would say what he has to say and let us get on with it.

I was about to conclude, a Cheann Comhairle, by asking the Minister if he could indicate what response he got from Mr. Brooke regarding the death of Kevin McGovern and what steps the Government are taking to deal with that matter.

It is a separate matter.

It is not a separate matter.

The Chair decides on such matters, Deputy.

It is very important that we remind ourselves that a basis for talks was agreed last March after many months of painstaking preparations and this was a very finely balanced package which took into account the sensitivities of all the participants. Most people would accept that it would be a very great pity now to throw away the results of all that earlier work. I have no doubt that there would be overwhelming public support, North and South, for an immediate resumption of the talks on that basis.

For the present at least, I feel that our continuing emphasis must be on exploring fully and patiently the possibilities of building up what has been achieved and of bringing people back to the negotiating table on the basis agreed earlier. That would be the most direct and commonsense way to resume the political dialogue which is so urgently required.

Finally, let me say, in reply to other elements of the Deputy's supplementary questions that of course all matters pertaining to security are discussed at meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference in very great detail, but the Deputy knows full well that there is never public debate on these matters afterwards.

I have just one final point. Will the Minister take on board the heartfelt anxiety, on the part of not just myself and my party but the entire country and the huge proportion of the population in Northern Ireland, to seek to have political talks under way and will he guarantee to this House that he will be there not just in a reactive role but will try to explore every possibility and try to follow a pro-active policy to ensure that the talks get under way as early as possible?

I acknowledge the Deputy's positive approach to the serious issue that we are talking about, which is of great concern to all of us for very good reason. I feel the Deputy also recognises that the Government have been extremely flexible in their efforts to try to facilitate getting these talks under way. I do not want to list off in detail the many problems we had to contend with when ground shifted after agreements were already entered into between two Governments. That is a matter of record.

The Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government, and I, as joint chairman of the Anglo-Irish Conference, have said on a number of occasions, and as recently as Friday last in Belfast, that we are prepared to try to move political dialogue for the reasons that Deputy O'Keeffe has offered and which I readily accept. Of course we will maintain our positive role in trying to facilitate the leaders of all the constitutional parties to become involved in dialogue without any of us trying to pre-empt the outcome of these talks in any fashion. If I might use a phrase I have used in the past, we would approach these talks on a "no winners, no losers basis" and I think there would be support for that.