IRA Cessation of Violence in Northern Ireland: Statements.

Every Irish person at home and abroad will welcome with relief and thanksgiving the decision announced today of an end to the 25-year-old IRA campaign. It is a day that many had begun to fear they might never see. We all hope that it will be swiftly followed by an end to paramilitary violence on all sides and consolidated by a gradual and general process of demilitarisation, and that it will facilitate the achievement of a comprehensive negotiated political settlement.

A long nightmare is coming to an end, where the legacy of history went so tragically wrong. While the IRA, like others, must take responsibility for their actions, and those that have had terrible human consequences, it would be simplistic to make them solely responsible for the national disaster that has struck this island over the last 25 years, holding the whole country back and poisoning relations even further in the North of Ireland.

The 1921 settlement gave independence to the people of this State and allowed the Northern Unionists to opt out, but it failed to provide enforceable protections for the rights of Northern Nationalists, with whose rights Unionists in the Stormont years never politically had to come to terms. Radical attempts to reform the system in the late 1960s and early 1970s met with fierce resistance, which in time sparked the longest sustained use of physical force in our history, to try to solve the problem of partition.

Today, there is a clearer realisation than ever before of the futility of attempting to resolve the differences between two communities by force or to coerce one community into a mould set by the other, whether in Northern Ireland or Ireland as a whole. It has taken an exceptionally long time for the full realisation of this truth to come and for it to be reflected in the actions of paramilitary organisations.

At a time when we are entering a new world, where old national antagonisms and rivalries have given way to increased partnership, it is time to move beyond replaying either the resistance to Home Rule of 1912-1914 or the Irish freedom struggle of 1916-1921. We must break out of outdated moulds, face the future with imagination and flexibility, and adapt our inherited ideals to the circumstances and needs of today.

Today's announcement presents us with a great opportunity to break free from the stagnation and demoralisation caused by the prolonged violence of the past 25 years. We expect to see the complete cessation of violence implemented fully. It is on that understanding that Northern Republicans will be fully incorporated into the democratic process. Political and other progress will depend on confidence-building measures on all sides.

We are prepared to recognise in practical ways without delay the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin, on the basis that the complete cessation of IRA military operations will immediately become and remain a reality, and that the definitive commitment to the success of the democratic peace process is demonstrated to be such. I believe this morning's IRA statement was made in good faith, and that its strong tradition of discipline will positively contribute to this result. As history has shown, nothing corrodes democracy more than an attempt to combine the use of political violence, while claiming full rights of democratic participation.

The Government, since the Downing Street Declaration, made it clear at all times that it was not interested in half-measures, such as temporary or conditional ceasefires. The IRA statement, expressing its definitive commitment to the success of the democratic peace process and announcing a complete cessation of military operations, means that there can be no going back.

In any case, progress in Northern Ireland cannot be advanced by any renewed recourse to violence. The democratic path, as we all know, can be a thorny one, with no guarantee of continuous progress. It is rather a level playing-field, where conflicting ideas and visions of the future are canvassed for public support. The Downing Street Declaration does not guarantee or endorse any constitutional aspiration for the future, but it gives them all a chance of realisation without obstruction.

Both Governments remain firmly and unswervingly committed to the Downing Street Declaration as a framework for any further political progress. The Irish Government has not departed in any way, nor will it do so, from the obligation of consent as a balanced counterpart to the principle of self-determination. The cessation of violence does not prejudice the protection of the Unionist constitutional position, nor for that matter the continued legitimate expression of Nationalist constitutional ideals.

One of the purposes of the Downing Street Declaration, in the paragraphs in my name, was to remove the fears of Unionists, which have led some of them in the past to behave in a prejudiced manner towards the rights of their Nationalist neighbours.

The atmosphere of peace presents a new and unique opportunity for Unionists and Nationalists to build up a relationship of trust and reconciliation in a vastly improved atmosphere, assuming that Loyalist paramilitaries respond favourably to the current situation. This would allow both communities to work together constructively, both in Northern Ireland and between North and South. Economic opportunities abound, where North and South working together, will achieve better results than by competing against each other. A single market in Ireland within the European single market makes sense. Peace will help it to take shape.

When I became Taoiseach in 1992, indeed long before, I felt the continuation of violence to be an affront to decency and commonsense, and was determined to do all I could to ensure peace. Peace was a powerful idea, whose time had come.

Last December, I described in some detail the background and the history of the steps that led Mr. John Major and myself to the Downing Street Declaration. For over 20 years, successive Governments largely succeeded in protecting the stability of this State from attack, but the price of keeping a rigid distance from those involved in violence was that this State exercised little or no influence, other than a repressive one, on Republican thinking throughout the island. In co-operation with John Hume and a respected clergyman intermediary, shortly after becoming Taoiseach, I took up and carried forward efforts to get to grips with the professed reasons for the continued Republican violence, to see if ways could be found to satisfy principle, while dispensing with the need for violence. This was a task in which the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Brooke, had also engaged, and his statement that Britain had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland was one of the foundation stones on which the whole exercise leading to the Joint Declaration was built, as it resolved one of the main issues in debate between the SDLP and Sinn Féin in 1988.

It was a slow and patient task trying to reconcile important principles such as the right to national self-determination with the obligation the Government had accepted under an international agreement to seek consent. We had to find ways of bringing into balance traditional republican philosophy with the recognised rights of the unionist community, taking account of the movement away from the simple majority as a means of resolving communal conflict. The Government, above all, has had to convince republicans of the superior benefits of full participation in the democratic process as opposed to the benefits from the continuation of armed struggle, and that if armed struggle is abandoned, they would be welcomed into the democratic arena, notwithstanding anything that may have happened in the past. We had to come to grips with the needs and psychology of a community that for years was effectively excluded from the political process, while retaining a firm grip on wider realities. The whole exercise has been fraught with risk for me and for the Government. Yet without the effort, understanding and constructive engagement the stand-off and the violence might have continued almost indefinitely.

The participation, example and advice of John Hume was vital in this exercise. We all recognise his immense courage and persistence in a difficult and dangerous task.

We as a sovereign Irish Government, with a power of decision-making in our own jurisdiction as well as our privileged access to the British Government and other governments, especially the US, also had a key role to play.

As is widely known, the concept of a Joint Declaration was put forward by us to the British Government in June 1993, following 14 months of slow and painstaking progress on a draft drawn up under my direction with the help of John Hume, with the benefit of his knowledge of the views of the Republican leadership. Some of the principles involved were expressed in different but in parallel language in the joint Hume-Adams public statements. It fell to the Government to carry the initiative forward and negotiate it with the British Government, which was also difficult but, in the end, a very worthwhile and rewarding undertaking.

As outlined to the House last December, I recognised the need, in order to overcome otherwise insuperable obstacles and difficulties, to broaden the Joint Declaration from a document dealing purely with Nationalist ideals and aspirations to one which encompassed equally Unionist and Loyalist ideals and aspirations in a balanced manner. This was the key to the unprecedented range of support given to the Joint Declaration last December from the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance to the SDLP and including an all-party consensus in this House.

The British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, deserves our deep and lasting gratitude for his courage in agreeing to proceed with the initiative of the Joint Declaration. I hope and believe that the end of the IRA campaign will be greeted with the same satisfaction in Britain and in the House of Commons as it will be on this side of the Irish Sea. It represents a major political achievement for all involved.

The Joint Declaration has been criticised in its aftermath for devoting as many paragraphs to Unionist concerns as to the core constitutional issues of interest to Nationalists. However, the equality agenda and the more immediate practical concerns of Northern Nationalists were being pursued parallel with the framework of the talks process. I sought to address the more practical legitimate points of concern to Nationalists in my Irish Association speech at the beginning of this year.

The peace process and the talks process were never isolated from each other. The degree of progress made both in 1991 and 1992 and the subsequent progress of discussions between the two Governments more recently, now concentrated on the framework document, have created a process in which all Northern political parties, including Sinn Féin, have an interest in participating, in order to shape its final outcome.

Tribute should also be paid to the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, his officials and the Secretary of State and his team for the momentum they have succeeded in imparting to the process, despite formidable political obstacles. Their work has had a significant and positive influence on the outcome of the peace process, just as the Downing Street Declaration has enriched and provided a new base for the talks process. Those in this House, who from time to time have seen the two as being in competition with each other and as being mutually exclusive, have entirely failed to grasp the positive impact and results that have come from pursuing both in parallel, where the pursuit of either one in isolation might have yielded much less.

The Joint Declaration, while, in my opinion and in John Hume's, substantially the same, if more balanced, than the original proposal I had put to the British Government, was initially a disappointment to Northern Republicans, even though significant and positive formulations were acknowledged. Nevertheless, the very opening phrase of today's IRA statement recognises "the potential of the current situation".

We took the calculated risk of lifting section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, in January, something for which a good case on libertarian principles could also be made, so that the problems and difficulties in the wake of the Downing Street Declaration could be more openly confronted and debated. Similarly, we agreed with the decision of President Clinton to grant a short term visa to Gerry Adams last winter, so as to allow him to meet directly in the United States with influential Irish-American opinion, which has been a crucial influence in advancing the peace process. I would like to thank the President for his constant support for the Irish peace process and the Joint Declaration, and likewise all our friends in America.

The Irish Government was not prepared simply to make the Joint Declaration on a take it or leave it basis. We accepted that there could be a valid distinction between clarification and negotiation. We have not at any stage entered into any renegotiation of the Joint Declaration. Indeed, difficult concepts, such as how self-determination applied in long-partitioned countries, and how it operated in international law, badly required more detailed elucidation, which I was only too happy to give. Every difficult point, issue or objection that was raised we tried to deal with to the best of our ability, so that there would not be any valid reason or any questions left unanswered as obstacles to fully embracing the peace process. The British Government and the loyalist paramilitaries took encouragement from our example and also engaged effectively in giving or seeking clarification. We treated the loyalists exactly the same as the republicans. Our answers may not always have been liked, but they were consistent with our publicly stated policy positions. We have ensured that there is clarity about our policy and about the logical consequences of peace and normality so that republicans, in the light of that, could determine for themselves how much common ground they perceived, and what path they would choose to pursue. Needless to say, there have been no backdoor political pacts or agreements, no hidden agendas and no under the table private deals.

Over the past few months, I have had to make an unprecedented number of speeches and give an unprecedented number of interviews on Northern Ireland, as indeed has the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring. The main onus, over the past year, for keeping the peace process alive and carrying it forward, even when at times the prospects for success looked almost hopeless, has rested with the Irish Government. But, at times almost alone, apart from my Government colleagues, I kept the faith in the possibility of peace. I knew that if I publicly wrote off the peace process, that would universally be regarded as the end.

I am particularly grateful for the steady support and understanding of our partners in Government, and especially the Tánaiste, for an initiative that had begun before they joined us in Government, as well as for the active part he and his officials have played and are continuing to play in developing the framework document further. Both of us have at all times been determined to be satisfied with nothing less than a permanent peace. I was also grateful for the support given to the Joint Declaration by all Members of the different parties in this House.

At the same time, I cannot refrain from remarking that in recent months since the Joint Declaration it became somewhat lonely, listening to charges of appeasement or suggestions that I have been wasting my time on a failed initiative at the expense of the talks process, or the insistence that I should recognise that the peace process was stone dead. Much has been made in another context of my ignoring advice. If I had taken some of the advice offered to me at certain times in this House and elsewhere, I would have quickly sunk all possible hopes of a successful peace process.

Whatever my many critics thought, I owed a duty to the Irish people to try for peace and to continue to search for peace and, if need be, fail rather than not try at all. Peace is a simple but a very powerful idea, whose time has come. There are sophisticated commentators in Fleet Street who clearly doubt my grasp of complex ideas, particularly those that have to be expressed in long words and convoluted sentences. But they will perhaps allow that I have at least had a clear and single-minded grasp of the idea of that very simple word "peace".

In the critical period ahead, when it is essential to consolidate peace quickly and to make it irreversible. I intend to apply the same activist and hands-on approach that I applied in the aftermath of the Joint Declaration.

If we want peace, we must all be prepared to welcome into the democratic process those who are no longer associated with a campaign of violence. Once normality is established, they will be treated like everyone else in proportion to their electoral mandate. I propose shortly to initiate bilateral discussions with all interested parties on the establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which I envisage will meet hopefully before the end of October.

We will continue to work to bring to a conclusion a framework document in talks continuing with the British Government. There will be an opportunity for negotiations to take place involving all the parties in Northern Ireland in a better atmosphere. All parties have a duty to consolidate peace. I do not think either community in Northern Ireland will thank parties who boycott talks at the conference table at the moment when it has been the first real breakthrough to peace in the island in 25 years.

Due to the efforts I have had to make to bring republicans in from the cold — I have also had useful contacts through an intermediary with loyalist organisations who also tend to be politically ignored — I have been subject to sustained political attack in recent times from some Unionist politicians. As someone who has had a great deal of social and business contact with the Unionist community, I believe I will, nevertheless, have done the Unionist people some service if I have succeeded in helping to bring to an end the IRA campaign of violence which they see as primarily directed against them.

I would also like to pay tribute to the generally steadfast position adopted by the Unionist leader, Mr. James Molyneaux and his colleagues in resolutely dampening down attempts to arouse unjustified hysteria in the Unionist community, both in December and now. I cannot say the same for the wholly destructive policies of another brand of Unionism which in the past has tried to do everything in its power to sabotage any reasonable prospects of peace. Some of the attitudes that have been adopted have undoubtedly fuelled the violence of the past 25 years. The presence of bigoted and sectarian attitudes that would be totally unacceptable in any other normal civilised society, such as the deep South in America before the civil rights movement or in South Africa under apartheid, will have to be eradicated over time by the people of Northern Ireland in a new climate.

The next task facing us is true reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists and the development of a pragmatic partnership of this island, even if that means accepting the continued existence of separate jurisdictions, at least for the time being. We have no interest in pressurising or cajoling Unionists unwillingly into a united Ireland. Any such arrangement will eventually come about on the basis of broad agreement or not at all. To echo John Hume and Gerry Adams, no system is viable if it does not earn the allegiance of substantial minorities within it.

Nationalists are entitled to look for equality and parity of esteem in Northern Ireland. They are entitled to such links with the South which would be in the interests of all the people but which would also reflect the Irish dimension or identity as a counterpart to the continuing British constitutional link. One side cannot alone determine the whole character of Northern Ireland. What reasonable argument is there to deny the rights of Nationalists to legitimate institutional expression of their identity? Unionist leaders have to educate their community on the need for compromise, just as John Hume and I have spent much patient time in trying to persuade Northern Republicans to engage exclusively in the democratic process.

Tomorrow represents potentially the beginning of a new era in Ireland. I hope that an all-round peace can be established shortly so that the litany of violent death will be over for good. Well over 3,000 people have lost their lives in a needless conflict. If the violence were to continue at the same level over the next 25 years, another 2,500 people would die. We must respect and remember, for a long time to come, the grief and sacrifice of all those who have died and the deep wounds that have been left among their friends and relatives. Violence has diverted scarce and much needed resources from more useful economic and social purposes.

Peace will create a new future for the whole of Ireland, a dynamic future that we have not seen since the 1960s. The fact that we, like South Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, can come to grips and crack our own apparently insoluble problems, will increase our international standing and be an important boost to national confidence in the North and in the South.

I know that President Clinton, who played a very important role in his support for peace, is envisaging economic assistance for reconstruction and investment in Northern Ireland, and on both sides of the Border, as is President Jacques Delors and the European Union. The peace dividend will be valuable. As we move towards peace we can be confident that we have the goodwill and support of the international community.

Let us all make the most of this new historic opportunity, the opportunity literally of a lifetime. Let 1 September 1994 go into the annals as one of the most important dates in Irish history. Let us all inside and outside this House share the determination that from here on we will go forward and not back. There have been enough sacrifices. Let no more generations suffer in this way. Ireland has the capacity to be one of the finest countries in the world. From today, that is now a real possibility.

Ireland at home and abroad possesses the self-confidence and conviction to address its problems in a peaceful environment. Let us leave violence behind and take the gun, bullet and bomb out of Irish politics forever.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party I heartily welcome the cessation of violence by the IRA. I am absolutely delighted this has happened. It is a historic day for Ireland, the world and the Irish community spread throughout the world.

I believe the announced cessation of violence is permanent and total. I know some have questioned its permanence. Obviously they are entitled to look for verification but I believe it is permanent and that that will be verified by events. It is the culmination of a process of revision of thinking within the provisional republican movement that dates back at least to the mid-1980s. The core of the problem which led to the use of violence by the republican movement was accurately described by the Taoiseach in his speech when he referred to the 1921 settlement as not providing enforceable protections for the rights of Northern Nationalists. It was that sense of alienation, that their rights did not count, which prompted the use of violence — unjustifiably but understandably perhaps to some degree.

The milestone in Irish history that definitively recognised the rights of Northern Nationalists was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1985. In that agreement, for the first time in a international treaty, an institutional mechanism was set up to guarantee through the Anglo-Irish Conference a means of vindicating the rights and aspirations of the Northern Nationalist community. That was a major step on the road to peace. That agreement was at the source of the beginning of the revision of thinking within the republican movement. It is interesting that only a year later Mr. Gerry Adams published his book "The Pathway to Peace" which many have said represented the beginnings within the movement of the trend which has culminated in today's very happy announcement.

In the Anglo-Irish Agreement the British recognised for the first time in an international treaty the rights of the Northern Nationalist community. That recognition denied the provisional republican movement their traditional enmity towards Britain. Up to that they had been saying the problem was simply one of the British presence in Ireland: "the British must get out; it is legitimate to do whatever we need to do to get the British out because they are the problem". When the British, in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, recognised the rights of the Northern Nationalist community in this tangible way that intellectual justification for a "Brits out" directed violent campaign was removed. Naturally it took a long time for that to work its way through Provisional republican thinking into the event we have today but that is its source. Obviously it was contributed to by many other events, to which I will refer. Of particular importance was the work done by John Hume during the past two to three years in attempting to redefine the concept of self determination and to draw a distinction between the right to self determination and the means whereby one expresses that concept. John Hume succeeded in persuading the republican movement to accept the idea that self determination could be expressed in a different way from a simple all-Ireland basis, that it was possible to recognise within the concept of self determination a dual expression of self determination in both parts of Ireland simultaneously on the same day in the form of a referendum and in so doing to recognise the right to self determination which the Unionist community has also in its own way.

This further change in republican thinking was effected almost single-handedly by John Hume, and that must have been a lonely process for him. There have been references in this debate to lonely processes — the lonely process in this instance should be recognised. I am confident that the fact that at the same time the parties in this House — including the party to which I belong — stood by the principle that in no circumstances could there be a constitutional change in Northern Ireland other than with the consent of a majority there, a principle of which there was resolute and steadfast repetition, eventually contributed also to forcing those engaged in thinking within the republican movement to come to terms with the existence of the Unionist community in Ireland. It was the inability of the provisional republican thinking to come to terms with the existence of a Unionist community in Ireland and the constant diversion of their attention to the British when they should have been trying to come to terms with the problems posed by Irish unionism which led to the violence. The constant reassertion of the principle of consent in this House, the work of John Hume in redefining the concept of self-determination together with the Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave guaranteed rights to Nationalists and to which the British agreed in a treaty had the effect of republican thinking having to focus on the real problem and away from the question of the British presence, which was not the problem. That revision of thinking within the republican movement contributed ultimately to the events we are now rightly entitled to join in celebrating.

It is also very important to acknowledge the importance of the Downing Street Declaration and in so doing to give credit to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs for their contributions to that document. As was very accurately said, the Downing Street Declaration brought together in a balanced way a statement, with which all could agree, on the rights both of the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. For the first time these rights were set down simultaneously in one document. By seeing them expressed together in that way it was possible to envisage both as being potentially mutually compatible rather than mutually incompatible. That effort of synthesis in the Downing Street Declaration was also very important not only in changing the atmosphere which enabled this event — namely the IRA cessation of violence — to take place but also in creating the atmosphere in which there will be no loyalist backlash. The balance contained in that document was important because both of those issues — the cessation of violence and the absence of a backlash — are equally important. This is an important part of the role which has been played by the Downing Street Declaration.

I am not going to recant anything I have said in the past about this matter but I must express my surprise and disappointment at the very slow assimilation by the provisional republican movement of the reality contained in the Downing Street Declaration. Those who remember what I said in this House on the occasion of the debate on the Downing Street Declaration will remember that I, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, was extremely supportive of the declaration and extremely optimistic that it would achieve results. I was very disappointed at the slowness of the republican movement in reacting positively to the declaration and at the continuation of violence, in some cases horrific violence, on the part of the provisional republican movement.

The event which crystallised public unwillingness to accept any more pre-varication on the part of the republican movement was the public reaction to the Letterkenny conference. The republican resolutions adopted at that Sinn Féin Conference in Letterkenny represented a sort of restatement of the original unreconstructed fundamentalist republican viewpoints. Public opinion did not accept those viewpoints and was very forcibly seen not to accept such restatement of an unreconstructed position. That negative reaction to the Letterkenny resolutions eventually got through to those remaining people within the republican movement who were unwilling to agree to a cessation of violence; they realised they had to agree and they did.

It was also important that the Government was repeatedly asked if political recognition would be granted to the Provisional Sinn Féin movement if there was a temporary rather than a permanent cessation of violence. It was very important that that question be asked so that a reassurance would be given that nothing short of a permanent cessation of violence would do. If there was an Opposition in this House which simply saw its role in regard to Northern Ireland as one of providing some form of echo chamber for the Government or providing occasional standing ovations for it rather than asking the Government the difficult questions which needed to be asked, perhaps the Government's statements would not have been as clear as they were and we would not have achieved the positive results we have achieved. The Government and Opposition have different roles to play and it is not the Opposition's role to be an uncritical supporter of the Government in important events. Rather it is the role of the Opposition to be a critical supporter of the Government in important events. That is the way we on this side of the House have done our job and I think history will show that we have played a very useful role in so far as this issue is concerned, in applying scepticism when necessary and giving support when necessary.

It is important that there is peace and a total cessation of violence. The big fear of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland — this was voiced on radio today — is that of a loyalist backlash, that loyalists will suspect that this event which is so surprising to them could not have happened if there was not some secret deal. I suppose it is the natural tendency of all of us in all walks of life to believe in the conspiracy theory. If one, collectively, had been the victim of some form of violence over the past 25 years one might be even more inclined than normal mortals to believe in conspiracy theories. I have no doubt that many in the loyalist community are tempted to believe that there is a conspiracy, that there is some secret protocol they have not been told about and that they are being sold out. I would not be giving the support I am giving to the Government on this occasion if I believed there was any secret deal. I am convinced there is no secret deal and that the Unionist community in Northern Ireland has nothing to fear from what has happened today.

Deputies

Well said.

The Taoiseach spoke of his lonely road, having to face criticisms himself. In this House I was accussed of being a Unionist by a Member facing me at present. I did not react unduly critically to that; I understood it was said in the heat of the moment. But why was I accused of that? Because I went out of my way, to no electoral benefit to my party, to ensure that the concerns of the Unionists were heard and understood in this House, to make it clear to Unionists north of the Border that we were as concerned about them as with the concerns of our Nationalist fellow Irishmen. The fact that I and other parties in Opposition — and it is equally true of them — have done that gives us greater moral authority than we would have otherwise to say to the Unionist community now that we believe there is nothing for them to fear, we cannot guarantee it but we sincerely believe there is nothing to fear from this; there is no secret deal; nothing but good can come from this; let your reaction be commensurate with that. The fact that we on this side of the House have played the role we have, and been criticised for it from the other side, gives us a greater ability to say that to the Unionist community now and, in that sense, if you like, to complement what the Government is doing in a way we could not have done if we had simply been an echo Chamber for Government pronouncements in the past.

If there is no loyalist cessation of violence I am very confident that now, freed of the necessity of dealing with IRA threats, the RUC will be extremely effective in dealing with Loyalist threats, if they continue, which I hope they will not.

There are one or two other matters to which I wished to refer. I have not prepared a script so I am unable to time myself to the precision with which events occur. I hope the Chair will be reasonable in this respect.

The Deputy is due to conclude at 5.05 p.m.

Thank you, I will manage that.

This is not the occasion for going into detail about what we will say about different events, about what process of verification and negotiation will be necessary about events down the road. This is a day essentially for celebrating something that is very, very good for all of us in this House. However, I should like to say a few things about some of the issues adverted to by the Taoiseach in his contribution. The Taoiseach referred to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and I hope that forum will live up to its name. Anything that I and the Fine Gael Party do will be designed to ensure that it is truly a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Obviously, a forum, if you like, which represents one strand of opinion only in Ireland, one of the two great communities in Ireland, that does not have among its membership the full representation, in so far as it is possible, of the Unionist community, is not really an institution that has the capacity to fulfil its full objective of reconciliation, because it is difficult to reconcile one-self with an absent partner in any walk of life. I believe that a forum that does not include the Unionists will be an incomplete instrument for reconciliation. In the discussions I will have with the Taoiseach — they will be constructive as I want this to work — I will be doing everything possible to ensure that the terms of reference are so drafted as to achieve the maximum level of Unionist participation, so that it will be a genuine Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in nature as well as in name. Obviously, it will take time to verify the permanency of the cessation of violence.

I have said that I believe it is permanent but, obviously, the existence of large stores of offensive weapons in the hands of any organisation, if there is an insistence on their part to retain those weapons indefinitely, calls into question the permanency of its commitment to non-violence. There is no self-defensive purpose to which one can put Semtex explosive; it is purely an offensive instrument. If people insist on maintaining stores of Semtex then one must have some doubts. I believe those doubts can and will be resolved in the normal process of time but they must be probed in constructive discussion and I will be probing, my concerns about the existence of substantial caches of weapons in a constructive way. Obviously it is important not only that those weapons are not used for a political purpose but that they be put out of commission so that they do not find their way into the hands of criminal elements in our society. There is sufficient logistical support available from other sources to the existing criminal confraternity without a large additional source of weaponry being made available to them. Therefore, it is important, from the point of view of everybody committed to respect for law — and I now include Sinn Féin in that — to ensure that that weaponry is put out of commission. However, I will be approaching that difficult issue in a constructive light in the discussions I expect to have with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste on this matter next week.

I also believe it is important to bring to a reasonably speedy conclusion the discussions between the two Governments in regard to the framework document. I was heartened to see, in the proposed reformulation of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and of the Government of Ireland Act, that both Governments are returning to the phraseology of Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which essentially says it all as far as the recognition of the rights of the two communities in Ireland are concerned. We should recognise that, in a sense, what is now taking place is a sort of legal tidying up which essentially just underpins the principles contained in Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Finally, in reference to these matters, it is extremely important at this stage that the Unionist parties take part in multi-party talks in Northern Ireland. There is no ground now for any fear on the part of the Unionist community or the Unionist parties. Any influence I will be exercising on the Unionist parties, both privately and publicly, will be directed towards getting them into the talks processes with the SDLP and the Alliance Party at the earliest possible date in regard to the subject matter of Strand 1 of the overall talks process.

I want to address a human side to all this. In our euphoria, and it is a justifiable euphoria, about what has now happened we must not expect everybody to come to the same conclusions as we have come to at exactly the same pace. It may be easy for us to read the document, to hear John Hume say that there is no secret deal and believe him, as I do, but we must try to put ourselves into the minds, perhaps of the family of the RUC reservist, who was shot two years ago by the IRA. They have suffered a trauma none of us has suffered. It is not easy for them to believe that it is all over, it will take them some time to trust. I speak with some sense of sympathy for and understanding of those who have been the victims of the IRA campaign over the past 25 years. I attended the funeral of Mr. Tom Oliver; I spoke to his widow and brothers and I could see their suffering. It gave me some insight into the way that many other families of victims of the IRA campaign over the past 25 years must feel. It gave me some insight into the way many Nationalist victims of loyalist violence must also feel. It will not be easy for them to forget quickly.

In my time in this House, I saw a member of my own party, also a Member of this House murdered by the IRA. That experience stayed with me and I will carry it to my grave. It makes it difficult for me sometimes to accept people's good faith. I accept the good faith of the statement made today but it is difficult. I hope other Members of the House will realise that if it is difficult for me — and I have been touched only rather tangentially by this violence. It must be immeasurably more difficult for many members of the Unionist and loyalist communities to accept that this is the end of the violence. It will take them a little while to realise it. I share their worry and understand their trauma — as do many others in this House — and I hope we will have the patience to give people the time to understand how truly historic is what has happened today. Everybody needs a little space to realise what is truly happening.

It is a great day for Ireland, for Britain, for Unionists, for Nationalists, a great day for all of us but let us all give people time to understand that. Given that it took perhaps eight years for the Provisional movement to revise its thinking to come to this conclusion we should not expect everybody to come to a complementary conclusion in eight hours. Let us have the patience necessary to make sure it works.

I welcome the remarks of Deputy Bruton, Leader of the Opposition, and thank him for his generosity. I appreciate the co-operation of the leaders of the Opposition parties for the organisation of this debate. The human elements in the background to our discussions in this House have been wisely and aptly described by Deputy Bruton and will be to the forefront of our thinking in our deliberations and actions in following up what has happened today. The word "historic" is much abused. Not all of the events given that description really send echoes down the corridors of history. It is too early as yet to say whether today's announcement will do so, but it certainly has that potential. It turns a new page in our life on this island and we must collectively decide what we will write on that page. Our text, whatever it is to be, will undoubtedly contain difficult and tense passages. Nationalists remain Nationalists, Unionists remain Unionists. There is a direct conflict in their aspirations which must be accommodated. Both sets of rights must be somehow reconciled. The great difference is that there is now an unprecedented opportunity to do so in a common and exclusive commitment to the peaceful political process. We can at last begin to hope that no passage of the text will be written in blood. Until recently that would have seemed a wishful dream.

On this occasion our thoughts are first and foremost with the people of Northern Ireland. They have never known a society free from violence. For the first time we can realistically hope that goal can be attained. There is a duty on all sides to avail of the opportunity which now opens up, and with patience, sensitivity and generosity to reach out for agreement, based on equal respect for the rights and aspirations of both traditions in Ireland and the need for both to have satisfactory expression and protection.

Today's announcement is clearly a decisive advance in the peace process, to which this Government has directed its efforts over the past two years.

In the Partnership Programme which the two parties in Government negotiated before coming into office, the section on Northern Ireland was relatively brief. It was entitledWorking for Peace and the introductory paragraph stated:

The future welfare of all the people of Ireland is overshadowed by the conflict in Northern Ireland, which causes a heavy toll of human suffering and imposes a pointless and unwanted burden in terms of wasted resources and lost economic opportunity. A key element in the Government's programme will be the search for an end to this conflict. We will mobilise all the resources of the Government which can contribute to this process.

On taking office, we made clear that this was a crucial priority for us, in practice as well as in theory. The Taoiseach and I, heading the key Departments involved in this issue, and our Ministerial colleagues in their respective capacities, committed ourselves to the utmost efforts to bring a solution closer.

From my first day in office, I deeply and passionately believed that this Government had no higher duty than the achievement of peace on our island. It was for me no rhetorical figure of speech when the Programme for Government stated the future welfare of all the people of Ireland is overshadowed by this conflict. I have stated on many occasions that to come to grips successfully with this problem would be one of the greatest benefits which could be conferred on all the people of this island and, indeed, on our neighbouring island as well.

Many people might have thought us foolhardy in making Northern Ireland a key priority. The problem was proverbial throughout the world for intractability. Killing and destruction continued unabated. The talks process of 1992 had ended inconclusively, and there seemed little credibility or momentum behind the efforts to revive them. The prudent course might have been to adopt the low-risk strategy of dutifully managing the Northern problem as best we could and concentrating on more promising policy opportunities in other areas.

If we had done so, we would have been guilty of a great dereliction of duty. This conflict has poisoned every area of endeavour and life in Ireland.

The direct and indirect costs of the conflict are too well-known to need repetition here. Even more insidious have been its moral and psychological effects. It is a great delusion to think violence will stay neatly cordoned-off and manageable. Violence on one side spawns imitators on the other. Eventually it contaminates and degrades the whole fabric of society.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am acutely aware also of how the blight of violence reduces the image of Ireland in the world to one of crude caricature. Young Irish people, from North and South, who have travelled throughout the world find to their utter dismay that much of their contact with people from other countries is spent in explaining that this island is not a war zone or a mere factory of hatred. The enormous contribution Ireland has made, and our potential to contribute still further, is tragically lost behind one grim stereotype. Our young people can see most clearly of all how costly, futile and irrelevant this conflict has been, and they look to their political leaders to lay it to rest.

Above all, there was a moral imperative to address this problem. If there was one factor above all others which bonded the British and Irish Governments in their attempts to grapple with the problem, it was a shared feeling that the obscene killings on all sides were an outrage to human decency. It was a reproach to both our democracies, linked, as they are, by the closest ties of culture and human contact, that terrorism had taken root in the spaces left by our constitutional disagreements, and that we seemed helpless to redress it.

In tackling this problem we also had considerable assets. Without being in any way complacent about the depths of division in Northern Ireland, we must recognise the tremendous fund of goodwill, courage and forbearance shown by both communities there. These qualities have stood the test of the most barbaric provocations on both sides. The people of Northern Ireland yearn above all else to be shown a way out of the nightmare of history and division in which, through no fault of theirs, they find themselves. There is a powerful response to be tapped, whenever political leadership can show them that way out.

For both sides in Northern Ireland the experience of the last 25 years has demonstrated beyond all doubt that the politics of coercion and denial, and the violence on both sides which is the extreme logic of such an approach, are futile and counter-productive in the strictest sense of the words. Within the Nationalist community, the courageous witness given from the outset by the leaders of constitutional nationalism, in particular John Hume, Séamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady and Joe Hendron, was steadfast and invaluable. Their vision of a true and inclusive spirit of Irish nationalism has proved more cogent and persuasive with each passing year. The new climate of opinion now emerging in Northern Ireland would have been inconceivable without their resolute stance over the past decades and their courageous leadership.

In our search for a lasting accommodation, there were two constant principles which stood as the bedrock of our policy: The first was the principle of consent. Any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. There is a core of Unionist rights which must be sacrosanct. Respect for these rights is not imposed on us from outside. It derives from our respect for the role of the Unionist community as a distinct community in Ireland. At the same time we made clear that the principle of consent is not a principle exclusively for Unionist benefit. It is a medal with two sides. Nationalists in Northern Ireland are also entitled to live under structures to which they can give their consent. Those structures are still to be created. Our search for agreement is in the last analysis the search for a universal application of the principle of political consent in the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.

The second bedrock principle is the fundamental distinction between democracy and violence. No true dialogue is possible between those on the one hand who accept the constraints and rules of democracy and those, on the other, who accept them only selectively or not at all. Meaningful political dialogue requires a common acceptance of the democratic mandate. Our challenge is not only to remove the gun and the bullet from the politics of the island, but to remove the last vestiges of the gun and the bullet. For that reason it was never enough merely to condemn violence, important though that is also. It was necessary also to show that there was a political alternative which was accessible, dignified and meaningful for all. The Downing Street Declaration made clear that such a political alternative was available, subject only to the condition of a wholehearted commitment to the political path and of drawing empowerment exclusively from the democratic mandate.

The announcement today by the IRA leadership of a complete cessation of violence represents a significant and potentially decisive step forward in the search for lasting peace on our island.

I have been severely critical of the Republican leadership in the past. I will not hesitate to be so in the future, whenever I feel it acts against the wishes or interests of the Irish people. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that it has taken uncommon qualities of courage and vision on the part of that leadership to opt for the political path. In doing so it has had to overcome the weight of the past, the inward-looking tendencies of its movement and the formidable risks and difficulties of such a new beginning for any group in its position. It is entitled in those conditions to full respect for its democratic mandate and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead. It should be the concern of all those committed to the health of democracy on our island to show that the political process is accessible and meaningful for them and those whom they represent, no less than for any other group.

The conflict in Northern Ireland has left deep and painful wounds on all sides. Nothing can restore the loss to those who have suffered in the tragedy, and we must call that to mind at this time. We must also salute the courage and the sacrifices of those on both sides of the Border who have protected the community in accordance with their duty and the rule of law. Many did so at great personal sacrifice, some at the cost of their lives. For our part we can seek only to ensure, with all the resources at our command, that other victims do not suffer similar pain and tragedy in the future. Today's announcement improves immeasurably the prospect of achieving that necessary goal. There is an abundance of pain and grievance on all sides and in both communities. Thanks to this decision, there is now an unprecedented opportunity for all to come out from under the heavy burdens of the past, to work together, in mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, for a better future for all.

The republican leadership has made a courageous move. I appeal to the paramilitaries on the loyalist side to recognise in turn the damage which their violence has inflicted on the whole community and on the ideals they claim to serve. They too have an opportunity now to end their violence. They can, without loss of principle, opt for the political path on their side also. I echo what one loyalist representative said on television recently: "If there is indeed a window of opportunity and the chance to end violence, don't let unionists and loyalists be the ones to close it". In a statement last July another loyalist group insisted it was committed to the quest for a peaceful solution. Its statement said that "Should the Republicans cease hostilities, then we will respond in order to accommodate civilised, magnanimous and productive dialogue". That is indeed an excellent description of the process which all our people want to see in place. The loyalist paramilitary leadership can make its own important contribution to making that dialogue possible and productive.

There are always manifest risks and difficulties inherent in any new beginning. The task of constructing and healing wounds after decades of violence is a daunting one that will test all our energies and skills. For the republican movement, years of political isolation will not be an easy legacy to transcend. Permanent renunciation of violence; maintained and firmly adhered to, will open many doors. It will pave the way for truly inclusive negotiations and provide an historic opportunity to begin the work of healing the misunderstandings and antagonisms which have so damaged relationships on this island and between these islands over the centuries.

The challenge now for all sides is to avail of this unparalleled opportunity to advance the process of accommodation between the two traditions in Ireland and the building of a just and lasting peace. Today's development provides the opportunity for a new beginning in all our relationships. For the first time the road is open to political dialogue between the two Governments and the political parties on an all inclusive basis, under democratic ground rules equally applicable to all. The prospect of such dialogue taking place in a climate free from the threat of violence greatly enhances the prospect of success. We must now set about forging an agreement which can command the support of both traditions on the island. We must show that the divisions among the people of Ireland, however deep and persistent, can be accommodated and resolved exclusively by peaceful, political means.

Peace in Northern Ireland is no threat to any section of the people of this island. It is manifestly a gain for all. I know from the statements which Unionist leaders have made, and my direct or indirect contacts with them, that there is grave disquiet on the part of the Unionist community that this development, however welcome in appearance, may contain some hidden trap.

I acknowledge that for the Unionist community, the past quarter of a century has been a time of what must have appeared unending trial and hardship. It has suffered not only from the impact of violence, but also the disappearance of many reassuring features it had relied on in the political landscape. I accept that its fears are very real, though I believe they are in many respects unfounded.

It would be a great gain for all of us on this island, not least for the Unionist community itself, if the Unionist leadership were to point out to its people the strengths of the Unionist positions, as well as the weaknesses. The first strength of the Unionist community comes from its numbers and cohesion, as a distinct community on this island. The second resource it has is the clear recognition by the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland that its position and rights must be respected. It is almost universally accepted on this island that it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely given consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. In the Joint Declaration, both Governments have provided a guarantee of the basic rights of the Unionist community, in language that is utterly unambiguous and clear.

I want to reassure the Unionist community, with all the emphasis at my command, that this development poses no threat to it. In pursuing the peace process, and in all our positions and contacts, this Government has at all times maintained a complete and unswerving commitment to the Joint Declaration and to all the principles enshrined in it. That includes in particular the principle of consent, the full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland, and the search for agreement between them on a basis that is digified and honourable for both. Our commitments in this respect are on public record. Unionists and Nationalists alike can be assured that there has been no departure from them. There are no secret understandings or hidden dimensions involved in our efforts to promote the cause of peace. What we have said to one group is the same as what we have said to every other. We have said or done nothing in private contact which is not fully compatible with, and indeed fully reflected in, the public statements which we have put on the record.

There are certain political realities on this island which will not change, irrespective of political policy. Whether the framework of reference is Northern Ireland or the island as a whole, Unionists and Nationalists must share that space. The choice is only about whether we do so in peace and reconciliation, or in denial and hostility. We have all tasted the bitter fruits of that latter approach. It is now surely time for something different and better.

To the Unionist leadership I would say from here: the handshake that will truly matter in Irish history is the handshake between the leader of the Unionist tradition and the leader of the Nationalist tradition on this island, setting the seal on an agreement to share this island between us on the basis of solidarity and mutual respect. We need to reach that handshake, because we have seen all too clearly the bitter cost of divisions between us, but the Unionist community need it also. It is a delusion to believe that the Unionist future can be decided or that the Unionist community can thrive and prosper in splendid isolation from the nationalist tradition. We on our side recognise fully and without reservation that there can be no lasting settlement on this island unless Unionists give their free and uncoerced agreement to it.

Looking back, it is always easy to see points at which the course of history might have been altered if statesmanship and political courage had been shown. I have no doubt that we stand at such a pivotal moment today. I believe it is now firmly within our power to shape and determine future developments in ways that lead to a better ordering of relationships on our island and between both islands.

An agreed Ireland is eminently within our reach but it can only be agreed freely and through a process of frank and open dialogue, I hope the leadership of the Unionist community will join in seeking to put to rest an ancient quarrel that has long outlived its time.

In this task, the role of the two Governments remains pivotal in charting a new path to change. Disagreement in Northern Ireland relates to profound political and constitutional issues. No new arrangements can have any realistic possibility of success if they are perceived by one or other community as vindicating or asserting its position at the expense of the other. Both Governments have a strong moral and political obligation to use all their resources to persuade both communities into new arrangements that provide honourable expression to the rights and aspirations of each.

The Joint Declaration has as its core principles the right of self-determination allied to the principle of consent and freedom from coercion. In the Joint Declaration, the British Government acknowledges that the future of Ireland is for the Irish people themselves to decide.

The next stage is to translate the principles of the Joint Declaration into practical arrangements and structures which will accommodate all our relationships. Both Governments are engaged in work on a framework document, reflecting their joint view on where a fair and honourable accommodation will be found. Work is proceeding intensively on this task. That is, of course, independent of today's developments. It is, however, true that the prospects of an accommodation will be greatly enhanced by a background of peace. That opens the way for comprehensive negotiations on a level democratic playing field, where all rely equally on the democratic mandate alone.

In a climate of lasting and permanent peace, we have a unique opportunity to seek a comprehensive and lasting settlement between both traditions on this island. Both communities have irreducible rights that must be respected in any new arrangements. Unionists wish to have their identity expressed in ways that do not in any way challenge or diminish their rights. That is accepted by constitutional Nationalists, North and South. Nationalists, on the other hand, also wish to have their sense of identity given full and meaningful expression. Unionists must accept that this is a legitimate objective and that any new structures must cater for this aspiration alongside their own.

In our search for peace and lasting agreement on our island we have many assets to help us on our journey. There is an enormous fund of goodwill not only among our people but among our many friends abroad. In particular, we have the warm support and goodwill of President Clinton and other political leaders in the United States and their pledge of encouragement and support. For both communities this represents an enormous political and moral asset in the times facing us.

President Clinton in particular has been, as he said, a true friend to Ireland not only on St. Patrick's Day, but on the other 364 days of the year. He has been ably supported by the many true friends of Ireland in the United States.

The challenge and opportunity of peace must not be squandered. For all sides, this will require courage and generosity if we are to take advantage of the new situation. There is, I believe, the best ever opportunity for a lasting settlement on our island. We must all do everything in our power over coming weeks and months to fully grasp the challenges that will face us.

Many years ago, Yeats wrote:

Out of Ireland have we come Great hatred, little room maimed us at the start...

Today, for the first time in many years, we have a real chance to push hatred, antagonism and division to one side and begin the task of healing and reconciliation.

Shortly after taking office I spoke of the prospects for peace in the following terms.

We stand a few years away from a new millennium. We may cross that threshold still crushed under the baggage of our history. We could however set it now as our goal to cross it under a new dispensation, and to ensure that conflict in Ireland does not carry forward into yet another century.

We could achieve permanent agreement on how our relationships will be ordered, through reciprocal guarantees between our two traditions which will transcend and ultimately disarm all disputes about sovereignty.

The Unionist community could feel secure on this island. The Nationalist aspiration could appear to them in its true essence, as a tribute to the potential contribution their tradition can make to all of Ireland and a guarantee of a full role in that respect if or when they freely chose to exercise it.

All sectors of opinion in Ireland without exception could see in Britain a friend, and a welcome partner in fostering the bonds of solidarity.

We could enter a new millennium having removed the gun from politics, and, therefore, without a gun on any street.

The tragedy of young lives wasted in jail could end. The Maze could once again mean only a racecourse, or be a receding memory of problems overcome.

Instead of Northern Ireland being a footnote in an ever more crowded and dismal catalogue of ethnic conflict, it could be a shining example of how such conflict may be resolved.

Thanks to today's announcement that is now less of a pipe-dream than it sounded in March 1993.

I am proud of the mutual co-operation and understanding between the officials of the Office of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs in their approach to the problems and conflict in Northern Ireland. It is essential that there should be co-operation and goodwill between both Departments. I congratulate the Taoiseach, in particular, on what has been achieved today. I appeal for all in Ireland to deploy all resources of political courage and imagination to make it a reality. The potential of the new position challenges us all to a new beginning.

Today is a day to look forward. As Leader of the Progressive Democrats I warmly welcome the cessation of the IRA campaign of murder and destruction announced earlier today. It is for this we have all worked and yearned for many years. Peace is and always has been the just entitlement of all the people of this island. Its restoration is the proper cause for happiness and relief. If the complete cessation of violence is demonstrated and proved to be permanent and irrevocable, that will open the way for those who were engaged in, or supportive of, that violence to enter and participate fully in the constitutional democratic process. In that context, it would be the duty and privilege of all constitutional democratic politicians to show courage, imagination and, indeed, generosity in working with all those Nationalists and Unionists who are unambiguously committed to the values of democratic politics. My party and I will play a full part in advancing the cause of democratic politics on this island.

The failure of the IRA statement today to explicitly employ words which state the permanent and irreversible nature of the cessation of violence may be explained by reasons of self-esteem or a view of historical consistency. If face must be saved by employing one formula of words rather then another, and if lives can be saved at the same time, it would be churlish and ungenerous to withhold co-operation and goodwill on that account alone. However, if the formula of words employed betokens any degree of conditionality, ambivalence or impermanence the implications would be serious. I trust, pray and hope that is not the case. The assurances I received today from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, who both believe that it represents a permanent cessation of violence, is certainly reassuring. No one who is irrevocably committed to peaceful democratic politics needs an arsenal of weapons for death or destruction.

The Taoiseach spoke earlier about making the peace process irreversible. There is a danger that a failure to accomplish speedy disarmament may create the circumstances where a splinter group of the Provisionals may go it alone or in which a minority among the Provisionals may seek to persuade the present majority to revert to violence. Apart altogether from this, there is the issue of trust. How could any constitutional politician of whatever hue be asked to engage in dialogue on the basis of equality and good faith if one party to that process implicitly reserves the right and retains the capacity to use violence if it does not get its way? Accordingly, it is vital that the permanent and irreversible nature of this cessation of violence should be unambiguously demonstrated at the earliest available opportunity.

For my part it is opportune to reiterate today the consistent view of my party about the shape of a viable settlement on which to build peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and between both parts of this island. The first principle is that set down in article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and restated in the Downing Street Joint Declaration. In particular I welcome the Tánaiste's reassurance that consent will be the principle on which agreement will be reached. That is the majoritarian principle which states clearly that the external constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only change if that is freely and formally chosen by a majority of the people in Northern Ireland. The corollary of that principle is that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom unless and until a majority of its people freely chooses to join a united Ireland. As the Anglo-Irish Agreement acknowledged, the wish of the present majority is for no change, and it is unrealistic to anticipate a change in that view in the foreseeable future.

There can be no backsliding into violence or coercion. If the democratic political process does not yield a result acceptable to the IRA but yields instead a settlement which is acceptable to the majority, there can be no reversion to extra-constitutional or political violence. The two Governments and both communities must resolve today that never again will they countenance the combination of violence and politics and that those who still loiter on the fringes of politics and violence must understand and appreciate that combining violence with politics will never be permitted in any shape or form again.

I acknowledge that the acceptance of the validity of the majoritarian principle is not being made a pre-condition for entry by Sinn Féin to the democratic process, but Sinn Féin should be aware that it will be alone in the proposed Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in not accepting that principle. Any foreseeable settlement, therefore, to which the democratic constitutional parties, Nationalist and Unionist, will agree will have that principle as its cornerstone. Unless Sinn Féin agrees to work with that political reality, whatever its own reservations, its input to a settlement will be limited indeed.

The need now is for a radical political transformation of Northern Ireland to give both communities a sense of ownership and participation in politics, institutions and cultural life. On that there can be no veto. The maintenance of the union is a bilateral process and the British Government must indicate that such a transformation is a necessary condition for its continuance. Northern Ireland needs a written constitution enshrining and encompassing that political transformation, creating and regulating an assembly, establishing a body with executive powers, the creation of a constitutional Judiciary and a Bill of both personal and community rights. A new settlement will necessarily entail entirely new security measures in Northern Ireland with new police institutions comprising members of both communities which will earn the unequivocal respect and support of both communities.

We have never believed that any worthwhile settlement in Northern Ireland can be accomplished on the basis of internal change alone. While the people of the South seek no role in what the Tánaiste has described as the governance of Northern Ireland, cross-Border bodies must be put in place to exercise delegated executive powers agreed on by both communities in areas where there is a need for practical mutual co-operation. The constitutional legislation of Ireland and the United Kingdom must fairly and squarely reflect not only constitutional aspirations but also the constitutional and international legal realities. I believe that both parts of this island and both communities owe each other the obligation of full faith and credit, whatever the constitutional choice of the majority for the time being in Northern Ireland.

Every person on this island is entitled to pursue political aims by peaceful democratic means, including those who seek what they describe as British withdrawal. Abandonment of violence does not mean having to abandon such objectives. However, we cannot proceed on the basis that the Unionist community is required to accept or concede that its preference is doomed by history or demography to fail. Such an approach would be inconsistent with reconciliation and normalisation of Northern Ireland politics and would only perpetuate polarisation and alienation. Instead we need to honour the wishes of a majority, whatever that may be, and extend the hand of friendship, irrespective of constitutional and political differences.

I agree with the comments made earlier by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Deputy Bruton that Unionists have nothing to fear from what was announced today; they have everything to gain because the IRA campaign over the past 25 years has been essentially waged against them and their community. However, telling Unionists they have nothing to fear will not be sufficient. We have to display, in what we do and in what follows from today that they can trust us and that they can rely on us.

The Taoiseach spoke earlier about the need to move forward quickly. There must, in no circumstances, be what is commonly called a pan-nationalist front. That would be a recipe for disaster and not a recipe for ending the real border in this country, the border of mistrust and fear between the two divided communities on this island. If we want to build on what has been agreed today that can only be done on the basis of trust. In this House we have cautioned the Unionist community to respond calmly and reflectively to the developments today. The same advice applies equally to ourselves. The difficulties, contradictions and uncertainties which accompany today's developments should not be underestimated. On the contrary there is an equal if not greater need for reasoned pragmatic and consistent politics south of the Border if the values of reconciliation and mutual trust are to win out.

Over many years there have been a number of watersheds — Sunningdale, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Downing Street Declaration. Each, in its own way, has played a major part in what has come about today. Each has been seen as a watershed that would irreversibly change the situation in Northern Ireland. Each has raised hopes and expectations and, unfortunately, on many occasions those hopes and expectations have not been realised. I hope that today's watershed is the real watershed, that from here on there can be no going back to what we have had for the past 25 years. Deputy Bruton's reference to Tom Oliver reminded me of the real people of courage that we should be saluting today, all those people in the constitutional parties in the North, in the Alliance Party, in the SDLP and in the Official Unionist Party. Sitting so close to somebody like Deputy Austin Currie brings home to us the great courage that people like that have shown over very many years. There are also people in the community like Fr. Denis Faul and the Families Against Intimidation and Terror, many of whom have lost loved ones, were maimed and lost businesses, yet refuse to engage in violence. They are the real people whose courage we must salute because they and they alone have brought us to where we are today. They have proved that violence does not and will not work and, at the end of the day, they and people like them must be vindicated.

As I said at the outset, today is a day to look forward, not back. We gain nothing by going back on what happened. I particularly urge the Unionist leadership in Northern Ireland to show courage and to be calm. I understand their reservations — they have suffered more than most at the hands of the IRA and it will take some time for them to build up the kind of trust that will be required to have a new agreement on this island. If they are calm and cautious and show that kind of courage, and we in this House play our part, I am quietly optimistic that today will indeed mark a watershed, a day after which things will never be the same.

Everyone who wants to see a permanent end to violence and a lasting peace on this island must welcome the ceasefire announced today by the IRA. It is a potentially historic development which will hopefully free the people of Northern Ireland from the terrible cycle of death and destruction which has taken such a terrible toll over the past 25 years.

I hope that the ceasefire means that Sinn Féin and the IRA are now closing the door firmly on violence by accepting that the gun and the bomb have no role to play in the pursuit of its political objectives. If that is the case it will create a totally new situation and provide a basis for the peaceful pursuit of agreement on the complex problems of Northern Ireland. I hope that all other paramilitaries in Northern Ireland will follow suit and that nobody will act in such a way as to dash the hopes of the overwhelming majority of people for peace. All possible influence must now be exerted on loyalist paramilitaries to declare a ceasefire also.

It is understandable if there is a mixed reaction to the ceasefire in those communities which have suffered so terribly at the hands of the IRA. Relief at the halting of the campaign will be tempered by fears of some sort of secret deal to undermine the wishes of the greater number of people in Northern Ireland that there should be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It is important that the two Governments should now act urgently to reassure Unionist opinion that this will not happen. It will be tragic if the alienation of Nationalists is simply replaced by the alienation of loyalists. Every word and action by each and every politician must be carefully weighed to ensure that confidence in the political process is restored and that no excuse is given for a resort to violence by any of the paramilitary groups.

There are now genuine grounds for optimism but not for any false euphoria. There are many problems yet to be overcome and it will require goodwill and effort all round to build successfully on this ceasefire. Most of all it will require a willingness to compromise on all sides. If this is forthcoming then we may at last be able to put two and a half decades of terrible violence behind us and look to the future with real hope.

The IRA statement, on the face of it, goes as far as might have been reasonably expected. It does not contain an unequivocal renunciation of violence, but hopefully that will evolve with time.

While the overwhelming public reaction is one of relief, there should be no question of rewriting history or attempting to turn the leadership of Sinn Féin-IRA into some sort of heroes. These are the people who have organised and led one of the most vicious campaigns of violence that has ever been inflicted on the people of this island. The indisputable fact is that the past quarter of a century has represented 25 tragic and wasted years. Three and a half thousand people have died unnecessarily, many thousands more were maimed and millions and millions of pounds worth of damage caused to property. The IRA statement about the "many gains and advances made for Nationalists" is such an attempt to rewrite history. Murder has neither advanced the cause of Nationalism nor weakened the resolve of Unionism. Indeed, many people who formerly espoused a united Ireland turned away from the idea, sickened by the attempts of the IRA to inflict an unwanted united Ireland on the people of the North.

The civil rights movement through peaceful, democratic mass action, achieved in two years far more for Nationalists than 25 years of IRA mayhem. The civil rights movement secured electoral change, housing reform, the disarming of the RUC, the disbandment of the B Specials and the abolition of the Special Powers Act. Unfortunately, the IRA campaign of violence drove the civil rights movement from the streets and resulted in the undoing of many of the reforms achieved in the 1968-1971 period.

I am sure much will be written about the past 25 years, but one point should be borne in mind: the people who created the Provisional IRA were those who steadfastly opposed the engagement of the republican movement in the civil rights campaign. It was the grasping by those people who opposed the civil rights movement of the opportunities created by the opposition of Unionism to change which resulted in the past 25 years of violence.

We must learn the lessons of history but not, as has happened too often in the past, become besotted by it. We must now look to the future and build upon the hope provided by today's IRA statement. The onus is now on Sinn Féin to establish its democratic creditionals. Association with violence must end; the bomb and the bullet have no place in the culture of democracy.

There have been calls from Sinn Féin for reciprocal gestures from the British Government and for steps to demilitarise the situation in the North. Certainly I believe that a complete cessation of violence in Northern Ireland should result in a reduction in the level of troops on the streets there, and their eventual withdrawal to barracks. There is also a need for sensitive but effective policing in the immediate future. There must be no area of Northern Ireland where legitimate policing is excluded. I make that point deliberately arising from the statement by Gerry Adams that the RUC is not acceptable to Nationalists. I do not accept that. No community can be left to the mercy of paramilitary "justice" and there must be a speedy move to an accountable, civilianised police service.

There is a need for gestures from the IRA to demonstrate that its statement today does represent a fundamental change in its approach. One simple gesture which would go a long way to demonstrate its bona fides is to lift the so-called exclusion orders against many people, mainly young, who have been driven from their homes and communities at the point of an IRA gun. Let them now return to their homes and their families and we can begin to believe that the IRA has changed its position on violence.

Mr. Adams has also called on people to recognise Sinn Féin's electoral mandate. I have no problem in recognising Sinn Féin's electoral mandate on the same basis as any other party's mandate is respected, but there can be no question of recognising any mandate which is backed up by the use or threat of the bomb and the bullet. Provided the IRA ceasefire is shown to be genuine, Sinn Féin is entitled to the same access to Government as any other party in Northern Ireland or the Republic. While today's statement is a significant and very welcome development, it is clear there is still a long way to go before lasting peace can be guaranteed.

On the Sinn Féin mandate and recognition of it, as said, Sinn Féin is entitled to access to Government in the same way as any other party, but that is not to say it is entitled to sit down in round table talks without a precondition of any kind because for that to happen it must have the acceptance of all the parties participating in those talks, including the Unionist parties. It must convince not only us that it is genuine but it must also convince the Unionist parties.

In every decade since 1916 republicans have resorted to the gun to try to advance their objectives. It will take an enormous effort on the part of all democratic politicians to create the conditions in which the gun will be permanently removed from Irish politics. At the same time we must take hope and encouragement from the realisation that many people before have made the difficult transition from militant republicanism to democratic politics. It is, I know from my own experience, a rocky road. I, too, once believed that it was legitimate to pursue the objective of a united Ireland by force, but I long ago came to abhor and detest violence. I hope that those in Sinn Féin-IRA who now appear to be taking the first tentative steps in the direction of democratic politics see the process through by renouncing violence and arguing their case before the electorate in the normal democratic way.

While the statement may reflect the genuine views of the Sinn Féin-IRA leadership, there is always the danger that groups within that organisation may reject that approach. There are smaller Nationalist paramilitary groups that may want to sabotage the entire process. Clearly, the verification of the ceasefire and the decommissioning of arms are issues that are going to have to be addressed at an early stage. At no stage in Irish history has the IRA ever voluntarily handed over its arms, yet if these deadly weapons are not taken out of circulation the prospects of real peace will be at risk. There is a particular fear in Belfast that some of these weapons may find their way into the hands of criminal gangs in Belfast and other areas. Of course, recent events in Dublin have shown that there is, in many respects, little to choose between the paramilitary and criminal gangs.

When I spoke in the debate here after the Downing Street Declaration I said that the prospect of handing its arms to the British Army or the RUC might prove an insurmountable barrier for the Provos. I suggest then that it would be worth offering the facility of the voluntary handing of arms over to the security forces in the Republic or, perhaps, the United Nations may have a role to play in this regard. Separate arrangements would have to be made for the loyalist paramilitaries — but some such arrangements need to be made in the near future. There are other steps which will need to be taken to build on the peace process. For those who may be reluctantly storing arms or explosives under pressure, there should be a series of 24 hour free periods initiated without advance publicity, in which individuals could surrender weapons without fear of penalties.

The ending of virtually every politically motivated armed conflict throughout the world has involved amnesties or the early release of prisoners. We will have to face up to the fact that, distasteful as it will be to many of the victims of violence, some sort of similar arrangements will have to be part of any overall political settlement in Northern Ireland. Steps will have to be taken to assist with the reintegration of prisoners and former paramilitary activists into the community.

An urgent priority for the two Governments will be measures to start rebuilding the economy of Northern Ireland from the awful impact of the destruction of the past 25 years. Just as unemployment has contributed to the conditions in which the paramilitaries were able to prosper, so a major job-creation programme can help build peace. There should be no question of the British or Irish Governments viewing the prospect of peace as an opportunity to save money. Funding for Northern Ireland should be ring-fenced. Money no longer needed for security purposes should be diverted for job-creation and social reconstruction. People losing jobs as a result of the scaling down of security must be relocated in new jobs and not thrown on the dole.

The whole thrust of the effort of the Government since the Downing Street Declaration has been directed towards securing the support of Nationalists in Northern Ireland. There were times when I believed that the Taoiseach's judgment in this regard was at fault and I said so. The Taoiseach was at times quite sensitive about any criticism of his approach, but I believe that, given what had happened over the past 25 years, it was important that the Opposition parties should remain questioning and, where necessary, sceptical.

For instance, I believe that a significant turning point in the whole process was the Letterkenny Sinn Féin conference. It was the strongly critical reaction from the Opposition parties and the media that brought it home to Sinn Féin that it would no longer be able to get away with half measures and equivocation. Without that strongly critical reaction the process would have been spun out even further.

There is a need for the two Governments to put equal effort into reassuring Unionist opinion. In this regard, there is a particular onus on the Government and the parties in this House. Can we not respect the Unionist people of Northern Ireland for what they are? Can we stop treating them in a condescending manner, as some prodigal children for whom it is only a matter of time before they return to the bosom of the Irish family? Can we not stop referring to them as "our people", when it is clear that they do not regard themselves as "our people" and when many regard the term as offensive?

What ultimately divides people in Northern Ireland is not religion, race or ethnicity, but national allegiance. While recognising that, just as in any other society, there are many other differences between people and groups in Northern Ireland, the one difference which has been at the heart of the instability, violence and terrorism is the division between the two different national identities. National allegiance is at the core of the issue.

We in Democratic Left will seek an agreement which works to ensure that in time a politics develops in Northern Ireland where other identities such as class, gender and others take precedence over national identities in determining political outcomes. This can only be done by first recognising that the opposing national allegiances have real meaning and importance for both groups.

As Irish nationalism now appears to be in the process of conceding the legitimacy of the position of Unionism in Northern Ireland, it is time that the British State also recognises that it has within its boundaries a sizeable proportion of people who do not subscribe to British nationality, and whose national identity must be respected, officially recognised and valued.

In any political agreement reached on the future of Northern Ireland there can be no majority rule. At the same time, power sharing on the basis of national allegiance would institutionalise divisions and make more problematic the emergence of a common identity.

The concept of weighted majority decision-making at central and local level should be a core feature of any new political structure in order to incorporate widespread community support for major decisions. The constitutional agreement that emerges must also ensure the protection of individual human and civil rights. Weighted majority decision-making would mean, for example, that for all major decisions, particularly in sensitive areas, the support of 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the people would be required to carry a decision. This requirement would have the effect of decisions having to be negotiated and not imposed. If we can create the structures within which an Irish national identity can be expressed and valued in a manner which does not undermine its neighbours, the hold of extreme nationalism on a section of the people will wane. If Unionists are given their security, loyalist extremism will decline. Any agreement that does not recognise the potency of the dual nationalism will founder.

The reaction so far to the IRA statement from the Unionist community, both Unionist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries, has been understandably sceptical, but not entirely negative. As I said, it is understandable that communities which have suffered so much at the hands of the IRA will be sceptical. Loved ones, brutally murdered can never be brought back. Limbs can never be replaced. The deep wounds of the past 25 years will take time to heal. To expect otherwise is to ignore the realities of what has happened in Northern Ireland.

I hope the loyalist paramilitaries will at the very least take time to assess the situation, to consider the implications of the IRA statement, and to see if there is a genuine cessation of violence on the part of the IRA. I hope that having done so, they will also call a cessation to all violence. Loyalist paramilitaries have always maintained that their violence was primarily a reaction to the activities of the IRA. They are now presented with an opportunity to demonstrate their bona fides in this regard.

The Unionist community in Northern Ireland has endured appalling suffering at the hands of the IRA and has a particular interest in the securing of peace. I understand its fears and apprehension that some secret deal on the future of Northern Ireland may have been done between the IRA and the two Governments which would undermine its position. I have no reason to believe that such is the case, but I can certainly assure the Unionist community that Democratic Left will not be a party to any such deals. I can also assure it that we will not support any future political structures for Northern Ireland which fail to recognise its position, as we will with regard to the position of Nationalists.

Despite the reservations and fears I have expressed and the problems I have identified, the predominant feeling today must be one of optimism. There have been times over the past 25 years when such was the level of viciousness and violence that the people of Northern Ireland have almost been robbed of the right to hope. There have been particularly bleak times when the paramilitaries seemed to have been involved in a deadly game to outdo each other in terms of the atrocities they could inflict. But now at last the people of Northern Ireland can begin to hope again.

All who have played a role in advancing the peace process to the current position are entitled to credit — obviously, I include the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in that — but the real heroes of the past 25 years have been the ordinary people of Northern Ireland and the Republic. Despite provocation, blandishments and intimidation, only a minority of the people of Northern Ireland have ever given any support to the paramilitary groups or to their political fronts, even fewer have given such support in the Republic. In the end the reason the Provisional IRA campaign of violence failed — as previous republican campaigns failed — was that the people would not support them. For that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the ordinary people of this island.

Ocáid stairiúil í seo. Níl dabht ach go seasann Éireannaigh inniu ag crosbhóthar i stair ár dtíre. Níor chreid go leor go dtarlódh a leithéid lena linn féin agus fáiltíonn Gaeil sa mbaile agus i gcéin roimh an gcraoladh ón IRA i dtaobh scoir iomlán ón bhforéigean. Tá deis le tapú anois ag na páirtithe polaitíochta ar an oileán seo agus ag an bpobal a thacaíonn dóibh. Guíom go dtapófar an deis sin anois.

Behind us, I hope forever, are the years of wanton violence and immeasurable anguish and suffering. The nightmare, thankfully, is over. We are now presented with the best ever opportunity for peace on this island. This opportunity for peace must be grasped. We must not and cannot allow it to be squandered. A permanent peace encompassing a just and equitable resolution for all traditions must be the overwhelming goal of all involved in political life on these islands.

This debate has been prompted by the decision of the IRA to completely end its 25 year campaign of violence. Obviously, as Minister for Justice, I warmly welcome this decision. As Minister for Justice, I am keenly aware of the huge loss of life and the pain and suffering caused by violence on both sides of the divide over the years. We will continue to sympathise with victims who have survived that violence and express our heartfelt regret for people who have died a violent death.

Tribute is owed to all who played a part in this new dawning which has been the product of intense effort, great courage, faith and commitment on the part of many people. To the fore, were the two Heads of Government, Deputy Albert Reynolds and John Major, who respectively decided at a very early stage that the attainment of peace in Northern Ireland should top their respective political agendas. The Taoiseach's clear political judgment, far sightedness and tenacity have been central to this entire process. Centrally and crucially involved at all stages also were the Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, Sir Patrick Mayhew and others in this jurisdiction and outside who have been carefully laying the path on which we can all now begin to walk towards a bright, new future for all the people on this island. That future will be characterised by justice, by respect for diversity and allegiance, by enhanced opportunity for economic development and prosperity and, above all by harmony and peace.

As Minister for Justice, it is right that I pay particular tribute to the steadfastness and professionalism of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces in their long-standing battle against terrorism. As a democratic politician, I unreservedly espouse the view that there is no place for the gun in the political process. I welcome the IRA's definite commitment to the success of the democratic peace process recognising that political goals and objectives can be met by democratic methods rather than by violence and terror.

As to the security implications of today's developments. I need hardly say they are considerable. In general the aim of all our endeavours should be to nurture the peace which has commenced. It behoves us all to exercise great care in what we say and do so as to ensure that possibilities now presented are fully realised. It is a time for calm, dispassionate reflection rather than hasty, passionate reaction. We are dealing fundamentally with a problem which requires political solutions. Security developments though crucial to the process of finding peace do not in themselves contain the answer. We need now to build trust, to seek reconciliation and to reach agreement on our future.

In purely security terms, we are in a new, and for us, an unprecedented situation. Naturally, issues of the type which have arisen in comparable situations throughout the world will fall to be addressed — the type of issue which had to be addressed, for example, in South Africa and the Middle East such as the details of demilitarisation and the position of prisoners.

I assure the House that the Government will address such issues in a pragmatic and just manner, always mindful that the fundamental duty on Government is to protect life and safety. I think it best, today, to lay emphasis on the point that the fundamental aim of all we do in the area of security is to protect life and safety and the best way to achieve this, right now, is to ensure that what we do is directed towards the maintenance of the peace which we have in our grasp.

If I appeal for anything today, as Minister for Justice, it is that we do not try to pretend that we now know the answer to everything. We should not, in an attempt to pretend that we have all the answers, speculate about the details of arrangements that might be put in place on security issues which might be misinterpreted, or might be wrong or simply might come out in a way that would unwittingly blight the emerging peace bud.

The fundamental points are, first that the Government will judge all its actions carefully with the benefit of the best professional and other advice available to it with the aim of maintaining peace and thereby protecting life and safety and, second, in finding a settlement we will proceed by means of inclusive dialogue in accordance with the principles outlined in the Joint Declaration. There are no side deals or preconditions beyond that and anybody entering the dialogue which must now take place need not have any fears whatsoever on that score.

The Northern conflict has resulted in enormous waste of resources which unavoidably had to be committed towards additional security measures over the years. Between 1969 and 1993 the total additional security costs to the Irish Government due to the Northern Ireland situation was estimated to have been in the region of £2.4 billion. It is easy to imagine the benefits of spending these moneys in a more productive way.

Along with countless others, I look forward to the chance to enjoy the benefits of peace and the dividends which would flow from the diversion of the public moneys currently expended on security measures to more productive uses.

It is not, of course, simply a matter of our having the opportunity, with sustained peace in this country, to divert our own resources towards other purposes. It is reasonable to expect that the impact of today's development on inward investment to this island should also be quite significant. Ireland is clearly seen as a desirable location for such investment, evidenced by the fact that, despite the difficulties we faced on the security front, we managed to attract substantial inward investment in job creation. With the security threat out of the way, the potential on this front is enormous.

As Minister for Justice, I certainly welcome the opportunity, in a settled peace situation, of diverting Garda resources towards the continuing battle against crime. Apart from appealing for care in what we say on possible security implications and arrangements at this time, it is appropriate also that I request that we take every possible opportunity of assuring the Unionist community that they have nothing to fear from today's development nor from anything that led to it. It is as much in our interest as it is theirs that they be left in no doubt on this score because doubt produces speculation and confusion which, in a troubled community, can all too easily be preyed upon by those who, for whatever reason, fear peace and stability.

It would be the greatest folly for any Government, striving to put the years of death and destruction behind it, to enter a process of back door deals inimical to the interests of either the majority or the minority community in Northern Ireland. That is why there have been no back door deals.

Our Government and the British Government have formally and publicly outlined the principles by which they will be guided in the Joint Declaration. Fundamentally, both Governments recognise that consent between our divided communities, rather than any form of coercion, must be the bedrock of any future settlement. The Joint Declaration makes it clear on behalf of both our Governments that it would be wrong to impose a united Ireland in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The Joint Declaration also re-affirms the joint pledge on this issue enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

I fervently hope that loyalist paramilitaries will respond to today's development, that they will reject the use of violence and rely exclusively on the democratic political process to achieve their political objectives. Not one more life should be lost. We have seen too many coffins, too many grieving parents and children, too many scarred lives, too much destruction, too much bitterness. We never want to see it again.

Many speakers referred to the historic nature of this afternoon's debate. It is difficult to define an historic debate and perhaps we should leave that to the historians, but it will be conceded by all that there is a welcome sense of optimism in Dáil Éireann this afternoon which I am sure is felt throughout Ireland and indeed throughout the international community. Anyone concerned about Ireland and its future must feel much better today than they felt a week, a month or 12 months ago.

The optimism felt this afternoon was not there when we discussed Northern policy in recent years. Unfortunately, we were obliged to speak harsh words of condemnation and pessimism and there were few opportunities to speak optimistically. The few bright dawns and hopes — Sunningdale, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration — were sadly too frequently interspersed with debates on Enniskillen, Greysteele and similar disasters. I hope the optimistic vein of this afternoon will continue in the months and years ahead.

It is not our job to speak of whether it is a time to go, rather it is a time to speak of peace. It is not a time to speak of victory, who won or lost or who did this or that. There could not have been victory as far as Northern Ireland was concerned, there would only have been more defeats and deaths. It is time for a new beginning, calmness, reassurance and a reasoned and reasonable attitude on all sides.

It is because we do not wish and cannot afford to go back to the dark days of the past that we must give a wholehearted welcome to the announcement of the ceasefire today. We must be generous in what we say about it and about those who put it in place. We must take the ceasefire at face value. I and many in Northern Ireland would like to have seen the word "permanent" used in the formula of wording. However different realities require different solutions and when a group which has been out in the cold for 70 years decides to come in, it is understandable that the language used may be not as precise as we would wish.

I support Deputy Bruton's statement that we must take today's announcement as being the announcement of a permanent cessation of violence. The message must go from Dáil Éireann that the constitutional parties in the Republic recognise that the IRA have called a permanent ceasefire and brought a new reality to the Northern debate. While recognising that Sinn Féin and the IRA have caused much death, destruction and despair North and South, we must also recognise that many people in those organisations suffered. We cannot expect that they would have thrown in the towel. We all welcome what happened today and must understand it for what it is. I hope we can all work for a new beginning.

Notwithstanding the sense of optimism we feel, we must recognise, as Deputy Bruton clearly stated, that many people in Northern Ireland will see no hope in today's events. They will see betrayal, fear for their future, doubt and concern. In many Northern homes tonight not euphoria but despair will reign. Our primary duty and that of the Government and the British Government over the next few vital days and weeks will be to allay their fears. We must never cease to reassure them that an agreed Ireland which is in everyone's interest will only come about with their consent. That consent must remain at the foundation of our policy on Northern Ireland and in that regard. I was reassured by what the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said. We had the welcome reassurance that the vast majority of public opinion supports that analysis.

When one looks back at the past 25 years and notes how public opinion changed, what comes to mind is the significant way in which public opinion changed towards the question of unity by consent. If public opinion polls were taken in Cork, Dublin, Waterford and Limerick 25 years ago there would have been a strong, perhaps unthinking, consensus that nothing but unity would suffice. Solid leadership given by politicians in the Republic has brought about the position in which the vast majority of people recognise that unity can only come about by consent and that must remain the foundation stone of public policy. When one reflects on the positive developments of the past 25 years and gives due recognition and credit to Deputies Reynolds and Spring, former Deputy FitzGerald for the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Deputy Haughey, one would have to note the remarkable stance taken in the early 1970s by the leaders of the day namely Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave — two leaders who led the country at a time when simplistic solutions would have been much easier to put forward as public policy rather than the more difficult and tough choices they made. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to both of them for laying down so firmly and decisively in the difficult days of the early and mid-1970s that political progress in this State could only come about through political discussion, debate and consent. What they put in place then is bearing fruit today.

There is a serious onus on the leadership of the Ulster Unionist parties to address themselves to a changed situation. I accept they will find it difficult to do so and that we cannot expect overnight conversions but I hope the reasoned and reasonable stance taken over the past number of months particularly by Mr. Molyneaux will lead them to the discussion table at the earliest possible opportunity. We welcome the recognition today by one side of the equation that real political progress can only come through dialogue and not violence. It must be our hope and aspiration that the Unionist community, those on the verges of that community and the extremists in it will also recognise that fact and that they face no threat from the Oireachtas, from what has happened today or from the Government; that progress will come about through discussion and political means and that they will take their place at the peace table at the earliest opportunity.

I wish to share my time with my colleague, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for providing time for this debate today.

The announcement today of a total ceasefire by the Provisional IRA marks the culmination of years of quiet, courageous work by many people in public life whose vital contribution is hidden in the background. On behalf of my colleagues who will not have an opportunity to contribute to this debate and my constituents, I wish to commend to the God of peace all those whose public and private efforts have today borne fruit. Today is a day of peace that I hope augurs well for years of peaceful living to counter the tears shed and the many years of bitterness and deep division that have bedevilled our country. I am sure the founders of our nation as well as all our past Presidents and Taoisigh would have been mightily pleased that a new era of peaceful dialogue will replace a most distressful period of sectoral strife, mayhem and heartbreak.

As the Opposition party leaders acknowledged, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have, on behalf of the Irish people, shown wisdom and great courage in relentlessly pursuing the peace dividend, in spite of many setbacks and great difficulties. They supported, from the outset, the heroic efforts of the Leader of the SDLP, Mr. John Hume, in his breakthrough talks with the President of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams and they have tirelessly sought to maintain the momentum necessary to achieve today's historic result. In conjunction with Prime Minister John Major, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste expressed in the Downing Street Declaration the rights of all citizens on this island to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, free from the battering ram of brute force and brutal encounter. The way forward for all sectors of our island community is, and can only be, through inclusive and mutually respectful dialogue that neither excludes the dreams and aspirations of any group nor precludes the possibilities of future agreed developments to which all can subscribe.

Recently we saw, from afar the peaceful negotiations that led to free and fair elections in South Africa and an agreed programme of peaceful progress between Israel and the Palestinian nation. Joy at those successes was always tinged with sadness at our own unresolved historical impasse and the heritage of the torn social fabric from which there seemed at times to be no escape. It appeared to us that the armed struggle was such an integral part of our history, that it might never be accepted as merely a phase of our history which had become redundant in its destructiveness and counterproductive in its divisiveness. The Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, have brought great honour to this House and to this nation by the tenacity with which they have followed the star of peace darkened from our view for 25 years. Their joint commitment has not always been met with words of praise and political plaudits. There were, as ever, the hard words of those who believe that dialogue should not be entered into with those who in any way support violence and the soft insinuating voices of those who sought to imply that support for the peace dialogue was equivalent to softness on violence. Neither was true nor correct. The Government would never pay the price of ambivalence when it comes to violence. They were consistently clear in their views and objectives.

Both Governments have made it clear throughout this entire process of negotiation that a complete cessation of violence was a prerequisite to further progress on the path of peace. Today's decision by the IRA to lay down its arms indicates that it has listened to and accepted the inexorable logic of John Hume and the Government that the hands of friendship are more powerful than the mouths of guns; that coercion and force harden the hearts of all, attacker and victim alike; that one's best guarantee of freedom is to ensure one's neighbour's right of free expression and public pride in traditions that are different from one's own.

As Eamon de Valera said in agreeing with the then Taoiseach John A. Costello in 1957 "the problem of Partition cannot be solved by force". Our generation has come to accept that problems cannot be solved by force whether they arise in the home, in our schools, in constraining criminals and lawbreakers or in any field of social activity. Violence sows the seeds of further violence as the doleful litany of outrage perpetrated over the past 25 years clearly shows. A climate of fear engenders anger, bewilderment, social antipathy and paralysis of creative thinking. Those who are being backed into a corner can hardly be blamed for trying to protect themselves. That is why the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have been at pains from the very outset to allay the fears of those who cherish the Union.

There is a mutuality of common pain on both sides of the Northern divide. We in the Republic understand this darkly through the glass of separation and the refraction of distance. The pain of all those who have been touched by tragedy will endure a lifetime and longer. None of that pain and suffering can be erased; indeed much time and great resources will be necessary to help victims cope with the horrific catalogue of nightmares that has been the northern story for the past 25 years.

As the Downing Street Declaration emphasises, the Government believes that all participants in political life on this island are equal in the acknowledged respect due their respective customs and traditions and in the weight their voices carry in formulating the future. The possibilities of peace may well be more challenging than the naivety of mindless violence, but is there still anyone left who cannot accept the futulity of force and the vicious vacuum of political death created by violence? I think not.

Today we celebrate the joy of peace while not forgetting the well of sadness that violence has filled and certainly not for a moment believing that the way ahead will be easy. The field of peace has to be won every day and while today is exceptional in its decisiveness this turning aside from violence is not the solution to the northern difficulties. We must not allow the locks of history keep us from opening doors of common respect, friendship and endeavour. The world is waiting to help the men and women of peace in Ireland. As we have seen from other bitter struggles at home, in Europe and further afield, wounds can be bound and deep scars can be healed. Today marks the beginning of the rest of our lives on an island that eschews violence for dialogue, that opts for mutual respect instead of sectoral divide and that sees the way forward as the ring of reconciliation rather than the ringfence of separateness.

This nation, North and South, will be forever indebted to the architects of peace who have sculpted the dove of peace from the hard marble of determined minds. A great challenge awaits us in working out the implications of this day of peace. I hope and pray that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste will be as successful in their efforts to achieve that as they have been in bringing us to this joyous day.

Today's momentous events are but a point of departure for the challenges ahead. Of course, suspicions will remain in many quarters. It will take time for the full ramifications of those events to unfold, to enable the legacy of violence to be overcome and to draw the former protagonists of violence fully into democratic politics, but nonetheless we must begin our response immediately.

All sides of this House will have a role to play in the immediate future, in working to see how best to bring all parties together, particularly in the context of the future establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I have no doubt that this is a duty which Members of this House will exercise with care, patience and a deep sense of national responsibility. In this context I pay tribute to and acknowledge the contributions of the Leaders of the Opposition parties today.

This island has paid a heavy price in human life during the last quarter of a century of violence. As we pause on the brink of a new chapter in history let us not forget all those of whatever persuasion or background for whom today has come tragically too late. Let us also remember those who have survived the horrors of the past 25 years, those thousands of people who have been injured and whose lives have been destroyed both from a physical and mental point of view, those people who are all too easily forgotten as we recall those who have died.

We need to look forward to the day when this island will have been fully demilitarised, when the sorry legacy of decades of violence can be put behind us. The full functioning of democracy on this island has been distorted by the threat of violence. In both North and South, there have been many departures from the standards of a normal and peaceful society. The emergency laws which are a feature of both legal systems, and many other issues, will have to be looked at further down the road in the context of a process of building an Ireland, based on agreement. That is not to say that there is anyquid pro quo for renouncing violence, or any secret deals or agreements. There are no such deals but what does exist now is the opportunity for us to take the further steps which would bring an agreed Ireland within our reach, an Ireland which recognises the legitimacy of all traditions and which does not threaten the existence of any tradition on this island.

The future will require new ways of thinking; new laws, institutions and mechanisms, North and South, to protect and cherish the diversity of culture and aspiration on this island. We should be considering new protections against discrimination, and new measures to uphold human rights, particularly the civil rights and religious liberties of both traditions which are recognised in the Downing Street Declaration and indeed of other religious traditions on this island. In that process as that Declaration recognises we must draw on the European experience. We must also in this part of the island take a serious look at how far we as a society here are prepared to move to meet the concerns of the Unionist community.

The Irish Government has a responsibility and capacity to include and accommodate all dimensions of opinion and tradition, rather than simply pursue a narrow Nationalist agenda. I recognise and understand the fears and suspicions of the Unionist community. I want to make it clear that those concerns must and will be addressed in any political process; that both traditions are entitled to parity of esteem and recognition as part of that process; and that the consent of both sides of the community will be an essential precondition for progress to an agreed Ireland.

In the new situation calmness, care and respect for the legitimate concerns of all traditions are now called for, not an exhibition of euphoria or triumphalism. As one commentator said, Northern politics must cease to be a game in which progress by one section of the community is interpreted as defeat for the other. A lasting peace, should that aspiration be realised, is a momentous and history-making transition for both traditions and for both parts of this island.

I join other contributors to this debate who paid well deserved tribute to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste for their remarkable input and constructive work that has brought us to the developments we have this day, and to the many people and their respective staffs who worked so hard in many ways to bring about this position.

The past 25 years of violence, with its many dark moments of grief and shame, have passed to bring us to the stage we have reached today. Throughout that time the democratic politics of this nation have been sustained by the vision of a day when peace would return to this island. Very often it seemed to many that such a day would never come but I profoundly hope and believe that today, at last, Ireland can begin to dream the deep dream of peace.

I am particularly delighted to welcome this announcement of the ending of the campaign of violence of the IRA. It is something for which I have hoped, worked and prayed for nearly 25 years.

Assuming that, even though the word "permanent" is not contained in the IRA's statement, is not used in their statement, assuming it is included in the term "complete", I am satisfied with the assurances given. I believe we are in for a period in which violence on the part of the IRA will be a thing of the past. Certainly I hope that will be the case. If so, if the cease-fire holds, as I expect it will, our whole political landscape will have been transformed absolutely and completely, with new opportunities and challenges being opened up to us. The quality of life for all the people of Northern Ireland should begin to improve almost immediately. It is terrible to reflect that many, particularly young people, have never known what peace meant. This will be an entirely new experience for them. Even at this late stage I welcome the fact that they are being given this opportunity.

Today is a day for rejoicing, a day for anticipation and a day for hope, certainly not a day for recrimination, and I am glad that has been absent in this House. However, it is also a day when we should not forget the 3,000 plus people, men, women and children, who lost their lives needlessly in this conflict. I think particularly today of the relatives of those victims, some good personal friends of mine, who continue to suffer daily from their loss; even though it may have happened a number of years ago, every waking moment they are reminded of that loss and what has been inflicted on them. I imagine, indeed I know, that many of those people will have mixed emotions about today's events; they would not be human if they did not.

I hope that campaign is at an end and that, between now and midnight, nothing will happen. I did not hear the interview on radio this morning with Father Faul, who played no small part in bringing about the position today. I believe Father Faul spoke on the radio this morning appealing on behalf of two young men from County Down who have been missing for a week and believed to be in the custody of the IRA. I hope this cessation of violence extends to them and that they will be safely delivered to their families. I join Father Faul in that appeal.

I think today also of my former colleagues in the SDLP and in the other constitutional parties in Northern Ireland who suffered harassment and intimidation over the years because of their commitment to democratic politics. I think not alone of those in positions of leadership who have demonstrated great courage, who held the line, who stood up for constitutional politics, for the peaceful way forward and who suffered much intimidation and harassment over the years. I know that from personal experience. No tribute could be greater to those rank and file members of the constitutional parties — of course I think particularly of the SDLP in places like West Belfast, Fermanagh-South Tyrone and mid-Ulster — who put up with this intimidation and harassment over the years, people to whom we owe a deep debt of gratitude. I think of those people today, of their political future and wish them well. We should remember their pain, suffering and hardship and rededicate ourselves to building a society in the North, indeed throughout this country, that will be worthy of them and their efforts.

The decision of the Provisional IRA to announce a complete end to its campaign is the first step only along a very long road. Many questions are as yet unanswered. Today is not the day to spell them out in detail, but they will have to be answered in the coming days and weeks. Will the ceasefire stick? That is a valid question. Based on past experience, I think it will, but in certain areas of the North people who would describe themselves as republicans are less than happy about today's announcement, are less than enthusiastic about this development, and will need to be very carefully watched in the days ahead.

I hope I exaggerate the threat from the Protestant paramilitaries. As John Hume said, it would be very strange indeed if Protestant paramilitaries were to fight the British army in order to maintain their Britishness. I hope and believe this will not happen. The great majority of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland have proved their commitment to law and order sufficiently over the years not to allow this to happen and I hope that will be the case.

As far as the Ulster Unionist Party is concerned, we must remember that nothing will happen without its support. We cannot move forward successfully without the support of the Ulster Unionist Party. I hope it will recognise the gains to it from this announcement today. It will gain by being able to negotiate in circumstances in which its constituents are not being killed, in which members of its families are not being intimidated and are not in danger. I hope it will also recognise that in the Downing Street Declaration a move forward was made in underpinning the necessity for its consent. It is implicit in what Provisional Sinn Féin have been saying recently that it too recognises that consent, although not in terms that I for one would see as final.

The opportunity is now open to the Official Unionist Party to negotiate for a guaranteed position for its tradition on this island. It should seize that opportunity. I recognise what it and its supporters have suffered. It has tolerated much and many of its supporters have shown basic Christianity that too many on the other side, indeed I may say on my side, have not shown over the years. They deserve to be praised for that. We must recognise that Christianity which has been displayed.

I hope the Unionists will come to terms with the changed political reality, which they have had some difficulty with up to now. There is a new situation and it will be difficult for them to come to terms with it. I hope they know there is no future unless they do.

I also emphasise that what we have today is not just an isolated development. It goes back to the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973, to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and to the Downing Street Declaration. It is part of this process and while what we have today is largely an Irish thing, there has been a British contribution as well. Let us recognise that most of these developments would not have occurred except for the co-operation between the Irish and the British Governments. That co-operation will be absolutely necessary for progress in the future. All our efforts must now concentrate on what we should have concentrated on since 1920, from which the violence of the last 25 years has diverted us making our task more difficult, that is the recognition that the only solution to this problem is the reconciliation of Irish men and women of the two traditions. In this changed situation we must once again hold out the hand of friendship and reconciliation to those of the Unionist tradition. There is no other way.

I would like to share my time with Deputy Dermot Ahern, if that is agreeable.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This is indeed an historic day and a momentous occasion. I have been a Member of this House for 17 years and have never experienced such a sense of hope and optimism and such a willingness on all sides of the House to grasp the opportunity presented by the historic events of the past few months culminating with the announcement today by the IRA of a complete cessation of military operations. There is no doubt in my mind that history will properly record the Joint Peace Declaration issued by the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Major, as one of the truly significant events in the history of our State. The Tánaiste's commitment to partnership with the Taoiseach has been one of the great strengths behind today's achievement.

The support of President Clinton and our influential American-Irish friends has also played its part. Mr. Hume and his colleagues in the SDLP have worked tirelessly for peace and history will recognise their contribution. The tempered approach of the Unionist leader, Mr. Molyneaux, in facilitating the development of peace must also be recognised.

Today's welcome announcement follows a lengthy and detailed negotiation process which began when the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, and Mr. Major at their first meeting as heads of Governments decided that the attainment of peace in Northern Ireland would top their respective priority lists. The Taoiseach's single-mindedness in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation was crucial to the successful outcome and acceptance of the Downing Street Declaration. The background to this historic breakthrough in Anglo-Irish relations was very simply a shared conviction that the death and destruction which have bedevilled our island for the past quarter of a century and indeed for many years before that could not be allowed to continue and that an opportunity was present to break the cycle of killing, mistrust and division.

Here again, today, the Taoiseach's total commitment to peace has won through. While others almost despaired, he maintained his calm belief that peace was possible against the framework of the principles of consent and political development enshrined in the Joint Declaration. This was most pointed in the period which followed the recent Sinn Féin Letterkenny conference when the Taoiseach, virtually alone but with the support of his Cabinet colleagues, stood firm in his conviction that a total cessation of violence was imminent.

Now these hopes and aspirations for peace have come to fruition. It will take courage on all sides to meet the challenges ahead. The ultimate goal is peace, stability and reconciliation. I welcome the IRA's stated commitment to the success of the democratic peace process and its undertaking to approach this new situation with energy, determination and patience. The Joint Declaration presents no threat to any sector of the communities on this island. At its heart are the twin concepts of self-determination and consent.

The Joint Declaration recognises on behalf of the British Government that it is for the people alone, North and South, on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, to exercise their right to self-determination to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish. The British Government has formally acknowledged that it is up to us on the island of Ireland to determine our future alone and without external impediments.

Equally, the declaration recognises on behalf of the Government that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland. This principle of consent gives a clear assurance to both communities, unionist and nationalist, and is in clear conformity with the ideals of Wolfe Tone who strove to unite Catholic, Protestant and dissenter alike.

The declaration protects and vindicates the rights of all the people of Ireland, north and south. In the declaration, the Government not only declares that it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland in the absence of the freely given consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, but it further accepts that the civil rights and religious liberties of both communities must be fully safeguarded. An important section of the Programme for a Partnership Government is devoted to social and other change and to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the State fully reflects these values.

Today's announcement offers the people of Ireland, north and south, whatever their tradition, the basis to move forward and agree that from now on their differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by political means. In this respect it takes courage to rise to the challenges ahead, but the benefits which will flow are enormous. For far too long both parts of this island have been restricted from realising their full economic potential and from developing a much stronger island economy. The scope for mutually beneficial development is now immense and these economic challenges can best be met on an island-wide basis.

The economic border is gone and we now have many opportunities to enlarge each of our domestic markets to the whole island, within the wider European Single Market. In many cases we could both conquer suitable markets together. For both communities the greatest imperative is to improve employment opportunities and living standards for future generations. Our indigenous resources are unique to this island. Their potential for generating wealth and job opportunities for young people are as yet untapped on both parts of the island. There are many developments which are possible, such as our rivers, inland waterways, agri-tourism and the joint marketing of Irish food products. All offer huge possibilities for bringing jobs and prosperity, especially to our young people.

The rapid developments taking place in the EU, together with our relatively small size, make it imperative that we develop unified approaches to the interests which we have in common. In this respect, peace can bring a new era of confidence and prosperity to the whole island.

Our relationship with our Northern Ireland colleagues will hopefully deepen now that the shadow cast by the threat of onging violence has been removed. The confidence generated by this new era of peace will also help bolster economic activity in the more deprived areas where there has been much suffering in social and economic terms. There is also the prospect that resources which were hitherto devoted to security can now be better deployed to improving the social wellbeing of the people, an aspiration to which everybody must aspire.

The stability and prosperity that today's announcement will bring will benefit the whole island of Ireland. We have always had excellent working relationships with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and I look forward to further developing them. In the area of social welfare, there are great similarities between our two organisations and systems. We have been working closely in this area and hope to develop these similarities much further in the future. There are many areas where I look forward to building on these relationships and improving the services we provide.

There is no doubt that the evolving situation in Northern Ireland will generate enthusiam and initiative. It will help foster a spirit of enterprise; it will provide opportunities for investment and employment, will create a climate of co-operation and trust and, ultimately, lead to a more prosperous and peaceful Ireland. Peace on the island makes many things possible, and I joyously welcome the tremendous step which has been taken today.

As a Deputy and as co-chairman of the British-Irish Inter-parliamentary Body I congratulate all involved with today's announcement. While there is a great deal of euphoria about, there is still a long way to go. However, this announcement is a further vital piece in a jigsaw which hopefully will be put in place over the coming months and years.

As a Border Deputy and as someone who was born and bred within a stone's throw of the Border which has divided this country, I speak for all my constituents and anyone who lives along the Border when I say that we are on the eve of a new era and I look forward to some peace and stability. Deputies who do not live near the Border may not realise the difficulties which we, in those areas, have had to endure over the past 25 years. For example, there have been difficulties attracting tourists although we have areas which can compare with the rest of the country; there have also been problems attracting industry and with the general perception of the area, including the abolition of the economic border and the price differential which people have had to endure.

Unfortunately, the physical Border still exists, manifested in the security presence. In this respect the Taoiseach has been derided for calling for demilitarisation. However, we wish to see the abolition in the near future of the severe security along the Border which has been put in place in response to the security and paramilitary situation on the island.

Credit must go to the main players. Even though some will allege there have been back-room deals and that this development has happened overnight, the reality is that it has been a progression over the past number of years, from at least 1988 when Mr. John Hume took the risk of meeting Mr. Gerry Adams. The meeting failed at the time but it acted as the genesis for what has taken place today. People such as Mr. Hume and, latterly, the Taoiseach and Mr. John Major must be congratulated for the way this has been put in place.

The Unionist community has nothing to fear, as Deputy Currie said. Why should it fear a peaceful situation on this island? This raises serious questions for that community, the Government, the Irish people and the British people as to where to go from here. As Mr. Adams said, and I too have said it, Nationalists on this island have, and should have, the self-confidence to move from here. I am delighted that people like the Taoiseach and Mr. John Hume, as constitutional Nationalists, have been able to persuade another element of Nationalism and Republicanism that there is a better way than the gun and the bullet, and that is constitutional politics. I look forward to participating in this process in the years to come.

I am a little out of tune with the general mood of the House because I greet today's announcement with some relief rather than euphoria. There are two reasons I do not share the euphoria which other Members seem to feel. The first reason is because today's announcement will do nothing. and can do nothing, to relieve the pain of the many of thousands of people from all walks of life, of different religions, or of none, and of different political persuasions on this island and in Great Britain who have been bereaved over the years by the activities of the Provisional IRA and its various offshoots and splinter groups.

This statement today will not do anything to still the grief of people who have been bereaved or maimed by the activities of loyalist gunmen, and it will not do anything to still the pain of the relatives of members of our security forces who have been killed by the Provisional IRA and the INLA in their various criminal activities in our jurisdiction.

The second reason I do not share the sense of euphoria is that, as a democratically elected representative I do not feel any gratitude, nor can I give any credit to people who say they are now going to stop maiming and killing and turn to a different way. I feel no obligation to give credit to people who have only now decided to adopt the values and conduct of democratic decency, whose activities have not only been a scourge to their fellow citizens but have been an obstacle — the biggest one there has been — to the peace and security of those citizens. I know it is said that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ten just men who do not need repentance, but we are not called upon here to act as God. We should know from the history of the last 25 years that people acting as God are more often dangerous to their fellow citizens than anything else.

The authors of today's statement have decided to stop their killing and maiming because, by their own admission, they believe that the conditions are now right to do so, but in my book and on reflection I think many Members will agree — conditions were right at the time of the Downing Street Declaration last December, they were right when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in November 1985 and they were right before anybody died on hunger strike in 1981, yet it is only today that this is being recognised. This is no cause for euphoria. There is a clear and cynical political calculation behind today's statement and this is a reason for us in this House to feel anything but euphoria. As I said I feel a sense of relief, and I do, but it certainly is not euphoria.

Today's statement speaks about a complete cessation of violence. I want to know if there is a difference between "a complete cessation of violence" and "a permanent cessation of violence". Let nobody tell me this is a quibble. I and every Member have sat around for too long and watched hairs being split while people have been killed. The Taoiseach did not seem to be entirely sure on this point. I am not the only one who feels this way. There are a great many other people this evening who are legitimately asking for clarification of that point — I do not mean any pun. They want to know the score, preferably before midnight.

The Taoiseach may believe that the IRA statement was made in good faith but I want to hear a clear and unequivocal guarantee of permanence. If what is meant by this statement today is a permanent cessation of violence, that must be said immediately, clearly and unequivocally by its authors. Nobody else can say that with any authority. I want to hear the word "permanent" being used by the people who drafted and produced that statement. If they have decided to take a non-violent political route, they must make it clear that this a permanent abjuration of violence in all its forms. If this is a permanent end to violence, there needs to be a permanent end to the capacity to engage in violence. The process of democratic constitutional politics cannot be carried out under any threat of a resumption of violence no matter how remotely that may be implied.

There are sincere people who will say — and they said it today — that we must take this one step at a time and that verification will come later. I understand that view but I do not share it. There can be no valid exercise of democratic politics in even the palest shadow of a gun, and I strongly urge that there be no pussyfooting about this. In the context in which the IRA statement was made, I am firmly of the view that, in the pursuit of peace, constitutional democratic politics requires that there be no negotiation prior to verification.

I have heard it said in the last few days that the Provisional IRA wants to reserve the right to be what it calls the defender of the Nationalist community. Mr. Adams said yesterday that the RUC is not acceptable. Those statements must be dealt with before we go any further. In a system of democratic constitutional politics it is the State which is the defender of the people. Any group which feels itself under threat has the strongest possible interest in reinforcing the legitimacy of the State as its defender. Its best guarantee of this is to give unequivocal support to the State as the defender of the people's rights. The authority of the State in Northern Ireland as the defender of all people against terrorism, whether it be from loyalist gangs or from any other source, can only be reinforced by the explicit acceptance of that authority by all sections of the community. Those who wish to engage, however belatedly, in democratic and constitutional political processes must accept that in addition to their definitive abandonment of violence as a means of political action.

Without that acceptance and the determination to put those fundamental principles into practice, we will simply head straight back to a murderous stalemate. It is not difficult to see how it could happen. If we do not insist on verification of an end to violence and the Provisional IRA holds itself out as the defender of Nationalist communities, on the first occasion that any loyalist terrorist fires a bullet or plants a bomb we are straight back into the tit-for-tat situation out of which we have all been working so hard to get. A move away from violence must be complete, definitive and permanent because anything else brings us back to the same infernal cycle and spiral out of which we have been trying to get.

I recognise that today marks a positive step. If I may be a little contentious — I see no reason a parliamentarian should avoid contention when it is appropriate to the subject——

——the realisation that today marks a step forward was brought home to me when I listened to the Taoiseach being applauded as he came into the House by a number of people on the Government side who could not even bring themselves to snap their fingers in November 1985, and the Minister knows exactly what I am talking about.

I will be uncontentious now and say that I sincerely hope with every fibre of my political being and belief that all of the people on the opposite side who applauded the Taoiseach today will maintain that concern with democratic and constitutional politics which he expressed when he came into the House.

I commend the Irish and British Governments on their determined adherence to democratic principles because this has brought us to where we are today. I commend Mr. John Hume on the enormous and central role he has played in bringing us as far as we have come. In the same way, I commend the many Members of this House, both past and present who, over many years, have been so unswerving in their support for democratic principles that those who rejected them for so long have now taken a step towards sanity and peace which has been delayed for far too long.

There can be no going back. Today history has been made. The announcement by the leadership of the IRA that there would be, from midnight tonight, a complete cessation of military operations is clear and unambiguous. In addition, all the units of the IRA have been instructed accordingly. We can expect, from experience, that instruction to be rigorously upheld. Simply put, the war is over. The peace must now begin and we must do what we can, quickly and effectively to build that peace. It will not be an easy task. We must all, north and south, in Ireland, in Britain and throughout the world recognise the enormous hurt and pain which is felt by far too many people on all sides. For us to build a lasting peace, reconciliation is the essential foundation upon which it will stand.

The announcement by the Taoiseach to establish by October of this year the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is constructive and essential. I hope that all political parties on this island which have an electoral mandate will participate fully in that forum. It will not be easy for any of the parties but without the participation of all, the full objectives of reconciliation will not be reached.

Great moments of history have made ordinary men and women become themselves truly historic. I had the honour to represent the Government at the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in South Africa earlier this year. I witnessed at first hand the truly heroic transformation of a previously bitterly divided nation by the moment of history which had been so courageously grasped by the political leaders on both sides. It has happened in South Africa. It is happening in the Middle East and it can and must happen in Ireland. The moment for our history has come. The courage of all of the political leaders must rise now to seize that moment and turn it into a permanent monument of peace. We have so much, together, to gain from the successful building of that peace.

In June of this year, in a major speech addressing the future prospects for Ireland in the year 2010, I proposed five goals, which I believe to be fully attainable for this country over the next 15 years. They are, first, thatper capita income in Ireland would be the European Union average in 15 years time; second, that we would have full employment for all seeking work; third, that we would have the best managed and preserved environment in the European Union; fourth, that we would be perceived as being the best location to do business in Europe because we would have the best public administration system within the Union and, fifth, that we will be perceived by the rest of the world as the best entrance into Europe for English speaking business outside of Europe.

However, I stated as a precondition that we should make one basic assumption about what our situation would be 15 years from now. It was that we would have achieved a lasting and acceptable peace in Northern Ireland. This would enable the energies and capabilities of the Irish people, at home and abroad, north and south, to be fully utilised. I said at that time that failure to resolve this problem would severely handicap the achievement of all of our goals.

The world is rapidly changing and we must change with it. The enlargement of the European Union and the increasing globalisation of the world economy — to quote just two components of change — with all the other components of change provide both threats and opportunities for us all.

Ireland, at peace with itself at home, can mobilise its extended family abroad. As long as we did not have peace at home we had division and suspicion among our Irish communities throughout the world. This can at last be changed. As I said in June:

The Irish family is one of the great global tribes — at the present time certainly more influential in global terms than any other European nation. We need to connect and link with that Irish nation wherever it is located in the new global village. The prediction of Marshall McLuhan has now become a reality. We should mobilise that family, around the world, to help us to achieve our goals. We now have the means and they certainly have the motivation.

The resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland will drive that motivation.

Today's announcement could only have come about as a result of the work done by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in persuading the British Prime Minister and his Government to sign the Downing Street Declaration. I say that not in any way to demean the heroic contributions which have been made over the years by many politicians, north and south, and in particular to recognise the dialogue which was opened up by John Hume with Gerry Adams, but it was the driving commitment of both Governments, working alongside and trusting each other, which has brought about the realisation, albeit at a late date, within the IRA leadership that the road to achieving their objectives can only be obtained through the democratic process. They have committed themselves fully to working the democratic process in their statement today.

The work of the two parties in this partnership Government since 1993 has ensured that the political risks associated with all the issues related to resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland have been justified. In particular, I want to pay tribute to my colleague, Minister Michael D. Higgins, who courageously argued for and easily won the support of his Cabinet colleagues to lift the section 31 prohibitions. It was part of the process and part of the risk, and there were clearly risks associated with it but we felt at the time that it was justified. It is fair to say that that risk was vindicated by the decision announced today by the IRA leadership.

All the blocks which are put together to build the peace will have to be carefully cemented in a form which will ensure that that peace will survive. I can understand and appreciate the reasonable concerns expressed by Deputy Dukes. That is why it is absolutely essential that the unanimity which is shared, and which has been expressed by all the party political leaders here today, should send out a very clear signal, in particular, to the leadership of the IRA and of Sinn Féin.

All of us in this House know that the path of democratic politics is not easy. It has its setbacks, traumas and unpleasant surprises. Because they are now going to start to experience what we have come to live with and expect over the years, there should be no temptation whatsoever to revert to a previous type of non-democratic activity. The message of resolution which we all share, of commitment to the democratic process and the belief that only that process will bring about a lasting peace, should be heard loudly and clearly by the leadership of Sinn Féin and by those in the IRA.

Finally, I wish to address the people within the Unionist community of Northern Ireland, many of whom feel uneasy, nervous and, in some cases, somewhat abandoned. I want to say two things, to repeat the many things perhaps most eloquently expressed here today by the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy John Bruton. There are no underhand deals associated with the decision announced today by the IRA leadership. The Irish and British Governments have not obtained this decision as a consequence of any type of deal. The position of the Unionist community on this island is recognised and enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and is reaffirmed in the Downing Street Declaration. That should be said repeatedly over the coming days, for reasons already expressed here today.

I share both Deputy Dukes's sense of relief and his lack of euphoria this evening. I do not wish to denigrate the momentous nature of the ending of violence. However, when bullets stop flying and bombs stop exploding, it would be inhuman not to remember the cost exacted from people who had no choice, the suffering imposed on people who could not defend themselves and the viciousness demonstrated on both sides of the communal divide in Northern Ireland by a small minority of people who arrogated to themselves divine powers of destruction, retribution and exile, with no authority or mandate.

When I contemplate the end of the campaign of violence, I think of the countless people whose names do not even come to mind, the many widows and parents who have stood at funerals and said only one thing to the world at large — that it not be done to anyone else. I also think of the people who ignored those pleas, who laughed up their sleeves at the suffering and sincerity of those bereaved.

I will not forget that the true heroes of today's cessation of violence are not only the dead who have fallen, those who have had their lives and families destroyed by this violence and also the more public figures like Senator Wilson, who had a tremendous effect when publicly appealing for reconciliation, not-withstanding the damage done to him. There are plenty of people we will quickly forget, people who had their hands and faces blown off while trying to dismantle IRA bombs. The same applies to the victims of loyalist violence. On a day like today we should not forget such people.

Neither should we forget the people who gave up violence, such as Deputy De Rossa, who described himself today as having abandoned it. Some of those who left the terror movements paid with their lives for doing so. We should also remember the members of Families Against Intimidation and Terror, who stood up in local communities, without protection against the bullies and baseball bats; and the kneecapping and other events which went on under our noses but were so insignificant as not to merit a mention in our newspapers.

I think also of the politicians who have lost their lives to the proponents of terror. Senator Billy Fox, a Member of the Oireachtas was referred to; I also remember Senator Paddy Wilson, Edgar Graham and the Rev. Robert Bradford who were shot down in cold blood because they dared to stand up for democratic values and the supremacy of the ballot box over the armalite.

In common with Deputies Harney and Dukes I note in the phraseology of today's statement an absence of any explicit acknowledgment that this cessation of violence is permanent. However, like Deputy Harney, I am quite prepared to concede that in these circumstances, for the purpose of saving face and lives and to keep the Provisional movement united in its abdication of violence, certain formulae of words have to be employed. I am prepared to go more than halfway in engaging in the niceties of diplomacy and to concede the validity of that argument.

If on the other hand, as Deputy Harney also said, there is a holding back in any sense; in the words of my respected friend Mr. David Davin-Power on RTE Radio today, if the Irish Government has conceded that if there is no political progress, the circumstances which gave rise to the Provisional IRA's violence might be recreated; if there is any sense of conditionality or that the weapons can be dumped just in case they may be needed again, that conditionally carries with it a number of critical dangers for the peace process. A splinter movement may take control of the weapons and abandon the political process. A minority within the Provisionals might seek to persuade the majority that political progress was not fast, sufficient or extensive enough to satisfy them. Also, as Deputy De Rossa alluded, there is also the danger these arms might be traded and handed over to other groups such as the INLA, the IPLO or simple straightforward ordinary decent criminals, as they used to be called, and used to kill more people in our society.

In so far as this is a permanent cessation of violence, I welcome it with all my heart and with a sense of relief but am not grateful to, nor do I pay tribute to those whose contribution to today's events has been to cease killing people. One wonders about the mentality of people who were assembling bombs within an hour of this statement. Deputy Currie mentioned the two young men kidnapped by the IRA in south Down. One wonders whether some self-appointed judge, jury and executioner will put an end to their lives. I hope that is not so but those who this week assembled bombs — some of which were happily defused, others of which were deployed — cannot sincerely believe violence has no function in solving the problems of Northern Ireland. A number of them have said they were planning to go out with a few "spectaculars"; a bomb was being prepared to go to Britain and in the last few days grenades were fired at British army and RUC posts. If they think that going out with a bang will increase their strength at a negotiating table, a forum or anywhere else, they are sadly mistaken.

I look forward to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and I assure the Unionist population and Alliance party voters of Northern Ireland that there will be no pan-Nationalist front at that forum. They will not face a massive phalanx of homongenous nationalists, whether from America, Australia or Ireland, North or South, all with one point of view, one demand to make of Unionists and one inflexible position. I look forward to and value the forum.

I agree with Deputies De Rossa, Currie and Dukes that there can be no question of suspending the authority of the State in Northern Ireland on an interim basis and surrendering the civil powers of Government to any self-appointed police force. There will have to be radical reform of the policing function in Northern Ireland. The RUC will have to be divided and cease being a single force in Northern Ireland. However, in the meantime there is no basis for thinking that there can be parts of Northern Ireland into which the RUC cannot go. I recently attended a public meeting in the Mansion House where Gerry Adams said, to an enthusiastic audience, that the next phase was simply concerned with discussing the nuts and bolts of British withdrawal from Ireland. The fact is that for the foreseeable future, whether we like it or not — I am not particularly worried one way or the other — Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom.

The reality is that in order to establish peace, there must be a radical transformation of Northern Ireland. British withdrawal is not the issue and these negotiations cannot be about British withdrawal. Some may hope that it will be on the agenda. It may be on the table but it will be on the side table. The reality is that the discussions about a new Ireland must take account of what is also stated in Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that the present wish of the great majority of the people of Northern Ireland is for no change.

While everything is open and nothing permanently closed off, we must fundamentally grasp reality and accept that there is a relatively limited area of potential common ground between the two communities. It is to this relatively limited area of common ground that all people of goodwill and all democratic constitutional politicians of whatever hue or history must now bring their attention. We must act on this to achieve for the next couple of generations in Northern Ireland, which is as far as we can see, a just and decent settlement which vindicates the traditions and values of both communities and ends the cycle of injustice which has brought us to the sorry situation that we have, only after 25 years, prevented violence from being the driving and dynamic force in Irish history.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Blaney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

At the outset I wish to refute what appeared to me to be an insinuation by Deputy McDowell that there was a conditionality clause which the IRA would have understood whereby if there was no political progress in a short time, they would revert to——

I did not say that.

That was what I understood the Deputy to imply. I would refute any such suggestion. As Deputy Quinn and many others have said, there have been no underhand deals.

I accept that fully.

Everything has been absolutely above board. It is critically important at this stage that this is clear to everybody.

Nixon said something similar.

"Deep into the darkness peering long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dreamed before." I cannot remember where I read those lines. I noted them for a time such as this. For many of us, today is undoubtedly a day of celebration of an enormous achievement which many would have thought impossible only a short time ago.

The late John F. Kennedy said in 1960: "we are on the edge of a new frontier". Amelia Earhart said that courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. At a time like this everybody needs to have more courage. They need courage to trust that in this little island which has been torn apart for the past 25 years, centuries of discord could end and communities North and South, and particularly within the North, could live together in a harmonious relationship in which prosperity, hopes and aspirations could be developed.

Today on radio a young Derry person said that they have never known peace. We do not really understand that in the South where we live in peace for the greater part. The fact that somebody on this island should say that in such telling terms encourages all of us to build quickly on today's achievement.

I agree with some of the caution. There are still many difficulties ahead. These difficulties can be overcome when we display extra courage at a time like this to ensure that the misunderstandings which have been part of the problems for so long can be overcome. We now have to build on the peace process. Communities have been divided for so long. The hope of peace should encourage the politicians, and particularly the leadership of the Unionist community, who should realise that they are not threatened.

In spite of the past, the statement from the IRA must, in my view, be accepted as one which means lasting and permanent peace. Even though we would all want to criticise the atrocities of the past, we also have to understand the courage it took in that organisation to persuade people who, for the past 25 years, have been engaged in the murder, bombing and shooting of innocent people. To accord a certain amount of courage to that action is not to condone actions that were taken in the past.

If people are not prepared to leave behind those events they do not have the hope for the future that I have. We have to look forward to bringing these people to the negotiating table and into the democratic process. Throughout the world, whether in South Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere, the final picture for peace was that those who were engaged in war sat around the table to work together for the future. That is my wish and hope on this historic occasion.

I particularly congratulate the Taoiseach, ably supported by the Tánaiste, on his untiring efforts to bring about this achievement. The Cabinet was proud to serve at a time like this under the leadership we have been given. I suppose that in Shakespearean terms I could call my contribution a small one.

I thank the Minister for sharing his time with me. We are short of time and that is a pity when dealing with an item as important as this. Lest anything I say later might be misconstrued, I start by saying that I welcome, perhaps more than most if that is possible, the declaration issued this morning.

I am a northerner. I understand to some degree but not fully the real conflict that obtains and has pursued the people of the Six Counties, particularly since the partition of our country. However, it is important to remember that the conflict did not start then. In our euphoria we must not lose all caution so far as this achievement is concerned. We have to realise that everything said in Dublin in support of and in welcome for this declaration today will be taken by loyalists and the extreme loyalists as being to their disadvantage. We should keep that in mind and instead of being euphoric we should be very cautious.

The statement is a very small tentative step with huge potential for good or ill. Continuing negotiations and the absorption, not only of Sinn Féin, the Republican movement and the loyalists-Unionists into any discussions would be good. These people cannot and must not be ignored in our euphoria about the IRA having declared on unconditional ceasefire.

We should go to the root of the problem and realise that we have not just IRA violence but loyalist violence, and as a consequence of occupation we also have an institutional violence since partition was imposed.

We cannot talk about a level playing pitch while there is no indication from the prime motivators of partition that they wish to end it. It is all very well to talk about consent, but did anybody ask the people of Donegal whether we should be sundered from the rest of Ulster? Did they ask the Protestant Presbyterians of Cavan or Monaghan whether they should be sundered from their brethren in the Six Counties? No, but we are all excited about asking people for consent. Until Tib's Eve we cannot expect a response from the Unionist/Nationalist community who are continuously told that so long as they wish the British to occupy the Six Counties, the British will do so? This is a totally phoney situation. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, John Hume, Gerry Adams, Bill Clinton, John Major and not forgetting Jim Molyneaux — who has been mentioned here a few times today — have done great work to bring us to this point today but we should not lose the run of ourselves in thinking we have achieved a great breakthrough. We have achieved a tiny step which has great potential. Unless we level the pitch we cannot and will not obtain a lasting just peace. That is the message I wish to give here.

I say to the Unionists and the loyalists of the Six Counties that I live among their brethren in my constituency where 25 per cent of my electorate are not of the Catholic or Nationalist persuasion. Nevertheless. I ask those across the Border to look into Donegal and ask themselves how 25 per cent of the electorate of north-east Donegal have found it possible and attractive to live and prosper there. If that is possible in those circumstances, it is possible throughout the Six Counties and the nine counties of Ulster which should never have been sundered. Had they been kept together matters probably would have been very different.

We have to be careful. What Dublin welcomes is taken by the Unionist and loyalist extremists as being to their disadvantage. Just remember that. While we can give all the assurances we like. what we welcome with open arms today can create its own danger and can reconstitute the discriminatory circumstances that brought about the explosion in 1969. We should beware that in our welcome for this declaration we do not go over the top and that it is genuinely a road to peace for all our people, North and South, and not just something from which the Nationalists will gain the upper hand because there can be no upper hand in the Six Counties or in Ireland as a whole. Ultimately there can be no partition or occupation of our country. Those things can be attained in the future if not now. Beware and be cautious in welcoming this declaration lest the message be that it is so good for the Nationalists it must be bad for the loyalists.

(Limerick East): This is an historic day.

If the ceasefire lasts and a talks process leads to a settlement, today will enter the history books as the most significant of our times. If the ceasefire breaks down, and we return to violence, bitterness, inter-community rancour, the pessimism and the desolation of the last 25 years, it will also be an historic day, as a day on which hope was raised, and then dashed through the inability of politicians on this island and in the United Kingdom to settle their differences. I hope it will be the former rather than the latter.

I compliment all those who participated in the peace process which led to the ceasefire: in particular, John Hume without whose courage and vision today's ceasefire would not have been possible.

A ceasefire, however, is a beginning rather than an end. There have been ceasefires before which broke down, and left us with a last situation worst than the first. The ceasefire in the early 1970s led directly to the founding of the Provisional IRA and to a campaign of terror unremitting in its ferocity for almost 25 years. We in this House are obliged to work to ensure that the ceasefire sticks. We must ensure that the democratic process can immediately fill the vacuum created by the gunmen, and that by word or deed, we do not exacerbate the concerns of the loyalist community in our attempts to bring Sinn Féin, IRA and their supporters into normal politics.

I am conscious that the loyalist paramilitaries have as yet given no indication of their intentions. For quite a long time their campaign of terror was a reaction to the Provisional IRA. Lately, however, their campaign has been pro-active and sectarian. I appeal to the Official Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the British Government to use all their influence to get the loyalist paramilitaries to lay down their arms. No ceasefire is viable if Nationalist enclaves in Belfast have to be defended against armed loyalists. This is the lesson of the past and I hope provision has been made by the British Government to ensure there is no repetition. A loyalist ceasefire would guarantee it.

It is worth while noting that the Provisional IRA have not surrendered. It has called a ceasefire in the expectation that Sinn Féin can now enter the democratic process, and I have no doubt but that Sinn Féin will expect real and tangible results from the ceasefire it has been instrumental in negotiating.

I am not talking about the institutional and constitutional arrangements which will govern the relationships between the people of the Republic and the people in the North, between Ireland and the United Kingdom, and between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

These arrangements can be put in place only after long and protracted negotiation between elected representatives of the democratic parties on the island and between the two Governments. Neither am I speaking of participation by Sinn Féin in the proposed Forum for Reconciliation and Peace, which I welcome. What I have in mind is more mundane, and is to be found in the answer to the following question. What will Mr. Adams say to his supporters, a month from now when he is asked "what have we got out of the ceasefire, Gerry?"

The answer to this must be relevant to the Nationalist communities of both urban and rural areas in the North. The answer must not excite the fears of the loyalist community or inhibit the possibility of an ultimate settlement through a talks process. It must, however, be relevant to the daily lives of the people and, in particular, to those communities, by and large working class, on both sides of the divide for whom violence and counter violence has been the normal daily routine.

There are four confidence-building measures which can be taken immediately which would fulfil the criteria I suggested. The process of demilitarisation should be commenced. British troops should be systematically withdrawn to barracks as soon as the security situation allows. This process should commence in a matter of weeks rather than months. The RUC has become a very effective and efficient police force. It is now much more balanced in its approach to both communities than it was in the early 1970s. At that point it was to a significant extent the arm of a sectarian administration in Stormont from which Nationalists could not expect fair play if the suspected offence was political or quasi-political. It is a force, however, which has been reformed and with which the Garda Síochána has co-operated in the fight against terrorism, as has been the policy of all Governments here recently.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the very nature of its fight against terrorism has put it in conflict with sections of the Nationalist community. A signal should be given that further reform of the RUC will take place, that it will be reformed as a force more compatible with peace time duties and the fight against ordinary crime and, whatever the final policing arrangements are for Northern Ireland, some indication should be given that unarmed community policing is an option which will be seriously considered.

One of the dynamics of the ceasefire has been the influence of the relatives of those in prison on the IRA leadership. Those in prison for terrorist offences have been convicted after due process of law in the courts both North and South. It would be logical to argue that they should serve out their full sentences.

However, there are great expectations that prisoners will be released at an early date. Those who support the concept of an amnesty for paramilitary prisoners argue that these are no ordinary prisoners, that in a normal democratic country they would never have been in trouble with the law and if normal democratic standards are to be restored the prisoners should be released by way of general amnesty. Before such a major decision is taken, however, we should reflect on the nature of the crimes which led to the convictions, and we should not ignore the feelings of relatives of victims.

Taking all factors into account, a programme for the early release of prisoners should be put in place, a statement of intent to this effect should be made, some younger prisoners should be released immediately and a major release should take place at Christmas.

In any release of prisoners a major difficulty arises in respect of those who have murdered members of the security forces. As Minister for Justice, I attended a number of funerals of gardaí and army personnel who were murdered by paramilitaries. Our jails hold a number of prisoners convicted and sentenced to death for those crimes, but the death sentences were commuted to very long terms of imprisonment. In those cases early release would not be acceptable.

It has been argued frequently by John Hume that parity of esteem must apply to both communities in Northern Ireland. Tangible recognition must be given to the importance to the Nationalist community of a concept of Irishness. This can be indicated through the attitude of the authorities to the Irish language and culture, and to the GAA in Northern Ireland.

An overall cultural policy which would encompass this parity of esteem will take time to formulate and implement, but in the short term, an indication from the authorities that official thinking has changed to accommodate this principle should be given.

Human rights have been seriously transgressed on several occasions in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years. The right to life, liberty and happiness has been gratuitously taken away from the citizens of Northern Ireland by the activities of the paramilitary organisations and in particular by the Provisional IRA.

Human rights have been transgressed on a number of occasions also by the authorities. In any new departure the rights of citizens must be vindicated by recourse to a bill of rights and a commitment to introduce such a bill of rights should be given by both Governments.

I do not intend to discuss the elements of an overall solution. Agreement to constitutional and institutional change will be difficult, and will only come about as a result of protracted talks and many compromises. The aims and objectives of many of the parties who will participate in the talks process are diametrically opposed and the process will be lengthy.

My concern is that the ceasefire should last. It will not last unless a tangible peace dividend becomes evident at an early date. This dividend must be equally relevant to both Nationalist and Loyalist communities. Neither must feel threatened by the process, and the ceasefire must improve the lifestyle of ordinary citizens in the conduct of their daily lives on the streets and in the rural parishes of Northern Ireland. If this happens an atmosphere will be created in which events will move towards all-party talks and a negotiated settlement.

The process has only commenced. There is a major opportunity for a new dispensation on this island. There are attendant risks, but they can be minimised by prudence and are worth taking.

As Minister for Justice I participated in the negotiations which led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. With Deputy Peter Barry, I attended the first meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference held at Stormont in December 1985. The Downing Street Declaration, which has led to today's ceasefire, was built on the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The three major parties in this House have played their part in the search for a settlement, and I have no doubt that when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is instituted, my party will continue to play a constructive part in the search for a negotiated settlement.

Like other speakers, I warmly welcome the statement issued by the IRA this morning. The complete cessation of violence in Northern Ireland offers us the unique opportunity to move forward to agreed arrangements that can reflect the aspirations and allegiances of both traditions on the island without threatening either tradition.

This extraordinary achievement has come about because of detailed and painstaking work by a large number of people in both parts of Ireland, in Britain and in the United States. Political and church leaders and politicians on both sides of the Border, in Britain and in the United States, have worked for many years to bring about this ceasefire, but without taking from what they have done, without doubt, the courage, persistence and judgment of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs during this Government's term in office have contributed enormously to the successful outcome. They both deserve the thanks and congratulations not alone of this House but of the country as a whole.

This is only a first step and I look forward to the discussions which should lead to agreed arrangements that could immensely benefit all people on this island. It is incumbent on all of us to assist in putting in place those arrangements and removing suspicions and antagonisms that have built up not only in the past 25 years but over many centuries. This can best be done by building on the co-operation that already exists between the two parts of the island. There are many areas in which this can be done, particularly in the area for which I have responsibility, namely, agriculture and food. Traditionally, perhaps the closest links between the two administrations are those which exist between the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland and my Department, which has involved close co-operation on a daily basis. In modern times that co-operation has extended from animal health to rural development and many other areas.

The two parts of Ireland have similar interests in the formulation and operation of a European Union policy for the agriculture and food sector. That has been repeatedly recognised in a variety of European Union decisions and arrangements. For example, recent decisions of benefit to us have been extended to Northern Ireland and in our capacity as a negotiating member state and during our periodic Presidencies we have encouraged and supported that trend. Members who attend meetings of the Council of Ministers will be aware that since our accession to the European Union we have generously and without an agenda encouraged the extension to the island as a whole of all European Union schemes and benefits. All this gives an indication of the extent to which co-operation already exists and that it provides a basis on which we can build much greater co-operative arrangements in the future. The permanent ending of violence will make this task much easier to achieve.

The two parts of Ireland have similar agricultural sectors which are becoming increasingly commercially interlinked. We are all aware of co-operative plcs which have plants in both parts of the island. I believe the new position that will be brought about by the total cessation of violence will transform prospects for the overall development of the agricultural and food sectors on this island. One could imagine the successful promotion of Irish food if the perception of the island of Ireland was one of a green and friendly one, environmentally suitable for the production of food products. If both parts of the island act in the common good huge opportunities could be availed of in the agricultural and food sectors.

The process on which we are embarking will not be easy, neither will it be easy to achieve the level of agreement we all seek. If the problems could have been easily dealt with, their resolution would not have taken until the last few years of this millennium. However, we cannot step back in the face of difficulties, however great they may be. We have an opportunity which has not been given to previous generations and future generations will not forgive us if we spurn it.

We have an onus to constructively and generously consolidate what we have achieved. Violence has caused enormous tragedy and grief for many families on the island and, on a practical level, huge economic loss for all of us. Its ending gives us a tremendous opportunity on which to build. Following the announcement of the ceasefire, like other Members, I will use my influence to reduce suspicions and improve the social environment to make this whole island a more friendly place for everybody.

I wish to share the remainder of my time with my colleague, Deputy Kirk.

I am sure that is agreed.

I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Joe Walsh, for the opportunity to contribute to the statements which are welcome following the 25 years of violence, murder and mayhem in the North. Our congratulations must be extended to those involved in the achievement of today's announcement which has been brought about by their patience and persistence. As I represent a constituency in close proximity to the Six Counties, I have had first-hand experience of the great resilience of those who reside in the North. When one contemplates the trauma they have experienced for the past 25 years, and that despite it many have prospered, one appreciates their great staying power.

As many speakers stated, today's announcement is a small but significant first step on which we will have to build. The political representatives on the island will have to think anew about many matters, new attitudes will have to prevail and a spirit of generosity and friendship will provide the way forward. However, we must be realistic. Old antagonisms in the Six Counties are deep rooted and breaking down the barriers of suspicion will be slow and time consuming. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the British Prime Minister, the President of the United States, Gerry Adams and others, who have painstakingly worked to bring about this day will have earned a valued place in our history. We sincerely hope their efforts will bear fruit in the form of a lasting peace on this island, inhabited by five million people, which has become a major economic force within the European Union. One can only speculate what could be achieved if the two parts of the island worked in unison. The Ministers who spoke outlined the prospects for development in their respective areas of responsibility if a greater spirit of co-operation and togetherness were to prevail. I sincerely hope that when the talks get under way that necessary progress will be made and that the dividend for participation in the peace process will become obvious quickly.

Coming from a Border constituency I know at first-hand of the difficulties that have existed for the past 25 years. Peace and prosperity in the North will bring peace and prosperity to Border counties. People in Border areas look forward to an increase in business and to a changed perception of those areas which will have a dramatic impact on the social and economic climate there which cannot but lead to a better quality of life.

I join other Deputies in welcoming the news of the cessation of violence announced by the IRA earlier today. Like other Deputies, I am disappointed that it did not come about earlier. When news of the announcement came through, and while listening to speakers following the Taoiseach's address, I recalled the first debate we had in this House about the troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969. Of the 166 Deputies in the House only 19 were Members when the troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. They were: Deputy Blaney, the father of the House, the Ceann Comhairle, Deputies Pattison, Brian Lenihan and myself who were elected to the House in 1961, Deputies David Andrews, Briscoe and Molloy elected in 1965, Deputies Gerry Collins, Des O'Malley, O'Leary and Timmins elected in by-elections and in 1969, Deputies John Bruton, Peter Barry, Liam Burke, Michael O'Kennedy, Ger Connolly, Michael Smith and Michael Noonan(Limerick West). The fact that so few of the present Members were here in 1969 gives an indication of the timespan of the troubles.

In the early days I feared the possibility of civil war in Northern Ireland, particularly in the city of Derry. I was present when the British army arrived as a peacekeeping force. I witnessed mothers of the Bogside in their hour of despair bring them baskets of sandwiches and tea and welcoming them with hugs and kisses, but the honeymoon did not last long. I considered it my responsibility to articulate what was happening in Northern Ireland and I was amazed that I was almost a lone voice on the issue in this House. At that time not one party in the House had a policy on Northern Ireland. It was not until the former Deputy Garret FitzGerald and the late Michael Sweetman, an adviser to the Fine Gael Party who died in a plane crash in London, and I met following a meeting here that we identified certain basic positions which the party would have to examine if we desired to make a contribution towards peace in Northern Ireland. Radical ideas were put forward and pen was put to paper less than a month after the troubles broke out in the city of Derry in 1969. Within a few days the then Taoiseach, the former Deputy Jack Lynch, supported our views and the then leader of the Labour Party, the late Deputy Brendan Corish, echoed his support. I am glad I can share the honour due to the former Deputy Garret FitzGerald and the late Michael Sweetman in preparing that document and in raising the issue of solutions to the troubles in Northern Ireland. I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the role they played in bringing about what has been achieved to date.

John Hume was a young black haired boy when I first got to know him. I introduced him to Deputies and he became known as Paddy Harte's friend. I had to advise him not to be seen as a Fine Gael supporter but to mix with Deputies of other parties. From that small and humble beginning John Hume's contribution to peace and political progress in the North makes him probably one of the most outstanding Irish politicians of this century, starting as a novice without any training as a politician. I would add to his name those people in the SDLP who played their part in the past few months, particularly Séamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady and Joe Hendron. But there are many others, for example, Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt, Paddy O'Hanlon and Paddy Kennedy. I could continue listing the names of the many people who made a contribution towards peace and tried to bring normality to Northern Ireland. These people, with no political experience or background came together and made an enormous contribution. That should not go unnoticed here.

This day is significant also because for the first time in the history of Irish republicans — I include all republicans those who use a capital "R" just as those who use a small "r"— have recognised that violence is not the way to settle the problems in Northern Ireland and that it is only by a peaceful process that the conflict between the two communities can be resolved. The pity is that that was not recognised 70 years ago. I do not want to go back in history but it is my duty to remind the House that the tradition from which I come maintained that a peaceful solution was the way forward in the North. I instinctively realised in the early 1970s that this was not a British-Irish conflict but a conflict between both communities on the island of Ireland which would have to be resolved sooner or later. I found myself in the Protestant ghettos of Belfast talking to Protestant paramilitaries, to Protestant politicians and to ordinary Protestant people about their lack of understanding and knowledge of southern Ireland. I asked them why they wanted to shoot people like me and invited them to come south to meet us. I felt it my duty to articulate in this House the fears and apprehensions of those people about being forced into a united Ireland and Deputies on the Government benches in those days described me as a Unionist, as a second class Irishman, as a West Brit, as someone who was politically queer and unusual. All I was trying to do was speak for a group which was not here to express itself and communicate a message to the House that if we wanted peace in Ireland we would have to sit down some day and talk eyeball to eyeball with people who did not want to join us and not try to coerce them which means giving them the freedom to join us whenever they felt like it. That remains the position.

It is terrible that the IRA and Sinn Féin wrongly identified the problem in Northern Ireland for the past 25 years, and saw it as a British-Irish problem and preached that a withdrawal of British troops was essential for peace whereas I would argue that peace was essential for a British withdrawal, and peace could not be achieved unless we sat down and talked with the Protestant North. I made it my business earlier this evening to speak with what could be described as a paramilitary in the North. He thought it was a time of great opportunity, a time to learn to live together. He thought there should be an elected assembly as soon as possible in Northern Ireland to give the ordinary people there an opportunity to elect leaders who would speak for them. He believed there should be better links between the Taoiseach and Mr. Jim Molyneaux equal to the type of links which exist between John Hume and other people in the North. The attitude of Protestant paramilitarism in the North is one of relief. One person told me he felt like going out to celebrate not a victory for the IRA but peace and the fact that he would have an opportunity to express his views on how Ireland should be governed.

The Sunningdale Agreement was the first of many attempts to solve the problems in the North — it was about political solutions, spelling out how the North should be governed. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was about political structures, and that was not acceptable to the Protestant community in the North. The Downing Street Declaration is about political principles. No group of people could take exception to the statement of political principles. I say in all sincerity to the Protestant people in the North that we should talk about these political principles. There is nobody in this House or in the South that I know who wants to take over the North in advance of their wanting to join us. I wish Jim Molyneaux every success in trying to hold the middle ground there. I make an earnest appeal to Ian Paisley, because he is the voice of extreme Protestantism in the North. Until such time as we can communicate with that voice and come to terms with the people that Ian Paisley represents, we will not have real peace on this island.

This is a time of great opportunity. In congratulating the Taoiseach I have to say that he may have missed the major contributions made by former Taoisigh Garret FitzGerlad and Liam Cosgrave and former Tánaiste Brendan Corish and by the present Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, in helping to draw up the Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Lined up with these people are the many Members of Parliament in Westminster and Deputies of this House who have got to know and understand the problems of Ireland better. We have come a long way and it has taken some of us longer than others to realise the best way forward. Now that we have established a basis for moving forward to the next stage it would be wrong to dwell too long on the past.

I again congratulate the Taoiseach on the work he has done and wish him well in what he is attempting. I congratulate also the Tánaiste, John Hume and Gerry Adams, for today is a day when we should all be generous with our remarks. I wish the elected representatives of the Protestant people in Northern Ireland the wisdom to go in the right direction, and I ask the Protestant people not to pressurise their leaders emotionally into taking decisions they might regret.

Finally, let me say that when former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald advised the small group in Fine Gael of which I was one about the contents of the Anglo-Irish Agreement I congratulated him on doing a great job for Ireland but advised him to move forward cautiously. I give the same advice to the Taoiseach this evening. He has done a great job for Ireland. He should move forward cautiously and continue to build better and healthier relationships with the Protestant community in the North in the hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day than yesterday.

Since the establishment of Dáil Éireann in 1919, there has never been a period during which there was not a conflict in Northern Ireland or the latent threat of conflict. Unlike all previous efforts to establish a real framework for peace on this island, the process initiated by Albert Reynolds, immediately after his election as Taoiseach, has achieved the final removal of the gun from Nationalist politics on this island.

The present phase of the Northern conflict has lasted for 25 years. During that period this House has seen nine different Governments, presided over by five different Taoisigh. All of the present Taoiseach's predecessors endeavoured in their own ways to bring about an end to the conflict. Each brought his own particular attributes, talents and perspectives to bear on achieving a solution. While each one had his own successes, none succeeded in achieving the breakthrough which has occurred today.

It took patience and persistence on the part of the Taoiseach to develop and sustain the initiative he commenced. Above all it took courage. It has been said that while victory has many fathers, defeat is always an orphan. Had the process commenced by the Taoiseach failed as so many predicted it would, the responsibility would have been left to him and to him alone. Now that his faith and conviction that even the most intractable of problems can be solved and even the most closed of minds can be opened has been vindicated, the Taoiseach is fully entitled to the congratulations of every Member of this House and all people of good will.

The process which led to today's historic announcement was slow and difficult. Over the last three years, for every moment of hope there were as many moments of disappointment. One need only remember the immediate aftermath of Sinn Féin's Letterkenny Conference. At moments like that, the easy reaction — indeed the safe reaction — would have been to join in the chorus of denunciation and disavowal of the process but the Taoiseach chose to endure the ill-judged criticisms thrown at him and persisted in his task.

It must also be said that since the formation of this Government, the work and commitment of the Tánaiste in his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs has been central to the success of the peace process. It is appropriate, on a day on which it was so widely predicted that the cohesion of this Government would be put under pressure, we have seen instead just how successful is the partnership between our Government parties which today is so uniquely represented by this joint achievement of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

For 25 years John Hume has never flagged in his commitment and dedication to the achievement of peace and justice on this island. Few people would have had the courage or character to persist throughout that long period. In recent years, however, his moral courage and political strength have been grotesquely and unfairly challenged. When one considers the campaign of vilification conducted against John Hume, and indeed the Taoiseach, by certain elements, who, one could be forgiven for believing, had some sort of perverted vested interest in seeing the conflict continue, one can take even greater satisfaction in today's total justification of John Hume's commitment to peace.

The constructive and positive role played by the President of Sinn Féin in today's announcement has also to be acknowledged. Like John Hume, Mr. Adams has risked more than simply a political reputation. It would be churlish not to acknowledge fairly and fully his contribution to today's historic event.

The significance of the breakthrough witnessed today cannot be overstated. While there have been previous IRA campaigns which ended with the declaration of a ceasefire, never before has the IRA declared the "complete cessation" of its campaign. There has never before been an IRA acceptance that armed struggle was not the way forward. There has never before been a moment at which the entire spectrum of Nationalist opinion on this island was committed to the achievement of our aspirations and ideals by peaceful means.

It is difficult to credit that there are actually certain elements who appear resentful and disappointed by the ending of the IRA campaign. I am not referring to any sections of Northern Unionist opinion whose concerns are genuine although I would submit, unfounded; I am referring to those who so arrogantly predicted that an IRA ceasefire could not be achieved. When a ceasefire became likely, they predicted it would not be of sufficient duration. When a three month ceasefire was mooted in the media, they said it would have to be open-ended. Now that the IRA has accepted the Taoiseach's consistent and firm insistence on a complete cessation of violence, these discredited Cassandras are already saying that it is not enough.

I suppose if one can top up a ministerial pension or a Dáil salary plus legal income by endlessly repeating the same jaded old script, the prospect of having to write a new one to meet the challenge of the new reality is pretty daunting. Nevertheless, the attempts to sabotage the process which has led to this complete cessation of IRA violence are nothing short of sickening. Paranoid predictions that an end to IRA violence should not be sought lest paranoid loyalist paramilitaries step up their violence is in effect to say that only by maintaining the level of violence now hopefully ending can worse violence be prevented. Fortunately, the Taoiseach has never subscribed to or accepted the idea of an "acceptable" level of violence.

Now more than ever must Nationalist Ireland extend the hand of friendship to our Unionist fellow countrymen. As the Taoiseach said, there are no secret deals. There is no hidden agenda. When we say we reject the very idea of ever forcing Unionists into constitutional or political arrangements against their will, we mean it. When we say we accept fully that their identity and aspirations are as valid as ours, we mean it. When we say that, while we hope one day they will say "yes" to a full constitutional and political partnership between us, we acknowledge their right to say "no", we mean it.

In meeting Unionist concerns, we must not forget that the genesis of the campaign which has now ended lay in the history of discrimination and injustice to which the Northern Nationalists were subjected for more than 50 years. Although it is not fashionable to say so in certain comfortable quarters in this jurisdiction, Northern Nationalists too have fears, grievances and unfulfilled aspirations. This State must not forget the loyalty it owes to those Northerners who give allegiance to our flag.

In acknowledging that the majority in the Six Counties will not be coerced in the future, we must not forget the coercion to which the minority were subjected in the past and we must guarantee that it will not happen again.

Today is truly a day for celebration, but it must also be the day on which we renew our determination, in the words of Wolfe Tone, "to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter".

I wish to share my time with my colleague and namesake, Deputy John Fox.

I am sure that is satisfactory. Agreed.

I welcome the statement from the IRA today of its ceasefire which will take effect from midnight tonight. In the past on many occasions the loyalist paramilitaries stated that they merely react to the actions of the IRA, to the bombings and the killings, that it is merely a tit for tat effort. Consequently, I expect a reciprocal response from the loyalist paramilitaries on this occasion, but until we receive such a favourable response we should be very slow to celebrate. Once that response is forthcoming, all Irish people should work and strive towards peace, justice and prosperity on this island where we can live together in harmony irrespective of religious or political beliefs.

Many people throughout the world can be forgiven for thinking that the Irish cannot live happily together because for the last 25 years, and for many decades before, on most occasions when Ireland featured on news bulletins it was because of violence at home. However, we must remember that for centuries Irish people have worked in harmony in almost every English speaking country. They worked and fought side by side in times of war and no-one questioned their religion. When we can do that in foreign countries it is high time we got around to doing it in and for our own country.

I wish to share my remaining time with Deputy Sargent.

I am sure that is satisfactory. Agreed.

It is a great day for quotes and many illustrious people have been quoted in the Chamber today. I think it was W.B. Yeats, who, when riding over the hill in the early morning, said to his trusted steed: "stand still, my steed, let me survey the scene". It would be very wise if politicians and the people of this country adopted a similar stance.

The guns of the IRA have been silenced and we all hope and pray that it will be in a permanent silence. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, said the war is over. We all hope that is so. However, there is a big difference between the guns of the IRA being silenced and lasting peace in this country. Lasting peace can come only from the hearts and minds of the people who have to live together in their respective communities. The final thrust for a ceasefire from the men of violence came from the Nationalist community. The message came across during the past 12 months — due in no small measure to the efforts of the politicians, of our Government and the British Government — to the ordinary people on the street and to the men of violence that we want peace. Many decent people in the Unionist community would like to send the same message to the men of violence on their side. If at the end of this long day the 25 years of violence has come to an end, all who have lost their lives, innocent people in the main, will not have died in vain. I have no doubt that their relatives would like to see this day as a new beginning and to see us give it our blessing.

I hope that democratic, diplomatic and sensitive politics will now play its part in reciprocal action to give the peace process the chance it needs. This is an historic day and, as the father of the House has said, this is a small, tentative but very important step. We have a duty to make the most of it.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhleacaí as ucht a am a roinnt liom.

The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, is very happy that at long last the IRA has made a realistic commitment to politics without violence. The significance of this decision will only be clear when the talks take their course but it is very poignant that from 1 September this year IRA violence will cease forever, I pray. Had he been alive, Master Tim Parry of Warrington would have celebrated his fourteenth birthday. I call on not only the paramilitaries on both sides to embrace the promise of peace and prosperity but on the constitutional politicians and the people in the Republic particularly to try to empathise with and understand what those who have lived and suffered through violence are now experiencing. How many of us living in towns such as Balbriggan, Ballina, Banagher or anywhere else really understand what it is like not to know whether a trip to the shop will end in a kidnap or whether, while watching television at home, a shot will shatter the window or when in the pub whether one will be interrupted by the thunderous flash of a bomb or whether the letter on the mat is a warning to leave the area or else be burned out?

Today's IRA statement is a first step in lifting that terror and fear from ordinary people. Just as when a cloud rises or smoke drifts from a battlefield, the field of vision should now become clearer. There is a realisation that violence solves nothing, and only breeds ultimately fruitless violence. Silent smoking guns do not represent peace. Even the absence of guns and Semtex would not be sufficient for true peace to reign. Peace is about trust and living without fear. Ultimately that is the work that lies ahead of us. The sea change this represents leaves a delicate balance of viewpoints. It is important that we all contribute to building reconciliation between communities.

The Greens draw members from all sides of that divide who share an ecological vision of life and a commitment to peace. I have some experience of life North of the Border. I am a Protestant and some of my relations live in Northern Ireland. The Greens in Northern Ireland invited me to canvass with them during the latest local elections and I walked down footpaths some of which were painted green, white and gold and others red, white and blue. In some areas I was asked to introduce myself as a TD and in others as an MP. These are examples of the realities of life. The cross-community nature of Green politics is important in the pursuit of peace. I call on other parties to understand that the Green strand in politics may be small but has a proven and worthwhile record. The Greens have developed decision making procedures whose objective is to reach consensus rather than majority or minority decisions. Non-hierarchical structures allow decision making at the lowest effective level. Peace with all life on earth is central to Green thinking. I urge all Members to think afresh and put the interests of peace above party political interests, particularly as parties delude themselves into assuming that a party has to be a certain size before it is recognised as a legitimate one.

Tá an t-am beagnach caite.

Will the political parties think afresh about having all strands of opinion represented at the peace forum as we are trying to encourage people to work together in negotiations? The Greens will contribute what they can to bring about a lasting peace.

I wish to share my time with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Noel Treacy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Concern about the IRA statement is being transmitted on the airwaves. I do not pretend to interpret the minds of the people who prepared the statement issued this morning, which appears to be causing some concern to our brethren across the water, and more particularly to our parliamentary counterparts. They are concerned about the absence of the word "permanent". I respectfully suggest that the IRA statement be read conjunctively rather than disjunctively. I would have thought that the absence of the word "permanent" probably is not deliberate because the statement pre-supposes permanency.

The first paragraph states there will be a complete cessation of military operations and the third paragraph that the IRA believes that an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created. The statement also notes that the Downing Street Declaration is not a solution, nor is it presented as such by its authors, the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach and that a solution will only be found as a result of inclusive negotiations. That surely pre-supposes permanency and a complete cessation of military operations. The final paragraph states that the IRA desires to significantly contribute to the creation of a climate which will encourage presumably a permanent and complete cessation of military operations. It urges everyone to approach the new situation with energy, determination and patience. Patience by its very definition presupposes permanency.

As has been statedad nauseam this is undoubtedly an historic day. As one of the longest serving Members — having been elected just under 30 years ago, some four years after the Ceann Comhairle — it is a particularly important day in my time in this House. It is a very important day in the life of the Taoiseach, a man who took a considerable risk in the pursuit of his consistent and courageous policy of sticking with the issue as he saw it, not as others saw it. As a result of that, extending back to 1992, he was subjected to a good deal of unfair criticism. People clearly did not understand or appreciate what he was doing and what he sought to achieve. It is fair to say that this day is his moment in history and nobody can take that from him. To reach this point in our history he pursued his purpose with courage, consistency and determination. He began this drive in 1992 and I believe his determination has led us to today's historic announcement.

As stated by Deputies from the Technical Group, this is only day one of a process that we would like to see evolve. It is the end of a 25 year campaign of violence and the beginning of a new era, a new atmosphere, a new condition, a new feeling of spirit and of mind. That is what today is all about but, as Deputy Fox and others said, it is only a beginning.

Tributes have flowed from Deputies who contributed to the debate, but as a former Minister for Foreign Affairs who participated in the North-South talks which lasted for approximately six months, I was honoured and privileged to be associated with all the participants in those talks which were a small but important part of the process in arriving at today's announcement. I was proud to be part of those talks and to be associated with the SDLP in that talks process in Stormont and in Dublin.

Of course, the SDLP would be where my heart lies in the context of Nationalist Ireland and it would represent me in the North. In that regard I would like to particularly pay tribute to the courage and tenacity of people like Hume, Mallon, McGrady and Hendron who held the line in the face of the most difficult circumstances. While we were living here in the comfort of the south, they were living in the northern part of the island in an atmosphere of violence and terror. They deserve our deepest gratitude for holding that line.

I also wish to pay tribute to the politicians of the Unionist tradition who followed and represented what they considered to be democratic politics. They survived and existed in an atmosphere of violence and terror in the most appalling circumstances and must also be thanked for allowing us to arrive at this day. Those Unionist politicians who say that peace is a recipe for violence should look into their hearts and examine their consciences. This historic opportunity should not be allowed to pass. I pay tribute to all those people who had any measure or part in arriving at this moment in history.

We cannot forget the more than 3,000 people who died and the many thousands who have been injured. Many people have a legacy of bitterness to overcome that will take a long time. During the North-South talks, I had the honour of sitting down with the Unionists and the Nationalists for over six months and we discovered mutually that we were not in the takeover business. Everyone to their own traditions in peace and harmony on this island — that is what we want to achieve. We cannot throw the traditions of the Unionists and the Nationalists overboard; much healing has to take place and much thought given to what the future holds.

Much of what has taken place today must be credited to the heart and the mind of Albert Reynolds on the one hand, ably assisted by the Tánaiste, Dick Spring. I will quote from Douglas Hyde, a former Protestant President: One never tears a page from history; one merely turns it over. That is the process we are now in, turning over a page of history and not forgetting what has gone before.

Seventy-five years ago Dáil Éireann was established to serve the people of this country in an open, democratic and fair way. Despite the difficulties faced by the fledgling State in the 1920s, the economic problems of the 1930s and 1940s, the emigration of the 1950s, and the troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and over the past 25 years, successive generations of politicians, successive Taoisigh and successive Members of this Dáil have all worked in a particular way to utilise the democratic opportunities presented by the people of Ireland and by this institution to create that equality of opportunity for all the people on this part of the island.

Twenty-five years ago I was an idealistic young student. Two weeks into September of 25 years ago I chose to go into the business world and for 13 of the past 25 years I had the privilege of doing business with Nationalists and Loyalists in Northern Ireland. I enjoyed doing business with very decent people. For the past 12 years I have been privileged to be a Member of this Dáil and tonight I am proud to be here for a very historic occasion. I believe today is the greatest proof that constitutional democracy is the way forward in any part of this world and particularly here in this island of Ireland.

I wish to pay tribute to all the key people involved in the process of bringing about this cessation of violence announced by the IRA today. John Hume took over the leadership of the SDLP at a very difficult time ably assisted by all his colleagues. Gerry Adams has given brave leadership in a very difficult situation. He, along with John Hume, initiated the dialogue with the people who believed that a military solution was the only way forward. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, put his trust in the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, and, with his colleague, Patrick Mayhew, played a key role in this process. I also pay tribute to the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, for the tremendous work that he and the officials of his Department carried out. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Minister David Andrews, who, with the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, was involved in much of the dialogue that has assisted in putting light into what was a very dark tunnel.

One man above all, however, from the moment he was elected leader of Fianna Fáil and elected here as Taoiseach, gave an unequivocal commitment publicly, personally and politically that he would do everything in his power to bring peace to the island of Ireland. The Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, will certainly go down in history; this must surely be his day. I pay tribute to him and to all the people and the many intermediaries who worked with him. The task ahead will not be easy. We must be calm and restrained in what we say and do. We must show respect and trust. If anyone, as Deputy Andrews said, takes the IRA statement in totality they must have trust in the statement and give it an opportunity to work. Collectively the people in the two islands, both Governments, the people of this part of the island and those in Northern Ireland of all persuasions have a duty to recognise that in modern times it is better to live for one's country than to be given no option but to die for one's country. My hope is that, respecting one another's differences and recognising the difficulties of the past, we can work together for the future.

It was the great Theobald Wolfe Tone who said, "I want to abolish the memory of past dissension. These alone are my means for the country that I love". Tonight I pray that the people on this island from now on will work together to abolish all past dissension and present bitterness so that they can work together for the future of Ireland in mutual peace and prosperity.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deenihan. I, too, welcome with relief and thanksgiving the decision of the IRA to announce the complete cessation of military operations which was supported by the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland have been yearning for peace after 25 years of violence. Violence leads to violence and many innocent families have suffered from the tit for tat murders that have taken place.

The Taoiseach, and the Minister for Defence and for the Marine, stated that more than 3,000 people lost their lives in a needless conflict. That does not take into account the many thousands of people who will carry gun and bomb injuries to their graves. One of my school friends suffered in one such bomb attack and will have to be supported by his family for the rest of his life.

It is vital that all sections in this island home of ours can see positive proof that today's statement really does mean a permanent end to violence and that other paramilitary organisations immediately agree to a similar decision. Mr. McDermott's death today was one too many and must be condemned. No claims of glory should be made either in or outside the House or words uttered that would endanger the ending of violence. We have not only a chance for peace but for unprecedented prosperity on this island if we can learn to live and work together and iron out our many difficulties and genuine anxieties. This can only be done by people working through proper political channels. My involvement in the British-Irish Inter-parliamentary Body over the past 12 months has shown me that there is a genuine effort by many British MPs to understand and come to grips with the Irish conflict.

Over many generations, but especially with the bloodshed of the past 25 years, there has been a build-up of fear and mistrust between the Nationalist and Unionist peoples. It will take major effort and understanding to break down these barriers and it will also take time. The efforts of the European Union and the US to support the peaceful efforts in Northern Ireland, which were a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement brought about by former Deputy Garret FitzGerald, by helping community groups and creating employment generally must continue. It is reported that £100 million plus per year may be available from the US if violence ceases. If this is so, some of the money must be spent south of the Border to help repair the enormous damage caused by the violence of the past 25 years to Border communities.

I, like my party leader, believe there is no hidden dimension and no secret understandings. Even more than my party leader I felt the murder of one of my predecessors, Senator Bill Fox, and I have stood by the graves of victims from both sides of the divide North and South of the Border. Families in Monaghan and Dublin have suffered the same as those north of the Border as a result of bombing. Security forces north and south of the Border lost their lives at the hands of gunmen under the guidelines of the godfathers of violence. All these happenings cannot be easily forgotten and a single statement, useful and all as it may be, can only start the process. Today sees the start we all hoped for.

I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, John Hume, church leaders and many others who played their part in bringing about the decision announced today. My party leader, Deputy John Bruton, and other Opposition leaders played a positive role. None of them travelled to the US or elsewhere to condemn the efforts of the Government. Deputy Bruton travelled North to encourage both Unionists and Nationalists to play their part and work together. That process must continue. We must pray that it will be successful.

If the ceasefire announced today is a permanent one then this is indeed a momentous and historic occasion. The signals coming from the Nationalist community in the North over the past year, especially those that support the IRA and Sinn Féin, would seem to confirm that there was a genuine desire for peace for some time in those communities. For some months past the mood for peace accelerated to such an extent that there was no going back on today's declaration of a ceasefire announced by the IRA.

It is important that the IRA should clarify today's statement to allay any Unionists fears and ensure that no excuses will be proffered for those who want to reject this initiative. The IRA should clearly state that this is a permanent ceasefire. If we have permanent peace on this island for a credible period I can see major economic advantages for both parts of the island. As Opposition spokesperson for tourism and trade I can see major possibilities for the tourism industry. At present we attract 4 per cent of British tourists to this country. If we had permanent peace on this island the number of tourists coming from Britain would increase substantially as would the number of Northern visitors coming South. The same goes for the potential growth of our other main markets especially the USA and Europe.

The violence in Northern Ireland is, unfortunately, afforded widespread coverage in the US media. A large number of Americans are put off coming to this country because of the violence. With the normalisation of everyday life north of the Border trading possibilities between North and South will increase considerably. I also foresee opportunities for cultural and educational interaction between both parts of this island. These have already commenced in many areas.

As a member of the GAA I sincerely hope that GAA clubs will be allowed carry on their activities without obstruction or harassment from the security forces. It is now time for the GAA to make a gesture by removing its ban on members of the RUC participating in Gaelic games.

I compliment the Taoiseach and my fellow countyman, the Tánaiste, on the role they played in bringing about this ceasefire and also the vital and crucial role, as has been mentioned by almost every speaker in the debate, that John Hume played in securing an agreement with Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin. This must not be forgotten. The role of Gerry Adams in bringing about this ceasefire must be recognised. There is an onus on him to continue being consistent and ensure there is not a return to arms. I compliment my party leader, Deputy John Bruton, on the responsible role he played in the process that led to the ceasefire and his contribution in the House today during which he demonstrated so well his generosity and statesmanship. If the leader of the then Opposition and his party had given the same support to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Garret FitzGerald in 1985, peace might have come much earlier. If the ceasefire lasts today will be an historical occasion but if there is a return to violence and the type of mayhem we have witnessed for the past 25 years, unfortunately today's statement will be seen as another propaganda coup for the IRA. Like my party leader, I am confident this is a genuine effort to achieve peace. Like Members of other parties, I pray that tonight we are witnessing a new beginning for this country.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Rory O'Hanlon.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is an historic day, a day that marks a new beginning, a day of hope and of thanks. The people of Ireland owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked long and hard to bring about this cessation of IRA violence. The Taoiseach deserves, and I have no doubt will receive, the thanks of all Irish people of goodwill for his determination and steadfast pursuit of peace on this island. Despite the sceptics, the cynics and the prophets of doom and gloom the Taoiseach persisted in his determination to bring the men of violence to their senses. In the face of unwarranted and unfair criticism and abuse his political nerve and judgment held firm and he has been proved right. Today is his day.

The British Prime Minister also deserves credit for his role. In bringing about the Downing Street Declaration both Governments created a basis and a framework for meaningful and peaceful dialogue between the divided people of this island. Great tribute must also be paid to John Hume who, like the Taoiseach, has been the butt of unjust and unwarranted attacks upon his political and personal integrity and credibility. We must pay tribute to the courage and insight of John Hume for his part in convincing the men of violence to see that there is another way, a better way, a peaceful way to give voice to their grievances and aspirations.

I also acknowledge the role of those Unionist politicians who have sought to calm and reassure the loyalist population. Peace does not pose a threat to anyone. If we are to have a new beginning and a new understanding then no section should feel alienated or shut out — all must be assured that there has been no sell-out, no betrayal and that they have nothing to fear. This is not a time for knee-jerk reactions or panic but a time to join with all others upon this island in welcoming this cessation of unnecessary and intolerable violence.

The Government, this House and the overwhelming majority of Irish people at home and abroad have consistently condemned the use of violence by the IRA. This condemnation has been unequivocal and constant. Nevertheless, acknowledgment is due to those within the Republican movement who have striven to convince the IRA that the use of armed force and intimidation have no part in the pursuit of political goals.

Now that the IRA is implementing a complete cessation of its campaign it is vital that we prove to it that it was right to opt for the democratic process. To some degree or in some way, most parties in this House derive their origins from or have historic links with participants in armed struggle, but once the gun was laid down their right to full participation in the democratic process was always acknowledged. I have no doubt that decision of the IRA was a difficult one for it to make. Its stated commitment to the democratic peace process deserves to be taken at face value.

This is an historic day and the mistakes of history must not be repeated. The haphazard or inconclusive settlement or arrangements of 1921 have left a legacy of sectarianism and violence. The arrangements of the past did not allow for a proper agreement or compromise between the communities and traditions which must share this island. In that regard the structures and institutions arrived at in 1921 for the government of Northern Ireland have been a failure. The old Stormont failed the people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, by creating a breeding ground for bigotry and hatred, for violence and death. It can be said that it also failed the people of all of Ireland and the people of Britain. In Belfast, Dublin, London and countless other cities and towns the cruel and tragic price of that failure has been paid over and over again as the death toll has mounted ever higher.

For the last 25 years the North has been in the throes of a bloody nightmare from which there seemed to be no escape, an endless cycle of killing and bombing, endless tit-for-tat assassinations, a cycle of hate and fear. That cycle has now been broken.

Let us not forget all those who have so tragically lost their lives and all those who have been left to grieve the loss of a loved one and to piece together the fragments of a shattered life. Let us recall the scenes of mayhem and destruction, sorrow and pain and say "never again". A cessation of IRA violence is not a "cure all". The divisions and problems in the North will not disappear overnight. The road to a just and lasting settlement will no doubt be a long and hard one to travel. The cessation of IRA violence marks a turning point, a watershed in the history of politics of modern Ireland.

We must sincerely hope that the cessation of IRA violence will be reciprocated, as so often promised by their loyalist counterparts. The spectre of the hooded gunman must be exorcised from this island once and for all so that all parties and people, all traditions and cultures, all shades of opinion, may seek a just and lasting resolution of this all too ancient conflict which has plagued this island. Such a solution must come from respect and understanding, not from notions of victory or defeat.

Along with the people of Northern Ireland we must look to the future. Without forgetting the lessons of history we must not dwell on past wrongs and ancient grievances but rather strive to reach a fair compromise and accommodation, to make a new start and to build a new society free from the hatred, violence and fear which have plagued our country for far too long.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Cowen, for sharing his time with me. Like other Members, I welcome the decision of the IRA to announce a complete cessation of violence and commit itself to the democratic process. I will not repeat what has already been said but in welcoming this decision we must recognise that there are other paramilitary forces in the North. I hope the paramilitary murder in Antrim last night will be the last such murder on this island.

I appeal to the loyalist paramilitaries to follow the IRA example, and to the leaders of constitutional Unionism to follow the lead taken by John Hume. It is only fair to ask them to condemn violence, as all constitutional Nationalists on this island have done for the past 20 years. While the Official Unionists condemn violence there are still leaders in the Democratic Unionist Party who condone violence and this is unacceptable.

I pay tribute to the Taoiseach for his continued commitment to the peace process and for the trojan work he has done. I pay tribute also to the British Prime Minister and to John Hume who lives in the North and has given leadership to the Nationalist people there. He has shown courage, taken risks and persisted with the peace process. It is a tribute to him and Gerry Adams that they brought their dialogue to the stage where we are able today to welcome the cessation of IRA violence. John Hume and the SDLP did more than anybody else during the past 20 years to bring Nationalist opinion around to the position where Nationalists accept the legitimate rights of Unionists, something which unfortunately is not reciprocated. It would be beneficial to everyone on this island, including Unionists, if the Unionist leaders recognised the rights of Nationalists in the North.

I believe that the ceasefire is permanent and that we have the opportunity to progress to a peaceful island. The Unionists have nothing to fear, guarantees on consent have been given at every stage in this process by the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, Mr. John Hume and Mr. Gerry Adams in their statement on Sunday last.

I look forward to an end to all paramilitary violence and, in due course, to seeing the military off the streets in Northern Ireland, in addition to a more sensitive, acceptable policing of the North. Obviously, there are important implications for my constituency, representing two of the nine Ulster counties, Cavan and Monaghan. For the first time, I hope that sooner rather than later, there will be no checkpoints on the Border, which would be the first time since partition. Even before the present military presence, there had been Customs and Excise which, thankfully, had disappeared with the application of the provisions of the Single European Act. We look forward to the day when there will not be a need for military checkpoints either. I should like to see Border roads opened; that has to be beneficial for people on both sides of the Border. I should like to avail of this opportunity to pay a tribute to our Garda and Army for the work they have performed on the Border over the years. They carried out a very hard task in very difficult times.

I should like to see progress as rapidly as possible. I see no reason Unionists should not participate in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation or in talks around the table. Everybody here knows there has been much good work in the economic and social areas, particularly over the past ten years, between North and South. When in the Department of Health I met my counterpart twice yearly, when substantial progress was made on the delivery of health services on this island in a unified manner. There is no reason people cannot sit around the table and talk about the issues on which they agree first, then move on to the more difficult constitutional issues.

I look forward to the day on which we can all live in peace and harmony on this island. We should all welcome today's achievement because it brings that day closer.

Today marks a watershed in our history. My reaction to the IRA ceasefire is one of great hope and optimism. Throughout the Republic I found reactions of a similar kind, ranging from thanksgiving, to delight, to relief, to euphoria. However, there is one point to be remembered; I am not sure that the reaction in Northern Ireland is exactly equivalent. I was in Belfast over the weekend and, in the expectation of a ceasefire, the kind of reaction I found there was certainly one of some hope but mixed with a considerable dash of scepticism and quite an amount of cynicism. Therefore, it is important to understand that the reaction within Northern Ireland may be somewhat different from ours. Why should that be so? Of course, they have borne the brunt of the conflict over the past 25 years. We had our losses here in the Republic — the murders of Garda Fallon, Garda Reynolds, Senator Fox and others — but we did not have it on a daily or weekly basis which was the staple diet in Northern Ireland for 25 years. They have borne the brunt of the 3,000 dead, of the tens of thousands injured, of the hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds of loss. In that context it is important for everybody on this island to remember, without bitterness, all those who have suffered. It is also important to understand that it will take time for those who suffered to come to terms with this new position.

Credit is due to many people over those 25 years who made a major contribution to the search for peace, for example, the efforts of Messrs. Liam Cosgrave, Brian Faulkner and Edward Heath on the Sunningdale Agreement, those of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Mr. Peter Barry and Margaret Thatcher on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The same applies to the present Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major for their efforts on the Downing Street Joint Declaration in the lead up to the present ceasefire, part of a continuum of people who made a major contribution, all credit to them for that.

Let us not forget also the many others who tried and who are still trying. Mr. Jim Molyneaux has been a very steadying influence within Northern Ireland. However, one person stands head and shoulders above everybody else in all these efforts, has been in the front line for 25 years and made a contribution way beyond the call of duty. That person is Mr. John Hume who played a fundamental role in challenging traditional nationalism, republicanism and traditional unionism over those years. Indeed his name is synonymous with the approach which now animates both sovereign Governments, that is parity of esteem for the two communities, in a Northern and island context, which is important, and, of course, in acceptance of the three-stranded approach to negotiations and self-determination through mutual agreement. Mr. Hume played a huge role in all those efforts I mentioned over the years. He is also a committed European and rightly places the problem of Northern Ireland and its solution within the broad context of a united Europe. All that required energy and much courage over those years. In recent times in particular he has been criticised, abused, excoriated for that effort but did not flinch. It is important to recognise that contribution. Indeed, in the fullness of time, I should very much like to see the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to John Hume.

How will we all react now? There has to be an open, generous reaction on the part of everybody. There is, I suppose, an understandable reaction on the part of those of us who were involved in Government in 1985, that the kind of open support we are giving now, and have been giving, was not given then to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, or at least the non-Labour part of the present Government. I suppose it is a fair question, if the principle of the need for consent of the majority in Northern Ireland — that is constitutional change, which is incorporated in the Anglo-Irish Agreement — had been accepted by Fianna Fáil at that time nine years ago, would the whole process have been accelerated? I will leave it there; it is a question mark that remains, but I do not want to carp about it at this point. Perhaps it is a question mark that should to be examined in time.

Our reaction must be to give peace a chance. The IRA has given up violence as a means of achieving political goals. The loyalists have said that their violence is reaction to IRA violence. We will now put that to the test. Let us be fair: the IRA has put that to the test. I hope the loyalists will not be found wanting.

There is also an onus on all politicians, all parties and interest groups on this island to contribute to the creation of new democratic structures which will respect and enhance the fundamental rights of all our people. Politicians of all parties are being given that chance and will have to make their contribution. History will not forgive those who continue to play outdated long-playing records and refuse to engage in meaningful, constructive political discussions.

While I mentioned I had been heartened by the reaction of Mr. Jim Molyneaux and others in the official Unionist Party perhaps I should mention one other person who made an interesting speech last week which should not be overlooked. He is Mr. David Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party, normally referred to as a hard line loyalist. I noticed a report of a speech of his inThe Irish Times of Thursday last, 25 August, from which I will quote because it is very interesting. He said:

...Loyalists, including the paramilitaries, have accepted for many years that they will have to sit down and talk to the other great monolith in this country, Nationalists and Republicans. Mr. Paisley is standing in the way of that.

He is a person who can legitimately criticise Dr. Paisley since he is regarded as being even further out on the loyalist side than Dr. Paisley.

A huge onus now rests on the two Governments to move the political process forward; I want to see the framework document as soon as possible. There was in the past broad agreement on strand one, on a representative 85-seat Assembly, with a three-man Executive but the crucial issue of strands two and three must be spelled out in detail. There is already broad agreement, officials have done tremendous work on it; it is now a question of bringing that to a conclusion and issuing the framework document at the earliest possible date.

The conditions are set for a settlement but a very important point that must be made at this stage is that everybody has something to offer, everybody has something to gain but everybody also has some sacrifice to make. Let us not forget that in the euphoria. Republicans and Nationalists in Northern Ireland must gain parity of esteem in all respects, must gain links with the Republic but accept that they will not gain a united Ireland in its pristine form at least in the short term. The Unionists have much to gain. We will see the restoration of Stormont but I hope the Stormont that will be restored will be one that will have universal support and will have the consensus of the community behind it. There will be checks and balances but there will be a Unionist majority. That is a plus. The union will be constitutionally guaranteed while a majority in Northern Ireland want it. However, there will be a sacrifice from the point of view of the Unionists in that there will have to be an acceptance of those links with the Republic and, of course, the possibility that some day the majority in Northern Ireland may wish to change their allegiance from London to Dublin.

We also have sacrifices to make. This country will gain enormously in industrial and investment terms but we have to be prepared to give parity of esteem to the Unionists. A change of attitude is necessary on the part of most people in the Republic, as well as an acceptance of the desire of the Unionists to be British. We must be prepared to amend our Constitution and for the full acceptance of the diversity of cultural traditions on this island. We must also be prepared to understand that North-South links will involve some ceding of authority by us. For example, a North-South body dealing with agriculture could have Ian Paisley as chairman and we may have to accept that.

I want also to see a full discussion on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to be established in the near future. I would like to see as broad a membership of that forum as possible. The Unionists have indicated they will not be prepared to take part. As chairman of the sub-Committee on Northern Ireland of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs I should say to people, such as the Unionists, who may not, in the short term, be prepared to take part in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, that if they wish to have a platform in Dublin to present their views to the Oireachtas the sub-committee may have a role in that regard.

It is my wish that all hopes and expectations of a great solution to the problem of Northern Ireland will be realised in the weeks and months ahead and let us all work to achieve that solution.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Lenihan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The announcement this morning that there is to be a cessation of all military activities on the part of the IRA, ushering in the prospects of a period of long and sustained peace was very welcome. It is little less than a major step away from what can be called the politics of fear towards the politics of interdependency. As we come to the final stages of our debate I pay tribute to the care and generosity with which people from all sides of the House have spoken in the wake of the announcement, particularly the generous speech of the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Bruton, who I believe spoke convincingly about the importance of a common position in our movement forward to peace.

For those families who have been affected by violence, murder and injury it must be a very difficult time. This statement which facilitates peace is coming too late for so many. It is coming too late for those who have lost people they loved, it is coming too late for very many of the households who have been affected permanently by the injuries sustained by family members, by the tragic loss of life and the destruction of property. It is not easy for these people to accept that there is a new environment. We cannot require of them that they have an amnesia, as it were, for what has been the most tragic part of their lives. Yet we have to hope they will find, as so many have, a spirit of forgiveness that will enable them to reap the best benefit from the positive atmosphere that will exist.

It is important as we try to make the best use of the opportunities we have for putting an end to the long pain of Northern Ireland that there should be a continuous and sustained interest in matters affecting the North. Far too often, words uttered here and things we have done have been unhelpful. Most of the words uttered today represent a new maturity and a new attitude of politicians in the South towards matters concerning Northern Ireland.

I say to Unionists who are interested in our proceedings that it is not mere rhetoric when we say they have nothing to fear. There is an atmosphere in this island that genuinely wants to understand what Unionism and Nationalism means. I have spent some time in the company of writers and poets, North and South, and whenever I meet them we always recognised there were no simple traditions, even in Northern Ireland. Writings in Northern Ireland, for example, moved from Ulster-English, influenced as it was by Scots and Gaelic, through all the different traditions in the other island. We, in this part of the island where people wrote in English were beneficiaries of a long tradition in the English language and brought to it an older tradition in the Irish language.

Ní féidir linn feasta, agus deirim é seo mar an Aire a bhfuil cúram air i leith cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta, an míúsáid a bhaint as an teanga gur baineadh, b'fhéidir, san am atá thart.

When we approach the Irish language in the future we will have to do so in an open way as an invitation. I say to Unionists that my Department will make proposals to them to be part of the common advances we will make in film, broadcasting, the Irish language and culture. When we speak of the cultural space of this island we are not attempting any take-over but are simply saying that in the new definition of these areas we expect diversity in a way in which it was not respected previously. That is very important.

Regarding the politics of fear we should not forget that it is a form of violence to be excluded from housing rights, employment, prospects for life, education and in advancement. That is what took away the legitimacy from the Northern Ireland State that excluded the Nationalist population. We have passed that time now and it behoves us to be willing to debate and respect what it means to be a Unionist and what it means to be a Nationalist. There are many people in the Unionist tradition who are not represented by the bellicose extreme statements that are well over and beyond the side of James Molyneaux. There are many who are represented by the moderate statements and reactions of Mr. Molyneaux who has tried to make his contribution to the peace process.

I want, with others, to pay tribute to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste — indeed the Labour Party has a long tradition of stressing the value of peace — the people involved in the conflict, John Hume and members of the SDLP, the many Church leaders and others who have made the case for peace often in difficult times and also to the ordinary people who maintained contacts at times of great conflict.

As the Tánaiste said, tribute must be paid to the courage of those who moved away from the hook of violence and set their faces towards the road of democratic discussion and dialogue. I have always believed it was necessary to speak with such people. One could not, for example, say they are forever impaled on that hook and all that is required is to condemn them. It was necessary to be condemnatory on so many occasions. It is also even more difficult but necessary and courageous to understand that it was necessary for them to get off that hook. It was necessary for them to be able to speak to those who would be able to assist them.

When I was preparing my response to the renewal of the order under section 31 I believed that when we could listen to arguments and subject arguments and propositions to debate and listen to each other it would assist us to remove any obstacles to the discussion which was building up towards the achievement of peace.

It is important to approach the new framework with openness and by stressing inclusiveness in our economy, society and culture not to carry old baggage which will exclude something important to the other tradition in Northern Ireland. There are many traditions but, while not forgetting, this is a time for putting aside old hurts and wrongs and for stressing a common future which will move away from violence and the politics of fear by adopting the politics of interdependancy. I hope those listening who are perhaps fearful and find it difficult to forgive will realise that if we can together address issues such as employment, housing and common development great progress will be made and we will secure an enduring peace. It is in times of unemployment and in ghettos that alienation is bred, enabling demonology to flourish thereby fostering violence.

The policies implemented by the Government and by my Department will respect the complex stories that make up the tapestry shared by both communities on this island, a tapestry of many colours which has been damaged by both communities. We have had to go inside the dark border of violence and remake the tapestry with all its colours. There is an exciting future ahead for which it is worth taking a risk. I hope people will have the patience, tolerence, commitment and endurance to build on the efforts of those who have enabled this ceasefire to take place.

The importance of the ceasefire which, so far as the Provisional IRA is concerned, will take place from midnight tonight is that it will open the way for democratic dialogue between all parties on this island. The objective should be to seek a new definition of Irish identity, one that will encompass the people in the two traditions who must continue to live and work together on this island. In that context, a new definition of Irishness is necessary, one which will ultimately enable the two traditions to reach a political settlement and, following the publication of the framework document prepared in conjunction with the British Government, discussions to take place between all interested parties on this island with a view to guaranteeing permanent peace and enabling a range of social and economic developments to take place. Those achievements have been made possible by the announcement of a complete cessation of military operations by the Provisional IRA.

I appeal to loyalist paramilitaries to follow suit in the immediate future and renounce violence. That would open the way for the British Government to move towards a gradual removal of troops and the inauguration of normal policing on the streets of Northern Ireland which could proceed side by side with the publication of the framework document by the two Governments, the initiation of talks involving all interested parties in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and the overall talks involving Northern parties.

The ceasefire will open the way for the political process to which I have referred. The tactics adopted in the past 12 months by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs with the assistance of John Hume and Gerry Adams were correct because we have gained a means to follow through on a detailed democratic political process. That would never have been possible while the violence continued. I strongly urged that both the talks and the peace process should move in tandem and this has happened.

We are now witnessing the first step towards peace arising from the IRA's decision to cease violence from midnight tonight. That will open the way for the talks process in which the Governments and all interested parties can participate. The success of the strategy pursued in the past 12 months has been due to the legitimate objective of inter-locking the peace and political talks aimed at progressing towards a new Ireland with agreed democratic structures, negotiated freely by all parties, guaranteed by the British and Irish Governments and supported by the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. That is the future which lies ahead if we avoid triumphalism and recognise the equality of the two traditions, including the principle of consent essential so far as the Unionist population is concerned. In accommodating the Nationalist and Unionist traditions the overall objective must be equality. There should not be a supremacist attitude of domination by one tradition over the other; there should be equality and parity of esteem throughout our society. That is the definition of Irish identity which is required.

I propose to share my time with Deputy O'Donnell.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús fáilte a chur roimh an ráiteas ó Óglaigh na hÉireann a rá go bhfuil siad ag éirí as an bhforéigean. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leo siúd ar fad a bhí páirteach sna cainteanna a bhí ar siúl le tamall fada agus as ar tháinig an cinneadh seo. Tá súil agam, nuair a bheidh an tsíocháin i bhfeidhm, go seasfaidh sí agus go mbeidh cainteanna fiúntacha in ann a bheith ar siúl as a thiocfaidh bealach síochána do na Sé Chontaethe agus don tír seo ar fad chun na deacrachtaí atá ann a chur taobh thiar dínn agus chun a bheith cinnte go mbeidh gach éinne ar an oileán in ann dul i mbun a slite beatha gan foréigean nó gan cur isteach nó gan imní a bheith orthu faoi cad a tharlóidh dóibh.

I welcome the IRA statement that there will be a complete cessation of military operations and I hope this will mean a permanent cessation of violence by paramilitaries on both sides. Only in such circumstances can one expect all democratic parties, North and South, to participate in an all-Ireland peace forum.

The ceasefire is too late for the thousands murdered and will do little to ease the pain of loss for their grieving friends and relatives. It is, however, with great relief that I greet this announcement and hope that at last, democratic politics can proceed unhindered in its search for a just and lasting peaceful solution to the complex differences between all sides in the North. I appreciate the role played by the Irish and British Governments, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, John Major and the civil servants who were involved but, in particular, I admire the role played by John Hume in finally convincing the Sinn Féin-IRA leadership of the futility of violence and the need to recognise the significant progress made through the political process leading from Sunningdale to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and later to the Downing Street Declaration.

Since John Hume presented Gerry Adams with his thesis on the necessity for a peaceful road forward for all Northern Ireland Nationalists, progress has been made in getting Sinn Féin-IRA to turn away from violence, or support for it, and participate in the democratic process as the best way forward. Today's announcement is the result of John Hume's foresight, courage, determination and patience. It is a tribute to his ability to articulate the injustices done to the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland in the past and the logic of seeking a peaceful agreement when the principle of consent had been accepted by the United Kingdom Government. A long road must be travelled before a peaceful agreement will be reached between all sides in Northern Ireland. Today's ceasefire presents a new opportunity to commence meaningful negotiations, provided the credentials of the complete cessation of military operations are seen and proved to be genuine — only time will tell.

I expect verification will be provided, that arms will be surrendered in time and that there will be a reciprocal cessation by loyalist paramilitaries who will also have to surrender their weapons. It would be foolish to expect all parties at the table in a forum on the future of Northern Ireland until violence has permanently ceased on both sides. The clarification on permanent cessation of violence sought today by the British Prime Minister, John Major, Unionist leaders and many others should be given immediately by the IRA. Failure to do so may put the peace prospects at serious risk. Even with such an assurance there will be great difficulty in achieving progress on an agreed solution to the future of Northern Ireland because of the large number of differing views held by the democratic parties on both sides. The key to an agreement is enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement which sets out clearly that the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland will be a prerequisite to any change in the constitutional position.

Nationalists, who are a minority in Northern Ireland today, and Unionists, if they ever become a minority, will want an agreement to provide for a structure of Government that will ensure equal rights and opportunities — not an easy task considering the extreme positions held by some of the participants.

The past 25 years have been a tragedy; tragic for those who lost their lives and those grieved by the loss, but tragic too in the deepening of the divide between Nationalists and Unionists. because of the pain, horror and fear the violence of the bomb and the bullet has engendered in both communities. The powerful peaceful protest of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s had the potential to win worldwide support for the cause of the forgotten and deprived nationalist community. However, that most effective movement was blasted aside by the crude, cruel tactics of the IRA which subsequently lent an internationally perceived legitimacy to the heavy-handed military intervention of the United Kingdom Government.

Tonight in Ulster's Six Counties there is hope and fear; hope that the announcement is genuine, yet fear among Unionists that some special deal on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland must have been made to achieve such a major change in the IRA's position. Both Governments have a big responsibility to ensure that optimistic expectations are fulfilled, that political action proceeds apace to fill the vacuum and to ensure that the hopes of all for permanent peace are achieved while calming the fears of Unionists on a sell-out. Managing the peace will prove an onerous task in which all parties in this House will gladly give the Government their full support.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the statements on this historic day. I listened with great interest to Deputy Blaney's contribution. I always listen to him when he speaks on the North because he is very much an elder statesman on the matter, an Ulsterman from Donegal. It was interesting that he called for caution and restraint on this historic day among speakers in the House and commentators when responding to the announcement of the total ceasefire by the IRA. It is vital that the declaration is not greeted in this House or elsewhere on the island as a victory. It is historic but is not a victory for militant nationalism. All triumphalism should be avoided, especially during the next few weeks when people, in particular Northern Unionists, are sensitive and will not be as quick as many of us here to feel relieved and be forgiving. In the context of Northern Ireland, a divided province and a divided people, we must remember that if one talks of a victory there would be also the vanquished. There should be no vanquished or betrayed people in this equation.

It is not a time to extend congratulations to the men of violence, but is a time of joy that at last they have come to their senses. That is a return to decency. Nobody should be congratulated for agreeing not to murder another person who does not agree with them and for that reason we must be very cautious. As Cardinal Cahal Daly said yesterday, it is a time when we must put our trust in the bona fides of all sides in the context of this declaration. We must put our trust in John Hume and his assurance, and that of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, that there has not been a ceding of important concessions and that the consent principle is still firmly intact to reassure the Unionist population. That trust will buttress and help us to come to terms with moving into what Mr. Adams has described as a peaceful landscape, a totally transformed atmosphere, in which we can all agree to disagree without the fear of being shot. Many political obstacles lie ahead but with violence set aside, but not forgotten, we can all, including Sinn Féin, pursue our legitimate political aspirations, agree to disagree and at last the conflict landscape will disappear. At a human level, tolerance and forgiveness will not be easy for those who have been personally touched by violence in Northern Ireland. As Deputy Bruton said earlier, we must give those people time to get used to the new position and to accept that we must look forward, not back.

For a long time violence in the North has been the political norm and at times it seemed that its problems were beyond political solution. The work of our diplomats and negotiators on both sides, to analyse the deeper meaning of language and to pick their way through its use towards agreed terms during the past four years or so, has been noticeable.

We should also pay tribute to members of the public who for many years have refused to support Sinn Féin in the Republic as long as it continued to advocate the joint policy of the armalite and the ballot box. Sinn Féin never made a political mark down here and that is to the credit of our people. It is one of the main reasons Sinn Féin has come to its senses and said that it will now pursue its political aspirations without violence. People North and South of the Border who did not support violence must be congratulated.

Organisations, such as New Consensus, the Initiative '92 and the Opsahl processes were important parts of the jigsaw leading to what has been achieved today.

We must also remember the humanity of people like Senator Gordon Wilson, who, when he was coming to terms with the murder of his daughter, had the generosity to be forgiving and to talk of peace. There have been fantastic moments of humanity and generosity shown by people who have been damaged by violence. That is the spirit we must now endorse. We need to have the humanity and generosity to look forward, not back. It is a challenge for us as politicians now that violence has been set aside, and I hope we can come to an agreement on the island that respects the diversity of our peoples without the threat of violence hanging over us or the threat of careless words costing lives.

I would like to share my time with Deputy Kavanagh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

An entire generation in Northern Ireland has received its schooling in a climate of violence and been denied an ordinary life free of fear. To this generation I say you are to be the last to suffer in this way.

Today, we have a real opportunity to break the cycle of violence on violence, atrocity on atrocity, bloodshed on bloodshed. Today we have the chance to build a real and lasting peace and Members of this House, on all sides, have helped create this opportunity.

I say to the young people of Northern Ireland, we offer you a brighter future. I say to all the young people of this island, North and South, we offer you a future where being Irish is not seen as being synonymous with living in a war zone. The education systems, North and South, will be the key to how this future will be achieved.

Peace-building will be a slow and painful process. It will depend on the growth of trust and reconciliation, of mutual understanding and mutual respect. Twenty-five years of violence have left their terrible scars. The wounds of this violence will take a long time to heal. Our young people and future generations are central to this healing process. They have the freshness and optimism of youth, the capacity to develop and change. If any group in our society will build understanding between Unionist and Nationalist, between North and South, that group will be our young people. That is why I believe the education system has a tremendous responsibility to foster this understanding among the next generation. How can we and how are we fostering this mutual understanding? Understanding can only come through dialogue, through interaction and through participation in joint projects by young people of all traditions. North and South. That is why I, from my first day in office, have had a profound commitment to North-South co-operation and exchange. Through Co-operation North young people in our schools have the opportunity to meet and build shared links in cross-Border exchanges. Through the joint North-South project on Environmental Education, 24 schools have participated in a programme of teacher exchange between North and South.

Through the European Studies Project, young people have been working together for several years now exploring the shared elements and the rich diversity of two heritages within the wider European context. This is one of the projects jointly funded by the British and Irish Governments. Léargais, the youth exchange bureau, established under the aegis of the Department of Education since the Anglo-Irish Agreement, has done trojan work in bringing together youth groups and vocational groups to share their experiences, North and South. This midnight declaration of peace will release a new spirit of optimism and creativity. All of us, particularly in the South, must harness this spirit to allow a full flowering of projects to encourage mutual understanding and respect.

Perhaps we in the South have been guilty, particularly within our institutions, of allowing one tradition to dominate our education system in the past. As Minister for Education, I am very mindful of the responsibility to ensure that such accusations cannot be levelled at our institutions in the future.

In the forthcoming White Paper, I will be spelling our structural changes within our education system to ensure that we do not merely tolerate diversity but create a productive interaction between people from varying traditions, people with diverse ideas and experiences, which will allow full range to the potential of the human spirit.

We owe our young people no less.

I would like to take this opportunity to contribute to this debate which takes place on one of the most important days in recent Irish political history. Today's announcement by the IRA that it is calling a complete ceasefire as and from midnight tonight will. I hope, bring to an end the vicious cycle of violence which has scarred our island for the last quarter of a century.

On a personal note. I welcome today's decision because I have witnessed the atrocities and violence of the last 25 years as a Member of this House. I am extremely proud to continue to be a Member on the day that the IRA called a ceasefire. The Irish people will welcome today's announcement by the IRA to end its campaign of violence. A generation of people have been yearning for this announcement for what seems a lifetime. Ireland is entering a new era of history as a result of today's historic announcement.

During the last number of months some people, inside and outside this House, began to cast doubts on the peace process, but despite such criticism the Government kept the momentum of the peace process going. Today's announcement proves that the Government took the correct policy decision.

The peace process is now beginning to bear fruit and we earnestly hope that it will blossom further over the next couple of months. Both Governments and their officials have put in a considerable amount of hard work and perseverance in reaching today's announcement.

I congratulate the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, on their contribution in bringing the peace process to this historic juncture. Since the formation of this Government 20 months ago, both the Labour Party and its partner in government, Fianna Fáil, have put the issue of Northern Ireland at the top of their agenda.

We should also extend our thanks to the leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party, John Hume. His work in this peace process has been nothing short of Herculean. Over the last number of months when the peace process seemed to have stalled, John Hume never lost faith in that process. His courage and perseverance is a shining example to us all.

As vice-chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body I believe that great credit is due also to that body for its work for reconciliation which is continuing. This body was established four years ago under the joint chairmanship of the former Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Jim Tunney and Peter Temple Morris, MP. For the last 20 months Deputy Dermot Ahern has replaced Jim Tunney as vice-chairman and the 48 backbench Members of both parliaments have worked tirelessly to improve the understanding in both Houses of the problems in the North. We would welcome the taking up of the two seats that have been reserved for Northern Ireland Unionists as a result of what happened today.

The Labour Party is committed to ensuring that a just and lasting peace, which recognises the rights of all people on the island of Ireland, is established. All politicians throughout the island must work to see that all forms of violence are totally eliminated from the political process as there can be no role in our democracy for those who pursue their political aims by such negative and destructive means. The gun must be removed completely from Irish politics.

The Labour Party will play a full role in the peace process now entering a new phase. Today's decision by the IRA creates limitless and infinite potential for Ireland. We must all work to ensure that future generations of Irish people can enjoy the fruits and rewards of a just and lasting peace.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I wish to share time with my colleagues Deputies Durkan and McGahon. The ways of the Dáil are very strange. At one stage I had a ten minute speech, then a five minute speech. Then because Ministers who cannot read the clock — I am not referring to the Minister for Education — who were very generous in saying they would share time but took it all, succeeded in leaving out Deputy McGahon. I will, therefore, in about two minutes, welcome this peace initiative.

As I have a sister who lives there I have a particular interest in the North and I know exactly what goes on there. I hope that this peace initiative will bring peace and happiness to many people. Unfortunately there are many who have experienced nothing but unhappiness as a result of events in the North. I hope the people in the IRA who have used guns for many years will accept that peaceful means are more important than the gun and that the Unionists who are holding out on a different line will also see light.

I pay tribute to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, John Major and, particularly John Hume, for all they have done to achieve peace. It would be unfortunate if Dr. Garret FitzGerald was forgotten. He proposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which opened the way for Ministers to go to Belfast to deal with problems there. We have come a long way since Mr. Ted Heath sent a telegram telling us to mind our own business and keep out of English affairs. I wish the peace process every success.

Like my colleagues, I am privileged to be a Member of the House at the time of this declaration of an end to violence in Northern Ireland. I would like to emphasise the need to use our influence to encourage those who ask questions about the length of the ceasefire or the veracity of the statements made about the declaration of an end to violence. We owe it to ourselves and to everybody to encourage the peace initiative and not to say or do anything that would create a question mark over it. We owe it to the people who have lost their lives in the past 25 years on both parts of this island, on both sides of the political and religious divide, to give the peace initiative a chance and ensure we do not do anything to hinder its objectives. We owe it to the members of the security forces on this part of the island, the Army and the Garda, who lost their lives and to the wives and families who were bereaved, to ensure that we get the best possible result from this initiative.

We owe it to those who started the process in 1975 at a difficult time, those who tried to build on a very shaky foundation, we owe it to those who participated in the New Ireland Forum, to Dr. Garret FitzGerald who was then Taoiseach and those involved in the Anglo-Irish Agreement; we owe it to the members of the inter-parliamentary group who also carried on a very useful and important process and, most of all, we owe it to ourselves as constitutional politicians to encourage those who may not have used constitutional means to achieve their objectives to follow the constitutional path. It behoves us all to give the constitutional means the green light and I hope others will follow that example.

This is not the first time I appear to be in a minority in this House on a particular issue. I certainly will not join in the euphoria expressed in this House today which is akin to the belief that Ireland would win the World Cup. The fine words, rhetoric and naiveté displayed here today had to be heard to be believed. I am a realist. I live two miles from the Border and four miles from the area where the farmer, Tom Oliver, was butchered for no reason by an animal group represented by the IRA. While I hope I am wrong, I do not believe that this ceasefire has the ingredients of a lasting peace. It is a phoney ceasefire concocted for a variety of political reasons.

Like every Irish person I deny the right of Britain to the North of Ireland. I hope that some day this island will be united, but that will come about only when the British are told to go by the Unionist people. That is the only way we can avoid the spectre and the reality of a civil war. It was very noticeable that the only note of caution in the euphoria and pious aspirations expressed in this House was issued by my opposite number, Deputy Blaney, who gave a very guarded welcome to this ceasefire.

I do not trust the British. Liam Cosgrave said in this House that the British placate their enemies and sell out their friends, and that is what they are in the process of doing. Is there any Deputy who can put his hand on his heart and say that the bottom line is not a united Ireland? Does anybody here really believe that the Unionist people do not know that process has begun, that the British want out? They would not wait until tomorrow if they could get out tonight. Some day they will be responsible for a civil war in this country. I would not like to go on holidays with Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, but he is right in warning of the danger of a civil war. To have any chance of succeeding in the North, a truce must involve the two combatants, the killer gangs of the UVF and UFF and the IRA. They must sit down, hammer out an agreement and collectively hand in their weapons. Otherwise this is a total charade.

Let us face the reality of what can happen in the North. The ingredients are there for savage warfare. Until the combatants — not the bystanders, which the British and Irish Governments have been for 25 years, who cannot reach an agreement — the warring factions who are killing each other every night sit around the table and agree to stop killing fellow Irishmen and to hand in their guns, there will be no peace in the North. I hope I am wrong. I suspect that the man who would be regarded as my total opposite, Deputy Blaney, who sounded a very guarded note of caution, also believes that the ingredients are there for civil war and that the euphoria expressed here today may in the not too distant future turn to absolute horror.

Donegal South-West): I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Martin.

I am sure that is satisfactory but I should advise Members that I am obliged, by reason of an Order of this day, to call a final spokesperson from the Government side at 10.15 p.m.

(Donegal South-West): Is cúis mhór áthais agus lúcháire dúinn uilig an sos cogaidh iomlán seo atá fógraithe ag an IRA inniu, agus a thagann i bhfeidhm taobh istigh de dhá uair an chloig. Cuirim fáilte ó mo chroí roimh dheireadh an bhforéigin. Tá an gunna tógtha amach as an bpolaitíocht, agus tá seans iontach anois dul chun cinn suntasach a dhéanamh chun na fadhbanna go léir a réitiú. Beidh deiseanna móra ann maidir le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta a réitiú.

I warmly welcome the IRA statement to end 25 years of violence and to commit itself to the democratic process. I pay tribute to all persons and parties involved in the peace process for their patience, persistence, perseverance, commitment and dedication which led to today's historic announcement. The Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, since becoming leader of Fianna Fáil in 1992, has demonstrated a passionate keenness to take the gun out of Irish politics. His tenacity and courage have contributed in no small way to bringing about this new beginning for all peoples and traditions on this island, north and south.

One cannot overlook the important and courageous role played by Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, and John Hume, leader of the SDLP. They should be fully commended. Their role should be recognised, as should the contribution of the Tánaiste and the Government. I look forward to the establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, with all parties playing a role in the future development of this country. I look forward to the objective of peace being fully implemented, the reciprocal action of all other paramilitary groups and to the response of the loyalist paramilitaries who, as a reactionary force, have always said that when the IRA laid down its arms they would act accordingly. I urge the loyalist groups who have advocated and supported violence to take a courageous step into the democratic peace process. I am convinced that the loyalists should have no fears for their future. Their concerns and traditions will be fully taken into consideration.

Today's decision by the IRA is in keeping with the overwhelming heartfelt wish for peace by the vast majority of people who have suffered for so long. In addition to the human suffering the troubles have had serious economic effects North and South. As a Deputy for the Border constituency of Donegal South-West and an MEP for Connacht, which, of course includes the three Southern Ulster counties, I am fully aware of the human tragedy and the social and economic costs of the 25 years of violence. Today is an historic day for which every Irish man and Irish woman has yearned. Today's decision paves the way for the achievement of a far reaching political accommodation. We can look forward to major economic benefits both North and South, particularly in the Border counties that have suffered so much. Mr. Jacques Delors gave a commitment after the signing of the Joint Declaration that there would be practical support from the European Community and the Commission. I am glad he has reiterated that tonight, as has the Commissioner for Social Affairs, Mr. Flynn. The time has come for the European Community to assist. That assistance together with the commitment of support from President Clinton of the US is vitally important.

I read the statement carefully and it is clear, unambiguous and unequivocal. This is no time for semantics and whatever the wording may be, be it "complete", "permanent" or "forever", we should not impose artificial obstacles at this stage.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. I am delighted by the IRA's commitment to lay down its arms. I look forward to a new Ireland from 1 September 1994.

I too welcome today's announcement by the IRA of a complete cessation of violence and of military activities. I pay tribute to all those involved in this achievement, in particular to the persistence, patience and skill of the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, who from the beginning committed himself to achieving peace and, having achieved it, to putting in place the political framework to achieve a lasting settlement of the Northern Ireland problem. I have recently been disappointed that we have been poorly served by certain sections of the media who adopted an unbalanced and at times an ill-informed approach to the entire process. The degree of scepticism in certain publications left a great deal to be desired.

Notwithstanding Deputy John Bruton's excellent contribution today, in which he raised the difficulty that some people will have in accepting this settlement immediately, it is absolutely necessary that the British Government makes a rapid response to the peace initiative and that we rapidly create the conditions to consolidate peace. Anyone who has read the submissions made to the Opsahl Commission will understand what I am talking about and the pragmatic steps that can be taken in west Belfast and areas of conflict in Northern Ireland which will lead to a marked reduction in tension and the removal of the provocative presence.

The time has come in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day, to call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin to make a statement in reply.

With the permission of the House I wish to surrender the first two minutes of my time to Deputy John O'Donoghue.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister sincerely for his generosity. I too welcome the momentous decision of the IRA to end its 25 year campaign of violence and make a definite commitment to the success of the democratic peace process. There is a unique and historic opportunity to end the tragic loss of life that has scarred this country for over a quarter of a century. We deeply regret the loss of life, the misery caused to friends and relatives who have lost their loved ones and the suffering of those who have been injured. We have a duty to contribute actively to the consolidation of peace and the ending of fear that has stalked the people of Northern Ireland for far too long.

Peace in Northern Ireland always has been an issue that goes right to the heart of the Fianna Fáil Party. Fianna Fáil's history and Republican tradition makes it a party particularly well placed to contribute to the cessation of violence here. When many others abandoned hope Fianna Fáil did not. The Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds. began the peace drive in 1992 and on the day he became leader of the Fianna Fáil Party he made peace in Northern Ireland his top priority. Tribute must be paid also to the Leader of the Labour Party, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Spring.

In spite of scepticism, the Taoiseach. with patience and determination, persisted in his efforts. The Taoiseach, the Fianna Fáil Party and both Governments are committed to the Downing Street Declaration which makes democracy the cornerstone of all future political development here. This is only the beginning; once a framework document and a constitutional approach has been finalised it will be put to the people. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is the bridge to the democratic process and it will be open to all parties on this island to participate in the peace process. The laying down of arms is momentous but this alone is not enough to make peace, as peace must be made and kept by men. Peace is a daily, weekly, monthly, gradual process. Old prejudices must be swept aside, barriers must be broken down and new structures must be built. That is the heartfelt wish of all Irish people now on the road to peace.

Leadership and courage have been shown by many, by the British Prime Minister, by the Taoiseach, Mr. John Hume and by Mr. Gerry Adams who has made a decision to lead his followers into the democratic arena. I sincerely hope that the same leadership and courage is shown by the Unionist leaders in the North and that they treat this momentous and historic opportunity with the flexibility and generosity it deserves and that nit-picking over words will not in any way stall this momentous event.

It is fitting that on a day when it appears that at long last the bomb and the bullet may be definitely removed from Irish life, it has been possible for Dáil Éireann to mark that fact in the considered way it has. The debate now concluding has been of great importance in allowing the democratically elected representatives of the Irish people in this jurisdiction to express what is undoubtedly the general mood of the country and of the Irish diaspora. There is relief that the killing and destruction may now finally come to an end, and a determination to ensure that there can be no retreat from this breakthrough and this momentous opportunity is not wasted.

On behalf of the Government, I welcome the measured and constructive tone taken in this debate by the Opposition parties. They have raised many issues which will, over the coming weeks and months, require careful examination. Nevertheless, they have demonstrated a clear appreciation that this is an historic moment and that it is essential that all of us who are committed to democratic and constitutional politics remain united in our support for a number of key principles: the absolute unacceptability of violence and coercion as a means to achieve political progress, the need for a balanced political and constitutional accommodation for our island in which the rights, aspirations and traditions of both communities are fully respected, and our determination that a united Ireland can only be achieved on the basis of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. As occurred immediately after the Downing Street Declaration, the Dáil has again demonstrated the strength and openness of the constitutional Nationalist position.

Many speakers this evening have traced the history of the attempts to ensure lasting peace in Ireland and have rightly deplored the fact that it has taken so long for today's momentous decision by the IRA to be taken. We all remember the thousands murdered, maimed and bereaved — in both communities in Northern Ireland, in this jurisdiction, in Britain and indeed further afield — by paramilitary violence, as well as all the other causes of suffering which have been remembered poignantly by many speakers. As Deputy Bruton correctly observed, we cannot expect the families of all those who have died or who have been maimed to forget their loved ones or to easily forgive their killers. There is undoubtedly a huge legacy of waste and bitterness which will take many years to dissipate. The Government is fully conscious of its duty to ensure that the memory of the dead is honoured in the best possible way — by building an Ireland worthy of the living.

There have been suggestions that we are over-euphoric, and indeed that we should look more carefully at the precise wording of today's IRA statement. I deny any suggestion of euphoria: we are all too conscious of the great tasks which lie ahead, though naturally those most involved in the peace process, notably the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, can feel justifiably proud of today's events. Moreover, it is the Government's firm belief — shared, as I was pleased to note, by the leader of the Opposition — that the IRA ceasefire is for real, and that it does mark, as it says, a complete cessation of the IRA's campaign. In our judgment, there is no element of conditionality involved, and there is no reason to doubt that we are witnessing anything short of a total and permanent cessation of violence. I have doubts, therefore, about the wisdom of seeking to parse too exactly the text of the IRA statement. In the context of the history and ideology of the Republican movement it represents a remarkable step forward.

The next period will be sensitive and delicate but we are confident that reality will bear out the proclaimed intentions of the IRA. The Irish people would not forgive any failure to honour the commitments now given. As has rightly been said, many practical issues will arise over the coming months but we believe that, in the atmosphere of growing mutual confidence and peace it will be possible to resolve them.

As nearly every contributor to the debate pointed out, the attitude of the loyalist paramilitaries to this situation will also be crucial. It would be a sick irony if, having borne the brunt of the IRA's activities for so long, it were now to be the Unionist community which perpetuated and continued the cycle of violence and death. It would, moreover, as John Hume pointed out, place loyalism in direct conflict with the authorities of the State to which they declare their loyalty. Loyalist spokesmen have said many times that their violence is primarily reactive to that of Republicans: now is the time for them to demonstrate that this is the case. It is clearly important that the RUC remain fully alert to the danger of loyalist attacks and do all they can to ensure that attempts to provoke a return to the grim cycle of tit-for-tat killings do not succeed.

Moreover, as stated repeatedly today and over the months since the Downing Street Declaration was issued — and I repeat it again — Unionists have nothing to fear from the peace process. As the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and indeed the British Prime Minister, have made abundantly clear, there are no secret deals, no under the counter arrangements, no plans to sell the Unionist people down the river. Tonight's debate has also confirmed that Dáil Éireann and the Irish people would not accept any peace based on underhand or fraudulent pacts. We know that coercion has failed throughout our history and that it is morally wrong and utterly counter-productive. Over the past 25 years we have come to understand the fact that there are two traditions on this island and it is only in a relationship of trust and partnership that they can both flourish. The Joint Declaration, building on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, enshrined that understanding and underpinned the principle of consent. As many Unionist leaders, including Mr. Molyneaux, have accepted, there is no threat to their position in the Joint Declaration or in peace. We must hope that in the Unionist community counsels of moderation and good sense will prevail.

We now look forward to dealing face to face with the leaders of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland and in commencing the healing process which is essential if reconciliation is to come about. In this regard, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation has an important role to play and I welcome the forthright and constructive attitude displayed towards it by the Opposition parties during today's debate.

As my colleague, the Tánaiste, stressed, the two Governments have a pivotal role in embarking on a path to change. Disagreement in Northern Ireland relates to core political and constitutional issues and no new arrangements can succeed if they are felt to favour one community over the other. Both Governments are obliged to use all their resources to convince both communities to accept new arrangements which express their rights and aspirations.

We are currently engaged in work on a framework document which would reflect our shared assessment of where an honourable and fair accommodation will be found. Intensive work continues, independent of today's momentous developments. It is true that the prospects of an accommodation will be greatly enhanced against a background of peace. The way is now open for comprehensive negotiations where all parties rely simply on the force of their arguments and on their democratic mandates alone, to advance their case.

As a number of Deputies insisted, there must be a comprehensive and balanced settlement which would result in a radical transformation of the relations between the two communities within Northern Ireland and of the relationships between North and South. In this context it would be possible to have a new beginning also in relations between Britain and Ireland, unencumbered by the baggage of a long and difficult history.

We are basing our work on the principle of consent, as expressed in the Joint Declaration. It must and will remain an essential cornerstone in any new arrangements or structures on this island.

The Irish Government has long recognised the close connection between the legacy of injustice and discrimination and the environment in which violence has flourished. Much has been done to target discrimination and disadvantage through the mechanism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but we accept that there is more to be done. New opportunities for remedying continuing inequalities between the two communities will be offered by a peaceful environment and we are confident that the British Government too fully understands the importance of urgent progress on this front. More broadly, it is essential that new institutions to be agreed will be explicitly based on and committed to the concepts of equality of treatment and parity of esteem.

In working to make use of the opportunities now granted to us, we have many advantages. These include the goodwill, active interest and commitment of President Clinton and other American leaders in Congress whose continued determination to assist us in whatever ways possible is greatly appreciated by the Irish Government. We can rely on the backing of our friends in the European Union and throughout the world.

Above all, we can rely on the powerful desire of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people for peace and for a lasting political settlement which fairly accommodates both our great traditions. Today's IRA statement is a response to the mood of the people, a recognition that there is no place for violence in our political culture. Today is a day of hope for the people of this island. It is a message above all for each of us to engage in reconciliation. We in public life must strive to ensure that we seize the opportunity which has now been granted to us and that ours is the generation which has the honour to witness a new beginning in Irish life.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 September 1994.