Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

1 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the persons to whom he has issued invitations to participate in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; and the responses, if any, he has received to date. [442/94]

Proinsias De Rossa

Ceist:

2 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach the proposed terms of reference of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; the steps, if any, he is taking to facilitate the involvement of Unionist parties; if he will consider a two-tier structure which would allow for an input by groups other than political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [543/94]

Proinsias De Rossa

Ceist:

3 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date with regard to the proposed Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; if he intends to agree to the request from Opposition leaders for a round table discussion on plans for the Forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [544/94]

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

4 Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) asked the Taoiseach the arrangements, if any, he has made for the first meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [566/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

5 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the steps, if any, he has taken to encourage participation of all parties in Northern Ireland in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. [604/94]

Mary Harney

Ceist:

6 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the efforts, if any, he has made to have discussions with representatives of the Official Unionist Party in relation to their possible participation in the proposed Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. [675/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

7 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the reason he waited until 13 September 1994, to issue invitations to Unionist parties to participate in the Forum of Peace and Reconciliation in view of the fact that he had issued invitations to other parties earlier and had meetings with Sinn Féin before issuing any invitations to the Unionists. [882/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

8 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to meet Unionist leaders. [887/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

9 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the further plans, if any, he has to meet Mr. Gerry Adams. [888/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

10 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach his views on the establishment of a Unionist Forum. [892/94]

John Bruton

Ceist:

11 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if it is his policy only to meet party leaders in regard to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on a bilateral basis; and, if so, the reason for this policy. [893/94]

Austin Currie

Ceist:

12 Mr. Currie asked the Taoiseach the purpose and function of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [899/94]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.

The Joint Declaration of 15 December 1993 is an intergovernmental agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom which sets out a balanced context for the achievement of a lasting peace with justice in Ireland. As such, the Joint Declaration is a charter for peace and reconciliation.

In the declaration I set out the intent of the Irish Government, in the event of a total cessation of paramilitary violence, to make arrangements within this jurisdiction to enable democratic parties to consult together and share in dialogue about the political future. These arrangements include a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to be set up on foot of consultations with democratic parties, North and South, to make recommendations on ways in which agreement and trust between both traditions in Ireland can be promoted and established.

In my statement in this House on 31 August, following on the IRA announcement of a total cessation of violence with effect from 1 September, I indicated that I proposed shortly to initiate bilateral discussions with all interested parties on the establishment of the forum. Pursuant to that indication, there has been a round of consultative meetings at both political and official level on the issues of principle and of practical operation arising from the forum.

Some parties suggested that there be a roundtable discussion on plans for the forum, but I have responded that this exploratory round of consultations will remain on a bilateral basis. This is in line with what I indicated here on 31 August. I hope that a further round of consultations with all the party leaders involved will expedite matters.

In the course of the consultations to date, I circulated an initial draft of terms of reference for the forum to serve as the basis for consultation. A number of written submissions were received in response from parties. The draft terms of reference have been amended in some respects in response to the views received and in preparation for a further round of consultations.

I have set out my vision of the forum as a consultative and advisory body which will examine ways in which lasting peace, stability and reconciliation can be established by agreement among all the people of Ireland. While the forum itself will not be a body to carry on negotiations, I hope that its work will contribute positively to the climate in which negotiations take place, and that many of the recommendations made at the forum can be translated into practice. In all my statements. I have stressed its "broad church" nature — the fact that it is open to democratically mandated parties in Ireland which abide exclusively by the democratic process.

I was and remain concerned that the major traditions in this island should participate in the forum. For that reason, in addition to the general standing invitation to participat, I wrote specifically to the leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Popular Unionist Party on 9 September urging them to take part in this process of healing old animosities and of building up trust. The same message is being sent through any informal contacts or channels available to us. Deputies will be aware, moreover, that there is a standing invitation to Unionist leaders to meet myself, the Tánaiste or any other members of the Government, as appropriate.

Because the forum is intended to consolidate and move forward the peace process, it is important that all Northern parties participating are accorded favourable treatment in terms of representation. This is in accordance with the practice followed at the New Ireland Forum. I have also made clear that participation in the forum will be entirely without prejudice to the position on constitutional issues held by any party.

While the response on the forum to date from the Unionist tradition has not been a very positive one, neither has it been uniformly negative, at least at individual level, and I am hopeful that, as the peace lasts — and I expect an early cessation of all loyalist violence — and the forum demonstrates its potential for fruitful dialogue, we may in time see a contribution to the forum from the Unionist tradition. I would certainly welcome, encourage and facilitate any such development.

I am favourably disposed to organising the forum and its work in such a way that would facilitate such contributions, whether from political parties, churches, community groups, trade unions, business and vocational bodies etc. It is likely that the forum will seek submissions and invite presentations but other formulae, such as the possibility of observer status, are also under consideration by the Government. It is fully in accordance with the purpose and role of the forum that it should be both socially and politically inclusive in nature.

I hope to see the forum operational within the next month. Its organisation and mechanisms have yet to be finalised — as I have already said, I envisage further consultations on this and other matters.

I hope that the Taoiseach's invitation to the Unionists will be accepted. In the event of non-acceptance by them I have some reservations about the effectiveness of the forum. If the Unionists decide not to participate in the forum, what does the Taoiseach expect it to achieve, particularly having regard to the peace process which hopefully will continue and a possible loyalist ceasefire? In the absence of participation by the Unionists, is there a danger that the establishment of a forum might be counter-productive? I raise these questions for genuine reasons and I am open to be convinced about the success of the forum. Has the Taoiseach considered that the forum might not achieve the goals to which he has referred in the absence of participation by the Unionists? Will the Taoiseach spell out first, what he hopes the forum will achieve and, second and very significantly, how he expects the forum to input into and interlink with the talks process?

Having regard to the large number of questions tabled to the Taoiseach let us have brevity. I am anxious to facilitate all Members involved.

If I obtain full answers to those questions I will be entirely happy.

So far I have received a response from Mr. James Molyneaux, the leader of the Official Unionist Party who, in his courteous reply, said his party would not be participating. As yet I have not had a response from the others. The situation may change when, hopefully, we get an early cessation of loyalist violence — I do not know — but, as far as the Government is concerned, we would welcome any involvement on the part of any of those parties. Of course, the Alliance Party has already clearly indicated that it will participate. Some others may; I do not know, but that is the present postion.

As to what the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will do, I set out clearly my vision of the forum being a consultative and advisory body which will examine ways in which lasting peace, stability and reconciliation can be established, by agreement, among all the people of Ireland. Indeed its title — the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation — spells out precisely its objectives, that is to identify hurdles and obstacles that get in the way of endeavouring to unite the hearts and minds of the two communities in the North after 25 years of violence. It will take some time to build up trust and confidence between them again. Therefore, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation affords an opportunity to identify areas which can be tackled to render it easier for the two communities there to begin to live together in a normal way.

A number of questions arise from the Taoiseach's replies so far. In relation to the reply from Mr. James Molyneaux of the Official Unionist Party, would the Taoiseach say whether Mr. Molyneaux indicated that his refusal to participate was at this time, whether it is Mr. Molyneaux's view that the door is open, to some extent, or is not completely closed to their participation at some point in the future? My understanding is that the Official Unionist Party has not given a categorical refusal to participate in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

That is true.

Second, when the Taoiseach says that the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will be an advisory body, will he say to whom it will offer advice; for example, will it be to the Government, to the three-stranded talks process which hopefully will get under way quite soon or to whom? To whom will that advice be offered given that it is a body being established by the Irish Government?

On the request of the leaders of the Opposition parties in this House to the Taoiseach, that he meet us and officials of our three parties jointly in order to expedite consideration of our concerns and proposals on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, will be reconsider that request, particularly bearing in mind that not all of his consultations to date have been on a purely bilateral basis?

That should be adequate.

I fail to understand the reason the Taoiseach is refusing this very reasonable request by the leaders of the Opposition parties in this House.

In relation to further consultations with political parties, I should say I set out to achieve the maximum amount of consensus in this regard. The only reason the Government and I do not consider it appropriate to meet everybody together is that we must be extremely careful to avoid the label of everybody in the South coming together to arrange the agenda, set the terms of reference and all of that, in circumstances when the Northern parties have been met individually, were quite happy to have been met individually and put their case on an individual basis. Consequently, they might expect us to deal with this in like manner.

In the interests of uniformity, none of us should in any way present a wrong image of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation before it begins. It is in that light that we believe the consultations which have begun on an individual basis should continue on an individual basis. I should add that full consideration is being given to all of the points made. At the end of the day the Government will have to decide. We will be seeking the largest possible consensus but, again, we must go ahead with the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

The Deputy asked to whom will the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation report. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will be set up by the Government and, of course, will be reporting to the Government and proffering any advice it has to offer. In the course of the forum discussions and consultations one would expect that people with different views and from different parties would participate, hopefully resulting in the widest input of views from the parties and helping to get people to understand each others point of view. The objective is to establish peace and reconciliation on this island. That is the position as I see it.

In regard to the response I received from Mr. James Molyneaux, I should say that the words suggested by Deputy De Rossa have not been used. One would hope that, as the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation develops, the Unionist party, and others, if not participating at the beginning, might consider participating at some stage along the way. I think that would be the hope of everybody in this House.

(Limerick East): I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive replies. Will he comment on three points I want to raise? First, is it the intention of the Government that the democratic parties participating in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation would be represented proportionate to their electoral strength, or does he envisage representation being weighted in favour of the smaller parties in terms of electoral strength, particularly weighted in favour of Sinn Féin?

Second, would the Taoiseach comment on the type of person he would consider suitable to chair the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and say whether he will be acting unilaterally in appointing a chairman or whether the chairman will be put in place by agreement with the leaders of the other parties who have signalled their intention to participate?

Third, when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation gets under way does the Taoiseach envisage it being a body with a particular programme on which it will embark and complete, or does he perceive it as a kind of permanent standing committee which would act as a sounding board for proposals put forward at talks elsewhere until, eventually and hopefully, an agreed solution to the problems on this island are arrived at?

I have not set any time limit on the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Our view is that it will continue to be in existence as long as necessary. This is an evolving process in which we are all becoming involved; things are changing and changing fast. We are delighted to see those changes taking place. Therefore, we are not imposing a time limit.

On the matter of the chairman of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, as has happened to date, we will be exchanging views on possible chairmen of that body. We have not yet arrived at any decision; there will be more consultations in relation to that matter. We are seeking the proper person to undertake the task. Whether such proposal emanates from an Opposition party or anybody else, if we can all agree, or get as close to agreement as we can, that will be fine; that is our objective.

In relation to the weighting of parties proportionate to their electoral strength, I said in my reply that, in the case of the last forum, there was weighting in favour of the Northern parties. I said it is the Government's intention to continue that weighting process in favour of the Northern parties. Therefore, there will be disproportionate representation on the part of the Northern parties, all of them, as against the weighting of parties down here. We must also bear in mind that there are Independents here, Independent Senators and so on. Proposals have been put forward by Democratic Left and The Workers' Party have made their views known, as have others. If I am reading everybody correctly I do not think we should adhere rigidly to our absolute representation here. If we are interested in obtaining the greatest number of contributions representing the widest possible variety of views, for example, if one considers the Green Party representation, we will see that we cannot have partial representation. We will endeavour to obtain the widest possible representation of views rather than adhere rigidly to party representation based on the proportion of their electoral vote.

Has the Government accepted the Fine Gael proposal that parties participating in the forum would pledge themselves exclusively to use non-violent methods for all purposes? The current terms of reference for the forum require them only to pledge themselves not to use violence to promote the ideal of national self-determination but do not exclude the use of violence for other purposes and would not, apparently, exclude punishment beatings.

I do not propose to deal with the suggestions made by every party. This is the idea of having discussions with all the individual parties. That is the process I have initiated and I do not propose to deviate from it. All aspects of every question by each party will be dealt with at the discussions.

Is this forum a matter of public business and, if so, why is the Taoiseach unwilling to answer questions about it openly in the Dáil? Surely a commitment to non-violence for all purposes is such a fundamental issue that the Taoiseach would have a view on it that he could express publicly.

I have a view which I expressed here publicly yesterday. I refer the Deputy to the statement issued after the meeting between John Hume, Gerry Adams and myself which should clear his mind on certain aspects.

Let us try to avoid repetition.

Will the Taoiseach explain what he meant when he said the draft terms of reference have been amended to take account of submissions made by the Opposition in view of the fact that no such amended terms of reference have been furnished to the Opposition?

As I said, I do not propose to go into details of future discussions between party leaders, the Tánaiste and myself. The Deputy and others made suggestions in relation to possible amendments to the terms of reference. I am indicating that we are taking some of those on board and the Deputy will get a copy of them before the meetings. Yesterday I had to take a whole series of issues to Government to be resolved and decided on. The Deputy will get a copy of the proposed terms of reference before we have a further meeting with him.

In view of the fact that this is an all party exercise surely if the terms of reference have been amended it would be common courtesy to make it available to the other parties before answering questions here in the House about the matter. I note that has not been done in this case. Will the Taoiseach participate in the forum as a member, as his predecessor did, in the New Ireland Forum? In reference to Question No. 7 will he explain why invitations to some parties to the forum, including meetings with them, were issued prior to other parties even being sent an invitation? Why was a distinction made between parties on the island of Ireland in this matter?

I do not know to whom the Deputy is referring. If he is referring to the written invitation to the Unionist party I can tell him that the same open invitation went out to everybody. Some people expressed the view that we should follow it up by issuing letters to those parties. I have done that and I have no hesitation in saying that. The Alliance Party and many other parties responded to the open invitation. There is nothing new about that. Some people expressed the view that if the Unionists got a personal letter from me it might be better. All I want to do is to get the maximum number of people at the forum. There is no need for bickering as to when I sent out the terms of reference. Everybody will receive a copy of progress to date before the next meeting with them. That should be sufficient.

Deputy J. Bruton rose.

I want to call Deputy Harney also.

I asked a question which, strangely, the Taoiseach failed to answer. I asked if it was his intention to be a member of the forum, as his predecessor was in the New Ireland Forum?

We have not yet decided the full representation or the exact personnel from our party.

At what level will the Government be represented at the forum? Does the Taoiseach envisage the Government parties being represented at ministerial level? I made one simple suggestion to the Taoiseach that the terms of reference must be in accordance with the principles of the Downing Street Declaration, which was not in the draft terms of reference I received. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the terms of reference will be in accordance with the principles of the Dowing Street Declaration? Is it the case that Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the SDLP and Sinn Féin will have an inbuilt majority in this forum?

These are the sort of questions that raise suspicions in people's minds. What I have said is that I am seeking the widest possible variety of views and contributions to be made to the forum. Any suspicion raised can cause grave suspicions in the minds of people from Northern Ireland. We should look at their position and at what we are trying to do in this forum and see how we can get the best contribution from everybody. If we start on a basis of narrow political views then this forum will not succeed. I want to see everybody taking full account of the views of others. I have never laid down, as a condition for entering the forum, that full acceptance of every single word in the Downing Street Joint Declaration was necessary from any party point of view. I have made that clear at all times and the question is unnecessary. In relation to how the Government will be represented, it will be a matter for the two Government parties to decide their personnel at the end of the day. All those questions will be answered for the Opposition parties in the discussions we hope to have. That is a better exchange of views.

May I bring in Deputy Austin Currie whose Question No. 12 refers?

Will the Taoiseach accept that everything possible must be done to prevent the impression being given that this forum is to be a pan Nationalist front? If any weight is to be given to minority parties — I agree with what has been suggested — in the absence of any other Unionist party consideration should be given to increasing the membership of the Alliance Party in the forum. Second, I believe the main reason for the forum was to bring Sinn Féin in from the political cold and on that basis I welcome it. In terms of the wider job the forum has to do how does it differ from the previous New Ireland Forum? Third, will the Taoiseach confirm that it will be made clear to all that the forum is not to be a forum for renegotiating the Downing Street Declaration, as some people believe? Finally, will the Taoiseach make it clear that the forum will not be a basis for renegotiating what is meant by "consent" which means the ability to say "no" as well as the ability to say "yes".

The principle of consent is paramount in all future talks and all future negotiations as far as the Government is concerned.

That means the ability to say "no".

That is common sense. The statement from the prisoners in the Maze and the statement, to which I referred Deputy Bruton earlier, makes it clear that the solution to this problem must involve the Unionist people and their agreement. That is already in public statements and that position has not changed.

Sinn Féin do not fully accept that.

There will be no renegotiation of the Downing Street Joint Declaration at the forum.

The talks in relation to the future solutions and structures will be part of the talks process after the framework document has been agreed, not in the forum. The forum will be seeking ways to remove obstacles of distrust and fears and to try to get the two communities to return to a normal way of life and develop their communities.

How does it differ from the New Ireland Forum in that respect?

Questions from a seated position are not acceptable.

It is different in that its main objective is to consolidate the peace process and build confidence between the two communities in a spirit of reconciliation.

Will the Taoiseach confirm whether participation in the forum requires acceptance, at least, of paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Joint Declaration, which is the paragraph that comes before the announcement of the Government's intention to establish the forum. It says that parties participating in the process must permanently end support for paramilitary violence. Is the use of the word "permanent" in respect of an end to support for the use of violence a condition for eligibility to participate in the forum? Is that portion of the Downing Street Joint Declaration applicable?

I have to repeat myself again. I did not say a condition for participation in the forum involved full acceptance of the Downing Street Joint Declaration. I said a permanent end to violence is required, a decision to end the violence that has been part and parcel of life in Northern Ireland for the past 25 years and that is still my view. It is now six weeks since that decision was made.

I thought the twists and turns made on the word "permanent" in another House of Parliament might not find their way in here. At least we all accept that the ceasefire is for good and we should not portray it otherwise. We want to get the loyalist paramilitaries to believe that also. They have said in public on many occasions that if IRA violence ceased, they would cease violence. We are all looking forward to that time which, I hope, is not far away.

Is the Taoiseach disavowing the Downing Street Joint Declaration?

May I point out to the Taoiseach——

I call for brief questions as a large number of questions is tabled to the Taoiseach to which I am sure we would all like answers. Let us have brevity from here on.

We are unlikely to be able to return to these matters at an early stage, and I am sure you will appreciate that we are dealing with an extremely important matter.

Indeed, I am very conscious of that.

It is too simplistic a reading of the Sinn Féin-IRA position to say the IRA has accepted the principle of consent we have accepted. It has added phrases and conditions such as "without British interference" which clearly means the withdrawal of Britain from Ireland. In addition, it says there can be no veto which clearly means that, while it is prepared to accept consent from Unionists in Northern Ireland to some form of federal Ireland, it is not prepared to accept a denial of the right of the majority on this island to decide otherwise. Bearing that in mind, is the Taoiseach satisfied while there is that difference in the interpretation of consent that Sinn Féin-IRA is absolutely committed to maintaining the ceasefire and ending its military operations——

This is a rather long questioning.

——even though it may not get its way in regard to the question of consent and the withdrawal of British forces from this island? The Taoiseach indicated that participation in the forum depends on all parties being involved in a total cessation of violence. That is quite distinct from military operations.

That should be quite adequate, Deputy.

May I finish this point?

The Deputy should bring his questioning to a conclusion quickly.

Yesterday I drew the Taoiseach's attention to a report published by Families Against Intimidation and Terror, a copy of which is being submitted to him. It points out that since the beginning of the cessation of military operations there have been 15 assaults by republicans on people in their community.

The Deputy is embarking on a speech and appears to be quoting which is not in order at this time.

I am not making a speech.

The Deputy has had ample time to put his questions. I asked him to bring his questioning to a conclusion and I must insist on it now.

I am about to conclude. A total of 43 people are excluded from their homes by the IRA.

I call on the Taoiseach to reply.

Will the Taoiseach make it clear to Sinn Féin that it cannot participate in the forum until that type of violence ends?

Deputy De Rossa is putting many interpretations on statements made by others and I will not follow him down that road. I will repeat for the benefit of the House what I said to Deputy Currie, namely, that the consent principle is paramount so far as the Irish and British Governments are concerned. I refer Members to the statement issued following my first meeting with Gerry Adams in the presence of John Hume which states that the problem cannot be solved without the involvement and agreement of the Unionist people. That is simple, straightforward and clear English. The forum will provide an opportunity for Deputy De Rossa and others to tease out the views expressed on the approaches of various parties to different problems, a worthwhile aspect of the forum. I am sure we are all clear on the direction in which we are heading.

The Taoiseach did not answer my second question.

Order, Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and Gay Mitchell have been offering for some time. I now call Deputy O'Keeffe.

Will the Taoiseach address my second question about participation in the forum by Sinn Féin while the violence in which the Republican movement are engaging continues?

The Deputy has had a good innings, he must now resume his seat.

The Taoiseach has not replied to my question.

If the Deputy is not satisfied with the Taoiseach's reply, there are other means and ways open to him for clarification. I call Deputy Jim O'Keeffe.

I want to clarify the position of Sinn Féin in relation to the forum. The Taoiseach stated there would be a favourable waiting period from the point of view of representation for Northern parties. In that context, does Sinn Féin qualify as a Northern or Republican party? Will a favourable waiting period apply from the point of view of representation for Sinn Féin in terms of its electoral strength? What role does the Taoiseach envisage for Sinn Féin in the forum? What is the status of official Irish Government contacts with Sinn Féin?

The status is similar to the status of contacts with other parties who have indicated they will participate in the forum. I thought all parties would like to see Sinn Féin involved in the forum so that we might consolidate the peace process. As Deputy Currie stated, it is a means of bringing people into the political and democratic process to find a solution to a centuries old problem here. People should not try to place barricades along the way. We want to talk this matter through and we are committed to finding a solution by peaceful means. We should not try to nit pick along the way. I thank Deputy De Rossa for the report which he has submitted to me. Since yesterday I have been told that beatings have been meted out by loyalist paramilitaries. I do not know if that is true——

Eleven individuals have been attacked since the ceasefire was announced.

That problem will have to be addressed by the security forces or through whatever other means are necessary. I have stated unequivocally that such acts are indefensible and I am sure no Member of this House would try to defend them.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the ownership of the forum, so to speak, is important? Will those participating believe they have a share in the ownership of the forum? Will he agree that the forum should set its own Standing Orders, in other words, that they should not be formulated by the Government? The forum should also be allowed to set its own timescale for reporting.

I have not set a timescale in that regard. It will be a matter for the forum to decide when its usefulness is complete. I do not intend setting any deadlines. We will set the terms of reference, the modus operandi and how the forum will run will be decided by the forum and its chairman.

(Limerick East): In this remarks about the forum, the Taoiseach talked about the democratic parties on this island being represented. Does he see merit in the suggestion that an invitation should be extended to the political parties in the United Kingdom to make a submission at the forum? If he considers that an unwieldly mechanism, would he at least consider inviting representatives of the UK parties on the Parliamentary tier of the British-Irish Association to attend as observers and to make submissions if necessary?

There is a good deal of merit in what Deputy Noonan said. We have already considered how the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, which I believe is the appropriate body in that regard, might make presentations to it, have observer status or something like that. The matter has not been settled, but I agree with that idea in principle.

I am somewhat concerned about the obvious irritation the Taoiseach showed at the use of the term "permanent" in regard to an end to violence. Is he aware the Downing Street Declaration says that the Irish Government reiterates that a permanent end to support for paramilitary violence is a condition for parties participating fully in the democratic process? That statement was made by the Irish Government. Will that condition apply to participation in the forum?

The condition speaks for itself. Are we going to debate the definition of what is permanent, when is the violence over and whether it is over for good? We have passed that stage. We should leave that discussion and move forward.

The forum will not be a one party exercise.

I want to facilitate other speakers.

It is important that we should know at least whether it is the intention of parties to give up support for violence permanently before they participate in the forum.

We are having a good deal of repetition.

It is not unreasonable to satisfy ourselves about that. Given that the Irish Government used the term "permanent" as much as the British Government, it is strange that we should be any less concerned about a permanent end to violence than anyone else.

The Deputy has made that point very well.

I still stand by that. We have made it clear that the Irish Government for quite some time has accepted the ending of all military operations as a permanent cease-fire. We have said that repeatedly and we do not have to make the matter any clearer than that.

I agree with the Taoiseach that we need to build trust and confidence between the two communities on this island. One only has to reflect on the decision by Belfast City Council not to agree to hold a civic reception for the Down team to realise how far we have to go. We all know it would be desirable if the Unionists participated in the forum. The reconciliation must be between Nationalists and Unionists and if the Unionists are not represented genuine reconciliation will not be possible. Will the Taoiseach agree there will not be much hope of getting the Unionists to participate if the question of consent is open to debate? On reading the terms of reference of the forum and hearing the Taoiseach's response today, I am concerned that Sinn Féin is being brought into the forum under the illusion that it will be able to renegotiate the issue of consent. That issue is not only fundamental to the Unionist parties but to the majority of parties in this House. Will the Taoiseach clarify that there is no doubt that the terms of reference of the forum are compatible with the principles in the Downing Street Joint Declaration?

I will clarify for Deputy Harney what I have clarified on a number of occasions, namely, that the consent principle is paramount. It is fundamental to both Governments and to our approach to whatever new agreements can be reached. There is no diminution of that, good, bad or indifferent.

Will the Taoiseach agree that there is an apparent contradiction between what he said, namely, that full acceptance of the Downing Street Joint Declaration is not a precondition for entry into the forum, and his statement today that the forum will not allow a renegotiation of the Downing Street Joint Declaration? Will he agree that there is at least a possibility that Sinn Féin would seize on that apparant difference in an attempt to renegotiate the Downing Street Joint Declaration at the forum? Since it would appear that the forum would not be concerned only with political matters but with social and economic ones, is there not a case for representation on it by officials from the European Union and the United States, which both have given and promised strong economic support to an evolving new Ireland?

Both communities are represented in the European Parliament. I understand those representatives are having a meeting tomorrow about putting an aid package together. I have nothing further to add about the renegotiation of the consent principle. I must have said three or four times this afternoon that the consent principle is paramount and the Downing Street Joint Declaration is not open to renegotiation. Full use should be made of the forum to bring people together and we want to involve as many as possible, whether on the basis of full membership, alternate representation, observer status, making presentations or whatever. We want to secure the widest possible representation and the House should be united in that approach.