Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Dec 1995

Vol. 459 No. 4

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

Mary Harney


1 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent contacts with the British Government and the British Prime Minister. [18087/95]

Mary Harney


2 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if a date for the next Anglo-Irish Summit has been agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18090/95]

Mary Harney


3 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if the Government will be making its own submission to the Mitchell commission on decommissioning. [18135/95]

Mary Harney


4 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, the Government has to hold bilateral talks with the various Northern Ireland parties as part of the preparatory talks process set down in the twin track initiative. [18136/95]

Mary Harney


5 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he regards the end of February 1996 deadline as an actual date or a target date for the commencement of all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland. [18137/95]

Mary Harney


6 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the significance of the arrival of the United States President in Britain and Ireland on the finalising of the measures announced in the twin track initiative on 28 November 1995. [18138/95]

Mary Harney


7 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach the terms of reference of the international body on decommissioning. [18139/95]

Mary Harney


8 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if the international body on decommissioning will conduct its work in public or in private. [18141/95]

Bertie Ahern


9 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the arrangements and remit for the establishment of the international commission; and if he will clarify the meaning of the term "relevant parties" who will be called upon to give evidence. [18143/95]

Bertie Ahern


10 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the role the Irish Government proposes to play in the preparatory talks phase. [18144/95]

Bertie Ahern


11 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if it is the Government's view that the necessary circumstances to bring the two parties together at the negotiating table in accordance with paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration already exist and have existed since the time the forum was established. [18145/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 11, inclusive, together.

The twin track approach, launched yesterday week, is designed to lead to all-party negotiations on an agreed settlement based on consent. Both Governments had devoted a sustained effort over a considerable period to agree the Communiqué. Nevertheless, the visit of President Clinton helped to give a more focused intensity to our efforts because both Governments understood the opportunity inherent in the visit to advance matters on the road to all-inclusive dialogue.

The Communiqué constitutes an intergovernmental response to the sensitivities and concerns that existed in both traditions with regard to participation in, and commencement of, such negotiations. The two Governments, therefore, have sought to reassure all sides through agreement on a process designed to make progress in parallel and simultaneously on preparatory political talks and the decommissioning issue. We have honestly accepted the differences that exist between us at this stage and put our trust in the twin track process to achieve the necessary progress.

On the political track, the two Governments have set the firm aim of achieving all-party substantive negotiations by the end of February 1996 and we have committed ourselves to working with others to achieve that. With co-operation between both Governments and the Northern Ireland parties in both tracks, that objective will prove achievable. The period until then will be characterised by intensive preparatory talks and, in order to achieve speedy forward momentum, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs invited the Northern Ireland parties on Friday to participate in exploratory talks with the Government. Parallel invitations were issued by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew. The intensive round of political contacts flowing from these invitations needs, of course, to be complemented by a similar level of dialogue between the Northern Ireland parties. I, therefore, very much welcome Monday's meeting between the SDLP and the UUP.

The purpose of the preparatory talks will be to put in place, on the basis of widespread agreement, firm foundations and procedures for subsequent substantive negotiations, thus maximising the prospects for an agreed outcome based on consent and in both phases all relevant relationships will be addressed in an interlocking three-stranded frame.

Paragraph 3 of the Communiqué states that the preparatory talks may also extend to all steps required to establish the necessary circumstances to bring the parties together at the negotiating table in accordance with paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration. In that regard, the Government has believed since the ceasefires that the necessary circumstances were in existence but, of course, others have not shared our trust and confidence. It is in that context that the second track to deal with the decommissioning issue has come into being.

In parallel with the political track, the Governments have agreed to establish an international body to deal with the decommissioning issue. Its remit and terms of reference are fully set out in paragraphs 5 to 8 of the Communiqué. Paragraph 8 makes clear that it will be for the international body to determine its own procedures. That will include the body deciding whom to invite to submit their analysis of matters relevant to the decommissioning issue. The two Governments expect that the chairman, Senator George Mitchell, and the other two members, General John de Chastelaine and Mr. Harri Holkeri, will consult widely. We have not placed any restrictions on the body in regard to whom it may consult in order to fulfil its mandate. The Irish Government will, of course, submit its views on the decommissioning issue to the body.

As the international body will determine its own procedures, it will thus be a matter for it to decide how much publicity to give to its work. I would encourage all parties to co-operate fully with it and apply themselves with all necessary commitment to the preparatory political talks. The Governments have not set any limits on the extent to which parties may contribute in either track and we have agreed that we will consider constructively any practicable suggestions that could help to bring all parties into negotiations on the basis of the Downing Street Declaration and we will do so in the light of discussions in the political track.

The Communiqué has given the peace process the necessary space and momentum. Everyone concerned, particularly the political parties in Northern Ireland, has responsibilities to build on this opportunity for substantial forward movement.

Regarding my next meeting with the British Prime Minister, it is likely that I will have discussions with him at the European Council meeting in Madrid on 15 and 16 December.

Does the Taoiseach share my view that the refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party to enter talks with the Irish Government at this stage is insensitive and unhelpful?

I think it is important to study the full text of the statement made by the Ulster Unionist Party. It is clear it has reservations about discussing certain matters with the Irish Government but has not excluded discussion of other matters. In a process of this kind it is important to put the accent on the positive elements of the position of any of the relevant parties so that we can move forward rather than seeking to highlight certain negative elements, undoubtedly present, in the approach adopted by the Ulster Unionist Party at this early stage.

Is it not the case that it has ruled out discussions with the Irish Government at this stage, described it as a foreign government and is, therefore, not in a position to have discussions with it at this stage? Is that not its position? Is the Taoiseach disappointed with its reaction?

The Deputy is not quite accurate in saying it has ruled out any discussion with the Irish Government, it has ruled out discussion within the terms of the invitation — as it interprets it — from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs who will be replying and who, I believe, will allay some, at least, of the concerns.

It is important to make the point that the first meeting between the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and the leadership of an Irish Government took place after a gap of many years and obviously there is ground to be made up in building trust and understanding between the relevant parties. I believe the Tánaiste's approach and the response of the Ulster Unionist Party, when studied closely, leave room for expanding dialogue within the overall context of the twin track approach between the Irish Government and the Ulster Unionist Party. I particularly welcome the discussions that took place earlier this week between the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP and compliment both parties because it has opened up a new channel of discussion between them which is extremely important and needs to be built upon. It, of course, needs to be reinforced by North-South and east-west contacts.

Does the Taoiseach not regret the Ulster Unionist Party's refusal to meet the Irish Government? Is it not a serious step backwards from the meetings which the Taoiseach had with Mr. Trimble after his election? Is it not the position that the preparatory talks outlined in the communiqué cover all strands and that Mr. Trimble is effectively challenging the validity of Strand II? Assuming there is no misunderstanding, is Mr. Trimble not calling into question the validity of the twin track approach?

My understanding of the position adopted by Mr. Trimble — obviously it is better that he should state his own position — is that he is not willing to discuss Strand I matters with the Irish Government. The previous Government reluctantly accepted that position in the approach it took to the talks that ended in 1992. I believe that is still the position of the Ulster Unionist Party but obviously there are very many matters we can discuss with it in Strands II and III. It has legitimate interests in Strand III, the east-west dimension, and may have constructive ideas to put forward. My view, which I am sure Deputies Bertie Ahern and Harney share, is that it is best to discuss all three strands together because they tend to mutually reinforce one another but at the same time we should not exaggerate the extent of the difficulties that exist. It appears that the Ulster Unionist Party which previously was unwilling to talk directly to the head of an Irish Government is now willing to talk to an Irish Government, at least on Strands II and III issues. Hopefully we can expand on that in the process of building trust to include all the relevant relationships.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the British Government will not unilaterally provide for the election of an assembly?

I believe it is very important that in matters of this sensitivity the two Governments should work in tandem. It is very important that we work on that understanding. I am not talking about legal prerogatives, which exist in all jurisdictions. It is important that there should be a concerted approach by the two Governments on matters of sensitivity as far as either community is concerned. It is my wish to ensure that I do everything to maintain that position.

I agree with the Taoiseach but is he satisfied that the British will not unilaterally proceed with the election of an assembly in Northern Ireland?

It has not appeared to be necessary up to now to seek any such assurance because no such suggestion has been made. I have, in response to Deputy Harney's question today, indicated my view which is that in matters of sensitivity for either community, the two Governments should act in concert rather than unilaterally. That is not to say, of course, that both Governments within their own respective spheres of legal competence do not have powers to do certain things, but it is in the exercise of those powers that we need to show a willingness to act in concert.

I am not too sure I agree with the Taoiseach's optimism about how Mr. Trimble would view the three strand approach. However, does he agree that unless the Ulster Unionist Party is prepared to accept an Irish dimension — Strand II — both for sound economic reasons and as a matter of respect for the Nationalist community, there will be no agreement?

How does the Taoiseach see matters moving, particularly commitments to change the Constitution? The Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document are evidence of our bona fides on so many issues. If Mr. Trimble believes there is no Irish dimension, the Taoiseach should set the other side of the record straight for him.

The Ulster Unionist Party did enter talks on the basis of the statement in the House of Commons by the former Secretary of State, Peter Brooke which involved three strands. By entering into talks on that basis it clearly accepted there was a Strand II, in other words a North-South dimension. Clearly it has different views about the content of Strand II from those of the SDLP, Sinn Féin or the parties in this House but accepts there are three strands to this approach. While it might wish to add further strands it at least accepts there are three strands to this approach, one of which has a North-South dimension. It has put forward certain proposals which some Members of this House might not regard as fully adequate, in regard to Strand II, the North-South strand. Therefore there is not a case to be made that it does not accept the concept of Strand II. It is simply a question of entering into constructive dialogue with it on those matters to expand its proposals and allay its fears.

I agree with the implication in the Deputy's question, that the Unionist parties need to be more adventurous and trusting in their approach to all the others who live on this island. None of us wishes them any ill; all of us wish to build a structure within which we all can live in an atmosphere of justice, peace and respect for our respective allegiances. It is simply a question of working out together, in conjunction with the British Government, arrangements whereby that objective can be attained.

While agreeing with an earlier comment made by the Taoiseach — that wherever and whenever we can we should try to move the peace process forward and endeavour to look at the constructive elements — it is my duty, as leader of the Opposition, to raise issues that do not appear to be consistent with that line. Certainly we cannot allow the attitude of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party — which appears to be different from that of his predecessor — go unquestioned, assuming he has some agenda he is not putting forward openly and in respect of which nothing he has said in the past few days has given me or my party any confidence.

Will the Taoiseach agree that Northern Ireland will never win the support of the Nationalist community as long as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, or his party members, continue to engage in insulting language vis-a-vis the Irish Government, describing it as a foreign Government contending that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs is impudent and using other insulting language, saying they will not engage in any dialogue with the Taoiseach? Does the Taoiseach agree it is simply childish to describe the Anglo-Irish Agreement, registered with the United Nations, as an illegal document? As far as we on this side of the House are concerned Mr. David Trimble is wrong in British law, when he describes the Irish Government as a foreign one — which fact he should know as a lawyer — and we can place on record the reasons pointing to his being wrong.

Will the Taoiseach agree to all that has been said, since clearly Mr. Trimble does not propose to adhere to the three-strand talks process, will not co-operate in Strand II and has engaged in a barrage of insults about the Irish Government, contending there is no prospect of his engaging in talks? To be frank, as far as Mr. David Trimble is concerned, to where are the contents of the communiqué moving us? Would the Taoiseach agree that we have an obligation not to assume that he has some positive contribution to make given what he is saying?

It would be the easiest thing in the world for Members of this House to criticise statements made by the Ulster Unionist Party, pointing to flaws and how it is inconsistent with internationally recognised law and so on. I would make the point to Members that in the past 70 years we in this House have engaged in this type of dialogue with unionism, when we have been able, at least to our own satisfaction, to "win the argument" with them. That type of argument, which frequently involves the two traditions on this island talking past one another rather than talking to one another, is not particularly constructive. While I would not quarrel with any of the points Deputy Bertie Ahern has made, in terms of their strict truth, they are not ones that advance the position we seek to advance at this time. We should concentrate on expanding the area of agreement rather than accenting disagreements which undoubtedly exist.

I have no problem in acknowledging disagreement. Anybody who watched the press conference given by the British Prime Minister and me in No. 10 Downing Street on 28 November will have recognised that both he and I acknowledged that we disagreed on certain points. If we spent every day of every week simply reciting our areas of disagreement we would not move very far forward. In the relationship between Unionists and Nationalists on this island we need to concentrate on expanding the area of agreement. It is also very important that Unionists should come to recognise that the challenge for them, as Unionists, is not to recite the Unionist case but rather to devise structures for government that can win the allegiance of Nationalists, and the challenge for Nationalists is to devise structures for government that will win the allegiance of Unionists. It is not a case of either of us reciting the merits of our own case or the demerits of the case on the other side; it is a case of both of us seeking to win the allegiance of the other side. I say: let there be a context for inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness in this area.

Is the Taoiseach aware that within recent days both the President and Vice-President of Sinn Féin made it clear they do not speak on behalf of the IRA? Given that fact, is the Taoiseach satisfied that Sinn Féin will speak authoritatively to the international commission on the matter of IRA weapons?

I am satisfied it will do so, and it has given undertakings to do so in regard to that limited matter. On the other hand, it has made the statement — which I believe one should accept — that it is a separate organisation with a separate mandate and function to perform. It is also the case — as Sinn Féin has indicated — that it is able to speak frankly to the IRA and, when the occasion demands, convey views from the IRA. It is in that latter context and within that competence it will be able to do business, as necessary, with the international body.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that all the members of his Government are committed to the three-strand approach? Here, I refer particularly to the leader of Democratic Left, the Minister for Social Welfare, who stated on Tuesday morning of last week on "Morning Ireland", 29 November 1995: "What we have to try and do is create a political settlement in Northern Ireland". That, at least, caused confusion, as many members of the public having heard that comment believed this Government was not totally committed to Strands II and III. Will the Taoiseach comment on that and reassure the public that he will talk to his Ministers so that one voice will be seen to emanate from this Government, thus abolishing any impression of division within Government?

I am reminded to paraphrase a well known saying: There are none so confused as those who wish to be confused. In this context, of course it is true, as the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa said, that what we are seeking is a settlement in Northern Ireland. It is his view, mine and that of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, a reasonable view shared by the Government that such a settlement can be obtained only within the context of a three-strand relationship, in other words, a North-South relationship, an east-west relationship and an internal relationship within Northern Ireland. Of course one must recognise that, at the end of the day, what all of us are working toward is an arrangement that satisfies both communities in Northern Ireland; that is our view, the wish of the British Government and all the relevant parties. Within the context of a three-strand approach, we are seeking a settlement that will satisfy the two communities in Northern Ireland.

During his most recent contact with the British Government and the British Prime Minister in particular, has the Taoiseach raised the question of the lack of progress on the issue of prisoners, specifically the transfer of prisoners to Ireland, both North and South, the conditions in British prisons, and the matter of five prisoners who have already served 20 years and are awaiting release? Has he raised the case of John Kinsella who is serving a long sentence following a very doubtful conviction? Has he raised the matter of closed visits in Belmarsh Prison? Has he been given a definite date for the transfer of Paddy Kelly——

I am concerned about questions being put in such an omnibus fashion.

——and assurances that medical treatment which has not been provided to date will be provided on transfer? Finally, has he pointed out to the British Prime Minister that both Republican and Loyalist groups are ad idem regarding the issue of prisoners?

The answer to the first four and the last of the Deputy's questions is yes. The answer to the other questions is no.

In an earlier response the Taoiseach referred to the fact that both Governments had worked for the communiqué agreement of last week and, previously, the Framework Document. The three-strand approach was fundamental to those documents, the Framework Document in particular. Does the Taoiseach accept that it is legitimate for us on this side of the House to advance in an honest way the idea that there is disagreement between Mr. Trimble and this side of the House and the people of the South generally? It is obvious from his response to the Tánaiste and his statement on Sky Television last night when he cited the Welsh and Scottish examples as models of the sort of relationships he would like to see that Mr. Trimble wants to exclude Strand II, the Irish dimension.

The Deputy should proceed by way of questions.

Does the Taoiseach agree it is clear that Mr. Trimble, on behalf of the Unionists, wants to exclude the Irish dimension? Is it not proper for this side of the House and the House generally to make it clear to Mr. Trimble that an internal settlement in the North is not acceptable to the people of the Republic?

It is not only proper but entirely reasonable that all sides of the House should make it clear that what we are looking for is not a purely internal settlement but a settlement which reflects a North-South dimension and an east-west dimension as well as an internal dimension; all three strands are necessary. I certainly do not question the appropriateness of the Deputy raising questions of this kind, nor do I question Deputy Ahern's very careful statement of the number of differences that he has, and which many of us might share, with the position adopted by Mr. Trimble. My general proposition is that while it is reasonable to make a point as far as these are concerned we should concentrate our efforts on expanding the area of agreement rather than highlighting the area of disagreement. I answered Deputy O Cuív's questions exactly as he put them. I share his concern in general terms about the position of Irish prisoners in Britain. Furthermore, I have invited him to come to see me to discuss these matters in greater detail because I acknowledge that he, with Deputy Mary Flaherty, Senator Dan Neville and a number of other Deputies, has taken a particular interest in this issue. In so far as he mentioned in his questions today a number of specific cases which I have not raised with the British Prime Minister — I have admitted it freely — I will be happy to receive briefings from him and raise those through the appropriate channels.

In view of the events at the end of last week involving the people of Northern Ireland, and the events at the beginning of this week involving Dr. Paisley and Mr. Trimble, has it occurred to the Taoiseach that perhaps Unionist leaders are somewhat out of touch with the people they represent?

It has occurred to me from time to time that politicians of all parties are sometimes out of touch with the people they represent. What the Deputy says may be true in this instance, but I do not think it is particularly appropriate for me to make that point. It would be more appropriate for the people whom Dr. Paisley represents to make that point to him.

Is the end of February date for the commencement of all-party talks an actual date or a target date?

It is the firm aim of both Governments to commence all-party negotiations at the end of February and we will do everything in our power to get to that point. As I have said on a number of occasions, I believe the British Prime Minister is deeply committed to finding a solution to this problem. Obviously he has entirely valid concerns which he has to take into account which are different from any that I or any Member of this House has. His commitment is undoubted in this area. While one could be critical of the approach of certain parties in Northern Ireland, they also recognise that, at the end of the day, they have to live with their colleagues of a different religion who share the same streets and townlands with them and that until the people of each tradition come to a political accommodation with the people of the other tradition, they will not feel fully secure and safe, nor will their children or grandchildren. Everybody realises now that there is an opportunity between now and the end of February which all must seize. I urge everybody in Northern Ireland, whatever their political persuasion and however strong their previous political convictions have been, to make a move towards the other side, not to be the last but rather the first to make a concession to a contrary point of view as far as this issue is concerned. I know the entire House supports me in expressing that sentiment.

The Taoiseach referred earlier to the meeting between David Trimble and John Hume and the SDLP and the UUP. We very much welcome that meeting on this side of the House also. Is the Taoiseach aware of the content of the discussions that took place between the two parties? The indications from Mr. Trimble were that the only discussions that would take place related to economic issues and that there would be no reference to Strand II. Is that correct?

We were not represented at the meeting and I am relying on secondhand reports, but it is the case that the discussion focused predominantly on economic issues. I urge both parties to expand the area of discussion in their next meeting to include political questions because the more comprehensive the discussions between the parties in Northern Ireland the better.

I fully accept and agree with the Taoiseach's point that there needs to be movement from all sides. In that context would the Taoiseach agree that it is essential that there be a clear understanding on the part of Mr. Trimble and the Unionists of the Government's and this Parliament's view on the three strands, that it is not sufficient to have an agreement encompassing strands one and three which would involve merely a regional assembly within the UK but that, in the context of the Framework Document, there must be executive functions in any settlement between North and South so that we can have peace between these two islands and in both parts of this island, and the guns can be finally and positively taken out of Irish politics?

It has been the view of successive Irish Governments, from the time of the Sunningdale agreement through to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the talks initiated by the Deputy's party when in office with the Progressive Democrats up to the present, that this relationship is three stranded. There is a North-South dimension and I point that out to the Unionists and others as often as is necessary. There must be a North-South dimension and it must have substance if both communities in Northern Ireland, particularly the Nationalist community, are to feel that they are being governed under an arrangement which respects their allegiances and traditions. However, it equally behoves those of the Nationalist tradition, wherever they live, to understand that the Unionists have a strong sense of British allegiance which must also be respected.

I accept that.

I do not question the Deputy's acceptance of that. If we are to act in the spirit in which we wish others to act, it is important that in everything we say we acknowledge the validity of the views of the other side as well as simply advocating our own.

Would the Taoiseach agree that making progress on the prisoners' issue has been like trying to pull elephant's teeth? Has he been given any indication or assurances by the British Prime Minister that there will be a radical change of policy in relation to prisoners because no response has been forthcoming to date? I accept that the Taoiseach made a representation but there seems to be no general response on the question of prisoners. Can the Taoiseach give us more information as to the assurances or indications he has been given on this matter?

We are now having repetition in regard to this matter.

As I said in response to the Deputy's earlier question, I discussed many of these matters with the British Prime Minister. I raised the question of Mr. Kelly as well as remissions, conditions in prisons, visiting provisions and all related matters when I met the Prime Minister in Majorca. We had quite a substantial discussion on the matter and he listened very carefully to what I said. There has been movement since then on a number of those points including remissions and the position of certain prisoners with particular difficulties who wished to be transferred back to Ireland. Of course there is room for further movement.

I understand the tremendous hardship involved in being in prison. No matter how heinous one's offence, imprisonment is a serious penalty but it is worse if one is imprisoned far from one's family and friends because of the cost involved in visiting. I raised that issue quite strongly with the British Prime Minister and will use every reasonable opportunity to do so. One must recognise that there is a sensitivity in any area of imprisonment. The question of imprisonment was raised earlier on the Order of Business when the perspective of victims was mentioned in the context of the length of sentences. Victims exist in all jurisdictions, not just in Ireland. We must be mindful of the sensitivities of victims whether they reside in Britain or Ireland. There is not just a sense of being a victim because one is Irish. Many British people feel they were victims of problems in the past. While one could never advance that as justification for anything other than compassionate treatment of prisoners, one must also recognise that there is a balance of concerns here. While I commend Deputy Ó Cuív for the work he is doing, I urge him and others to take the opportunity when in Britain to have discussions with people who may be representative of those who have been victims of crime.

I thank the Taoiseach for his clarification on the three strands.

It was not necessary. My position on the three strand approach has been made known many times.

It has, but I worry when I hear the Tánaiste saying he feels that Mr. Trimble may have taken him up wrongly. In the statement of aims policy document approved by the Ulster Unionist Party last week Mr. Trimble said he agreed that what he was doing was reducing the three-strand talks concept to just two-one concerning internal Northern Ireland relationships and the other concerning relationships between the UK and Northern Ireland. He went on to say that he always believed the three strands were artificial and that we should only have two strands.

Perhaps the Taoiseach will take the opportunity to assure the House that the Tánaiste, in his reply to Mr. Trimble, will mention that the Irish Government does not accept that. The Ulster Unionist Party stated quite publicly last week that it now sees the process as being two stranded. Mr. Trimble's reply to the Tánaiste is a direct challenge — being diplomatic, the Taoiseach may not want to acknowledge it — to the three strand process for which we negotiated long and hard. I ask the Taoiseach to assure the House that the issue will be clarified in the Tánaiste's letter.

It is worth making the point that the Ulster Unionist Party, on occasion and again quite recently, said that it wants a four-strand approach, namely, internal Northern Ireland, North-South, east-west and Northern Ireland-UK dimensions. It has said a variety of things on occasion on this area.

Northern Ireland and Listowel would be five strands.

One should recognise that it has a particular perspective.

Northern Ireland and Lapland would be six strands.

Unionists believe that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland and East Timor would be seven strands.

They therefore presumably believe that a North-South dimension would be encompassed in a UK-Irish relationship.

Northern Ireland and Ecuador would be eight strands.

I do not agree that is necessarily the most fruitful way of looking at the problem because there are many other dimensions to the relationship between Britain and Ireland which need to be taken into account. I believe a three-strand approach is better but come back to the point I have been making throughout this lengthy series of questions. If one wants to find fault with what Mr. Trimble said, one will undoubtedly find it.

With no effort whatsoever.

I do not think that is an especially useful exercise at this juncture.

It is the Irish dimension. It is not a minor issue.

It is a huge matter.

We seek to build on and expand the common ground rather than exaggerate the size and dimension of the fences that may be between us.

The Taoiseach cannot ignore a principle.

The Deputy should not be so negative.

Let me try to build on the fudge. The Taoiseach said that we should emphasise areas of agreement rather than disagreement. Can the Taoiseach outline what area of agreement he sees between himself and Mr. Trimble on his assembly proposal?

I see the following area of agreement. The motivation for the proposal is presented by Mr. Trimble as being compatible with a North-South and east-west dimension and a means of overcoming the decommissioning roadblock. Those two reasons have been advanced by Mr. Trimble in favour of his proposal and are ones with which I agree. I acknowledge however that there are serious reservations about the proposal on the part of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

I also acknowledge that there is a risk, which I believe could be overcome, that this could be interpreted as approaching the matter in terms of an internal settlement. I do not believe an internal settlement will work and is the proper approach. We need a three-strand approach. Any initiative of the kind suggested by Mr. Trimble should properly be discussed by him and his party with the SDLP and the other parties in Northern Ireland. They can then reach an agreement on the best way to proceed rather than passing one unilateral resolution, however well founded.

I remind the House that it must deal with priority questions at 3.30 p.m.

In view of the response from the Unionist parties to the invitation to participate in preliminary talks can the Taoiseach say what benefits there would be for them if they responded positively to the invitation? What appeal would he make to them directly to seek to convince them to participate in the talks?

The Unionist parties represent a majority of the people in Northern Ireland. All the people in Northern Ireland have benefited enormously from peace. They have an opportunity to live normal lives, attract investment and tourism on a scale previously unthought of. There is a heavy responsibility on those representing the majority and minority in Northern Ireland to do everything possible within their power to guarantee not just the continuance of peace in the form of an absence of violence but a true reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland so that there will be an atmosphere that will attract more investment and tourism and release the untapped resources of initiative within the people which the division in Northern Ireland has prevented them from expressing fully.

I agree with the Taoiseach and I am sure he will agree that we need to clarify where both sides stand. It is no good thinking there is agreement where there is clearly major disagreement. Last weekend Fianna Fáil congratulated the Government and welcomed the fact that the peace process was moving forward. We made some critical remarks about the communiqué. In particular I was unhappy with the last sentence of paragraph 3 which stated that the preparatory talks may also extend to all steps required to establish the necessary circumstances to bring the parties together at the negotiating table in accordance with paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration. We regard that sentence, which is a change from the Downing Street Declaration, as a serious diplomatic blunder.

Paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration states that the two Governments alone are the judges of whether the conditions in paragraph 10 are fulfilled. The position of the Irish Government has always been that they were. That has been the position for the last 15 months, certainly since the Forum was established. Not only does the Taoiseach appear to side with the British position that the requirements of paragraph 10 are not satisfied but it is in breach of the Downing Street Declaration by allowing other parties, especially the Ulster Unionist Party and DUP, to judge whether Sinn Féin is complying with paragraph 10. Does this not open the way for indefinite stalling on the position? It was quite clear in the Downing Street Declaration that the British and Irish Governments would judge where and when people were accepted to participate in democratic talks. Now the Taoiseach has brought in people who in our view are unlikely ever to agree to Sinn Féin's mandate.

It is evident that there are divided opinions in Northern Ireland between the political parties on whether certain parties have met the conditions of paragraph 10. They have a legitimate right to express those opinions. Where better to do so than in the political track so that they can give their opinion to the two Governments? The Deputy is correct that the two Governments have the final say in the matter. They have set themselves the firm aim of starting talks by the end of February. That is stated in the communique. It is reasonable that in the lead up to the end of February the two Governments should be able to hear, in the political track, the views of all parties in Northern Ireland on whether all the other parties have complied with paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration. I remind the Deputy that I did not invent paragraph 10. It was agreed by my predecessor.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied, given the information released in the House of Lords last night about punishment beatings, that Sinn Féin and the other political allies of paramilitary organisations are doing everything they can to bring punishment beatings to an end?

I am aware that on Monday, 21 November 1994 the Sinn Féin president, Mr. Gerry Adams, called for an end to all IRA punishment beatings. It is very important that he should continue to say this. Those who have influence over loyalist para-militaries should do likewise. This is a barbaric practice and an attempt to interfere with normal legal processes in Northern Ireland. It represents an attempt to intimidate people in their daily lives and is a form of arbitrary justice which has nothing to do with any reasonable concept of either republicanism or loyalism. The concept of a republic is based on equality before the law. There is no equality before the law as long as punishment beatings occur. Loyalism is based on loyalty to the British constitution. That constitution also encompasses the idea of equality before the law. To condone punishment beatings is entirely contradictory to a true understanding of loyalism or Unionism. Punishment beatings are an aberration and an appalling practice. They have no place in a democracy and are inconsistent with democratic politics. I welcome the fact that Gerry Adams has so firmly condemned them on behalf of Sinn Féin. In many cases these actions are taken on a freelance basis. I cannot say for certain that they all are but many are not undertaken with the support of any organisation. I urge those with influence in the areas where these are occurring, whatever political party they may belong to, to use that influence to stop them and bring the perpetrators to the notice of the relevant authorities.

I fully agree with the Taoiseach and others that punishment beatings are barbaric and should be brought to an end immediately. We know who agreed paragraph 10 and how it was agreed. Paragraph 3 removes paragraph 10 from the position it occupied for the last year and moves it to one where Unionists have a veto. That is how it is interpreted. Is it not true that the Tánaiste and his office reluctantly agreed to the last sentence and that he and the Department of Foreign Affairs strongly objected to it before that matter was agreed?

That is not the case. I will read the sentence so that all who are listening in the House will see how tendentious and negative are the Deputy's questions in this area.

That is not correct and the Taoiseach knows it.

We have been trying to be helpful. That sort of comment is not helpful on this very sensitive issue.

I will quote the relevant sentence from paragraph 3. "These preparatory talks ——"


Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply. I will not permit any Member of the House to be shouted down.

I am not shouting down anybody.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

We are trying to be agreeable and helpful in respect of a very sensitive issue, the most important issue facing the country.

I must ask Deputy Burke to desist from further interruption.

What about people in glass houses, Deputy Burke?

I wish to quote the relevant sentence about which Deputy Ahern is making so much.

And the meaning behind it.

"These preparatory talks may"— I emphasise the word "may"——

——"extend to all steps required to establish the necessary circumstances to bring the parties together at the negotiating table in accordance with paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration". I wish to make two points about that. First, paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration was agreed to by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. Second, the communiqué merely states that parties, if they wish, may express views in the preparatory talks about that paragraph which was agreed to by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach.

For what purpose?

For the purpose of getting everybody around the table together.

The Deputy should realise this is a serious matter. Anyone living here for the past 15 months will be aware that there are different opinions in particular parties about the interpretation of paragraph 10. Until decommissioning takes place some Unionist parties are not willing to sit down with parties that hold weapons. That is not a view with which I agree but it would be foolish of me or any other Member to deny the existence of that point of view.

Paragraph 10 left it up to the two Governments.

The sentence from the communiqué that I have just quoted merely states that those who have concerns about that matter may — I emphasise the word "may"——

Have a veto.

——raise the matter in the preparatory talks. What could be more reasonable than giving them an opportunity to raise those concerns if they wish? Why does the Opposition object to the idea of allowing these people raise their concerns in the preparatory talks?

Because a decision cannot be made until they agree.

Does Deputy Ahern and his colleagues believe there is something wrong with people raising genuinely held concerns in the preparatory talks?

The Taoiseach should not be so naive.

The purpose of the preparatory talks is to allow everybody say what is on their minds.

It is not only us that disagree with this, the Department of Foreign Affairs also objected.

The more people say what is on their minds the better. Deputy Ahern and other members of the Fianna Fáil Party have been making a great deal in this hour long debate about their right to be able to raise their concerns about comments made by Mr. Trimble. They are perfectly entitled to do that, but how can they object to the loyalist and Unionist parties raising their concerns in the preparatory talks?

Because paragraph 10 of the Downing Street Declaration was consented to by both Governments.

Fianna Fáil is objecting to a sentence at the end of paragraph 3 that does no more than give those parties the right, if they wish, to raise their concerns.

That was a matter for both Governments, the Taoiseach is now including the Unionists.

Fianna Fáil's partisan approach is not conductive to achieving the necessary solution.

The Taoiseach has raised the partisan approach and is giving a veto to the Unionists.

There is no veto.

Two Governments and the Taoiseach's officials disagreed with him.

I am sorry to interrupt these proceedings, but the time has come to deal with questions nominated for priority.

The Christmas wine is having a bad effect.