Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 Jul 1996

Vol. 468 No. 2

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

Ray Burke


1 Mr. R. Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress, if any, that has been made in relation to the multi-party talks; and whether there has been any change in the conditions for participation in the talks. [14740/96]

Liz O'Donnell


8 Ms O'Donnell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the procedures that have been agreed between the two Governments for the consideration of the decommissioning issue. [12062/96]

John O'Donoghue


11 Mr. O'Donoghue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the current status of the Framework Document; and if the British and Irish Governments will be tabling the document at the commencement of all-party talks. [10841/96]

Mary Harney


19 Miss Harney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the arrangements, if any, he intends putting in place to ensure the Opposition parties in Dáil Éireann are kept fully informed of the progress of all-party negotiations. [12064/96]

Bertie Ahern


21 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the role to be played by Senator George Mitchell in all-party talks. [12055/96]

Bertie Ahern


23 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the agreed arrangements for the handling of the decommissioning issue during all-party talks. [12053/96]

Ivor Callely


28 Mr. Callely asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the importance he attaches to Sinn Féin's participation in the all-party negotiations; the progress, if any, that has been made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14578/96]

Brian Lenihan


29 Mr. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs whether the Irish and British Governments have reached agreement on a role in the all-party talks for Senator George Mitchell. [11572/96]

Michael McDowell


32 Mr. M. McDowell asked the asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will give an assessment of the current stage which has now been reached in the talks at Stormont; the likely future timetable and agenda for these talks; and his views on when fully substantive talks, rather than discussions, in relation to procedure are likely to commence. [14647/96]

Brian Cowen


34 Mr. Cowen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has agreed a basis with the British Government for handling the decommissioning issue in accordance with the Mitchell report. [10840/96]

Michael McDowell


36 Mr. M. McDowell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the possible future involvement of provisional Sinn Féin in the all-party talks at Stormont in the aftermath of the murder of a Garda at Adare, County Limerick, the explosion at Manchester and the discovery of an IRA bomb factory at Clonaslee, County Laois. [14648/96]

Willie O'Dea


37 Mr. O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs whether a venue has been agreed for all-party talks; and his views on whether any of the Strand II sessions will be held in Dublin. [11573/96]

Mary Harney


39 Miss Harney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the discussions, if any, he has had with former US Senator George Mitchell since the commencement of the multi-party negotiations. [12645/96]

Peadar Clohessy


40 Mr. Clohessy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the arrangements, if any, being made for the conduct of Strand II of the multi-party negotiations. [12647/96]

Dermot Ahern


46 Mr. D. Ahern asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's current position on the decommissioning issue in the context of all-party talks. [14131/96]

David Andrews


47 Mr. Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government representatives present on each day of the multi-party talks to date. [14132/96]

Ivor Callely


49 Mr. Callely asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether progress can be made through dialogue; his further views on the importance of such dialogue to obtain a re-instatement of the IRA ceasefire; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14767/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 8, 11, 19, 21, 23, 28, 29, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 46, 47 and 49 together.

As Deputies will be aware, the ground rules oblige participants to maintain confidentiality on all aspects of the negotiations except where they may, from time to time, agree to publicity. It would not, therefore, be appropriate for me to describe in detail the progress of the negotiations. As regards briefing Opposition parties during the negotiations, I refer Deputies to my reply of 30 May to a previous question on this matter, and I would again invite the relevant spokespersons to discuss the matter with me. I am available to discuss this at any time with the Opposition spokespersons.

I can, however, inform the House that discussion to date has centred on the adoption of agreed procedural rules. While the Government would have hoped that the negotiations could have proceeded more rapidly to matters of substance, nonetheless it is perhaps understandable that the early stages of negotiations involving so many parties, with such different viewpoints, would make relatively slow headway. I am hopeful that agreement on the rules of procedure will soon be reached and that it will be possible to move into the substantive negotiations which we all wish to see without undue delay.

On 6 June, the two Governments invited a group consisting of Senator George Mitchell, General John de Chastelain and Mr. Harri Holkeri to play a role in chairing various aspects of the negotiations which require independent chairmanship. They invited the chairman of the group, Senator Mitchell, to chair the plenary sessions of the negotiations, and also invited General de Chastelain to chair the Strand II negotiations and the business committee, and Mr. Holkeri to act as alternate chairman in any of the chairmanship roles. On Wednesday, 12 June the Opening Plenary formally appointed Senator Mitchell, General de Chastelain and Mr. Holkeri to these chairmanships. I, and other members of the Government negotiating team — like each of the other negotiating teams — have, of course, been in intensive and ongoing contact with Senator Mitchell and his colleagues since the negotiations began. We are very fortunate to have secured the services of three such distinguished personalities, whose skills and dedication have already been amply demonstrated.

Following the formal opening of the negotiations on 10 June by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, the Government has been represented at political level by a team drawn from myself, the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Social Welfare, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Minister of State, Deputy Coveney and the Attorney General. This allows us the flexibility to be represented in a variety of formations, depending on the subject matter and the particular stage reached in discussion. A list setting out the details of attendance on particular days is being circulated in the Official Report. Officials have also been present throughout.

The ground rules establish the basic parameters for the Strand II negotiations. They will cover relationships within the island of Ireland and will involve the British and Irish Governments and the political parties participating in the negotiations. As I indicated earlier, formal meetings in Strand II will be chaired by General de Chastelain. Negotiations will take place on the basis of an agreed agenda and in appropriate formations as agreed by the participants. On 6 June the two Governments put forward a draft agenda for Strand II, but this has yet to be considered by the other participants in the negotiations. The ground rules also state that Strand II negotiations will take place in Belfast, Dublin and London, at times agreed by the business committee. No precise arrangements have yet been made.

As regards the venues for the other elements of the negotiations, meetings in Strand I will take place at Castle Buildings, Belfast; the two Governments will determine where Strand III meetings will take place; and the business committee shall determine the venue of its meetings.

As I stated when last answering questions in this House, on 30 May: "the Government's approach will be based on the Framework Document. While it is intended as an aid to negotiations and not as a rigid blueprint to be imposed, both Governments have stated that it sets out a realistic, balanced and achievable framework for agreement". The Taoiseach reiterated the commitment of the Government to the Framework Document in his address at the opening of the negotiations on 10 June. Ultimately, of course, it is for the participants themselves to determine the outcome of the negotiations.

As regards treatment of the decommissioning issue, the two Governments maintain their joint commitment, originally stated in the communiqué of 28 February, that as one of a number of confidence-building measures all participants would need to address, at the beginning of the discussions, the International Body's proposals on decommissioning. In the documents, published on 6 June, the two Governments also confirmed their commitment to all aspects of the report of the International Body, including our support for the compromise approach to decommissioning set out in paragraphs 34 and 35. Both Governments agree with the International Body that this approach provides the opportunity to move forward, and that it is on the basis of working constructively to implement this and all other aspects of the report that the negotiations should be advanced. We confirmed we would work with all the participants to implement all aspects of the report.

The question of how to deal with decommissioning in the negotiations has not yet been agreed, and indeed has not so far been the subject of serious discussion in the negotiations. The conditions for participation in the negotiations remain as set out in the ground rules. All political parties with an electoral mandate deriving from the 30 May elections in Northern Ireland which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and have shown that they abide by the democratic process are entitled to be involved. Sinn Féin's participation in the negotiations, and the resumption of ministerial dialogue with them, requires the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994.

I continue to urge the Sinn Féin leadership to immediately seek such a restoration. That is the only basis on which the 15 per cent of the Northern Ireland electorate which voted for them — after they had campaigned on the slogan "Vote for Peace"— can be directly represented at the negotiations. The Government wants to see this happen as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the recent IRA atrocities in Adare, Manchester and Osnabruck, which I once again condemn in the strongest possible terms, with the discovery by the Garda of the Clonaslee bomb factory, have added greatly to the anger and doubts of the public about the intentions of the republican movement. It will be for the republican movement to find ways of overcoming these extra obstacles and of demonstrating the credibility of any future statement that the ceasefire has been restored.

The Government continues to be open to communication with Sinn Féin at official level. In the period leading up to 10 June, we used official channels to convey to Sinn Féin our conviction that the arrangements being put in place for the negotiations were fair and balanced, and our determination to ensure that the negotiations would be serious and comprehensive. While we will continue to keep channels of communication open as appropriate, I must make clear the view of the Government that the restoration of the IRA ceasefire is not a matter for negotiation, but rather a matter where the most urgent action is required by the leaders of the republican movement themselves.

I repeat the assurances given by the Government to the House that all possible action will be taken to prevent further IRA outrages, and the resources of the State fully deployed in pursuing the perpetrators of crime, from whatever quarter they come.

Ministerial Attendance At Multi-Party Negotiations

Week 1 (10-12 June)

Tánaiste (10-12 June)

Minister for Justice (10-12 June)

Minister for Social Welfare (10-12 June)

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (10-11 June)

Attorney General (10-11 June)

Week 2 (17-19 June)

Tánaiste (19 June)

Minister for Justice (19 June)

Minister for Social Welfare (19 June)

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (19 June)

Minister of State Coveney (19 June)

Attorney General (17-19 June)

Week 3 (24-27 June)

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (24-25 June)

Minister of State Coveney (24-27 June)

Attorney General (24-25 June)

Week 4 (1-4 July)

Minister of State Coveney (1-4 July).

That is a very comprehensive reply to the series of questions. On the question of the ceasefire, does the Tánaiste see grounds for optimism in relation to a renewed IRA ceasefire and is he aware of any grounds for the slightly more optimistic views expressed in statements yesterday by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and the British Prime Minister? Does he see anything new in the IRA interview published in An Phoblacht today?

If I were to comment on the lines requested by the Deputy, it would be pure speculation. I will be honest and frank in my replies to the Deputy in that respect. Earlier this year, leading up to 10 June, the time we completed our negotiations with the British Government, we believed that everything that was required was in place for the cessation of violence to be restored. Unfortunately, since then those hopes have been dashed because of what has happened in Adare, Manchester and, of course, the attack on the Continent.

Against that background it is fair to acknowledge that there are people who want to bring Sinn Féin into the democratic process, into talks and negotiations. I hope those people will be successful because we want them at those talks. The public has difficulty understanding how there are people saying they want peace talks, the peace talks were arranged for 10 June on the clear understanding that we wanted Sinn Féin to be at them but now the atrocities are continuing. The message from the Government is very clear and I know it is one with which Deputy Burke agrees in that there will be no negotiations or discussions until there is a clear restoration of the ceasefire. We urge it to call a ceasefire as soon as possible.

It is my view that there cannot and should not be any talks until the ceasefire is restored. What he is saying, in effect, is that he has no information to confirm the assessment of the situation by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who engaged in speculation yesterday that there is hope for a ceasefire. I hope from everybody's point of view that it is accurate.

The Minister will be aware of the disappointment many people feel in relation to the lack of progress in the procedural wrangles at the talks which began on 10 June in Stormont. Will he comment on the disappointment expressed by the deputy leader of the SDLP, Mr. Seamus Mallon, at the lack of action and resolve of the two Governments and their failure to take a lead role in the process? Will he accept that these procedural issues need to be settled as rapidly as possible and that signs of progress would have a most positive effect on the chances for a renewed ceasefire?

Both Governments want to make progress. Some parties are more anxious than others to do so. I do not think anybody was particularly surprised that there were difficulties at the launch of the talks. There are parties present with widely diverging views, some of whom have never sat down with one another in the past in formal negotiations. We want to create space to overcome these difficulties. We had hoped that progress would have been made by now. We still hope that progress can be achieved before the summer recess.

In relation to the comments made by Mr. Seamus Mallon, in close co-operation with the British Government, the Government is active in trying to conclude the procedural phase of the negotiations as quickly as possible. We are also working closely with the other participants, not least, in terms of meetings, the SDLP. We will continue to do everything possible, in close co-operation with the British Government, to move the process forward.

In order to expedite matters we have to get agreement among the participants. We have to be careful in our approach because from time to time we are accused, I believe unfairly, of imposing propositions and solutions on various parties. We will try to progress matters in a careful and sensitive way. We are working to obtain the agreement of the parties sitting at the table with us.

Let us not forget the time factor in dealing with priority questions. We are dwelling overlong on this question.

I appreciate your concern but the Minister covered a considerable amount of ground, including the issue of decommissioning, the subject matter of Question No. 8 in the name of Deputy O'Donnell. I ask you to bear with me.

The ground rules for the talks were set out by the two Governments. It is essential that they take a lead role. It will be easier for them to bring the parties with them if there is consistency in the membership of the negotiating teams, particularly at a high level. The Government should do everything possible to allay the concerns of Mr. Seamus Mallon who was a participant in the 1992 talks and is not unfamiliar with the way the talks process should be moved forward. The two Governments have a leading role to play, not a passive one. That has not been done so far.

I do not accept what the Deputy said. The Government is right to consider that it is playing a leading role. Ultimate responsibility rests with the two Governments. That is the basis upon which we will continue to work in the talks. I understand the frustration of politicians like Mr. Seamus Mallon who wants to get on with serious and meaningful negotiations. We will do everything in our power to ensure we can get to that stage as quickly as possible.

How will the decommissioning question be dealt with in the absence of Sinn Féin? Is it the Government's position that once there is a ceasefire and the six Mitchell principles are accepted and observed no party can be excluded from the talks? Does Sinn Féin expect to be allowed in once the ceasefire is restored on the grounds that it accepts the Mitchell principles, despite the horrendous incidents in Adare, Manchester and Osnabruck?

As I made clear on the last occasion I answered questions in the House, we want Sinn Féin at the table. The difficulties in relation to its participation have been exacerbated because of the atrocities committed since. Notwithstanding this, it received a 17 per cent mandate in the Northern Ireland elections. We strongly believe that a great deal of this is accounted for by people who want peace and Sinn Féin to participate in negotiations. We will do everything we can in that respect.

So far as the Government is concerned, the Mitchell report governs the decommissioning issue. It would be unwise to try to unscramble the Mitchell report in its totality. Paragraphs 34 and 35 in particular offer the best and perhaps only way of dealing with this difficult question, if we are to be successful.