1 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the SDLP in early September 1996. [16331/96]
Vol. 469 No. 1
1 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the SDLP in early September 1996. [16331/96]
2 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the Alliance Party in early September 1996. [16332/96]
3 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with President Clinton and Congressional leaders in the United States of America. [16333/96]
4 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the contacts, if any, since August 1996 between his office and Sinn Féin and the Loyalist parties. [16334/96]
5 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his views on the continuing boycott campaigns in Northern Ireland. [16335/96]
6 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the Government's views on the lessons of the marching season. [16336/96]
7 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with President Clinton in Washington on Monday, 9 September 1996. [16466/96]
8 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his address to the joint Session of Congress in Washington on Wednesday, 11 September 1996. [16467/96]
9 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions, if any, he has had with the British Prime Minister. [16468/96]
10 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the contacts, if any, that have taken place between officials in his Department and representatives of Sinn Féin. [16469/96]
11 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his invitation to the Loyalist fringe parties in Northern Ireland to meet with him to discuss developments in the peace process. [16470/96]
12 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions, if any, he has had with the SDLP. [16471/96]
13 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions, if any, he has had with the Alliance Party. [16472/96]
14 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the composition of the Government team for the current session of the multi-party talks in Northern Ireland. [16473/96]
15 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his statement on Northern Ireland made at the Irish Embassy in Paris on Thursday, 11 July 1996. [16474/96]
16 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the representation, if any, being made by his Department to the independent body recently appointed to oversee future parade routes in Northern Ireland. [16486/96]
17 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will elaborate on the statement in his Washington speech to Congress of 11 September 1996 that we are not motivated by any interest of our own other than that of obtaining an agreement which is reasonable and fair to the aspirations of both communities. [16542/96]
18 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the reason he considers a renewed IRA ceasefire and a political agreement inevitable following his remarks in the United States; and the reasons, if any, he has for believing that either will happen in the short-term. [16543/96]
19 Mr. T. Kitt asked the Taoiseach his views on the prospects of a new IRA ceasefire; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16645/96]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 19, inclusive, together.
The events surrounding this year's marching season in Northern Ireland underline the fundamental need for dialogue and negotiation to prevail in all circumstances of disagreement. That need is further underscored by the undoubted damage done by these events to inter-community relations and to confidence in political authority and the political process itself. Further harm was done to perceptions regarding the impartial enforcement of law and order.
There was very understandable Nationalist anger over Orange Order actions like the blocking of roads. The consequent polarising effects on inter-community relations are deepened further by business boycotts. Such actions impact negatively not only on the economic well-being of both communities but also on the climate for healing and reconciliation which is so essential to eventual agreement. The Government is totally opposed to actions of this kind and we urge everyone with an influence on the situation to bring an end to the boycotts.
There was also extensive intimidation and damage to property, including Catholic churches and schools, Orange halls and Protestant places of worship, as well as further punishment beatings. Worse still, a number of people were murdered in apparently sectarian, internecine and punishment shootings. The Government deplores and condemns all these manifestations of violence and expresses its sympathy with all those who suffered as a result.
Recently there have been protests outside Catholic Churches in Ballymena, Bushmills and Dervock. Any interference with people's rights to religious worship is profoundly wrong and contrary to the most fundamental of civil and religious liberties.
In regard to the issue of parades and marches in Northern Ireland, the Government's approach is that, as a general guiding principle, a balance has to be struck between the rights of the different parties involved. We respect the right of people to commemorate and celebrate the historic and socio-cultural traditions of their community, including by means of parades and marches, but we also believe that these should not be routed through areas where they are unwelcome. In addition, we believe that reasonable account should be taken of shifts in the distribution of population when settling on routes. We consider that the detailed application of these general principles in regard to particular parades and specific locations is best settled by agreement between representatives of those directly involved. We also believe that there must be an over-riding respect for the rule of law. Our views on these matters were conveyed to the British Government in the leadup to this year's marching season and in the aftermath of the events this summer, particularly during July.
As the House will be aware, the British Government has recently established an Independent Review of Parades and Marches. The Irish Government will make a submission to this review. It is our firm view that everything must be done to avoid a repetition next year of the damaging events which characterised the 1996 marching season. We hope that the review will lead to an approach on the parades issue which will command widespread acceptance and confidence in both communities. That would need to embrace the question of policing and, in particular, how policing arrangements could be made more acceptable to the Nationalist community. Ultimately I believe, however, that a satisfactory resolution lies in the achievement of a widely accepted political settlement which will provide the context for policing structures that will draw support and recruitment from across the full spectrum of people in Northern Ireland.
Following the events of the summer months, it is more important than ever that the primacy of politics is firmly reestablished. In that regard, the multi-party talks, which resumed on 9 September, are vitally important in two respects: first, they are the only viable means in existence to build a new political way forward through agreement: and, second, they are centrally important to the restoration of public confidence in the political process, which was badly shaken by the events surrounding this year's marching season combined with the continuance of the IRA campaign of violence.
Having reviewed the position before the talks recommenced, the Government set out energetically from 9 September to inject much needed momentum and substance into the talks process. Since the resumption, we have sought, in close co-operation with the British Government, to achieve that result. An intensive series of meetings have been held with a view to securing the earliest possible launch of substantive negotiations in the three strands and a parallel serious handling of the decommissioning issue. We are continuing with these intensive efforts.
Since the talks resumed, the Government has been represented by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Ministers for Justice and Social Welfare, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, the Attorney General and senior officials from the relevant Departments. As I previously indicated in this House, I do not propose to report on every meeting and contact I or my officials have in the Northern Ireland context. However, since I last reported to the House on developments in Northern Ireland, the Government has also been in frequent contact with the British Government and the other talks participants in addition to contacts in the talks themselves.
I was in telephone contact with the British Prime Minister on Monday last and the Government meetings with the SDLP and the Alliance Party on 4 and 5 September respectively were most useful. On the multi-party talks issue, both parties emphasised strongly the need for a speedy resolution of agenda-based issues and for real movement into and within substantive negotiations. We exchanged views on how best these aims might be met, recognising the importance of agreement on how decommissioning is to be addressed and thereby ensuring that this issue does not derail, or detract from, the wider negotiations. For its part, the Government undertook to the parties to do everything possible to give renewed impetus and focus to the multi-party talks and it has done so.
Regarding contacts with the Unionist and loyalist parties, the Government has long recognised the importance of a deeper and wider process of exchange. The Government formally invited the UDP and PUP on 28 August to discuss directly with it the concerns raised publicly by some members of the loyalist leadership. They did not take up that particular invitation, but there have been frequent contacts, within the talks process and outside it since then and these conversations have proved useful.
Channels of communication at the level of officials with Sinn Féin remain open. These channels are being kept open specifically and solely with a view to securing a restoration of the IRA ceasefire. That remains a fundamental requirement for Sinn Féin participation in the multi-party talks, which provide that party with an unparalleled opportunity to makes its own distinctive contribution to the shaping of a new agreed way forward.
The political process, as embodied in large measure by the multi-party talks, is the only viable and meaningful option available for the advancement of political aims. Sinn Féin states that the party wants to play its part in the shaping of a new political settlement, agreed within a workable timeframe. The opportunity for it to do that is now there, making a restoration of the IRA ceasefire a matter of such compelling logic that its inevitability, sooner or later, can scarcely be in doubt. It would be much better for everybody, including the republican movement and those it represents or who support it, if it acted on that logic now, or in the very short-term. Whether that will happen, I cannot say.
The murder in Belfast last week, and more particularly the discovery of a massive amount of explosives and other bomb-making equipment in Britain on Monday, undermine the position of those who have been advocating a peace strategy. Furthermore, they do not inspire confidence that the Sinn Féin leadership is successfully persuading republicans to move in a peaceful direction. The sooner the republican movement as a whole realise the futility of violence, the better. It can best demonstrate that by calling a renewed and credible ceasefire, which, this time, will hold in all circumstances. In this context, it may be helpful to Members if I placed on the record of the House the full content of what I said in the United States in regard to the possibility and desirability of an IRA ceasefire, as distinct from what I was represented as saying. My remarks were made in answer to a question by a journalist who raised the matter. The question was:
"Did President Clinton give you any indication that there was any reason to believe that an IRA cease-fire was being contemplated, say between now and Christmas — in the short-term future?"
My reply was as follows:
Not in those terms — he did not. But there is a possibility of an IRA ceasefire, I suppose. I have been asked questions about IRA ceasefires before and I have said that I felt that the logical time for them to have a ceasefire was before the talks started on the 10th of June, because these talks were what they had been demanding for years; "Peace Talks Now" was their slogan. But perhaps it takes time for them to make decisions and judgments and, perhaps, they are coming to a point where they will be able to make a decision and have a ceasefire. It's important that the ceasefire be credible, to be one that people understand will endure, and to use the term they use themselves —"will hold in all circumstances". That was the term they used themselves and I underline the word all. That is important; that people understand that; that everybody understands that. But I think there is a recognition that really fruitful negotiations can only occur in an atmosphere of absence of threat of violence; that there will be an undue defensiveness and an undue unwillingness to compromise as long as the threat of violence remains. Thus, I would hope — I have some reason to hope — that that's being understood now, and that the conditions may exist in which a ceasefire could be called. But I have no way of being in any way categorical about that.
Members will note I did not use the words `optimism' or `optimistic' about the prospects for an IRA ceasefire. The strongest word I used was `hope', and I still hope that those in the republican movement who favour a peace strategy can prevail. Encouragement and hope must be given to those in Ireland and America who wish to see peaceful conditions restored and some space must be made for the creation of a peaceful atmosphere for negotiations. Subsequently, in my address to Congress. I called for an IRA ceasefire, and in a further interview with journalists I said that Martin McGuinness said true negotiations can only take place in an atmosphere of genuine peace.
In addition to a meeting with President Clinton accompanied by Vice President Gore and Secretary of State Christopher, I also met Speaker Gingrich, Senator Bob Dole, the nominee of the Republican Party for the US Presidency, and the Friends of Ireland ad hoc committee in Congress. I addressed the Joint Houses of Congress and a dinner hosted by the Irish Ambassador which was attended by leading members of the US Congress and Administration.
The passage in my address, to which Deputy Ahern's Question No. 17 refers, aimed to emphasise not only our rejection of coercion but also the balanced approach that the Irish Government is pursuing. A balanced approach is not only right but is the only practical approach because the consent of both communities is necessary for viable long-term political arrangements for Northern Ireland. What I said is entirely consistent with the Government's adherence to the principles of agreement and consent as set out in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Joint Declaration, the Joint Framework Document and the Realities, Requirements and Principles document of the forum. The unity of the people of Ireland by agreement and consent is a valid and legitimate aspiration to pursue by democratic means. I set out my position on this matter in some detail in this House on 5 June and in my speech in Finglas on 30 April last, in which I also outlined the Government's position on North-South co-operation as set out in detail in the Joint Framework Document. It is an inescapable truth, however, that if we are to have stable political arrangements for the governance of Northern Ireland, widespread cross-community agreement is an absolute necessity.
My official visit to the US also enabled me as President in office of the European Council to discuss EU-US relations. In my meeting with President Clinton we discussed the implementation of the New Transatlantic Agenda agreed between the EU and the US in Madrid in December 1995 and the recently enacted Helms-Burton and D'Amato legislation.
We agreed that implementation of the New Transatlantic Agenda was a priority. Both sides are working together over a wide range of areas with a view to being able to report achievements at the next EU-US summit and I am confident that this will be the case.
The President outlined the background to the enactment of the Helms-Burton and D'Amato legislation and I outlined the Union's concern at the extraterritorial effect of this legislation. It is clear that an amicable resolution of this issue is in the interests of both the EU and the US. President Clinton also gave me his assessment of the state of the Middle East peace process.
I hope it will be possible to have an EU-US summit in early December to enable us to review progress on the implementation of the New Transatlantic Agenda and to discuss other issues of mutual concern.
Does the Taoiseach still stand over his statement in the United States that he believes a cease-fire and an agreement are inevitable in the short-term? If so, on what solid ground does he base his belief?
As I stated previously, the logic behind the peace process adopted by the republican movement some time ago requires that there is another ceasefire. In particular, I draw the House's attention to remarks by a senior representative of Sinn Féin, Mr. Martin McGuinness, who stated that he believed — he is correct — that real negotiations can take place only in the absence of violence. It was to those remarks in particular I was referring when I said it is important people understand that the ceasefire will hold in all circumstances. Based on Mr. McGuinness's remarks, I believe it is recognised that fruitful negotiations can occur only in an atmosphere in which the threat of violence is absent and that there will be an undue defensiveness and unwillingness to compromise as long as the threat of violence remains. Thus, because Mr. McGuinness of Sinn Féin recognised the reality some days previously, I have reason to hope that is being understood now and that the conditions may exist in which a ceasefire could be called. However, I cannot be categoric about that. That is the basis on which I made my statement.
As I said previously in the House, the republican movement cannot exist in a limbo between peace and war. It is not possible to have serious negotiations, with some people giving their best and making maximum concessions, as long as the threat or actuality of war continues. If the republican movement is pursuing a peace process the Rubicon, the dividing line between peace and war, must be definitively crossed by it. It must ensure that everybody in the movement, from the most senior person to the most recently recruited individual in any arm of the movement, understands why the Rubicon between peace and war is being crossed and the analysis, which shows that there can be security for one only if there is security for all, on which that is founded. Therefore, we must seek agreement through all-party negotiations.
Furthermore, I believe an IRA cease-fire is inevitable because the principal demands made as a condition for a ceasefire and the pursuit of the peace process have been met. One of the republican movement's principal demands prior to and during the original ceasefire was that peace talks should take place immediately. Those peace talks were delivered in form and in substance on 10 June. There is a clear indication from the British and Irish Governments that they intend to ensure that the negotiations are substantial and deal with all relevant matters. The two Governments are working together intensively to ensure that is delivered. The republican movement was also concerned that a single issue, such as decommissioning, should not be allowed to block discussion or progress on other issues. That is not happening and will not happen.
If one analyses the matter objectively, one will note that the conditions the republican movement sets for the introduction of the ceasefire have been met. Peace talks were delivered on 10 June, substantive negotiations are being delivered and no single issue is being allowed block progress on other issues. If one objectively analyses the words used by Sinn Féin spokespersons in the past and recently, one will note that the conditions for a ceasefire have been met. If the republican movement is committed to the peace process, as I believe it is, a ceasefire is inevitable.
I am not sure that covers solid ground, but I am grateful for the Taoiseach's reply. Does he agree with the Secretary of State who stated last night that the political situation is extremely bad?
We face many serious difficulties, but as was often the case in history, it is when one faces the greatest difficulties and when challenges appear greatest that one can often find the greatest ground for hope and forward movement. It is only when people truly understand the gravity of the alternative — namely, failure — that they are willing to make the compromises necessary to achieve success in the current talks.
Does the Taoiseach accept that Monday's discovery of bombs and explosives in London makes a mockery of the comments he made in the United States? Does he further accept that, far from contemplating a ceasefire, the IRA is determined to continue its campaign of murder and terror?
We are fortunate those bombs did not reach their target. The amount of explosive involved could have inflicted bombs on London equivalent to five times the magnitude of those ignited to such devastating effect in Manchester. That the IRA was at such an advanced stage in delivering those bombs to their targets undermines the efforts of all who have been seeking an IRA ceasefire.
That the basis on which the Government has continued to keep open channels of communication at official level to Sinn Féin is that we believe there are people within that party who seek a complete ceasefire that will hold in all circumstances. If we did not believe there were grounds for hope for an IRA ceasefire, there would not be any ground for keeping open the channels of communication to Sinn Féin. The sole reason for maintaining those channels was the hope that they would contribute to a ceasefire. If I thought there was no such hope and what I said in Washington was wrong then, within the terms of the Government's approach to the channels of communication to Sinn Féin, I would be obliged to close them. The only reason I keep them open is that there is hope for a ceasefire.
That hope is diminished by the activities of the IRA. However those activities serve to remind us of the difficulty of the task of those within the republican movement who are working for a peaceful strategy. Their task is not straightforward; they are dealing with a culture which has deified violence for many decades, which has considered violence to be not just acceptable but almost a holy option. This requires a serious process of re-education in the republican movement.
I hope Members recall what I said in the House at the time the last ceasefire broke down. I said that one reason for the breakdown was that, while the leadership was convinced the peace process was good and had a certain logic — requiring the maintenance of a ceasefire in all circumstances — it had not re-educated all its people at every level to ensure those on the ground also understood and accepted the analysis of the peace process as meaning not just a ceasefire but a total cessation of violence for good. That is the logic of the peace process and to my mind it is inevitable and inescapable for all who adopted it on the first day. I continue to hope they will soon be able to follow that logic and because I do so, I have not closed off channels of communication to Sinn Féin. If I believed otherwise, I would have no option but to close them.
I am glad the Taoiseach has not closed off the doors to those in Sinn Féin who are working to restore a ceasefire. My disagreement is on a different point. It seems the Secretary of State believes politics is at a low ebb —"extremely bad" were the words he used less than 24 hours ago. Luckily for everyone concerned we have had the successful capture of a third IRA cell within the last few weeks, and a bomb factory here has been successfully located and put out of action. The Taoiseach still saw fit to give an optimistic assessment. When he gets the opportunity, would the Taoiseach not be far better employed explaining to the world the gravity of the situation and trying to point out the dangers of what could happen, rather than spreading fatuous optimism around the world when, by his own admission today, he has no solid foundation for it?
Deputy Ahern obviously was not listening to my reply. I made it quite clear I had not used the words "optimism" or "optimistic" at any stage in my contribution in the United States.
The Taoiseach said it was inevitable.
I repeated in the House that I believe, on the logic of the peace strategy, that a ceasefire is inevitable.
The newspapers were wrong.
Blame the messenger.
I said "there is a possibility of an IRA ceasefire, I suppose". If I had said in the Oval Office: "There is no possibility of a ceasefire", what line of criticism would Deputy Ahern have then? He would have said I had gone to America, where President Clinton had invested a huge amount of political capital in the peace process, and had told him there was no hope of an IRA ceasefire. Deputy Ahern would have said I was throwing all the President's efforts back in his face.
That is a facetious argument.
Reality does not matter at all, just what people want to hear.
That is the Fianna Fáil argument.
What I said was right. The comments, in particular the adjectives Deputy Ahern used about my not using the word "optimism" do him no credit as regards viewing him as being serious about this matter.
The Taoiseach is at pains to tell us he simply said he hoped there would be a ceasefire. We all hope that, but the IRA's logic is different from ours. He made clear earlier that when he was asked a specific question, as to whether he believed there would be an IRA ceasefire between now and Christmas, he said there was a possibility. Does he accept that talking about the possibility of a ceasefire when he clearly had no grounds for doing so was a wrong and dangerous thing to do which gives credence to those in the republican movement who are trying to play the "hard cop, soft cop" approach and want an each way bet on violence and politics? Would he accept that as late as last night Mr. Mitchel McLoughlin, a senior representative of Sinn Féin, said on RTE television that there were no grounds at present for the restoration of the ceasefire?
It is the obligation of an Irish political leader to say that there are grounds for an IRA ceasefire——
The Taoiseach is playing with language.
——and if Mr. McLoughlin said last night there were no such grounds, he was wrong. The grounds are in the demands made by the republican movement. They demanded all party talks and they have them; they demanded that those talks be substantive and they are; they demanded that decommissioning would not be a roadblock in the talks and it will not be. In terms of their own demands, there are grounds for an IRA ceasefire now.
Does that not prove they are not logical?
Furthermore, Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin said he wanted negotiations but he said there cannot be negotiations without an atmosphere of peace. In other words, he is saying that there cannot be negotiations without an IRA ceasefire of a kind that would be satisfactory to Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin wants negotiations and therefore there must be an IRA cease-fire for the sort of negotiations that it wants to occur. Everything I have said about the inevitability of an IRA cease-fire is grounded on statements made by the republican movement as to what it wants and the conditions needed for successful forward progress.
But the Taoiseach ignored those.
It appears that Deputy Harney, like Deputy Ahern, would have me go to the United States and say there was no hope.
That is rubbish.
What effect would that have on US opinion?
The Taoiseach is twisting words.
It would have an effect whereby the United States would turn its back on this country——
That is rubbish.
——and say there is no point in investing the talents of serious people, like Senator Mitchell, in a peace process that has no hope. All I said was that there is hope. If I had said the opposite, as it appears Deputies Harney and Ahern would wish me to have said, I would have been doing no service to this country or to its future.
We did not say that.
Is the Taoiseach concerned about the circumstances surrounding the death at the weekend of Diarmuid O'Neill, who it has been alleged was unarmed? Has he sought a speedy inquiry from the British Government and an assurance that the full facts will be revealed without delay?
I regret all deaths. One of the reasons I am working as hard as I am to secure an IRA ceasefire and a total end to all violence is to ensure that deaths of this kind will not occur again and families will not be bereaved in the way the O'Neill family is currently bereaved. Those responsible for putting Mr. O'Neill in the position he was in have a responsibility in the matter, but it is right that the independent police authority should investigate the circumstances as far as the forces of law and order were concerned and any role they had in the matter. That will be investigated and it is important that it should be. It is also important that we should recognise a responsibility on the part of the people who put Mr. O'Neill in the position of doing the sort of work he was doing at the time and on those who, as yet, have failed to call an IRA ceasefire. We need to express relief that the bombs did not reach their targets. It is a matter of great sadness that Mr. O'Neill is dead, but many other people would be dead if the IRA's objectives had been achieved in London. We must pursue justice for all and ensure that everybody has his or her right to life protected and that the forces of law act in accordance with the law. We must express our happiness that so many other lives have been saved as a result of the police operation.
We all share concern when a person dies, whether it be the late Mr. O'Neill or any other person. Thankfully, the operation planned by the IRA was stopped and the inevitable damage that would have resulted from the planned bombings in the name of the people of this country was prevented.
I wish to refer to what the Taoiseach said in Washington and what he said in answer to supplementary questions by my party leader, Deputy Ahern, and the leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Harney. Given that he said we are coming to a position where a cease-fire is possible, that there is some reason to hope that one will be called — in answers today he said that one is inevitable — why if that is his point of view did he blame the messengers, the media, for misreporting him earlier? In his response to a supplementary question he made the point that he felt the cease-fire broke because Sinn Féin failed to educate its members as to expectations. I put it to him that one of the main reasons it failed was his refusal to meet John Hume and Gerry Adams last October when a ceasefire was still in existence and when the Mitchell report was binned by the British Government. The bomb went off and at the end of February the British and Irish Governments ran to try to put the ceasefire back in place by agreeing on talks. That is the history and the reality.
The Deputy is embarking upon a speech.
The Taoiseach's performance in Washington did no credit to the ongoing search for peace and a ceasefire.
One cannot beat the national news.
I did not mention the media once in my response today.
That was what was implied.
The Taoiseach mentioned the messenger.
I said the comments I made were misrepresented.
I demonstrated by reference to what I actually said that the representation was not accurate. All who have had an opportunity of hearing what I said, and I urge every Member here to read the transcript of what I said which is now on the record, will note some of the attempted summarisation of what I said in a quite lengthy press briefing did amount to misrepresentation of a kind which was not intended, but was misrepresentative of what I said. That was regrettable.
It must have been very awkward for the Taoiseach to dance on top of that.
Part of the problem is that since August there has been an atmosphere of deep pessimism because of events that have occurred. It is inevitable that in that atmosphere of pervasive pessimism the first sign of any hope will tend to be magnified out of all proportion. I remind Members that in the immediate aftermath of the original ceasefire there was an atmosphere of absolutely euphoric optimism. A question of any kind could not be asked about the possibility that violence might be resumed because that ran against the currently prevailing and politically correct mood which was one of optimism. We now have the inverse of that, or have had it until recently, whereby anybody who expresses the slightest hope is running contrary to the perceived wisdom of the herd.
All the hard questions have been asked and the Taoiseach knows that.
A problem as complex as Northern Ireland will not be solved by political leaders following the herd. It is unsatisfactory in an atmosphere of overwhelming optimism to fail to ask hard questions or in an atmosphere of overwhelming pessimism to point to signs of hope, such as the comments by Martin McGuinness that there could not be real negotiations without a ceasefire in effect. To point to those was realistic and responsible and I do not believe that parties opposite should allow themselves to be as carried away by prevailing moods as they seem to be.
A suggestion has been floating for some time that Government spin doctors have put out a story that what is needed for progress is agreement between the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. Have the Government been part of that? Does he accept that what is needed is much more than an agreement between the SDLP and the UUP and that what is necessary is a total integration of the three strand process?
I want to correct something Deputy Ahern said here. He quoted Sir Patrick Mayhew as saying that the political situation was very bad.
I have a transcript of what Sir Patrick said. He was asked about the talks and said that progress is slow but there is progress, some of it has been out of the public eye, it is difficult but encouraging. Those were his words yesterday.
That was in relation to the talks. He was not talking about the situation in the North.
A different issue.
More journalists at fault.
Those words must be put on the record so that we can see the situation as it is. Efforts are being made to advance matters but there are many difficulties. One of the great difficulties was and is the fact that the events at Drumcree have done enormous damage to community relations and have made the task of politicians more difficult because their constituents are not as willing to trust other constituents of a different political persuasion as they may have been last June.
With regard to the question raised by Deputy Dermot Ahern, I am not responsible for and do not report on the medical people to which the Deputy refers, whether they are administering medicaments to the press or anybody else. However, it is important that there are intensive contacts between the SDLP and the Unionists. In large part the "encouraging", to use Sir Patrick Mayhew's word, signs coming from the talks in Belfast are due in no small measure to the efforts being made by those two parties and others at present.
I believe the House will agree with me that the purpose of these talks is to involve all parties. This includes Sinn Féin which has an electoral mandate and can take part in the talks once the conditions for its participation are fulfilled, namely, an IRA ceasefire. This will happen because the logic of the peace process makes it inevitable.
Since there was never any logic to the violence, logic does not enter into the equation. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Sinn Féin leadership is genuinely trying to have a ceasefire restored?
I disagree with the Deputy. She should understand that since 1986 or earlier there have been those within the republican movement who have been analysing the situation logically. Through the application of logic they concluded — a conclusion which neither the Deputy nor I had to come to because we were always of this view — that one million Unionists could not be coerced. While continuing with a two track process, one track entailed a logical analysis of the ultimate futility of the other track, which was violence.
This is still the case in the republican movement. As I said there are these two tracks; they are fundamentally incompatible, but ultimately the track based on logic — the analysis of the peace process which says that one million Unionists cannot be coerced — will prevail over the other track because there is no other way anybody can have peace or have a decent life.
Far from the Deputy being dismissive of the sincerity of the logic of those in the republican movement seeking peace, there is sincerity and logic in the peace process. It is a logic that leads inevitably to an ultimate, complete and total cessation of violence. In this sense a ceasefire is inevitable and we should not say anything in this House that in any way diminishes the sense that it is not only logical but inevitable.
In this sense, to answer the second part of Deputy Harney's question, the people pursuing the peace strategy within Sinn Féin are genuine. I hope and believe that they will prevail because they have logic on their side. Those who use violence have no logic on their side. All they have are atavistic feelings of a negative kind and animosities of a primitive and emotional nature which lead nowhere. As I remarked at the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of 1916, 60 million people died in Europe pursuing atavistic objectives by violent means in the first half of this century. Virtually nobody died in western Europe in the second half of the century thanks to the prevalence of a democratic approach to politics based on the rule of law. Those within the republican movement who continue to pursue the methods of violence are pursuing methods that are 50 years out of date.
We on this side of the House also believe that those in Sinn Féin who have believed in the peace process for the past nine years are serious about their business. This is why we continue to have dialogue with them. I hope it proves to be the right decision.
I am glad the Deputy used the word hope.
May you live in hope and die in despair.
I am glad the Taoiseach listened. The question as to whether we in this House are optimistic or pessimistic is a different matter. We like to know whether there are solid grounds for either. I quoted the remark made by Sir Patrick Mayhew. He said that the political situation is extremely bad. Other remarks by him do not take from this.
John Hume said recently that if he believed that a ceasefire was imminent, that there were people working for a ceasefire or that there was a possibility of one, he would do what the Taoiseach's predecessor did and remain silent and work for it. Will the Taoiseach take this into account when analysing the progress that can be made? My greatest objection to what the Taoiseach said in the USA was that he put pressure on those directly engaged. Will he take this into account as he proceeds with the peace process?
Would the Taoiseach agree that there are three issues which are important if we are to try to make progress? The first is that there be a realistic acceptance by the British Government — the Government accepts this — that decommissioning will not take place alongside talks but will occur at the latter stages. Second, definite signs must emerge — the Taoiseach today outlined the efforts of the Government since 9 September — of a real effort to try to make the parties to the talks seriously committed to making progress. Third, confidence building measures, especially on the prisoners issues — we welcome the progress made by the British Secretary of State, Mr. Howard, last Friday — must be addressed. Does the Taoiseach agree that these are three central issues which must be addressed, especially by the British Government?
The time for Taoiseach's Questions is running out. I call on the Taoiseach.
There are occasions in politics when silence can be as eloquent as words. Sitting beside the President of the USA in the White House I was asked if there was a possibility of a ceasefire. Knowing as I did that the President had worked as hard as he had and had taken such risks for a ceasefire and also knowing that all the conditions set by the IRA for a ceasefire had been met and that Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin had said that there could not be real negotiations without, in effect, a ceasefire, a refusal by me to answer such a question would have been interpreted as a statement by me, in effect, that there was no hope of a ceasefire. I do not believe there is no hope of a cease-fire. The carefully chosen words I used which I quoted in this House, were the right ones to use. There is hope but there is no reason to go beyond the use of that term. I have not used the term "optimism" in regard to this matter.
I should like to challenge head on another underlying assumption in Deputy Bertie Ahern's question that discussing the prospects of a ceasefire somehow makes a ceasefire more difficult. The last ceasefire failed because the volunteers in the republican movement did not understand why the first ceasefire was called or the constraints there were on everybody else who responded to that and believed their leadership had sold out. None of those things was true and what was necessary was that there should be a serious public discussion of these issues so that everybody would understand that a ceasefire is the inevitable outcome of a peace process. There cannot be a peace process without a ceasefire, without a cessation of violence. It is not possible for people to continue to pursue a peace process by violent means.
It was also appropriate that I should say, as I did in the United States, that if there was a second ceasefire, this time it had to be credible and had to hold in all circumstances. I do not want anybody to think, nor I hope would any party in this House want anybody to think, that a tactical ceasefire will suffice. I know the leadership of the republican movement does not believe that; it is not pursuing the concept of a tactical ceasefire. In so far as it is pursuing a peace process, it is sincere in wanting a ceasefire that will hold in all circumstances, but it is important that everybody in the republican movement should understand that. That was why I availed of the opportunity, when I was asked the question to say the ceasefire must be viable, must hold in all circumstances and must convince others.