Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 28 Feb 2001

Vol. 531 No. 4

Ceisteanna–Questions (Resumed). - Northern Ireland Issues.

Ruairí Quinn


5 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed at his meeting with members of the family of the late Rosemary Nelson on 20 February 2001; the representations he has made to the British authorities with regard to the present stage of the investigation into her murder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5558/01]

Joe Higgins


6 Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the relatives of the late Rosemary Nelson. [5671/01]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


7 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with members of the family of Rosemary Nelson on 20 February 2001. [5719/01]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, together.

I met members of Rosemary Nelson's family, her mother Sheila, her sisters, Caitlín and Bernadette, and her brother, Eunan, on Tuesday, 20 February last. They were accompanied by representatives of two human rights organisations. I took the opportunity to review with the family recent developments in the case.

Rosemary Nelson's murder was an attack on a dedicated and committed defence lawyer and human rights defender. It was also an attack on the legal system.

I acknowledge the effort and resources the investigative team under the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary, Colin Port, have put into bringing the perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice and I wish them every success in their endeavours. Officials keep in close contact with the British authorities and the family on the investigation.

However, Rosemary's case also raises wider issues of concern to her family, the public and the international community. For this reason, after meeting Rosemary's family, I called for an independent, judicial public inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding her death.

In the context of what currently appears to be an impasse, if not considerable difficulties, in Northern Ireland, will the Taoiseach accept that some favourable indication from the British authorities to the effect that they would be prepared to provide for further in-depth inquiries of one kind or another – without wishing to prejudice what that form might be – into the three outstanding issues of concern, that have been expressed as such, would unlock a situation where Sinn Féin would be asked to indicate whether it wants to find an acceptable form of policing in Northern Ireland? Will the Taoiseach agree some people would argue that perhaps Sinn Féin is hiding behind these and other issues, specifically the issue of decommissioning, and failing to come forward and clearly indicate it is prepared to make progress on policing by bringing up these issues? If those issues were satisfactorily resolved by the British Government, progress could be made on an issue that is causing difficulty in relation to the four outstanding items?

Perhaps I would not agree with everything the Deputy said, but it is a fair analysis. The SDLP, in particular, has argued long and hard for those inquiries. It has made good cases that the Finucane, Hamill and Nelson cases should be dealt with. We have lobbied and worked with the human rights and civil rights groups along with the SDLP. The SDLP put a formula to the British Government in the round of talks which effectively have come to conclusion. Absolute clarity on those issues would be a help. I will raise those issues again tonight.

The SDLP has given the lead in this area. All of us in this House who support the position it has had over many years would welcome some indication from the British authorities that these matters could be resolved within a framework that did not prejudice the outcome of any tribunal of inquiry or other form of inquiry that might arise, but would enable progress to be made. I ask the Taoiseach to convey strongly to the Prime Minister Mr. Blair that this is the view of the House.

I will. That is an appropriate measure. I do not want to take from the work of Deputy Chief Constable, Colin Port. He is doing an excellent job. Since Rosemary Nelson's death in the run up to St. Patrick's Day two years ago, I have given the report a fair wind and stayed away from calling for an investigation, as I believed that was only proper. I am aware from talking to the family, human rights, civil rights groups and others, that they believe he is doing a good job. As Deputy Quinn stated, there is a difficulty linked to the policing issue, where some would consider these cases would be covered by the policing situation and they could not go back to them. That is a fundamental difficulty and a real obstacle, particularly for the SDLP, in regard to where it could move and that it could not go back to these cases. It is similar to some of the cases we have here relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Irrespective of however far we can get on those, they will not go away. It is not that there are not hundreds of other cases, which there are. When we talk about these issues here, I am conscious of the letters I get from people stating I forgot this or that case. I am sure none of us wishes to forget any case, but these are viewed by the broader Nationalist community of all parts of Northern Ireland and I am sure southern Ireland as cases that must be dealt with and it is difficult for people to cross the line without a clear mechanism that ensures they would be dealt with properly in future. I will convey that point from the House.

I thank the Taoiseach for the information he has given us on the Rosemary Nelson case. Is he aware the President of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, said this morning that achieving a police force, to which Nationalist and republicans could sign up, was becoming the key to opening up the other disputed issues, demilitarisation and decommissioning? Is he aware that Mr. Adams has also said that he believes such an agreement could still be brokered if the British Government acts quickly. As a consequence of that, does the Taoiseach believe his meeting with Mr. Blair this evening could lead to round table talks later in the week that could remove the barriers that still exist to agreement on policing in Northern Ireland?

I am aware of the stated position of Gerry Adams and the leadership of Sinn Féin. While there are some outstanding issues, these days I prefer to put it that it would be helpful if we could build a little further on the enormous progress that has been made, including the issue we have been debating, as enormous progress has been made. If there was a willingness on the part of all the parties, including Sinn Féin, and if some of the matters of concern to the SDLP were dealt with, it would be possible to address all the questions. There is a link between demilitarisation and decommissioning. Most of us have nothing to offer with regard to decommissioning, but if it is part of the equation, progress can be made on the other issues. The formula which has been proposed for some time is not altogether unreasonable in terms of making progress. I do not suggest that it is a perfect formula, but it has moved a long way from the position prior to Christmas. I hope we will be able to engage further on these issues tonight. I would like some of the groups mentioned by Deputy Noonan to give some leeway to everybody else to enable moves to be made.

Deputy Noonan rose.

The time for Taoiseach's questions has expired.

I support the Taoiseach on these matters. Will he give us his best case scenario between this evening and the weekend?

Will the Taoiseach do so now?

An imminent breakthrough is unlikely. The policing issue has been brought a long way forward and the parties are aware of what is on offer. I readily admit that it is not enough, but it is an enormous way forward. It might be possible to move a little further on those issues. However, to do so, we need to know the parties' – I am not referring to the Governments – understanding of how they would then proceed in relation to decommissioning which is linked directly to demilitarisation.

Deputies Noonan and Quinn have always been supportive on this matter. The difficulty is, however, that those two issues involve two armies. Admittedly, they are different armies, but to enable progress to be made on decommissioning, certain people need to indicate their moves and there must be a move on demilitaris ation. Until that is possible, it is difficult for me to endlessly press for more concessions.

Does the Taoiseach envisage round table talks after tonight?

I would like to reach that position, but there is a difference among the parties in the North on it. They would like that to happen if they were of the view that everybody would take a meaningful position. I am willing to participate in such talks one way or another, but people need to know that others are prepared to make some more moves. I do not share the view that it is just a matter of stating that the British Government must move on these issues. There is more to it than that.

Deputy Quinn rose.

That concludes Taoiseach's questions. We are seven minutes over time.

I will not have an opportunity later to put this question to the Taoiseach.

The Deputy must be brief.

In light of the recent announcement regarding a suspected case of foot and mouth disease in south Armagh, will the Taoiseach seriously reconsider his decision to proceed with his journey to Wales? It may be regrettable, but he should set a good example to others regarding unnecessary journeys by cancelling that trip.

I will travel tomorrow from Westminster to Wales and I am considering making the trip as short as possible. In fairness to the Welsh Administration, it has put an enormous amount of effort into the arrangements for tomorrow. It is the Welsh national holiday and the arrangements are centred around—

They would understand.

They would understand me cancelling some aspects of the trip.

It is a bad example.

They would not understand me cancelling an arrangement where I will travel directly from the aeroplane by car to the national parliament and the nearby conference. My visit is important to them, partly because of the honour of addressing the assembly on the national holiday, but also because of the conference built around it. Wales has had a difficult time recently with enormous job losses.

It will lose more.

They have put a huge amount of effort into the investment conference and my contribution to it is considered important. I checked the position today. Some other social aspects are unimportant and I want to set a good example. However, I do not wish to offend or insult the people who invited me. My trip will be as official and short as possible and I will follow all the necessary screening and disinfecting processes that all travellers must undergo.

The Taoiseach is setting a bad example.