Private Members’ Business.

Irish Unification: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin on Wednesday, 2 November 2005:
That Dáil Éireann:
—re-affirming its support for the Good Friday Agreement as endorsed in referendums by the people of Ireland North and South;
—recognising the political progress brought about by the peace process and the Agreement, benefitting all the people of Ireland; and
—reiterating its appreciation of the work undertaken to date by the North-South Ministerial Council and the North-South bodies;
resolves to:
—work for the full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects and for the re-establishment of the institutions of the Agreement at the earliest date;
—promote all-Ireland policies and strategies, benefitting all parts of the island;
—actively seek to persuade Unionists, through dialogue, of the advantages of unification for all the people who share this island, in their diversity; and
—prepare politically, economically, socially and culturally for Irish unification, identifying steps and measures, including a Green Paper, which can assist a successful transition to a united Ireland.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
To delete all words from and including "promote all-Ireland" in the fifth paragraph and substitute the following: "promote the full development of strands one, two and three of the Agreement so that decisions in relation to North-South as well as East-West and Northern concerns are taken on a sustainable basis at the lowest effective level and in a way that respects diverse political aspirations and devolved decision making as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement."
—(Deputy Sargent.)

As I have said on many occasions, I am a republican and proud to be one. I would be surprised if many Members in the Chamber do not profess to be republican. However, I am a republican who believes in the rule of law and who stands by the Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. I believe in democracy and believe that the people are entitled to hold different views to my own. I believe that everyone has a right to live without fear, intimidation or violence. I believe in an Ireland that is liberal, successful, confident and caring.

It is the responsibility of all genuine republicans to make a stand for the Republic to ensure that our birthright is no longer regarded as the preserve of one political party or movement. We have demonstrated that this Republic can be a self-confident, dynamic and progressive nation. It is in many respects the envy of Europe and a model for many emerging democracies. We must now apply that same self-confidence to tackling the major outstanding task, namely, of reconciling orange and green, in other words, giving effect to the symbolism of the Irish flag.

Just as I have on many occasions objected to the Sinn Féin Party attempting to arrogate to itself the mantle of republicanism, I equally strongly object to that party's ludicrous claim that only through it is the aim of Irish unity to be realised.

That is absolute nonsense. We welcome any sincere efforts the Minister would employ but he would have to demonstrate them.

My goal and the stated goal of the Government is to secure lasting peace in Ireland through the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and, ultimately, to achieve a united Ireland. I noted the publication of a recent article in The Irish Times by a member of the Cadogan group stating that it is not helpful to talk about the unity of this country. I thoroughly and profoundly disagree with that statement.

However, the unity that must come must do so through choice — through the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement and as endorsed by the people of this island in two separate referendums.

I note that the Private Members' motion as put down by Sinn Féin urges that we should "actively seek to persuade Unionists, through dialogue, of the advantages of unification". I welcome that Pauline conversion but, goodness, it has been a long time coming. "Dialogue" is not a fair description of what the provisional movement engaged in for 30 years. Murder, crime, cruelty, arson, kidnapping, torture — this was the process by which the provisional movement then sought to realise its aims. It is worthwhile repeating that although it is now receding into the mists of our memories, there was a time when bodies were found on the Border, their hands tied behind their backs, bullet wounds to their heads and signs of extensive torture. We now know from revelations about the provisional republican movement that these atrocities were committed under the guise of courts martial conducted by the movement. Frequently, those who were tortured and left in a ditch in such terrible circumstances were persuaded through torture to taping confessions of collaboration with the security forces in Northern Ireland. The tapes were then sent to their relatives as justification for what had happened to them, although the tapes were extracted from them on the condition that the torture would stop if a confession was made.

The point we must remember with regard to this set of transactions is that these courts martial under the rules, if I may use those terms, of the provisional movement had to be confirmed by the Provisional IRA army council. Each member of the army council during that period bears direct personal and moral responsibility for each of those acts of torture and the ensuing killing. When I hear some of those army council members now appearing in public as champions of human rights, I wonder how hypocritical can one be. How can one parade the world, talking about human rights, when in secret one was authorising the torture and the killing of individuals in such circumstances, extracting taped confessions to be sent to their families to justify their fate? Every member of the army council who did that bears direct personal responsibility for those acts. The rules of the organisation they participated in required their direct consent to those events. They now strut the world. In South Africa, they shake hands with the statesmen who liberated that country when most of them are more Mugabe than Mandela.

These people, secretly in the murky recesses of their past, have such a personal history, it would not even be worthwhile establishing tribunals to discover what they were up to. There is no reason for Mr. Justice Barron to attempt to uncover one hundredth of the cruelty, cowardice and murder they perpetrated. Yet these people now posture as statesmen and write books about their views on the future of Ireland. I noted some of them were distinguished guests in the Houses yesterday. The one thing that distinguishes them is an absolute and radical inability to tell or acknowledge the truth.

The Minister's contribution is as usual——

In building a united Ireland——

Deputy Ó Caoláin will allow the Minister without interruption.

Why does the Minister not talk to the motion?

Deputy Ó Caoláin, please.

The Deputy cannot handle it.

The truth hurts.

In building a united Ireland what is needed to be done is to reconcile the orange and green traditions on this island. I find it strange that the provisional movement comes to the Dublin Government asking for its assistance in establishing a dialogue with the orange tradition in Northern Ireland. The truth is that persuasion for Irish unity is the vocation of every republican in this House and elsewhere.

The Minister is not a fit person to say that.

Deputy Ó Caoláin will allow the Minister without interruption.

Bringing together the orange and green traditions on this island to create a genuine republic, not a sectarian society, requires a statesmanship of which the provisional movement have shown it is entirely incapable.

There is not a drop of it in the Minister.

Deputy Ó Caoláin, please.

Some good signs recently have been that Sinn Féin rejects violence and that it now understands that persuasion through peaceful and democratic means is the only way forward. However, those people who in the past authorised the use of massive violence against the Unionist community in Northern Ireland——

That is not the case.

——must now labour under the disadvantage of trying to create a basic elemental trust required for dialogue out of which persuasion can come.

A Cheann Comhairle, on a point——

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

On a point of order. I roundly reject the Minister's accusations——

This is not a point of order. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

It is a point of order to me to put on the record that I roundly reject——

If Deputy Ó Caoláin continues to interrupt, he will have to leave the House. The Minister is entitled to the same courtesy as the Deputy was afforded last night.

He is being inflammatory and this is a typical McDowell diatribe.

He is entitled to make his contribution without interruption. If there are further interruptions, the Deputy will have to leave the House. The Minister to continue without interruption.

I believe——

This is too much.

There is an example of free speech.

The Deputy is very democratic.

I believe a united Ireland will come about.

I did not hear the Minister refer to loyalist sectarian violence.

The economic and political future for the people of Northern Ireland lies with interaction and involvement with the people of this State. The future prosperity of Northern Ireland is far better guaranteed by the connection of Northern Ireland economically with the Republic than with the rest of the United Kingdom, despite both being members of the EU. Increasing economic mutual dependence between both parts of this island will lead to a political transformation.

Looking at the politics of the United Kingdom and this State, the Unionist people could have a far more effective say in their own future in an all-Ireland dispensation than they could have in Westminster, where holding the balance of power is an unlikely event considering its electoral system. As an Irish republican, I believe the underlying logic of Irish unity is there for us all to acknowledge and to work towards by peaceful and democratic means.

We must acknowledge that the first actions must be to seep out the hatred and lance the enmity that exists.

Will the Minister start with himself?

The first action is to create among the people on this island a sense of trust.

Hear, hear.

Trust means that one tells the truth. If one was or is a member of the IRA, one says so. If one's movement killed Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, one says so. If one's movement raided the Northern Bank, one says so. Denying matters that are known as obvious truths, undermines the credibility of those engaged in this type of mendacity.

If Sinn Féin is in the business of creating an elemental trust, not a high moral trust or total reconciliation but a basic building block of interaction with the Unionist community, it must first start by telling the truth. Until it can face up to this, it is going nowhere because it simply will not be believed. It has achieved what it set out to do, namely the polarisation of Northern Irish politics and pressurising the position of the middle ground to make it the weakest it has ever been in decades. Now, the responsibility lies with those who have driven this process forward to make the huge leap to engagement with the other community based on trust and truthfulness. I believe in Irish unity, based on consent and persuasion. I believe in the long run the Unionist people in Northern Ireland will find, in an all-Ireland political and economic accommodation, autonomy and fulfilment. The biggest set-back for the process of persuading them to that end has been 30 years of Provisional IRA violence.

Why did that happen?

How did that come about, Minister?

I welcome the fact that has come to an end but we have paid a very heavy price for it.

The Minister is being selective.

I was pleased to see Mr. Adams and Mr. Doherty here yesterday. It would be better, however, if they applied their time and effort to restoring the institutions and a relationship with the Unionist community in the North by forming the assembly and executive that are so necessary.

The amended wording proposed by the Government addressed clear gaps in the text of the motion proposed to the House by Sinn Féin. I was struck in particular by the absence of any reference in that motion to the Patten reforms and to the central importance of policing in a civil society. The amendment before the House calls on all parties to strengthen policing reforms and accountability by taking their places on the policing boards without delay. The extensive reforms to the Police Service in Northern Ireland that have been carried out in the past five years have brought the Patten vision of a human rights-based, community police force much closer to fruition.

The police reform programme in Northern Ireland is now regarded as a model of its kind internationally. The process of reform is being overseen and validated by an eminent Canadian police officer, Mr. Al Hutchinson, whose twice yearly reports as independent Oversight Commissioner have provided a detailed description of the pace and extent of the reforms to the PSNI. He has described the process under way as "unprecedented in the history of democratic policing reform", which is a significant statement.

In June this year, he found that 114 of the 175 Patten recommendations had been fully implemented. Complaints against the police have fallen by almost 20% in the period from 2001 to 2005. The historic problem of Nationalist under-representation is being progressively redressed, with more than a doubling in the proportion of Nationalists serving in the police force since 1999 and ongoing progress towards Nationalist numbers being fully reflective of the community as a whole. The establishment of district policing partnerships at local level has led to a new productive dialogue among local representatives, the police and civil society. These partnerships have not been without their difficulties, most notably thuggish intimidation from people who are locked in the past. For example, the members of Strabane DPP, to name but one, have experienced ongoing acts of intimidation. This negative mentality was most recently witnessed in Derry where the vice-chair of the policing board, Mr. Denis Bradley, was viciously attacked. The efforts of all those who prefer fundamentalist and negative doctrines to the more creative business of dialogue, arbitration and compromise want to bring this island back to the dark days, but they will not succeed.

The Oversight Commissioner has referred to the exemplary work being carried out by both the policing board and the Police Ombudsman. Both the policing board and the ombudsman have the full backing of the Government and, I am sure, of this House as they go about their hugely important work. The overall result of the combined work of the policing board, the ombudsman and the district policing partnerships is that, in the words of the Oversight Commissioner, the PSNI is now one of "the most overseen and accountable police agencies anywhere". However, the Oversight Commissioner has identified one major obstacle to the full introduction of the Patten report. He puts it starkly when he says that "politics has failed policing in Northern Ireland". This failure is twofold. On the one hand, there is a failure of political leadership on the Unionist side that saw the marching season degenerate into appalling violence in September 2005. On the other hand, there is the ongoing abdication of responsibility by Sinn Féin in its refusal to endorse the new police service and to work the institutions of Patten which were set up specifically to enable elected and community representatives to hold the police to account. I condemn its refusal to do so as it is essential to any peaceful and democratic society that police have the allegiance of all those who wish to be part of that democratic dispensation.

Local communities on the ground in Northern Ireland, whether affected by petty crime or more serious offences such as rape or assault and murder, want to see an end to fear as a driving force in society. Effective, accountable policing is the only way to achieve that and Sinn Féin has so far singularly failed to explain why it is not in a position to participate in the police boards. Its failure to do so has ill served the communities it represents. It has also ill served the wider political process. By withholding support for policing, Sinn Féin has undermined the process of building trust across the political spectrum and across the religious and political divide in Northern Ireland. For the sake of the communities it claims to represent and for the benefit of the wider political process it is time Sinn Féin endorsed the new beginning to policing which is now being rolled out and co-operate with the police service, and that its members take their rightful places on the policing boards and district policing partnerships.

A lot of guff has been spoken about a united Ireland. All the parties in this State subscribe to a republican philosophy and the ideal of a united Ireland. As James Connolly said, it is necessary to unite the peoples of Ireland. Ireland cannot be united by a piece of rhetoric but must be built at a practical level between peoples and institutions, and central to it is an acceptable police force throughout the island. Sinn Féin must rise to that challenge by participating in policing rather than delivering lectures in this House about a united Ireland.

I support the amendment. Fianna Fáil entered the peace process as leaders of Nationalist Ireland and has tried to bring all strands of Nationalist Ireland together to our analysis of Irish unity and partition. For the past 20 years Fianna Fáil and other parties in this House have tried to convince the Provisional IRA that a united Ireland can never be delivered down the barrel of a gun. For 20 years we told the Provisional IRA that its military campaign was pushing the day of Irish unity further into the future. The IRA has finally decommissioned its weapons which means it has finally accepted our analysis. It is a pity that 3,500 lives were lost before that analysis was accepted. The months ahead will see difficult discussions on how to move the process forward and it is of the utmost importance we do not lose sight of the need to uphold all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, consolidate the progress already made and seek to achieve its full implementation.

With previous speakers I wish to see a climate created on this island where a consensus develops around a united Ireland. Like previous speakers I know this will not be achieved simply by persuasion and preparation. It will require full acknowledgement that relationships on this island and between these islands are complex. These relationships need to be developed and nurtured if we are to develop the trust and confidence stressed by previous Government speakers and others.

Co-operation has developed under the aegis of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, of which I have the honour of being the current joint chair. Interparliamentary links have been important and valuable in fostering the climate of partnership and mutual understanding between the two Governments and between parliaments and elected representatives of the people of these islands. The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body continues to play a significant role in facilitating ongoing contact between all our parliaments, both on developments in Northern Ireland and the wider and evolving ambit of British-Irish relations. It is worth recalling how far we have travelled since the body first met 15 years ago. From a position where there was virtually no contact between the British and Irish Parliaments, Members now meet on a regular basis in both plenary and committee form to discuss matters of mutual concern. The closeness of relations between the two Governments is clearly evident in our continuing efforts and shared determination to achieve lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Contacts between British and Irish parliamentarians made through the body have reinforced the broad, popular cross-party support which exists for the Good Friday Agreement and for its full and complete implementation. We have witnessed extraordinary developments over the past 15 years, and the fact that so much progress has been made brings into sharp contrast the absence of our colleagues from the Northern Ireland Assembly. We look forward to the early restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland and an assembly which can embrace, represent and serve the interests of all sides of the community.

I wish to address the issue of reunification and in particular my perception of what it and the new nationalism should constitute following from the Good Friday Agreement. Last night Deputy Ó Caoláin stated that there could be no possible excuse for the DUP not engaging with Sinn Féin, as the decommissioning of weapons has commenced. This is perhaps five weeks after the IRA eventually decommissioned its weapons. It now expects the DUP and the Unionist community in Northern Ireland to completely change their trust perspective and forget the past 30 years of history, which included breaches of promises from Sinn Féin during the peace process.

It is important that we have this debate and that it should be respectful and honest. The new nationalism is quite different from Sinn Féin's version. Having read the Sinn Féin Green Paper on reunification and listened to its contributions last night in the House, it appears the party's version of nationalism has gone out with button boots. It is backward looking, narrow and self-deluded. As the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated, it is dishonest, sectarian and everything that the Good Friday Agreement is not.

The new nationalism embraces all the diversity in the new Ireland. This includes Chinese and Polish people as well as the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. All these people are minorities on the island, and the new nationalism must take account of this progressive new Ireland. New nationalism should not deny what we know is a tragic history. However, this history, along with the Good Friday Agreement, must be built upon. New nationalism should look to the future positively.

All Deputies will agree with the Minister's comments that reunification is a legitimate aspiration, but it should not be an aggressive policy for any Government. The deal contained in the Good Friday Agreement recognised that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the people there. This principle of consent was fundamental to the agreement, and if it did not exist, the agreement would not have been possible even with moderate unionism. It is important that those of us who aspire to the reunification of our people respect the unique sensitivity among Unionists on this issue. It is not appropriate to air the issue at this time, when we have so recently and eventually dealt with the matter of arms. We do not have the institutions envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement running, and we do not have Sinn Féin participating in policing in Northern Ireland.

None of these factors is occurring, yet Sinn Féin is aggressively pushing forward the unification of Ireland. This was stated in the Good Friday Agreement to be a legitimate political aspiration, but one to be achieved over time. A mechanism exists in the agreement for the matter to be worked on when the time is right. It is important that this is communicated honestly to Sinn Féin at this stage. We should not have to receive lectures from Sinn Féin——

Or from the Deputy, with due respect.

——about the meaning of nationalism. I will tell the Deputies what nationalism is or is not.

We do not want the Deputy's view of it.

We do not want the import of sectarianism or horrible parades on O'Connell Street with people banging drums or dustbin lids.

Sinn Féin rejects sectarianism absolutely. The Deputy is herself being sectarian.

That type of tribalism has been dreadful to witness for years in Northern Ireland, and we do not wish to see this type of nationalism on the streets of Dublin. The constitutional parties in this House have worked hard to bring about a peace process and we will continue to have our view of nationalism. We will not take lectures from Sinn Féin.

Or from the Deputy.

I thank the Government speakers for sharing time. I agree with most of the Private Members' motion, particularly the reaffirmation of support for the Good Friday Agreement as endorsed by the people of the island of Ireland. Part of the motion is premature, as the agreement reaffirms the principle of unity by consent.

As a republican from County Donegal, which shares only 9 km of its border with the South, I am well aware of the benefits North and South of the reunification of the island. This is ultimately one of the main goals of my organisation. All elements of the Good Friday Agreement must be in place, with all institutions and the assembly up and running. When all parts of the agreement are in place, a collective approach by all political beliefs, North and South, should decide a way forward for the island of Ireland.

When the time is right, the reunification will not be achieved until the British Government declares an intent to withdraw from the Six Counties at some future date. I cannot see the reunification occurring until all parties see no alternative but an agreement on an all Ireland approach. We are at a crossroads and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is paramount and vital to bringing all political and religious beliefs forward in unity.

We should return to where we were before the Northern Ireland Assembly was unlawfully brought down. The motion as stated puts the cart before the horse. I commend the motion as amended. It is regrettable that some Deputies only see one party as the problem in Northern Ireland. It is time that Deputies see the whole picture and stop the criticism of Sinn Féin. The party should be commended for its steps so far. All parties involved in Northern Ireland matters should be brought forward collectively, and we should be more positive on the issue.

Having regard to the terms of the Government amendment, which I support, I will not be moving the amendment tabled in my name and those of my Labour Party colleagues. Having regard to the Sinn Féin motion, it seems the party still lives in an alternate reality, with its own timeline and its own rules of cause and effect. In our reality, the provisional movement failed to live up to its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and failed to deliver decommissioning by May 2000. It was that failure that undermined the working of the Agreement and its institutions. It ensured that the institutions of devolved government never got a real chance to become firmly bedded down, and it led to the suspension of those institutions and the present impasse.

In the Sinn Féin view, the party has been godfather and chief promoter of what it calls the Irish peace process. It believes the party has always been a fan of the Agreement, even though it has yet to sign it. Moreover, according to this motion, it seeks the re-establishment of the institutions of the Agreement at the earliest date, conveniently ignoring that these institutions have suffered almost terminal harm as a result of the procrastination and cynical manoeuvring of the provisional movement itself. At the present time, when those of us in the real world are hoping that the institutions of devolved government in Northern Ireland may be restored, with luck, at some stage next year, Sinn Féin has decided, as Deputy O'Donnell stated, that the time is right to press for Irish unity.

My view is that Sinn Féin's current strategy is not primarily about the return of the institutions in the North. It is not about power sharing or the restoration of the assembly. Sinn Féin's strategy is about its own political gain and winning concessions from the two Governments. It is also about causing division within the Irish Government in order to proclaim itself the only party truly committed to Irish unity.

Sinn Féin sees political capital and seat gains in maintaining a sense of permanent crisis in the peace process to keep itself centre stage, domestically and internationally.

That is absolutely bizarre and the Deputy knows it.

It is that sense of permanent crisis, however, that makes normal politics impossible and allows extremism to thrive. In this motion, Sinn Féin calls for the re-establishment of the institutions of the Agreement at the earliest date and the Labour Party supports that call. However, given recent and not so recent events, it is reasonable to conclude that Sinn Féin's political agenda is not based, even on an interim basis, on power-sharing within Northern Ireland or the re-establishment of the executive and assembly. These are merely the hostages it takes and for which it demands a ransom in the form of concessions on issues such as the "on the runs", restorative justice projects and so on.

If Sinn Féin really wanted to defend the Good Friday Agreement, why did it negotiate a deal with the DUP last year that compromised the integrity and balance of the strand one power-sharing arrangements that were agreed by all parties when the Agreement was negotiated? If Sinn Féin truly believed that a cross-community government for Northern Ireland was one of the key elements in combating sectarianism and developing reconciliation, would it first insist on deals for "on the runs", further amnesties for prisoners and face-saving community restorative justice projects to hide a future climb-down on their policing stance, before agreeing to re-enter the assembly or executive?

Of course we would.

Sinn Féin has never demonstrated any real interest in a workable devolved government for Northern Ireland. It barely involved itself in the negotiations of the strand one arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement. It has shed crocodile tears about the lack of an assembly. Participating in a "partitionist" assembly is largely irrelevant to its main project, namely, the drive for Irish unity.

Its tactics are mistaken for at least two reasons. First, as regards Irish unity, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated, I too am a supporter. Partition has been disastrous for this country, on both sides of the Border. It generated two dysfunctional and confessional entities which at times were almost mirror images of each other. As the events of last week have demonstrated all too clearly, in this Parliament we still struggle with the ugly aftermath of three quarters of a century of clerical supremacy.

And misrule.

While the consequences of partition for the North were uglier and more violent, this was only because the numbers stacked up very differently and because there were those who believed the Border could be eradicated from the map through terror, destabilisation and economic misery. Although I favour the unity of all Irish men and women within a polity generous enough to accommodate them all, I share the Taoiseach's analysis on the timing. I agree with him that we will not see Irish unity in our lifetime. An eventual Sinn Féin acceptance of that reality will be as seismic for that party as was the realisation by Fianna Fáil that the days of single party government are over.

The reasons for that timeframe are plain enough for all with eyes to see. I repeat again my central critique of Sinn Féin's position and note that its members daily confirm the validity of that analysis. Sinn Féin's myopia prevents it from seeing that the real problems on this island will not be cured by an end to partition between North and South. They derive from the endemic partitions within Northern Ireland itself. Sinn Féin members have said and done nothing to demonstrate awareness and acknowledgement of the crisis around them, namely, the cantonisation or even Balkanisation of Northern Ireland. Moreover, they have done nothing to persuade the people of the South that the best solution to Northern Ireland as a failed political entity would be to collapse that failed, dysfunctional and still violent entity into this State. If the communities that make up Northern Ireland cannot function together, why should we believe they would function better by smothering them within a largely uninterested Southern embrace?

On any rational analysis, Northern Ireland as a demonstrably functioning entity must be shown to exist and have the capacity to exist on an ongoing basis before anyone thinks about Irish unity, rather than the proven failure of the North being a reason for thinking about the unity of this island as a whole. The reality is that even with most guns silenced for most of the time, Northern Ireland is a bitterly divided society and is becoming ever more so. There is increasing evidence of a hardening of separateness between both communities and of a society that is becoming more divided by tribal identifications. In parallel with efforts to restore the political institutions, we need a real effort on all sides to tackle the sectarian divisions that have increased rather than diminished since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

A devolved government and assembly may contribute to normalisation but of themselves cannot provide a comprehensive solution. That requires time, patience and space, as other Members have noted. It will be at least a generation before we see a loosening of the grip on the North of the legacy of sectarianism and its bitter and corrosive divisions. Hence, talk of Irish unity before that first happens is absolute hogwash.

I repeat my belief that Sinn Féin and the IRA have a genuine contribution to make to political progress on this island. However, that contribution involves not simply the delivering up of arms, seven years late, that should never have been acquired or used in the first place, it also requires a genuine commitment to reconciliation between neighbours. If republicans want to unite this country, they must recognise as a task for them the need to address rather than exacerbate the structural divisions within Northern Ireland, such as where people live or where they send their children to school.

However, instead of recognising the depth of the challenge presented by deepening sectarian division, Sinn Féin has decided that now is the time to launch its Thirty-two County campaign to "rally for Irish unity" and "make partition history". It is bizarre that the movement that has done most in this country's history to copperfasten partition should consider itself in any way suited to set about the task of uniting this country and making partition history and that its members, of all people, could now remove all those bitter and enduring consequences of the IRA's campaign of violence and destruction and of enduring and ever more entrenched divisions. The campaign to "make partition history" is calculated to increase the trend towards intercommunal hostility which makes power-sharing within Northern Ireland difficult, if not impossible and, consequently, it further delays the day of Irish unity.

The second reason the present Sinn Féin strategy is wrong is that, as the SDLP pointed out in its document, A Better Way to a Better Ireland, the best model for the political institutions of a future united Ireland must involve two Governments on the island. In this way, if and when the people of Northern Ireland vote to secede from the United Kingdom in any future referendum, sovereignty for Northern Ireland will merely switch to the Irish Government, with all the institutions created under the Agreement remaining with the Irish, rather than the British, as the ultimate sovereign authority. Therefore, this is all the more reason to concentrate on bedding down those institutions as in any scenario they are here to stay. However, I repeat the basic point that speculation about events that will not happen for quite some time does nothing to address the immediate challenges we all face in resolving conflict, combating sectarianism and establishing reconciliation between all people in the North.

In general, there has been a strong bipartisan approach to the issue of Northern Ireland in this House, especially since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The principal Opposition parties have never sought to make political capital out of Northern Ireland, although we have largely been kept in the dark by the Government about its approach to developments recently. Against this background, I must record my disappointment at two recent initiatives on the Taoiseach's part, namely, the use of a political platform at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis to unilaterally announce the reintroduction of military parades to commemorate 1916 and the premature, inappropriate and divisive invitation to elected representatives from the Northern state to sit in this Chamber as if, for all practical purposes, they had been elected to it.

While it is worth considering how we should commemorate the birth of this State, and a military parade through O'Connell Street may well be one option, there are also other possibilities.

Ireland is an odd country in many respects, one of which is that most Irish people would be baffled were one to ask them what was our independence day. When did our State come into being? A brief version of the long answer is that we have had three States since independence. The present State came into being on 27 December 1937, 180 days after the enactment of the Constitution by the people in that year. Saorstát Éireann existed up to that date, having been set up in 1922 under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Before that the Irish Republic was established by a resolution of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919, which many people may regard as being our true independence day. A belief I share with most of my fellow citizens is that we in this House are successors to those who met in the Mansion House in 1919. It is ironic that while the armed uprising of 1916 is widely and extensively commemorated every year, the historic exercise in self-determination by the elected representatives of the people is largely ignored.

Regarding the second issue, the provision of speaking rights to Northern public representatives in the Dáil, I can do no better than put on the record the contents of my letter of reply to the Taoiseach, which I sent to him on the date I received his letter:

Dear Taoiseach,

Thank you for your letter of 26 October regarding the recommendations of the seventh report of the All Party Committee on the Constitution. As you know, I am already on the record as having expressed concerns regarding claims made by Mr. Gerry Adams about the nature of the commitment he said that you had given him and your failure to consult with the Dáil on a matter of such national importance. Having received your letter I now, at least, have a clearer understanding of your thinking but I have to express my serious reservations about the course that you are proposing the Dáil should take. While the Labour Party favours the closest possible relationship between democratic institutions on the island, we would be concerned at any plans to go beyond the very tentative recommendations made in this area by the All Party Committee on the Constitution in its seventh progress report in 2002 and the context in which the committee envisaged any progress being possible.

It is very important that nothing should be done that would compromise the role of the Oireachtas as the sovereign Parliament of the State and it is equally important that nothing should be done that would threaten the restoration of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland provided for under the Good Friday Agreement. You yourself draw attention in your letter to the view expressed by the committee in its seventh report that any such participation by any elected representatives from Northern Ireland in the Oireachtas: "Should take place on a cross-community basis with parity of esteem for the different communities in Northern Ireland."

Clearly, there would be a great danger in proceeding with any proposal that would be likely to be taken up by representatives of only one political tradition in Northern Ireland as this could create further political polarisation and potentially jeopardise future political progress. It is clear from representations we have had from political representatives of the Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland that they would have no interest in availing of such a facility and would regard such a move as potentially damaging to general political progress in Northern Ireland. I understand that similar views have been conveyed to the Fianna Fáil party.

This was certainly the case when I and some of my colleagues met the new leader of the Unionist party, Sir Reg Empey, and his colleagues, for example. He made his view clear and my understanding is that he was taking part in a round of meetings with the parties generally. My letter continued:

I believe that the absolute priority for all democrats on this island should be the earliest possible restoration of the democratic institutions provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. It is my strongly held view that proceeding with your proposals would not only make more difficult the restoration of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland but might well make that objective politically impossible. In this regard, can I specifically ask you would you envisage proceeding with this proposal if it were clear that any offer of participation would be taken up by political representatives of the Nationalist community only?

It should also be noted that the Good Friday Agreement provides for a number of possible initiatives that would allow for closer interaction between members of democratic institutions on the island. Paragraph 18 of strand two of the Agreement said that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas should: "Consider developing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing together equal numbers from both institutions for discussions of matters of mutual interest and concern." The Agreement also envisaged the establishment of an independent consultative forum "representative of civil society" in both jurisdictions. Clearly, the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland could open the way to progress on both of these proposals. I believe that the best way to proceed might now be for you to convene a meeting of the leaders of the parties in the Dáil to discuss this issue further and to consider how the House as a body might contribute in general to closer North-South relations.

That remains my position and I still look forward to receiving the Taoiseach's response to my proposals for a meeting of party leaders.

With decommissioning achieved, we must not assume that all else will now fall automatically into place. We must not lessen our resolve to see the institutions re-established and the political vacuum filled. We must not shirk the challenge of creating a peaceful, democratic and lawful society in Northern Ireland. We must all hope that Sinn Féin has now decided to contest the democratic space on the same basis as the other parties in this House.

The Deputy knows we are gaining all the time.

Now that they have finally decommissioned their weapons, republicans must follow the example of all other democratic parties North and South and commit themselves to creating a fully lawful and democratic society in Northern Ireland, one where the rule of law dominates and where all criminal activity is at an end.

It is simply unacceptable to have a significant political party organised on both sides of the Border, the growth of which has come almost exclusively as a result of the peace process——

Does it have nothing to do with hard work or policies?

——not participating in or supporting policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin members are always quick to tell us about the sacrifices they have made and the difficulties they have faced each time they are dragged forward for the sake of political progress. However, they must recognise that, in doing so, they have benefited immensely, often at the expense of true democrats from political parties whose commitment to peace, reconciliation, justice——

The Deputy should dry his tears.

——and a lawful society is beyond question.

Sinn Féin must now commit to supporting and playing an active role in the policing structures in the North. The 14th report of the policing Oversight Commissioner has again vindicated the stance of parties such as the SDLP, which took the brave decision to support the PSNI when republicans refused to do so. It is now clear that the overwhelming majority of the Nationalist community supports the PSNI but the void left by the attitude of republicans towards the police in places such as west Belfast and south County Armagh must no longer be filled by the local provo bully boy wielding his own type of community justice.

Sinn Féin has historically positioned itself at the heart of the problem. The opportunity now presents for Sinn Féin to become part of the solution but it will not dictate the content or timing of the solution. This will be a collective exercise and will be one to which that party is ill suited, as it will require patience, discretion, reasonableness and a desire to accommodate the needs and aspirations of others rather than an insistence on overwhelming and defeating those who it has always regarded as historic enemies of fellow nationals and inhabitants of our shared island. I support the Government amendment.

I wish to share time with Deputies Connolly, Cowley and Catherine Murphy. A motion such as this at any time in the House is a useful means of discussing how we got to where we are and the sacrifices and changes that have been made. Recognition and acknowledgement must be given to those who have chosen to go down a fully political route. The unfortunate nature of this debate not only concerns the movers of the motion but also the reaction it has stirred in those who oppose it directly and means we might be going backwards in terms of our approach to this issue.

The Good Friday Agreement is the template that has been agreed by all political parties on this island. While it is a flawed agreement in many respects, having been born out of compromise, it is that by which we have all agreed to go forward. The Green Party believes that any attempt to pre-empt that agreement, or seeking to change its nature or content will be met with an opposite reaction by other communities on this island who feel the Good Friday Agreement is a compromise too far for their traditions.

The Green Party proposed an amendment to the second part of this motion only, as all Members of this House can readily agree with the first part. The difficulty we must acknowledge in the legitimate aspiration held by many in this country for a unitary state is what the reaction of ordinary Irish citizens would be to such a state coming into being. Some work has been done by economic consultants on what the cost would be. We must recognise that the Northern Irish statelet is heavily subsidised by the British Government. A united Ireland any time in the foreseeable future would mean enormous changes and sacrifices in the economic life of this country.

I believe all political parties in this House hold this legitimate aspiration, and they must be honest with themselves and ask whether they are prepared to put that price tag on achieving it. Are they prepared to state what the higher taxes are likely to be in the event of a unitary Ireland? Are they prepared to state how services will be compromised to deal with a population of 5 or 6 million as opposed to 4 million? These are the hard questions that must be asked even before we get to the stage of considering how we can make hearts and minds coalesce with each other.

That is the difficulty the Green Party sees with this motion. It is a difficulty with the use of language and the failure to recognise other traditions on the island sufficiently in considering how to achieve this legitimate aspiration. Fortunately, the use of force has been forsaken. However, the danger is that political torment may be stirred up. Who can say whether violence will be used to prevent the achievement of this legitimate aspiration within Northern Ireland or throughout this island?

My party recently decided to organise itself on an all-island basis. That was not without its birth-pains. It was agreed by Comhaontas Glas, and also by the Green Party in Northern Ireland at a recent gathering. It was not done in the context of creating a one-nation party, rather in recognition of synergies in organising rules of political engagement on this island and our shared needs in the environment, agriculture and tourism. It also recognises the tenet of the Good Friday Agreement that not only should there be such synergies on a North-South level, those synergies should also be encouraged on an east-west level. As a third phase of that process, the Scottish Green Party will meet this weekend to discuss its links with the Green Party in Northern Ireland and how the three different groups can promote our common political agenda, taking full cognisance of the historic relationship that exists.

As the peace process progresses, I hope the situation becomes less contentious. Unfortunately because of our electoral cycle and that of the British, we will be engaged in a war or words on many of these issues. I will conclude with an appeal that as we progress on this issue, more thought is given to the effect of pursuing legitimate political aspirations in a way that will not affect the competing traditions that live on this island.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. The word "united" appears in the script of the motion on quite a few occasions. It almost gives the impression that only one party wants unification. I certainly wish to see a united Ireland. If I were examining it from the viewpoint of a Northern Protestant, I would be highly sceptical of the motion. It would confirm my previous intransigence and resistance to the agreement and would leave me highly apprehensive and suspicious about the motive behind it. I regret that is my reading of this motion.

I and another Deputy recently attended a meeting of Co-operation Ireland. I was struck forcefully by the fact that during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there were 18 peace walls in Belfast whereas now there are 33 and the number increases by the day. That is not the way we want to go. The right message regarding unification, coming together and moving the right way is not being sent.

We heard the Good Friday Agreement described as the only show in town. It was historic in terms of the compromise reached between Nationalism and Unionism. It seems that is becoming the preserve of a single party, which is not what the Good Friday Agreement is about. It belongs to us as a nation, and is our map forward. It has been endorsed by the majority of people on this island, North and South. It afforded them the opportunity to transform the face of Ireland for the better after three decades of conflict. This Agreement, forged between the North's political parties and the London and Dublin Governments, paves the way for an end to violence and civil unrest. It also signals the restoration of political evolution in Northern Ireland and increased co-operation between North and South.

This North-South dimension of the Agreement was of crucial importance and was best exemplified by the establishment of successful cross-Border bodies. A number of other issues are more urgent, such as tourism, agriculture, transport, infrastructure and health care, and we should be seen to work together on them. We could first work on them in the Border hinterland, and establishing bodies there would lead us to the type of country of which everybody wants to be part, without forcing ourselves into situations. In tourism we see the benefits of Fáilte Ireland marketing Ireland as an entire island, from the Glens of Antrim through Kavanagh country and down to the lakes of Killarney, and including attractions such as the Shannon-Erne waterway. I would like to see that fully restored and see the benefits it brings to both our societies in the hinterland of Ulster on the divide line.

The land is divided and so are the people. If people across that divide see us in a better way, they may look more favourably on us and want to join us. I believe that is the way it should be. The former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Seamus Mallon, famously described the Good Friday Agreement as the Sunningdale Agreement for slow learners. People are probably learning fast and perhaps that is as it should be. In 1973, Ulster hostility and intransigence put paid to the initial groundbreaking experiment in which Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party shared power and self-government for the first time in Northern Ireland. That sowed the seeds for devolution and showed another way forward existed.

Back in those days, Sinn Féin would settle for nothing less than a total British withdrawal or a declaration of intent to do so, together with a 32-county sovereign country. It was utterly dismissive of the SDLP's conciliatory strategy based on the consensus approach to politics in Northern Ireland. It has ceased to ridicule the SDLP for its perceived give and take attitude. Such an attitude as taken by the British Government and the Unionist community has got us to where we are today. Sinn Féin was steered in the right direction by the former SDLP leader, Mr. John Hume, who initiated the Hume-Adams talks. I remember the risks taken in those talks. Talks were the only way to resolve this centuries old conflict. The moderate and anti-violent strategy of the SDLP was a beacon of light in the darkest days of the North's conflict. Mr. Hume's greatest achievement was to internationalise the conflict in Europe. We must also recognise the involvement of former President Clinton. He put pressure on Downing Street which successfully resulted in the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, the first IRA ceasefire in 1994 and ultimately the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

We must not be exclusive and we cannot drag people kicking and screaming in here. We must show it can work and establish cross-Border institutions and progress in that way.

Like everyone in this House I favour Irish unity but it will not happen overnight. It will take time as there is a lot more persuading to be done. However this is a goal that is worth achieving and in time it will be achieved. This is, after all, a small country. Membership of the EU has caused borders to become blurred. The larger EU community has made us realise we are a small country and community.

The only difference between the South and North of the country often boils down to the colour of the post boxes or the post offices. Galway, Dublin, Derry or Belfast have the same shops such as Marks and Spencer and McDonalds. Urbanisation has created a sameness and many built-up areas look alike on the surface.

All communities have the same need for proper services and the need for older people to be cared for within their community if at all possible. People North and South have much in common. The Troubles have been a great source of worry to people in the South and they have held back the development of the North.

I visited the North during the first ceasefire and it was a wonderful feeling to be able to drive over the Border unchallenged in our own country. There is a need for co-operation between the two parts of our country and the Good Friday Agreement created progress in that regard. This needs to be continued. A very sad aspect of the breakdown was that over time many of these North-South bodies did not achieve their full potential. I hope they will achieve that potential in the fullness of time.

We have problems in common, given that we are a small nation. I noted on my visit to the North the disappointing lack of tourism facilities, such as bed and breakfast accommodation, which are widely available in the South. The Troubles have held back the development of the North.

I was proud to visit Stormont some years ago. I was involved in spearheading the campaign for a helicopter emergency medical service which I believed should be set up in a North-South context. This is the only country in Europe which does not have this facility as it does not exist in the South or the North. I have met various Ministers for Health on this issue, such as Deputy Noonan and Deputy Martin, and I also met the Minister for Health in Stormont, Bairbre de Brún. It was a very proud occasion for me when I walked up the steps of Stormont, the bastion of discrimination with its associated bad history, and was able to speak in Irish to the person who was the Minister for Health at that time. It was a very useful meeting. I also spoke to the North-South body dealing with emergency facilities which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement. I believe Irish unity is achievable but a lot of water needs to flow under the bridge and a lot of persuasion will be needed. Go raibh maith agat.

I do not believe the people who voted in the 1998 referenda in both the North and South believed they were doing anything other than participating in or commencing a process which is still ongoing. The fact the Assembly is not functioning, that the arms on the loyalist side have not been put beyond use — although there have been some welcome developments in recent days in that regard — and that the policing boards do not include all parties, indicate the process has not concluded. These must be the focus of the work to be done.

This is a fragile peace. While like most others I desire a united Ireland, my price, like that of most others, is that peace must be achieved by consent which is the only way to ensure a lasting peace. We witnessed the mayhem of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and the daily reports of murder and mayhem, where hundreds of thousands were forced to live or to grow up in a dangerous and violent environment where hatred was the currency. Many are damaged by that experience; they must be in our thoughts when this issue is being debated as a return to that situation is simply not acceptable. Will the Sinn Féin motion move the process forward? Will it persuade and build confidence within the Unionist community or will it widen the divide?

While there has been undoubted leadership within the republican movement from Sinn Féin to gain acceptance from the IRA of the need for removal of the guns and I acknowledge the significant progress made, I wish to refer to the issue of leadership. I attended an event in Newcastle, County Down, at which a former White House adviser spoke about the issue of leadership and peace building. He said leadership was all about delivering loss and he repeated this sentence many times. It is a significant summing up of leadership. It is easy to tell people what they want to hear and it is easy to build confidence within one's own community. The real challenge is in taking on board the concerns of the other side, as is the case here.

It is easy to ask this House to persuade Unionism of the advantages of Irish unification but the real challenge will be for Sinn Féin to do that by its actions, by making the Northern institutions work and by demonstrating that Unionism has nothing to fear. I do not believe Unionists are at all concerned or feel threatened by Fine Gael, the PDs, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party or those of us on the Independent benches and this tells a tale. There is no group in society more dangerous than a group with nothing to lose. Building peace is also about offering hope. It is essential the Unionist community feels a sense of hope for its future and does not believe that every gain for Sinn Féin is a loss for them as this is a recipe for conflict.

The South has seen some dividends which are not very tangible and I will cite some examples. Right through the 1970s and 1980s the Tricolour was not flown anywhere except on public buildings because people felt that by doing so they were in some way endorsing the IRA campaign. Attitudes have changed since the Good Friday Agreement and there is a fresh pride evident.

There is a new confidence in dealing with our history. My grandfather took part in the Easter Rising and he was interned for six months in Wales. Most of the internees kept diaries which when compared to those kept in 1922 are in marked contrast. Those written in 1916 were to do with patriotism and idealism which were also evident in the diaries written in 1922 but they also included an attitude of realism. It is valid for us to learn from that era of history and from people who were direct witnesses. This is not to do with revisionism. The focus must be on building peace in the North.

I welcome the opportunity to restate the reasons for the Government's amended motion. As my colleagues have stated, the Government's approach to this question is that which is set out in the Good Friday Agreement, no more and no less. That approach, which enshrines the principle of unity by consent, has a powerful endorsement from all communities on both parts of the island. It is an approach built, first and foremost, on rebuilding trust and confidence in the political process and on re-establishing the institutions of devolved government. We should all deplore the fact that trust and confidence were allowed to break down in the first place but this is not the time to revisit these issues and we must begin from where we are.

The Government amendment puts trust and confidence firmly at the centre of its approach. This is vitally important and it is a great deficiency in the Sinn Féin motion as originally tabled. The Government amendment acknowledges the importance of restoring devolved government on an inclusive basis. This is truly the great challenge in the coming months, to restore confidence and rebuild the political momentum needed to bring back a devolved government working in the best interests of both communities. Working with the political parties, both Governments will be making every effort to ensure that all the institutions are restored at the earliest possible date. We recognise that devolved Government, established on a partnership basis, and working within the framework established by the Good Friday Agreement, is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and in the interest of peace and stability on this island as a whole. It would be strange if the House were to overlook that crucial fact.

Many preceding speakers have addressed the issue of unity. With all members of the party I represent in government, I am firmly committed to creating a climate on this island in which unity can become a reality. No single party in the House can claim to be sole standard bearers for a united Ireland. In the case of my party, we have pursued the cause of unity since our foundation through exclusively peaceful means and have led where others, at last, have thankfully followed.

In the debate last night, Deputy Sargent stated the Sinn Féin motion put "the cart before the horse" on this issue. I fully agree with him and, therefore, urge his party to lend its support to the Government's amended motion. I also welcome support for the amendment from Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and Rabbitte.

In addressing this vital issue, the House cannot and should not overlook other realities. The motion adopted by the House must acknowledge the fundamental requirement that all paramilitary and criminal activities be brought clearly to an end. In that context, it must address the need for all parties to co-operate with the Independent Monitoring Commission. It must address sectarianism, condemning it wherever and whenever it occurs. It must acknowledge the need to strengthen policing reforms through full participation on the policing board. The greatest risk to the tremendous progress made is that it could be endangered by those who refuse to put their support behind policing.

The motion must also acknowledge the need to push resolutely ahead with the development of an all-island economy with benefits for all. The Taoiseach this week announced a transport plan which can transform infrastructure on the whole island if both its parts pool their thinking, planning and resources to ensure the potential of this opportunity is maximised. It must acknowledge the need to reach out to all communities to ensure none is left behind. As we speak, the Taoiseach is in Belfast reaching out to both communities.

The motion must also acknowledge the role of the United States and the European Union. As Deputies will be aware, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, is in the United States today.

The Government amendment addresses each of these needs. It is a full and accurate reflection of the path set out in the Good Friday Agreement. Padraig Pearse spoke of a "noble" republic. His dream and the dream of Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone and others is our dream too. There can be no more noble aspiration than that of an agreed Ireland, a country united in hearts and minds and not only territory, and in which subjugation and superiority, threat and torture hold no part of the developing political landscape. We could do worse than to reflect Pearse's dream of a free Ireland. Would he not be proud of the achievements, particularly of the past ten years or so, when, through the absence of violence and violent conflict, gains have been made which hardly seemed imaginable 20 years ago and could never have been made down the barrel of a gun? Would he not also be proud of how we, collectively in this part of the island, have toiled endlessly to enable this great nation to blossom economically and socially and gain such respect internationally for doing so?

While this part of Ireland has had the opportunity and freedom to blossom and grow, conflict, mistrust and polarisation of society has meant Northern Ireland has not had this same opportunity or freedom to develop. This economic and social entrapment can now be finally ended as a result of the political developments of recent years and we, on this part of the island, should grasp this opportunity and strive to work more closely with those in Northern Ireland to ensure it prospers and develops, bringing benefits to all its people.

On the issue of participation in the Oireachtas by elected representatives from Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach has done exactly what he consistently indicated he would do. In line with the report of the all-party committee of March 2002 and the motion adopted by the House in May 2003, he has sought the views of all parties and made clear that this matter will, properly, be for the Dáil rather than the Government to determine.

Standing here today I am convinced we are closer than we have ever been to reunification. I have no doubts about this and, as an active Irish republican, I am more interested in what type of united Ireland will emerge. Will it be an inclusive Ireland in which the natural resources and enormous wealth of the country will be used for the benefit of people regardless of class, creed or where they reside?

There are those who argue that advocates of Irish unity should remain silent about our political objective. They claim that even to state this objective is unhelpful and would increase tensions as efforts are made to restore the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement. I do not agree with this position. It is imperative that we are open in the debate in the House and in wider engagement with all those who live and share space on this island. Only on the basis of real and meaningful engagement can we make progress on peace and reconciliation and resolve our differences.

Sinn Féin wants all those who say they believe in Irish unity to begin the important work to persuade the Unionist community of the advantages of reunification. I say this in the knowledge that much work lies ahead and respecting the right of the Unionist community to maintain its British identity. It is obvious there is a considerable gulf of distrust and misunderstanding on all sides. More than a decade into the peace process, with all the initiatives taken by republicans and policy changes they have made, Unionists remain sceptical about our sincerity. As to how much of this is due to the failure of the leaders of unionism over the past ten years, that is a matter for debate.

There is no doubt that many Unionist leaders are either opposed to change or reluctant to embrace it. They do not encourage dialogue between communities. There is also no doubt that many of those with whom Sinn Féin engages are much more open-minded about the need for change and dialogue than their political leaders. This proves the potential for change which will emerge once real dialogue takes place. While Sinn Féin is committed to developing dialogue, I am struck by the unfortunate blind spot among all shades of unionism about their role in the conflict. They do not appear to realise the impact on Northern Catholics and Nationalists of the years between 1920 and 1969 when a Protestant and Unionist state was imposed on us and those who lived through those years, not to speak of the role of unionism up to this day.

In our journey towards real equality in the North, those within unionism who previously prospered during the years of discrimination and injustice will feel threatened. In some cases this sense of alienation has been exacerbated by the collapse of traditional Unionist industries such as shipbuilding. However, none of this can be an excuse for further stalling the process of change or delaying the basic rights and entitlements required under the Good Friday Agreement.

These are the difficult realities we must address. Irrespective of how difficult are the obstacles to dialogue, they need to be tackled and overcome. Republicans know this task is not an easy but a formidable one. We are trying to unravel centuries of conflict and living separately on a small island. We know it will take time and political change before we arrive at a satisfactory point at which we can state we have really begun the journey of genuine national reconciliation.

I speak from this Chamber specifically to the Unionist community. I ask for endorsement of the fact that Sinn Féin is committed to building peace, promoting national reconciliation and developing our party's consciousness and structures in a manner which will enable us to genuinely reach out to Unionists and the broader Protestant community. When Sinn Féin speaks of Irish unity we mean more than the removal of partition, we also mean the unity of the people of Ireland and we seek a process of national reconciliation, an end to sectarianism and unity of purpose.

When Sinn Féin tells Unionists that it unashamedly advocates a united Ireland, we do not do so to antagonise them but because it makes economic and social sense, not only for republicans but for all the people of Ireland, North and South, east and west, Catholic, Protestant and dissenter, Muslim and Jew, agnostic and atheist. Sinn Féin has consistently urged an island-wide approach in key policy areas, including the economy, health, education, employment, agriculture, arts and tourism, but this approach must be allowed to develop in a real and meaningful way.

Unionists should not underestimate the political clout they will have in a united Ireland. Their status will change from that of a tiny minority to approximately 20% of the population. Surely a united Ireland would constitute a real opportunity for Unionists to exert real control over their destiny. In stark contrast to their current position those from a Unionist background will be significant players in any new Ireland. They will have the ability to implement coherent social and economic policies on the basis of the country as a whole, rather than have them decided in Westminster where their interests must be negotiated with Britain.

The cultural identity of unionism would be welcome in the new Ireland and would add to the diversity and vitality of our culture. The new Ireland republicans envision is all-inclusive and will be a place in which all will be cherished equally, both individually and collectively. We have shown by our actions that it is not mere rhetoric. Alex Maskey, in his role as lord mayor of Belfast, led the way in reaching out to unionism. Equality for all and inclusiveness were the hallmarks of his term in office. No one was excluded, and the City Hall was truly open to everyone. Mr. Maskey strove to represent all the people of Belfast, and not just republicans, as his laying of the wreath at the cenotaph testified. Civic leaders throughout this island also have a role to play. Previous mayors of this city, from the various parties in Leinster House, have in the past, with varying degrees of success, made a conscious effort to reach out to civic leaders of the Unionist persuasion in the North. That work should be commended by all here today.

Unionists have nothing to fear and everything to gain from Irish unity. It is inevitable, and we ask them to join us as partners in building a new Ireland. Sinn Féin believes that planning for a united Ireland should begin now.

The usual tedium associated with scrutinising and trying to amend legislation in this extremely dreary place can, like today, have its rare moments, in this case offering us an opportunity to debate such an important motion. The Dáil has seldom taken the time to debate what this State needs to do to prepare politically, socially and economically for Irish reunification. The Irish Government has a particular responsibility to commence planning for reunification. That is vital if we are to have a successful transition to the united Ireland the majority of parties in this House profess to support. As Deputy Ó Caoláin said last night, we must strengthen and build upon the all-Ireland aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Central to that is the need for the Government to initiate and sustain a planned programme of all-Ireland social and economic development that aims to remove the obstacles created by partition.

We must integrate the economy. An all-Ireland economy would serve business and the people of this island better. That is recognised by the business community, including by many Unionists. The IBEC-CBI joint business council is currently promoting 20 key North-South actions to increase our economic co-operation on the island. Those moves are to be welcomed. The Sinn Féin motion is succinct and straightforward. There was not one word in it to which any reasonable person could object, let alone those who claim to be committed to unity. This motion was tabled in a spirit of constructiveness, with the aim of achieving a consensus among the parties in this House that have vowed to support unity regarding how this State prepares politically, socially and economically for Irish reunification.

Why is it that Fianna Fáil in particular is running away from a constructive debate on Irish unity? All reference to unity is absent from the amendment put forward by the Government. Will the Taoiseach live up to the ideals of Padraig Pearse, whose picture adorns the wall of his office? I refer directly to the Government amendment, and in particular "opposes any political move or initiative which would increase tensions between the two main traditions on this island". That absurd notion would see the process stagnate and make it dependent on the response of rejectionist unionism. Arguably, to advocate the restoration of the institutions is enough to increase tensions among some Unionists. Who could accept that element of the Government amendment?

In response to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, there is nothing simplistic about seeking to persuade Unionists of the benefits of a united Ireland. There is nothing simplistic about preparing for Irish unity. I was disappointed by the negative tone of her contribution. In reference to our motion, she used words such as "distraction", "damaging", and "destabilising". I defy any reasonable person who has read the motion to react so negatively.

Last month, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, claimed that Fianna Fáil should not be ashamed of saying that it still wants a united Ireland and that it should not frighten Unionists. From last night's contributions and the Fianna Fáil amendment, he appears to be alone, certainly on the Front Bench if not the entire parliamentary party, in holding that view. In the absence of any strategic preparation for unity, the supposed new-found republicanism of the larger Government party rings very hollow. Although plans for an annual event to commemorate the men and women of 1916 are welcome and long overdue, it would be a greater honour to their memory if this State produced a Green Paper on Irish unity identifying steps and measures that could promote and assist a successful transition to a united Ireland.

I urge grass-roots members of Fianna Fáil to step back and appraise what is being done to achieve their aspirations regarding Irish unity. They should ask themselves whether they are satisfied with the empty rhetoric. It is not matched by actions. Are they happy that the Progressive Democrats and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, have a veto on the Government's Northern policy? Are the Progressive Democrats to be allowed to dump the Taoiseach's proposal for very limited participation by Six Counties MPs in the Oireachtas? I once again urge the Taoiseach to press ahead with that proposal. It seems that, for Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, to seek to unite Ireland by peaceful means is inflammatory and will destabilise unionism. To invite any MPs from the North to participate in the Oireachtas, even in a very limited way, will offend Unionists.

However, it seems that it does not matter that the refusal to work for Irish unity will disappoint nationalists in the Six Counties. It does not matter that Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats have slammed the door in the faces of the SDLP and Sinn Féin, the representatives of Northern nationalists. That is what those parties' opposition to the Taoiseach's proposal means. The sensitivities of nationalists mean nothing to them. The contributions made by Deputies Allen and Jim O'Keeffe on behalf of Fine Gael, quite simply, do not merit a response. However, I acknowledge the sincerity of the contribution from Deputy Crawford.

I am surprised that the Labour Party, which claims to follow in the footsteps of James Connolly, is willing to take its policy lead on this issue from a right-wing party such as Fine Gael in opposing even limited Northern representation in the Dáil. I know that many members of the Labour Party aspire to Irish unity and are genuine in their adherence to the ideals of Connolly, who vociferously opposed any partition of Ireland and warned of what he called the "carnival of reaction" that would follow its being cut "to pieces as a corpse would be cut upon the dissecting table". Clearly, James Connolly, like Sinn Féin, is completely at odds with the wholly partitionist view repeated here this morning by the Twenty-Six Counties Labour Party leader.

On demilitarisation, some progress has been made, but the pace is too slow.

The Deputy should conclude.

I will do so. Unfortunately, I had nothing like the time I imagined I would have.

I thank everyone who has participated in this debate. We have placed Irish unity firmly on the agenda once again, and we intend to keep it there. I urge all Deputies to support the motion as tabled. A united Ireland is our common future. Let us work together to achieve and build it, making this a country where we can all live as equals and at peace.

Amendment put and declared lost.

As amendment No. 3 has been defeated, I call on the Minister of State formally to move amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

I move amendment No.1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—re-affirms its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement endorsed by the people of this island speaking freely and collectively in referenda held on 22 May, 1998;

—re-affirms its view that this Agreement is the basis of a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland;

—re-affirms the right to self-determination of the people of the island of Ireland to be exercised in the manner provided for in the Good Friday Agreement;

—re-affirms its commitment to the principle of unity by consent as set out in the Agreement and endorsed by the people of this island;

—re-affirms its belief that the restoration of devolved Government on an inclusive basis is in the best interests of all communities in Northern Ireland and acknowledges that this requires the restoration of trust and confidence in the political process;

—acknowledges the significance of the IRA statement of 28 July and the potential it offers for political progress;

—welcomes the statement by the IRA that is has decommissioned all its weapons as confirmed by the IICD and urges all other paramilitary groups to engage with the IICD for the purposes of decommissioning their weapons;

—recognises the determination of the two Governments to work with the political parties to continue to restore confidence and to rebuild political momentum;

—re-affirms the total and absolute commitment set out in the Agreement to ‘exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues' and in this context, calls for an end to all paramilitary and criminal activities;

—opposes any political move or initiative which would increase tensions between the two main traditions on this island, in light of the clear need to restore trust and confidence in the political process;

—supports efforts to reach out to all communities so that the peace process can move forward in a manner which leaves no one behind;

—condemns the ongoing sectarian attacks on both communities and calls on all political representatives to take a proactive stance on this issue;

—urges the authorities on both sides of the border to ensure that the full rigours of the law are used to counter those who engage in the destructive agenda of paramilitarism and sectarianism;

—calls on all parties to strengthen policing reforms and accountability by taking their places on the Policing Boards without further delay;

—notes the Seventh Report of the IMC and awaits the findings of the next IMC Report, due in January, to assess whether paramilitary groups have ceased paramilitary and criminal activity;

—calls on Sinn Féin to co-operate with the IMC;

—commends the on-going work of the North-South bodies and recognises in particular the potential benefits of all-island co-operation in the economic and social area;

—welcomes the continued and valued support of the President of the United States;

—notes the determination of the two Governments to intensify dialogue with all the Northern Ireland political parties; and

—expresses its full support for the ongoing efforts of the two Governments to bring to completion the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

Amendment put.

Deputies

Vótáil.

Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Ó Caoláin, Ó Snodaigh, Crowe,Morgan, Ferris, Gregory, Joe Higgins and Finian McGrath rose.

As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

Deputies

Vótáil.

Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Crowe, Ferris, Gregory, Joe Higgins, Finian McGrath, Morgan, Ó Caoláin and Ó Snodaigh rose.

As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 68 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Question declared carried.