Joint Declaration on Peace in Northern Ireland: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann endorses and supports the Joint Declaration on Peace issued by the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and Prime Minister John Major."

I welcome the Taoiseach to the House in this Christmas week and we are honoured to have him here for this important debate.

I am delighted to have the opportunity before the Christmas recess to speak on the Joint Declaration for Peace.

I am honoured to be in the Seanad, whose Members, I know, are deeply committed to the achievement of peace.

Senators have in their midst Senator Gordon Wilson, who lost his daughter in one of the most harrowing incidents of the entire Troubles, the massacre at Enniskillen in 1987. The dignity he showed, then and subsequently, gave a tremendous example to everyone, as did his advocacy of peace. His presence in this House is an acknowledgement and a symbol of the overwhelming desire throughout this island for peace without preconditions.

In any debates or discussions we may have on the establishment of peace, let us never forget the innocent victims on all sides, and also the continuing sorrow of their families and friends, which will mark them for the rest of their lives. But we should also be determined to ensure that there will be no more victims to mourn over.

Let us ask that while this Joint Declaration is being carefully considered there be no more loss of life, or injury, or destruction. Experience has shown over and over again that any act of violence is capable of causing major tragedy, and of setting off a chain reaction. There was a near miss only three days ago in Derry and more recently in Belfast. Few things are more poignant than needless loss of life, when peace is within our grasp.

The central idea behind the Peace Declaration is that the problems of Northern Ireland, however deep and intractable, however difficult to reconcile, have to be resolved exclusively by political and democratic means. The continuation of the Union, or the establishment of a sovereign united Ireland, in either case by agreement and consent, are matters to be determined democratically in the future by round table negotiation. The democratic path is open equally to either future. The Joint Delcaration is a charter for peace and democracy in the island of Ireland.

The violence which has left such deep scars on all sides can have no place in settling divisions between Irish people. This Declaration puts beyond all doubt that overcoming these divisions is now the only meaningful Nationalist agenda, since it is the task of winning consent all round, and not now the removal of any external impediment, which is necessary to realise the goals cherished by Nationalists.

Just as the political problems can only be solved over time, so also the many detailed security questions that will arise in the aftermath of a permanent cessation of violence cannot be settled at this stage. They will require detailed consideration and discussion, which can only take place, once violence has ceased.

Peace is a very simple but also a very powerful idea whose time has come. There are no strings attached. Peace, as I conceive it, was defined by Shakespeare thus:

A peace is of the nature of a conquest;

For then both parties nobly are subdued,

And neither party loser.

The Joint Declaration provides from everyone's point of view a noble means of establishing the first step towards lasting peace with justice in Ireland. It is a statement of principles, not a basis for negotiation. The next stage of negotiations can only come after peace has first been established.

We have to turn our backs on the zero-sum mentality, whereby Unionists can only gain when Nationalists lose, or vice versa. Nationalists should judge the Joint Declaration on its merits, and not on how Unionists react to it. Similarly, Unionists should judge it objectively, and not by the effect that it has on Nationalists. What we want to do is to create a future, where both communities gain, in place of the continuing violence, where they both continue to lose.

What I principally want to address today are hesitations about peace, from whatever side they come. The Joint Declaration recognises the legitimate aims of Irish nationalism, and shows how they can be achieved by dialogue and through the democratic process. There is no need for violence, as the Declaration makes clear. If that principle were accepted by everyone on the Nationalist side, there would be no excuse for violence in the other community.

It is claimed that the right of self-determination of the people of the island of Ireland, acknowledged by the British Government for the first time in this Declaration, is contradicted by the requirement of concurrent North-South consent. There is no such contradiction. I ask people to look at any country that has been partitioned this century, such as Germany, China, Korea, Yemen or Cyprus. They have been or could be peacefully reunited only by the two parts each deciding to come together. The exercise of self-determination, as envisaged in the Declaration, is therefore absolutely in keeping with international practice. It is also in keeping with the Joint Hume-Adams statement of 21 April 1993, when they said: "The exercise of self-determination is a matter for agreement between the people of Ireland".

The Irish Government would like to emphasise this. The Joint Declaration makes it very clear that its objective is to heal the divisions among the people of Ireland. It also makes clear that it is for the people of Ireland, North and South, to achieve such agreement without any outside impediment. The British Government has also declared that it will encourage, enable and facilitate such agreement, and that it will endorse whatever agreement emerges and take the necessary steps to implement it.

It is self-evident that such an agreement should offer no threat to any section of the people, and would have to have the allegiance and agreement of the people in both parts of Ireland. It follows from that, as both Governments have made clear, that it must have the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This respect for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland is freely given and totally in keeping with the principle of the exercise of self-determination by the divided people of this island.

The Joint Declaration does not explicitly refer to either Articles 2 or 3 or to the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. In reality, both are present in the Declaration.

As John Hume has said, this is the most comprehensive Declaration made by a British Government in 70 years. It reflects the positive spirit of much of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, in holding open the future achievement of a united Ireland by agreement, and by its positive encouragement of agreement between the people of Ireland, North and South. It envisages the creation of institutions and structures, which would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest, but, unlike the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the Joint Declaration envisages the possibility of not just a united Ireland but a sovereign united Ireland being achieved by agreement and consent. If that were to come about, it would involve, of course, the repeal of Article 75 of the Government of Ireland Act.

In paragraph 7 of the Joint Declaration, I speak, in the context of developing new relationships of trust, "of the time having come to consider how best the hopes and identities of all can be expressed in more balanced ways, which no longer engender division". I go on to confirm that "in the event of an overall settlement, the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland".

Without qualifying that commitment, I think it would be fair to say that I detect some division of opinion among Unionists of the value for them of pursuing this argument further, which has been aptly described as a "green herring". The point can be validly made that the articles have existed for over 50 years largely without notice. Certainly, the Provisional IRA never sought justification for their campaign in a Constitution, which they do not fully recognise to this day.

It is consistently overlooked that according to the Supreme Court the principle of consent enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement is eminently compatible with Articles 2, 3 and 29 of the Constitution. Northern Unionists may not fully appreciate that judicial interpretation, over the years, has enlarged and enriched the Constitution, as it has also done in the United States.

In virtue of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Irish Government is already bound by international law to act in accordance with the principle of consent. We are now also bound by solemn political commitments repeated many times in the course of this Declaration to pursue unity, only in a manner consistent with the principle of consent.

Consent is the bedrock of democracy. There was never at any stage, and this was well known to all, any possibility that the Irish Government, let alone the British Government, would be prepared to depart from or override the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The consent clause is not defined in terms of a veto for one community, but in terms of the wishes of a majority or a greater number of the people. That is and remains the formal position. But in the course of the Declaration I also recognise the reality, drawn from the lessons of history and especially of Northern Ireland, that stability and wellbeing will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it. I go on to say that, for that reason, it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

A major concern is that the requirement of consent so defined, which applies to constitutional change, but not to other forms of political progress, could lead to total political immobility. I believe these fears are groundless. The Declaration very clearly commits both Governments to promote co-operation at all levels between North and South. It also commits the British Government to achieve agreement among all people who inhabit the island, and "to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of such agreement over a period." They accept that such agreement may, as of right, take the form of agreed structures for the island as a whole, including a united Ireland, and they reaffirm as a binding obligation to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to this, or equally to any measure of agreement or future relationships in Ireland which the people living in Ireland may themselves freely so determine without external impediment. They also express the support of the people of Britain for agreement between the people of Ireland on how they may live together in harmony and in partnership with respect for their diverse traditions.

As Peter Temple-Morris, the British Co-Chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body has so aptly put it, the language of the Declaration quite clearly makes both Governments persuaders for agreement between the people of Ireland. But as I said in my Árd-Fheis speech, "people have democratic rights, and we cannot predetermine for them, without their consent, the political structures under which they will be governed." Nor can we impose an artificial time limit within which majority consent must be achieved. The dynamic for progress must reside in the full use of the democratic political process, in the underlying changes in Irish society, North and South, and in our external environment.

The Joint Declaration is in my view fully consistent with both the spirit and the substance of public statements of John Hume and Gerry Adams, but is of course much more broadly based, reflecting wide consultations which the Irish Government undertook with all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.

Acceptance of the Joint Declaration as a basis for a permanent cessation of violence is only the first stage in the Peace Process. We will then be free to give our undivided attention to the long overdue task of reshaping our relationships on the island through structures which match the current possibilities for progress, some of which have been obscured or stifled by the continued violence. In this next stage the Government would establish, in consultation with other parties, a forum for peace and reconciliation, to make recommendations on ways in which agreement and trust between both traditions of Ireland can be guaranteed and established. It would enable the democratic parties involved to consider how the momentum for peace could best be harnessed and consolidated.

The work done in the three-stranded talks process last year has, I believe, the potential for significant further development in conditions of peace. The talks have already been through the preliminary stage of enabling each tradition to define for the other the positions which must be reconciled in a lasting settlement. Through those talks all sides have already accepted the need "to achieve a new beginning for relationships" between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South and between the two islands. It would, I think, be widely accepted that the North-South relationship or, more accurately, that between unionism and nationalism on this island, lies at the heart of the search for lasting agreement.

With the Declaration as our starting point, and the momentum of peace to carry us forward, we could return to the table for inclusive and far-reaching negotiations and with greatly enhanced prospects of success. We could hope to create new structures and arrangements to reflect both the recognition of Nationalist rights enshrined in the Declaration and the principle of consent, which guarantees Unionists, in turn, that the future they are invited to share will always be based on unforced and ungrudging respect from the nationalist tradition for their rights, identity and ethos.

These structures could channel and give expression to the dynamic of new relationships already inherent in the changing circumstances in Northern Ireland and between North and South. They could be the vehicle for new developments in North-South co-operation, particularly in the economic field, where there is so much unrealised potential. They could reflect also the new realities which flow from the development of European Union, which is changing fundamentally the nature and context both of North-South and British-Irish relationships. It is progressively dissolving barriers on this island to the point that the checkpoints created for security purposes are now almost the only tangible reminder of a border the traveller meets on a journey between North and South. I believe peace is the key which unlocks this potential for positive change in a way that will benefit everyone living on this island and advance very significantly the prospects of a lasting political settlement.

Next month, the Irish Government is due to consider in depth whether to renew section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. Irrespective of present events, it had always been intended that that decision would be considered on its merits and in the light of the prevailing security situation at the time.

The most important priority for all parties will be to consolidate the peace process and to build public confidence in a lasting peace. Everyone has a responsibility in this. The solution of many difficult security issues will need to take place in an atmosphere of confidence-building on all sides. The Irish Government will play an important role in this, both in our jurisdiction, and in the context of the Anglo-Irish Conference. Our approach will be enlightened and pragmatic. We will advocate and support whatever measures can most quickly contribute to healing divisions and putting the legacy of the past 25 years behind us for ever as quickly as possible. In this area, as in every other area, a balanced approach will be essential. The qualities of justice and prudence as well as the spirit of reconciliation and mutual forgiveness between communities must all be present.

I welcome the positive response the Declaration has received from so many quarters North and South and from so many political leaders and friends of Ireland around the world. John Hume has played a particularly crucial role in the development of this peace initiative over the past five years. But James Molyneaux and John Alderdice have also played a vital and constuctive role in making this initiative possible together with many church and community leaders. There are few, if any precedents, for the degree of cross-community political support that this initiative has received. An opinion poll here showed that 97 per cent of the public favoured peace on foot of the Joint Declaration. The initiative has also received worldwide backing from the European Union, from the US President and many other Governments from India to Australia. Everyone wants to see this conflict come to an end.

The elements necessary for a decision are all there, but it may take time to form a view that will command a consensus. Space should be allowed, provided that people are not being killed.

There are dangers and no advantages to be gained from unduly extended or prolonged deliberation. The principles are clear. Negotiations will follow peace. None of us can ensure that the course of events will allow the present opportunity to be held open indefinitely. Opportunity comes to pass, and not to pause. The people of this country are impatient to move ahead to a much more positive stage, where real constructive work can begin on reconciling the two traditions.

The Joint Declaration is a charter for peace. I hope that it will soon be accepted by all on that basis, so that the real process of building a just and lasting peace can begin.

First, let me welcome the Taoiseach to the House. This is an important debate at a very important time in the history of the country. By any measure the Downing Street Declaration is a major achievement. In particular it is a tribute to the two Prime Ministers and to the hard work and persistence of all those involved. It is a wise document because it is not a threatening document, or it should not be so. For the Unionists, the Declaration does not breach the Republic of Ireland Act, 1949 which guarantees the continuance of the Union. Nor does it breach the Anglo Irish Agreement which ensured that no change would take place without the consent of a majority. In the Declaration each of these aspects is recognised and neither is threatened. The Official Unionist Party has recognised this fact. Unfortunately, Dr. Paisley still seems to have his own agenda. From a Nationalist point of view the agreement gives Sinn Fein a chance to come in from the cold, a chance to have its aspirations accepted as a legitimate political objective and a chance to win its point by persuasion and by politics.

However, nobody should exaggerate the importance or significance of where we now are. We are really only beginning the hard and difficult work. There was euphoria last week which was based on hope and relief as much as anything else, but behind the euphoria of last week there must be the realisation that we are merely at the beginning of a process; we probably have not even yet entered the framework through which real progress can be made. It is a very delicate balance. A great deal can go wrong. There are many who will do what they can to ensure that things do go wrong. This process has some very powerful enemies. One had only to listen to the television news yesterday evening to see this. We saw Dr. Paisley thundering about treason and poison; we saw the same old hatred, the same destructive fury about to be unleashed again. Yesterday too we heard Mr. Adams making demands which neither Government could or should accept. I am happy to say that neither Government did accept the demands made by Mr. Adams last evening. Sinn Féin is not a sovereign Government; it is not yet a normal political party. It has the opportunity to become a normal political party but there is still a long way to go on that.

Also last evening on the television news we saw evidence that the prize of peace is infinitely worth striving for. We saw the bereaved widows and the orphans of some of those who were murdered in the North. Their meeting with our President yesterday was moving beyond words. We saw Cathy Mahon whose father was gunned down for no other reason than that he was a Catholic. We saw the young Lavery child whose father was shot while the child was on his knee, again for no reason. We saw the mother of that child and heard of her heartbreak. We heard her saying how quickly and easily people forget the victims of this conflict once the funerals are over. On television last night we saw the tears and the sheer waste and all the people in the North have had to endure these past 25 years. That is why I rejoice that both Governments have made peace their first and overriding priority.

This morning the Taoiseach stressed the constitutional and political developments which are possible within the process but we must never forget that the enormous difficulties are as much psychological as they are political or constitutional. We, the politicians of the Republic, are not trusted by large numbers of people and the politicians of Northern Ireland. It may be unfair but it is a fact and it is a powerful barrier to speedier progress. The reality is that for all political parties here consent is at the core of their Northern policy. The reality is that a very large majority of people here do not much care what sort of political system operates in Northern Ireland so long as it is acceptable to both communities there. That is the truth.

Peace is our priority and we can live with any political system which has the acceptance of the majority of the two communities in Northern Ireland. But how do we persuade the people of Northern Ireland of our bona fides in this matter? There is no easy way. There are all the ordinary ways of talk, of dialogue, of taking care about what we say, that there is no triumphalism, no "closing time" Republicanism, no talk which can threaten or inflame the situation in Northern Ireland and also, perhaps, a little less complacency among ourselves about the need to make changes, the speed of change and the need to give a lead in making change.

There is one inescapable fact about the present process, that any lasting settlement must be underwritten and made effective by the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. That is why nothing we do should be allowed to undermine the leaders of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland in any way. The process will stand or fall in Northern Ireland, not here and not in London. If it cannot work in Northern Ireland then it will not work. If it is to work in Northern Ireland the constitutional parties must be given every support to help it do so. In particular we must encourage the Constitutional parties to get back to their negotiations.

A great deal of progress was made in the Strands I, II and III talks which ended last year. A great deal of progress has been made since then in the discussions with the Northern Minister, Michael Ancram, far greater perhaps than is realised, and it is time that that progress and that work was exploited and built upon not least because if the process fails the burden will be ever greater on the shoulders of the constitutional parties. If the paramilitaries do not avail of the opportunity, if the peace process should fail — there is nothing inevitable about its success — then we must be certain that the constitutional parties have not been weakened in the entire process.

There is an enormous responsibility on the business and the professional classes in Northern Ireland to actively support the peace process and the constitutional parties. For too long the middle classes in Northern Ireland have opted out in comfort, taken the benefits and put very little back into their communities. Now is their real test. The politicians are trying to achieve peace. The Church leaders are leading selflessly and nobly in their efforts to achieve peace. The community groups are also working hard to bring about peace, understanding and reconciliation. Now it is up to the business and professional classes in Northern Ireland to throw their weight and support fully behind the peace process.

I am sorry the debate has to be truncated, but I realise many people want to contribute. I want to make two brief points. No Government has ever got such co-operation from the Opposition in regard to this issue. There have been no hand trips or ambushes. The support and co-operation has been straightforward because we all recognise the importance of the peace process for the country and for our future. However, that support is also symbolic. It is important that the world should see that within our Parliament and our people there is unity of purpose on this issue. The Taoiseach must also be generous in regard to this issue. There must be consultation and involvement, not least to prevent misunderstandings which could so easily sour into differences which, in turn, could become irreconcilable. Having regard to the histories of the Opposition parties, their experience in the process in the past, their views and relationships with parties in Northern Ireland, they have a contribution to make. A wise Taoiseach would recognise this point and make use of it.

The Taoiseach mentioned the proposed forum. However, he did not elaborate to any great extent other than what he said in regard to it in the other House. The notion of the forum is still vague. I sound a warning note about the proposed forum. If it is merely a Nationalist forum, it will not be worth having. It could be counterproductive and increase the differences between the two communities. If the Taoiseach is considering the New Ireland Forum as a model for the proposed forum, I urge him to think again. I was a member of the New Ireland Forum and that was an enriching experience. However, the New Ireland Forum was slow moving, cumbersome and open to being hijacked as, indeed, it was at the end of its days. It may not be the best model to follow. We cannot afford delay in respect of lengthy talks going nowhere. Direct negotiations may be more effective.

I have had an opportunity to speak on the subject in a superficial way. We commend what the Taoiseach is doing and are happy to lend our support to this motion. We remind him and the House that the euphoria should not blind us to the fact that we are at a beginning and no further, but we wish the Taoiseach well in the peace process.

I thank the Leader for accommodating me by allowing me to speak early in the debate as I have to go up North very shortly to accept an invitation which I cannot refuse. I apologise for my absence to those Members who will be speaking later in the debate. I do not have any fancy words, I speak simply and from my heart. Since I came here the Taoiseach has given me all types of support and backup, but he has not given me the services of a speech writer. I shall talk to him about this after Christmas.

I listened with keen interest to the Taoiseach and I thank him for his kind personal words to me. I thank the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and their team for keeping their promise that the Government would keep Northern Ireland and peace there at the top of its agenda. It has kept that promise. I thank the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and their team also for producing, with the British Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and their team the Joint Declaration of the two sovereign Governments. I fully support it and will encourage it. It seems to be fair and openhanded and, above all, honest. It does not claim to be the ultimate solution. One does not solve in seven pages of typescript on one day a 300 years old problem. However, it provides a framework, a new beginning, for achieving peace. There is something for everyone in the Declaration. No one can win all or lose all. I feel no less British and no less Irish because of it. It provides an opportunity to communicate in a situation where there is so much to gain and so much to lose. Nevertheless, its reception in Northern Ireland has not been as euphoric as in the Republic. I understand the apprehension of folk in Northern Ireland. They have lived and died under the bomb and the bullet for 25 years. They say to me, "who can you trust? Who does not want peace"? For example, I trust the four Church leaders, the Cardinal, the Archbishop, the Moderator and the President of the Methodist Church. If they can commend it, so can I. I welcome and support Mr. Molyneaux's acceptance of the Declaration which shows enormous courage on his part. Above all, it is the moment of truth for Sinn Féin and the IRA. Have they the courage to accept this offer? Will they see it as their best chance to find another and a better way? I hope and pray that will be the case. I would not want to threaten them or my words to be seen as a threat. However, the world will not easily forgive them if we have another dead policeman, a lady of 93 dies as a result of being put out of her home in the middle of the night, a dead child, or a 20 year old student nurse or a town centre wrecked. To the men of violence I appeal from the bottom of my heart, for God's sake, for Ireland's sake, for the sake of the Marie Wilsons of this world, their own dead, on the grounds of common humanity and a little of God's love in their hearts to lay down their arms now. It is the season of peace and goodwill. We have been singing and will sing carols, including one by Charles Wesley, and I make no apology for quoting him. The two lines of his carol that leap out of the page at me and have done during the past week are as follows, "Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled."

It is a humbling experience to speak after someone like Senator Wilson. I would like to share my time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is a humbling experience, particularly considering the simple dignity of those words. On this historic occasion it is important to pay tribute to the statemanship demonstrated by the Taoiseach. We are all extremely proud of the delicate and sensitive way in which he has handled the negotiations, in which he has been ably supported by the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring.

I wish to take up one of the points made by Senator Gordon Wilson, that is involvement of the Churches, which is important. I speak as a member of the reformed Church in the South of Ireland and I frequently visit the North. One thing I make it my business to do when speaking to meetings of my constituents in the graduate university of Dublin and to business people and professional groups is to make the point that people who are not of the majority tradition in this part of the country have an easy and pleasant life. As a member of the Church of Ireland it is possible to play a full, active and positive role in the politics and in the social, cultural and intellectual life of this country. There is little for my co-religionists in the North to be afraid of. Groups such as the Church of Ireland which are organised on a 32 county basis, although they have a preponderance in the North, have a significant presence, as the largest non-Catholic Church, in the South. It is important that they, as an all Ireland institution, make their position very clear to fellow members of the Church of Ireland in the North. They should indicate that there is nothing sinister or threatening in the Republic of Ireland.

I say this particularly because some voices of the non-Catholic tradition have been strident in this regard, particularly the Reverend Ian Paisley who bears great responsibility for the events that have taken place in the last 25 years. I remember when there were practical and pragmatic people in the North, people such as Terence O'Neill and Brian Faulkner, but each time such strand emerged in northern unionism it was nipped in the bud by the Reverend Ian Paisley and violence escalated as a result.

I would like to turn to the question of Articles 2 and 3, which was addressed by the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach indicated, for example, that while the Joint Declaration does not explicitly refer to Articles 2 and 3, they are included by implication. He went on to say:

It is consistently overlooked that according to the Supreme Court the principle of consent enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement is eminently compatible with Articles 2, 3 and 29 of the Constitution. Northern Unionists may not fully appreciate that judicial interpretation, over the years, has enlarged and enriched the Constitution, as it has also done in the United States.

That is very true, but from a Unionist point of view some of those enlargements and interpretations have been significantly worrying, particularly the decision in the McGimpsey case and other cases which appeared to place Articles 2 and 3 in a far more aggressive position than they had been previously understood to hold, that is, that Articles 2 and 3 constitute a constitutional imperative and that in certain circumstances a political justification may be entered for crimes of terrorism.

These are deeply worrying matters to the Unionist community in the North. It is time we considered this aspect. It is moral, correct and appropriate that we do so, not just because we are looking up at the North, although we have to take that into account. This Government certainly could sell a change in Articles 2 and 3. It would be foolish to suggest that we can abandon our own people in the North or increase their sense of insecurity, but surely we could do what a number of us have been suggesting for many years, that is, amend Articles 2 and 3 by inserting a form of words along the lines that in any attempt to realise this aspiration the use of violence shall be prohibited.

The Senator's time has expired.

It was 11 o'clock on the Wednesday of 12 July when the phone rang in my home; it was my cousin, Leo, ringing to tell me that my brother-in-law had been shot dead and asking me to go to my sister, as I did half an hour later, to tell her that her husband and the father of her seven children had been killed by a gunman's bullet in Portadown just one hour earlier. Her first words were "Two year old John will never know his daddy".

I was very touched by the words of the Taoiseach when he said that few things are more poignant than the needless loss of life. I speak as one of many families in this country, with the bitter experience of needless death. I wish to make a plea today for a period of silence. We should realise that to move forward from where we are now will involve discussion with Sinn Féin, directly or indirectly, and with the paramilitaries on both sides. It is vital that this part of the process does not take place in public, as has been the case in the past week.

It was right that the Downing Street Declaration take place in public so that everybody would know where both Governments stood and what point they had reached. We have all been rather naive, as I have been, to expect that all that was needed was a matching public statement from Sinn Féin and the IRA and that peace would be delivered within days. Since it is now very clear that that will not happen we should realise that what is needed is to put the veil back into its place. It would be totally unproductive to engage in a public debate with the IRA and their proxies. That is not the way to make progress but is the way to go backwards.

When people communicate through the media they are speaking to their own constituents, not to the other side. Public debate on an issue like this leads to a hardening of positions rather than a movement in those positions. In addition, what public negotiation has to offer the IRA is a massive gain in credibility. We have gone quite far enough in that direction already. We should not go further until there are some visible and tangible concessions from their side of the fence. What we, the ordinary people of Ireland, should do now is lower our expectations. We should stop holding our breath and try to get on with the rest of our lives for a little longer. If we demand instant results and if we demand that the process continues in the full light of day we will be disappointed in the end. We may see our hopes for an end to the violence evaporate because we pushed too hard and sought to move too fast. There is a time for talking in public and a time for taking action behind the scenes. This is not a time for megaphone diplomacy; it is a time for sadness.

I understand the Taoiseach has other engagements this morning and has stayed a little longer than anticipated. Before he goes I sincerely thank him on behalf of all the Senators and on my own behalf for his commitment and dedication in search of peace. I know he hopes this evening to take a well deserved Christmas break. I wish the Taoiseach, his wife, Kathleen, and their family a very happy and enjoyable Christmas.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I also take this opportunity of wishing everybody a happy and peaceful Christmas. Nollaig shona, faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

Any words that follow the statements made here this morning by the Taoiseach and Senator Gordon Wilson would be absolutely superfluous. We have heard two powerful statements from men of peace, and the Taoiseach has to be acknowledged as a man of peace. I have spoken to some friends in the past number of days, one of whom said that a quantum leap has been made towards the achievement of peace on this island. That comment was made by a member of the Protestant community who feels there is a place on this island for him and for everyone else regardless of which denomination they belong to. The Joint Peace Declaration is a charter for peace. It will not solve all the problems associated with violence on this island, it is not the beginning of the end of violence but it is the beginning of a process towards the achievement of peace.

We have been touched this morning by the personal experiences of Members on both sides of the House. Most Members have been affected to some extent by the violence in the North of Ireland. A friend of mine, an exceptional person, was killed at the top of a hill on the road into Newry. The people travelling in that car, who were in a euphoric mood after an England-Ireland rugby match in Dublin, heard the noise of bullets and after the driver had pulled into his driveway his wife said to him that she thought she had been shot. Having said that, she died.

The people on this island demand peace. Politicians cannot achieve peace. It is only the people who use guns who can bring about peace — if they lay down their guns we will have peace. If there is such a thing as people power on this island then it should take over and tell these men of violence that they are no longer needed or wanted, if they ever were. The peace process which has been started by the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Hurd and all those involved in the process have to be admired for the chance they are giving to this generation and future generations in Northern Ireland to live in a peaceful society, a necessity for all people. The people of the North can now aspire to getting on with their lives in a peaceful society. These aspirations should not be hampered by the men or women of violence. We should remember when we talk about violent people they can be of both sexes.

In the past Irish politicians have been looked upon by people in the North of both persuasions as the godfathers of violent men. I think it has now been proven that we in the South do not wish to rule over the people of the North but rather we want to live with them on this island in a peaceful manner. The British and Irish Governments have gone a long way in negotiating the Joint Peace Declaration, which embodies the central ideal in the resolution of all the problems in regard to the North. This declaration of principle is very important.

Anything said after the remarks of the Taoiseach and Senator Gordon Wilson is superfluous. I hope that peace will ensue from the excellent beginning which has been made in this Joint Peace Declaration. I ask everyone on this island over the next days and weeks to pray to whatever God they believe in for peace to ensue as a result of this declaration.

I thank the Leader of the House for ensuring that this debate took place. I also thank the Taoiseach for coming into the House to make this statement in what should be a quiet and peaceful week for him. Over past weeks he has enhanced the office of Taoiseach and I wish him well in his endeavours in the future.

I think it is the first time in 12 years that I have seen such extraordinary unanimity not only in this House but also in the Dáil and among all democrats on this island on any issue. It is very encouraging that there has not been in this House, nor, I gather, in the Dáil, a single dissenting voice on this Declaration. That is something on which we will have to build. It is also something about which we should be aware because it is probably unique.

We should sound a word of warning about what has been happening since the Joint Peace Declaration. To echo Senator Quinn's words, it would be better for the progress of peace if there was a period of relative silence by all the politicians on this island. I accept that it is too much to expect them to be completely silent on an issue of such magnitude, but it is dangerous to have seen what amounts to public negotiations between the Provisional IRA and the Irish and British Governments during the last week. We have seen what amounts to a shopping list from Mr. Adams expressed in the media. We have got into the very thorny realm of an amnesty and the very difficult realm of section 31. We have even started talking about the handing over of arms by the Provisional IRA. It will do nothing for the peace process if Mr. Adams makes demands and the Taoiseach or Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs responds to them in the media. This simply lifts Mr. Adams to a status which he does not yet merit. As Senator Manning so rightly said, we have to remember that Sinn Féin is not a normal political party yet and that while this tremendous enthusiasm for and euphoria about peace exists people are still being killed on the streets of Derry and Belfast. It was Dr. Joe Hendron who courageously and correctly last night pointed out the total hypocrisy of the IRA in carrying on what it calls a peace process while it is still killing British soldiers, civilians or anyone who gets in their way. We must not fall into the trap at this very sensitive and delicate time of elevating the IRA to a status which it does not deserve.

I should like to make one or two points about the Unionist community. I completely agree with all those people who have said so emphatically that Mr. Molyneaux has shown great courage. I do not think people in this part of Ireland appreciate the enormous difficulties which Unionist politicians have with a document of this sort. A great number of Unionist politicians see this document, even in its mildest form, as deeply threatening. The courage which has been shown by them in not denouncing it, which would have been the easy way out for them, but rather holding the line as far as they can has to be recognised by us and we must not upset it. We must never allow what happened in Dublin Castle in November 1992, where Unionists' fears and proposals were treated in a totally dismissive and wrong fashion, to happen again. We must be aware that a proposal for what is termed a forum for peace and reconciliation is unlikely to be helpful if it is a pan-nationalist forum, as were the forums in 1984 and 1985. The unionists must be included in such a forum and we must be sensitive to their fears. Every move we make must be appreciative of the deep distrust which they hold for the Republic.

We should acknowledge that there has been a sea change of opinion in the South in acknowledging the fears of the Unionists in Northern Ireland. In recent years people in the South have begun to appreciate that Unionists are not monsters. This view has been ably and generously reflected in the Joint Peace Declaration.

I wish to share my time with Senator Magner.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This document is a framework for peace, an enabling document which is not threatening and is all embracing. It embraces the principle of consent. The British Government declares that it has no strategic interest in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government declares that it is willing to put the principle of consent and Articles 2 and 3 — although they are not specified in the document — to the people of Ireland in an overall settlement context. These two principles contained in the document remove the fear felt by many people living in Northern Ireland for a very long time. In that way it is an enabling document and it offers an opportunity for peace in a way that did not exist previously. The document has been drawn up as a result of a huge amount of work that was done beforehand. If those weeks of discussions had not taken place this document could not have been the framework for peace that it is. We must acknowledge the work that was done in the weeks leading up to the Joint Declaration as well as the work that now must be done in the weeks following it.

The document offers an opportunity for peace, particularly to those who have been involved in violence. What we must do as democratically elected politicians is reach out to the people of violence and ask them to grasp the opportunity for peace. It is their opportunity for peace as well as ours. We must ask them to listen to people who have direct experience of violence in their lives. We must ask the terrorists to think about the thousands of people who have died in Northern Ireland and what it means to a family to lose a loved member of that family. They must think of their own humanity and not in terms which do not allow them to see the humanity of the people on the other side. That is the opportunity for peace that must be grasped by those people who would not have sought peace before in the way that those of us who have not been so directly involved have sought it. We must reach out to those who have to join the democratic process.

We must acknowledge also that this Joint Declaration has been supported on all sides. It has been supported by the Opposition parties here as well as in Britain. We have been dwelling a lot on what is happening here but we must also acknowledge the courage of the British Government and the British Opposition for their part in this Joint Declaration. We must acknowledge also the support of leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland such as Jim Molyneaux, John Hume and John Alderdice.

The work ahead will not be easy. It is a week since the Joint Declaration was signed and we now must be patient, tolerant and, above all, we must trust one another in the crucial weeks ahead. It will not be easy, it will be demanding and it will involve much detail and a great deal of trust. This work must be carried out in an atmosphere where there will be no attempt to be the winner. We must work in a spirit of no winners and no losers and, above all in a spirit of trust and co-operation. The onus is on all of us to reach out in that way, to feel our own humanity and to feel the humanity of the people who have not always agreed with us and to work for peace in that framework.

There are many people who wish to contribute to this debate so I will not delay the House. I had the privilege of being present at the onset of talks between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party and it was obvious from that very first meeting that Northern Ireland would occupy a priority position in the event of the formation of a Government and that they were determined to tackle the problem of violence on the island.

I would praise the courage of Unionists such as James Molyneaux but I would praise also the courage of two rural Deputies, one who is Taoiseach and the other who is Tánaiste. It is not easy coming from rural Longford or rural Kerry to carry the particular torch they have carried before the Declaration and since. I applaud their courage for doing so.

I wish to refer also to Senator Quinn's contribution. As always, it contained real gems of wisdom. Silence is golden in this case. The Arab-Israeli conflict was not settled on the West Bank but in Norway. I have every reason to believe that the ANC-South African Government negotiations were as much part of the New York scene as they were of Johannesburg or elsewhere. It is vital also that the question of surrendering arms and the question of prisoners should not be the subject of public debate at this time. That is only building obstacles, not removing them. These are matters for another day.

I wish to applaud not just the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil but also the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and the Independents all of whom, by their example, in this House, have set the tone for what hopefully will be the road to peace in this island.

I wish to share my time with Senator Mary Henry.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In the Taoiseach's presentation today he outlined again his views of the future. He talked about new structures, using old structures and he mentioned one structure in particular, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. That must be extended to involve the people outside the political process also. The forum should represent all shades of opinion on all sides of each community. We must hear the voices of the people on the street. I believe the next step should be to tie in the Government's hopes and aspirations with the people on the ground. My concern is that the people of the Falls and the Shankill are not aware of what is happening at State level. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Government have done excellent work but it is now time to bring in the ordinary people also.

I echo what many other Senators have said about the fact that great progress has been made and great courage shown by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste during the past year. The priority given to Northern Ireland by the Government was essential. The remarks of Senator Magner, Senator Quinn and Senator Ross regarding the negotiations not taking place in the media are very important. We cannot praise too highly the courage of all those involved but particularly the Northern Unionists who have supported the Declaration. These include James Molyneaux, John Alderdice, Chris McGimpsey and indeed members of the SDLP who have not been mentioned such as Joe Hendron who shares a constituency with Gerry Adams and who has played such a courageous role in that area for a number of years.

An important point which was raised by Senator Manning is the fact that middle class and professional people have been able to comfortably opt out of the problems in Northern Ireland. They now must come forward and play their part.

In regard to the forum, I do not see why it must be fixed in Dublin. This forum, which is really spiritual at the moment, will hopefully become a physical entity. Let us hope that the Unionists can be persuaded to take part in it. If it should take place in our ecclesiastical capital, Armagh, I would hope that the Government would support that decision.

As a doctor I am naturally proud of the tradition of medicine in this whole island. I never want to experience again what I experienced 20 years ago when I attended a Surgical Research Society meeting in London. Two young surgical registrars from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast presented a paper on 82 cases of reconstruction of the knee joint following knee capping. I wonder how many more knee caps were reconstructed in the past 20 years. I want to see progress in a different field of medicine and in other areas also.

As I watched the press conference in London it became apparent to me that there was a certain rapport between the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. It seemed clear to me also that they were intelligent men who were sincere, determined and, above all, courageous. The displayed great courage because they were asking us to do something which would be difficult at any time in life — but particularly in political life — not to change what we believed, but to change in our openness to each other, to take a look at the other person's point of view. Great credit must redound on both these men.

Credit is also due to the Tánaiste for his work. I know perhaps a little more than some Members of the negotiations and their wide range. Many unsung heroes have also contributed in their own way. I should like to give particular credit to John Hume and Gerry Adams who also displayed a particular kind of courage. Anybody who knows the North of Ireland will know that they were not worried about losing a seat; they were perhaps worried about losing their lives.

Above all credit is due to the Taoiseach because, without his tenacity and perseverance, we might not have had this Joint Declaration before Christmas.

I will not engage in an analysis of the Joint Declaration. It asks us to reflect, which is what we should do. Anybody who will have heard me speak here before will realise that I come from a gaelic, nationalist background or perspective. There is enough in this document to give me hope that we can have peace on this island through peaceful means.

There has been a general movement worldwide toward peace in recent times. For example, in the Holy Land, the terra sante, it was obvious to the Palestinians that they could not get back all they had lost and, to the Israelis, that they could not keep them in camps forever. Therefore, they compromised. Members know as well as I do that there may not be peace there today or even next year, but it will come eventually, a great beginning has been made and the world has asked that we give it a chance. Similarly, in the case of South Africa, who would have thought a few years ago that Mr. Mandela and President De Klerk would have received the Nobel Peace Prize? People had been oppressed for centuries in South Africa, again a great beginning has been struck there and the world has asked that we give it a chance.

Similarly in our land, which has been troubled not merely for 25 or 70 years but for 800 years, the Prime Minister of a country that oppressed us for so long has met the Taoiseach and a very significant beginning has been made. I do not believe that peace will come today or tomorrow — although I hope it does — it may not come for a year, but this beginning deserves a chance. I appeal to all Christians, particularly in Northern Ireland, because I know of no Jews, Hindus or Buddhists involved in the fight, to lay down their arms. I have met Christians from each extreme who pray on Sunday and shoot on Monday. As Senator Wilson said, at this time of peace no better birthday present could one offer Christ, no better Christmas present could one offer one's neighbour than the gift of peace.

I ask all Members to support this Joint Declaration so that at least a start can be made. An expression is used by a certain section of the population — tiocfaidh ár lá — all Members know what that means. I hope, when that day comes, that it will have been through peaceful means. I support this Joint Declaration, it is a good document; I think everybody else should do likewise.

I propose to share my time with Senators Honan and Sherlock.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senators have ten minutes between them.

The Progressive Democrats welcome the Joint Declaration. We regard it as balanced and even-handed between the two communities in Northern Ireland in terms of their political rights, identities and aspirations. The Joint Declaration marks acceptance of the principle set out in Article 1 of the Anglo Irish Agreement, that the status of Northern Ireland can be changed only by agreement and never by violence.

Members of this House have had an opportunity to reflect on the contents of the Joint Declaration for the past week. That interval has been beneficial and the initial reaction that the declaration is fair and balanced has been reinforced during that interval.

The response of the vast majority of constitutional politicians in the Republic, in Northern Ireland and in Britain has been encouraging. However, one central element in the peace process remains unresolved. The declaration protects the rights and aspirations of both traditions on this island but its success is dependent on a permanent cessation of violence. When we condemned the massacre on the Shankill Road, the killings in Greysteel and other killings, I made the point that the peace process should begin with a cessation of violence, rather than a cessation of violence being the result of the peace process.

Then, and in the intervening week, the message from Seanad Éireann has been consistent. We have said to the men and women of violence on both sides that they must put away their bombs, guns and bullets. This message has been repeated and we shall continue to repeat it for as long as necessary. The Joint Declaration opens the door to those who have resorted to political terror and murder to take up the challenge of the democratic peaceful process on the basis of a renunciation of violence. The focus now rests firmly where it belongs. It is now up to the so called republican movement to decide whether it wishes to continue with fruitless loss of life. The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have the support of both Houses of the Oireachtas in refusing to participate in direct talks with Sinn Féin until the violence has ended.

The Joint Declaration is clear and explicit. It has been clarified by the Taoiseach this morning to any degree necessary. Stalling tactics of the nature we have witnessed on the part of Sinn Féin should be seen for what they are and there should not be any question of considering an amnesty for people convicted of murder. Coercion can never lead to consent. The challenge now to Sinn Féin and people of violence is whether they are prepared to work for, rather than to kill for, their objective. It takes courage to be a constitutional politician in Northern Ireland. It has taken even greater courage on the parts of Messrs. Molyneaux and Alderdice and the other constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland who have responded in the manner they have to the Joint Declaration. That courage must be recognised and supported by both Governments. The solidarity of political parties in the Republic is an important element in giving that support.

We are still some way from gaining the ultimate prize of peace but the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, with the support of both Houses of the Oireachtas and the British Parliament, have taken a huge stride towards achieving that objective. It is our wish to proceed to a peaceful, stable future, one which will allow the people of this island to realise their true potential.

On behalf of Democratic Left, it is generally recognised that the Downing Street Joint Declaration possibly offers a unique opportunity to secure peace and promote political progress in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it probably offers the best prospect of peace we have had for more than 20 years. If this opportunity is spurned by the paramilitary groups, the prospects for the people of Northern Ireland will be bleak indeed.

The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the British Prime Minister and their entire backup teams are fully entitled to the praise they received for a remarkable achievement. It was always possible to come up with a declaration acceptable to either the Nationalists or the Unionists but the challenge confronting those involved in the talks was to devise a declaration broadly acceptable, not merely in Northern Ireland but in the Republic and Britain. It would appear they have achieved that objective and that there are grounds for some cautious optimism. The Joint Declaration has been generally welcomed by the media, trade unions, business organisations and, most importantly, the people on the ground.

Mr. Gerry Adams should note the findings of the opinion poll published on Saturday last, showing that 97 per cent of people in the Republic of Ireland want the IRA to respond to the Joint Declaration by declaring an immediate end to violence. It is now clearer than ever that the Provisional IRA have no mandate for a single further act of violence. Indeed to call a temporary ceasefire and then resume the killing after Christmas would be to thumb their noses, once again, at the will of the people. If they continue to ignore public opinion Mr. Adams may find that their little electoral support will be whittled away, when they will face demands from an increasingly angry public for stronger security measures to be taken against them.

Time is precious and the unique climate over the past week will not last indefinitely. Therefore, it is vital that the momentum for peace be maintained. We have always believed that the two Governments cannot impose a political settlement on the people of Northern Ireland. Both Governments have done a good job in devising a framework on which political progress can be built and they should take all possible steps to encourage the rapid reopening of talks between the political parties in the North of Ireland.

I too welcome the opportunity afforded Members of this House to support and endorse the Joint Declaration on peace issued by the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister, Mr. Major. It represents an historic opportunity for peace. As my colleague, Senator Dardis said, its contents are fair and balanced. At the core of that balance is the recognition that there can be no change in the current status of Northern Ireland as long as that is the democratic wish of the greater number of people there.

On the other hand, the British Government have made it clear that if and when a majority of the people in Northern Ireland wish to leave the Union and agree to some form of unity they will fully facilitate them.

Last Wednesday when the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister were giving their press conference many other Members of this House and I watched it on television in Buswell's Hotel at a meeting organised by our colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, on behalf of the Glencree Reconciliation Centre. The guest speaker at that meeting was Mr. Chris McGimpsey of the Official Unionist Party. During his address he told us he was only 16 years of age when the troubles started in the North. He now has sons who are older than he was at that time. He believes that his generation and the next deserve better than the life they have had over those years. He certainly did not want to look forward to a future where his grandchildren would be living in the same type of Northern Ireland.

The difficulty for us in the Republic is that for many years we did not understand the way the ordinary people had to live their lives in the North, as Senator Gordon Wilson said, under the fear of the bomb and the bullet. This is changing and I welcome that change. Senator Lanigan referred to the men of violence and qualified it saying he also included the women and that violence was not a gender issue. I look to the women, as many people have now done, to lead the peace. Deputy Austin Currie on the television programme "Questions and Answers" on Monday night last made that very point. Also our President, Mary Robinson, made that point yesterday when the wives and mothers of victims of both communities in Northern Ireland, as well as mothers and wives of prisoners in Northern Ireland, visited her. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan when she said that the men of violence must look to humanity on the other side of the fence. The families are the real victims in Northern Ireland. It is fine for us in the South to condemn the atrocities but we can get on with the rest of our lives. These people have to live with their loss this Christmas and every Christmas, as Mary Robinson said yesterday. They are yearning for peace. I ask the men of violence and the paramilitaries on both sides to listen to people like Senator Gordon Wilson, whom I regard as extraordinary. Their courage, forgiveness and generosity are an example to us all.

I should like to pay tribute to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the British Prime Minister, both their teams, and to their predecessors who have brought the process so far. I also pay tribute to the responsible response so far of the Official Unionist leader, James Molyneaux, and those who are under severe pressure from Dr. Paisley and the DUP. I also pay tribute to Mr. John Hume, Mr. John Alderdice and all democratic politicians in the North. I hope the men of violence will listen and read this Declaration and that the peace which everybody yearns for will be realised through this new beginning.

At the outset I should say that my comments will be brief. I wish to endorse the viewpoints expressed by all Members in the House. The Joint Declaration represents a quest for peace and it is the blueprint for the future process of peace. At this juncture I should like to congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the British Prime Minister. I should like to quote John F. Kennedy:

We stand today on the edge of a new frontier but the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer people but what I intend to ask of them.

That is very relevant today because we are all being asked to make a sacrifice, to make a compromise and to accommodate a differing viewpoint. In my opinion the essence of the true definition of a Republican is tolerance, understanding and acceptance of the other person's creed, class and the right to free speech, expression and thought.

I had the honour of being with the Taoiseach in Cork last Friday. One of the guests at the dinner spoke of the Taoiseach as being the person of the century because he has brought this process so far and has given hope to so many people. Of course, there are obstacles in the way of peace but it is up to each one of us to endeavour in whatever way possible to ensure that those obstacles can be removed. I should like to encourage everybody to strive for and to encourage others to search for this peace.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Two Senators are indicating their wish to speak. As we are running slightly over time I would ask both to speak for two minutes. I am calling Senator Taylor-Quinn.

In his contribution this morning the Taoiseach said that the Joint Declaration was a charter for peace and democracy in the island of Ireland. He also claimed that for the first time the British Government has acknowledged the particular situation of the Nationalists. That is very important. Equally, it can be said that for the first time since the foundation of this State Fianna Fáil in Government has accepted the position which obtained in 1921. Both communities in Northern Ireland can take support and confidence from the Joint Declaration. The British Government gives a very definite message to the Nationalist community. Equally for the Unionist community there is a very definite statement of the recognition by the Irish Government of their particular position in Northern Ireland. It was a unique step forward for Fianna Fáil. That is a very definite change in their position in relation to Northern Ireland and it should not be underestimated. The message should go out very clearly to both communities that both Governments are sincere and genuine in what they are presenting.

This morning Senator Quinn referred to the importance of silence. Now is the time for the two communities in Northern Ireland to reflect on the sincerity of the Declaration. It is equally important that communication begins between the two communities. We must recognise that a fundamental problem is that there is no communication, trust or understanding between many of the people in Northern Ireland. If the problem is to be resolved and if peace is to result, communication is the central factor. Nothing should be done by anybody to undermine or hinder communication. Peace is important to both paramilitary forces, to the IRA and the UVF. It is important that a clear message goes out from here and from everywhere that what the people of Ireland want is peace.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the peace declaration. It is nothing new that the Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and the British Prime Minister in their Joint Declaration are on the side of peace. It is not new for any political party in any democratic system anywhere in the world to be on the side of peace. That is what democracy is about. We have to move forward in a cautious manner because there is a great desire for peace. During the past 25 years the people of Northern of Ireland have suffered the most horrendous era of violence. People on all sides of the religious divide are pleading to the people of violence to stop, think and move forward. As a democrat and as a person of peace we have to move forward and continue the fight for peace.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Everyone wants peace. The debate today is proof positive of that. There is a unique unity of purpose and support for the Joint Declaration in the House. It is important that all of us, at whatever level we live and act out our roles, make the very most of this opportunity.

I wish to focus on one main issue which has been highlighted by a number of speakers. The main theme of the Taoiseach's speech is that the Joint Declaration is a first step, a statement of principles, not a basis for negotiations per se. He said it is a starting point to get peace off the ground and then and only then to return to the negotiation table for detailed discussions.

The Joint Declaration is indeed a formula for peace. As I read it, the simple message is peace first and negotiations afterwards. During the past 20 years there have been praiseworthy attempts, particularly Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which involved an enormous amount of work and commitment but which were conducted in the context of violence and unfortunately did not bring peace. What is different about the strategy in relation to the Joint Declaration is that that approach is being reversed in the sense that peace and not negotiations is being put first. In that context I want to put on record my congratulations to the Taoiseach, and to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and their team and indeed to pay tribute to the generous response from the British side led by their Prime Minister, John Major. This Joint Declaration is the first critical step for a lasting peace in the North. A number of speakers so far in the debate have referred to the risk inherent in having public debate and negotiation in advance of peace. There is a real risk but the Government, and, in particular, the Taoiseach, is adamant that peace must come first. If there is public debate and negotiations in advance of peace we will not get the peace we all want. Both Governments, and they have made this clear in the past 24 hours, want peace first and then and only then, to move on to reconciliation by agreement. In due course this will require consent, freely given by all in this island including, in particular, the people in Northern Ireland.

The calls for dialogue, for direct negotiations, for the release of prisoners and for the repeal of section 31 are all relevant but separate issues. These issues will require long discussions but they can be discussed only after there has been a cessation of violence and the guns have been quiet. If first we go the route of negotiations, the momentum to which the Taoiseach referred could be lost and extremely valuable time could be spent down blind alleys.

The Joint Declaration is concerned with peace in the context of principles accepted by both Governments and guarantees to all people to pursue their rights by democratic means at a later stage. If negotiations take place in advance of a cessation of violence, propositions put forward by one side will displease the other and may cause conflict.

The debate has been exemplary in its unanimity and moderation. I join with Members in their references to Senator Feargal Quinn's contribution and to his call for reflection. That is precisely what we need to do. At all costs we need to avoid jumping too far ahead because it may damage the process.

We should remember there are brave and courageous people on the unionist side who could be isolated by loose talk and idle speculation on what might be achieved in negotiations. There are brave and courageous people also on the nationalist side who are genuinely interested in peace but theirs too is a delicate task in convincing all who follow them to accept peace before negotiations. It is of key importance to stop the killings before focusing on peace. If we take our eye of that focus we may well lose the unique opportunity that the Joint Declaration affords for peace. There was never a better opportunity for peace in the past 25 years.

Let me repeat the sequence: peace first and detailed negotiations later. Repeatedly, the Taoiseach has said that the only prerequisite for getting around the table is peace. When peace has been achieved, everything else will come up for discussion. Democracy will then come into play and we will see the traditional adjudication of competing interests and reconciling differences. To date there has never been a breakthrough similar to the Joint Declaration which has achieved a remarkably rare breadth of consensus.

In conclusion I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and their team. We all hope that the Joint Declaration is the first crucial step on the long road to healing historic divisions in Northern Ireland and divisions between the peoples of Britain and Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.