I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan.
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to outline the Government’s position on the current political situation in Northern Ireland.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for coming into the House to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. I read an article by Dearbhail McDonald in the Sunday Independent last Sunday on her recollections of the Troubles and how they still affect her today. She wrote:
I can still remember the sounds of the first bomb I ever heard. And to this day there are back roads at home that I can't drive alone after dark because of terrifying childhood recollections [...] I count myself blessed that my family and I were not among the 7,000 parents who lost their child, the 15,000 who lost a sibling or the 3,000 who lost a spouse [...] The real tragedy, 21 years after the IRA ceasefire, and almost 18 years after the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, is that the people of Northern Ireland are being held hostage. They are being held hostage to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams' vainglorious plan to govern on both sides of the border by the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016.
This was an excellent piece by Dearbhail McDonald and it should be read by everybody. I welcome the request by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, that the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, together with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, facilitate the return of the five main parties in Northern Ireland to the round table talks, which resumed yesterday. The talks will I hope advance the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and address the trust and confidence issues arising from the impact and legacy of paramilitary activity.
Getting to this stage has been very difficult. I know that every effort is being made to ensure a successful outcome to the talks. I think all parties involved are optimistic that with committed, collective engagement the two Governments and all the parties can make real progress on both the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and tackling the legacy of paramilitarism. Last Friday, the Secretary of State announced a British Government assessment of the current profile of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, the British Government announced the three members of an independent panel set up to assess paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. The British Government assessment is separate from the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the Garda Commissioner to continue to liaise closely with the PSNI in respect of its investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan and to let her have a fresh assessment in light of any evidence emerging from that investigation.
The issue of criminality stemming from the legacy of paramilitarism is also an important point for the talks. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that there will be enhanced support and resources for tackling criminality in Northern Ireland. This is very much in keeping with the Government's strong determination to tackle crime and I look forward to the outcome of the conference on organised crime that the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, Mr. David Ford, will host in County Sligo. We have had debates from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly on criminality, on diesel laundering and all the other activities going on in the Border area. Many people believe a blind eye has been turned, by the British authorities in particular, to that area. I always believe in following the money. The money must be followed because one can see the lifestyle of many of the people who are involved in this activity, the type of houses they have and so on. One wonders where the money and the proceeds of these crimes are. It is very easy for Sinn Féin to say - although I laud it for saying it - that people should bring any evidence of criminality to the PSNI, but when there is a system in which some communities in Northern Ireland are terrified to give information for fear of what happened to Robert McCartney, Paul Quinn and others-----
Give the information to the PSNI.
Senator Maurice Cummins to continue, without interruption.
There is a fear which has been highlighted in many areas. There is also a need on the loyalist side to deal with paramilitarism and any criminality that may be involved. It is not, and never was, a one-sided problem. I commend both Governments for the efforts they are making. It is essential that all the five main parties in Northern Ireland, with the support of the two Governments, get down to the serious business of fully implementing the Stormont House Agreement and addressing the impact and legacy of continuing paramilitary activity.
A successful outcome to the talks will respect and protect the Good Friday Agreement and its power-sharing institutions.
It is right that this matter is being debated on a day that one of our Members, Senator Jimmy Harte, has decided to retire. Had his health allowed he would be here to debate this issue. He always shows great concern for Northern Ireland. He has a total abhorrence of violence and has always advocated for the reunification of the country by peaceful means with the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland. These policies and thoughts - it was not a very popular thing to say in the 1970s and the 1980s - were also advocated by his father and many people of the time, way before the Good Friday Agreement. I am glad that people have now come around, with the Good Friday Agreement, to these ideas. There has been too much procrastination on these issues but they need to be solved and now is the time to act. It is hoped that the ongoing talks will bring continued peace in the country. I compliment the Minister and all involved in bringing the parties together and wish him every success.
Does Senator Paul Coghlan wish to second the motion?
I would like to second the motion and reserve my right to speak later.
Apologies, a Chathaoirligh, I understand the Minister will be leaving shortly.
The Minister wishes to come in now as I believe he has to leave.
With the consent of the House-----
We have been looking to debate this issue and it is peculiar for the Minister to take an important debate and not be here to listen to all the Senators when he hears very partisan speeches coming from the Government side, which is made up of people living in the past. It is unfortunate.
I am advised that it is appropriate to have a speaker from the Opposition. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú will speak first and the Minister will then come in.
That is fine.
I would have been quite happy for the Minister to speak first. I welcome the Minister. I would have liked to have heard him since I know he is directly involved in the process. I believe he has struck a tone which we all need to have during times of crisis and at this juncture also.
I have recently watched documentaries on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The commentaries of the documentaries include the point that there was a time during the Troubles when it was felt that peace would never be achieved in Northern Ireland. During the time when efforts were being made to solve what seemed like an impossible position - because of the underlying history, politics and partisanship - President Mary McAleese said that no matter how difficult the task was, it was a prize worth fighting for.
If we remember Martin McGuinness and the late Dr. Ian Paisley going about their duties within the new structures the message that came from that personal relationship absolutely surprised many people at the time. In a lot of ways it gave us back a faith in human nature - that we can all respect each other while at the same time not necessarily changing our narrative just to be patronising towards somebody else. They proved that it could be done. As they travelled through the world and particularly in the United States of America which had played a direct role in the evolution of the peace process with President Clinton's hands-on involvement, they saw democracy and diplomacy working for the good of all the people, while having different positions historically.
We should not be surprised that developments as good as the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and the exceptional structures which are in place would not have some hiccups and glitches. It is said this crisis is bigger than anything we have had since the Agreement was brought into being and the structures were put in place. However, when one looks at Irish history post 1916, post the War of Independence of the 1920s, and post-Civil War, on each occasion there was residue left which had to be attended to. Terrible atrocities were committed in those years and yet people realised that peace is the starting point for any quality of life. People yearn for peace.
When Derry hosted the 2013 Fleadh Cheoil, 430,000 people turned up. I recall walking down the streets and people who may have known my connection with the fleadh stopping and saying to me how grateful they were that they could feel and sense normality even for one week. The sentiment was echoed by Nell McCafferty on radio. She said it was the first time in over 30 years there was a smile on the face of the people of Derry. That is the prize we talk about.
We did take our eye off the ball. I would have preferred to see Northern Ireland debated in this House more often, but the feeling seems to be that once the structures were put in place that was the end of the Republic’s involvement. However, we are the co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and we should be having a debate, not about the issues that divide us but about the issues which unite us. There are many opportunities, some of which we see in cross-Border co-operation. An Taoiseach and the UK Prime Minister should meet to discuss issues because the Agreement needs to be tied down and copperfastened. A meeting between Mr. David Cameron and the Taoiseach at this time could be helpful. This would not take from the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan’s status or involvement, I know he will do a good job. Against a background of good relationships, which includes the visits by the Queen and Prince Charles, we are in a different position now than we ever were before.
It is worrying that given the atmosphere of elections in which we now find ourselves, the main thrust and focus of what we should be doing could easily get lost during electioneering in the North and South. It may be unintentional, but we should be cautious to protect what has been achieved by so many people who have invested in the process. In a crisis we need to remind ourselves of Martin McGuinness and Dr. Paisley and the manner in which they worked together. From my own limited knowledge of Northern Ireland I know that the average person wants this crisis resolved. People want to return to real politics and they want democracy to be supreme. If other issues need to be dealt with, there is the police force to deal with them. The Republic’s tone should be to cultivate, save and enhance the peace process and to develop closer relationships, North and South. Above all else, we should not lose the great progress which has been made in the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
I welcome the opportunity to attend the Seanad.
The significance of the Seanad's interest in this matter is not in doubt, particularly having regard to the fact that this is probably the first substantive debate in the Seanad this session. I concur with Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú when he says that perhaps this is an issue that might be the subject of more frequent debate. I assure the Senator and the House that any time the Seanad wishes to debate this issue, as long as I am Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I will be anxious to oblige and be present. I remarked to myself at the Ploughing Championships yesterday that two years ago the political narrative was about the future of the Seanad and whether it would remain in place. I have been pleased to seek to accommodate the House on all occasions that I have been invited to address it during the past 14 months.
I welcome this debate and I thank the proposer, Senator Maurice Cummins, and the House for the opportunity to outline the position of the Government on the current political situation in Northern Ireland. I speak to the House following the resumption, on Monday, 21 September, of round-table talks involving the five main parties in Northern Ireland. Those talks remain ongoing. Getting to this point has not been easy. The past few weeks have been difficult and challenging. The Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, and I worked closely with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, meeting bilaterally and trilaterally with the parties, in an effort to ensure everybody was not only around the table but around the table at the same time. I am pleased that we achieved this and I am hopeful the collective and committed engagement will lead to a successful outcome to the talks. However, by no means do I underestimate the challenge that lies ahead. A collapse of the institutions in Northern Ireland remains a real possibility and, therefore, it is incumbent on all of the five main parties in Northern Ireland, with the support of the two Governments, to seize what is a narrow window of opportunity and work hard to achieve what can be a positive outcome. A positive outcome is not only essential for politics in Northern Ireland but, first and foremost, for its people, who really deserve a functioning government.
My focus will continue to be on facilitating constructive talks and ensuring I do all I can to see to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly in the context of the various institutions. I will also seek to ensure the Agreement and subsequent agreements are respected and protected. The key objective now is to make progress in intensive, focused negotiation on the key issues that the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, set out, namely, the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and tackling the legacy of paramilitarism. The parties have already begun to address these issues in the resumed sessions of the talks that began last Monday. These opening exchanges were somewhat general in nature, but I am under no illusion about the hard work that will be required in the detailed sessions scheduled for this week and next. It is my assessment that all of the parties were broadly constructive in the discussions which took place on Monday in seeking to outline what they see as the direction of travel towards resolving these difficult and challenging issues.
The issue of the impact legacy of paramilitarism and associated organised crime and criminality are clearly concerns that must be addressed in a robust way if these talks are to be successful. The aim must be to create the circumstances where, in the not-too-distant future, we have a generation in Northern Ireland that has not known sectarianism or the vestigial shadow of paramilitarism. In order to facilitate the resumption of round-table talks, the Secretary of State announced on Friday, 18 September, a British Government assessment of the current profile of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. This is a once-off assessment which will be completed in the coming weeks. It does not pre-empt the discussion on the paramilitary issues in the talks. I expect that this assessment group, made up of Lord Carlile, Rosalie Flanagan and Stephen Shaw, QC, will report in a few weeks. I have made clear in my remarks - I wish to bolster it here in the Seanad - that the issue in the talks on the matter of paramilitarism cannot be delayed until the outcome of this British Government assessment is known. While the assessment may be of assistance to the Northern Ireland parties as they consider how best to tackle the impact and legacy of paramilitarism, it does not replace the need to begin focused work on how the continuing shadow of paramilitarism over communities in Northern Ireland can be eradicated for ever.
The work on tackling the legacy of paramilitarism may involve several aspects. It may, for example, include some form of future monitoring arrangement, perhaps modelled on the former Independent Monitoring Commission. There is a crucial need to set out a vision for a Northern Ireland beyond the shadow of paramilitary activity and its associated criminality and a plan for how to best realise it. This is one major focus of the talks. The Irish Government, together with its British counterpart, will actively contribute to finding a way forward on these issues but, ultimately, it is essential that the parties agree a shared vision and a common plan to move society in Northern Ireland to full normalisation. I add, for the sake of clarity, that the British Government assessment is a separate matter from the request made by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to the Garda Commissioner. The Garda focus is on the circumstances in this jurisdiction. The Garda authorities work very closely with their counterparts in the PSNI on an ongoing basis in respect of the security threat and across the range of other policing challenges facing the two services in our respective jurisdictions.
In the light of recent developments with regard to the murder of Kevin McGuigan, the Minister for Justice and Equality asked the Garda Commissioner to maintain that liaison with the PSNI in respect of its investigation and to give her a fresh assessment in the light of any evidence emerging from the investigation. It is essential that the PSNI be allowed to carry on its investigation into the murder of Mr. McGuigan without fear or favour. That investigation is a matter of evidence and solely a matter of evidence. It is up to the PSNI to follow the evidence. This is not a matter for politics or politicians; it is a matter for the forces of law and order within the jurisdiction.
The associated issue of criminality has been raised by many of the parties as an issue of serious concern that must be addressed at the talks. All politicians on this island, whether associated with a political party or not, have an interest in ensuring that crime, regardless of what type or who carries it out, is tackled in an effective and meaningful way. I welcome the recent announcement of the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, that there will be enhanced support and resources to tackle the scourge of criminality in Northern Ireland. This is very much in keeping with the Government's strong determination to tackle crime, including organised crime, as a priority. I assure Senators that there is no blind eye turned and there will never be a blind eye turned to the matter of organised crime, and racketeering and criminality and smuggling of a type that this House debated some time ago.
On the question of cross-Border crime, there is already very strong North-South co-operation involving the police and other relevant agencies from both jurisdictions. Next week the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, Mr. David Ford, will host a conference on organised crime in Sligo, which will be attended by representatives of An Garda Síochána, the PSNI, the customs services and the asset recovery agencies. Organised crime, whatever its nature and whoever is carrying it out, inflicts great damage on our communities and there continues to be a shared determination to tackle it effectively. I am pleased that the talks in Northern Ireland have enabled us to highlight the solid work we are doing to combat this scourge on society and to refocus on the indispensable need for North-South co-operation in this area. I welcome the contribution of Seanadóirí in the debate in the past and, in particular, in recent months. Many Senators are actively involved in other fora of the British-Irish parliamentary tier.
Of equal importance in the talks is the need to fully implement the Stormont House Agreement. The Agreement, concluded on 23 December 2014, offers a blueprint to overcoming current difficulties in the Northern Ireland Executive, especially around financing, welfare reform and dealing with the legacy of the past. While financing and welfare reform is an internal issue for Northern Ireland, I have continually encouraged the parties to resolve their difference for the sake of Northern Ireland's economic stability and the sustainability of public services throughout Northern Ireland. That is not only vitally important for the people of Northern Ireland but also for developing and creating an all-island economy which benefits all citizens.
It is also crucial that we complete the work started by the Stormont House Agreement on setting up institutions to deal with the legacy of the past in order that justice and truth can bring what healing is possible to victims and survivors of the Troubles and their families, friends and communities. My officials and I are working intensively with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office to ensure the rapid establishment of the institutions, including the independent commission for information retrieval, the historical investigations unit and the implementation and reconciliation group. An international treaty between the British and Irish Governments is required in order to set up the independent commission for information retrieval. Throughout these negotiations, which are well under way, the Government has focused on the need to underpin the independence of the commission and to put the families of the victims and survivors at the centre of everything the commission will do.
When it comes to the historical investigations unit, I have repeated Ireland's strong commitment, as set out in the Stormont House Agreement, to ensure the Irish authorities co-operate fully with the historical investigations unit. That will require legislation within this jurisdiction, which will be brought forward by my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality in the coming months.
I wish to clarify one point. Some media coverage in the past week has suggested the institutions for dealing with the past agreed at Stormont House would somehow convey an amnesty. That is not true. There will be no amnesty. The new institutions, as agreed, provide for different ways of dealing with the past. The new historical investigations unit provides for police investigation and, where there is an evidential basis, the prospect of justice.
The independent commission for information retrieval, to be established by the two Governments, is intended to allow individuals to seek information about Troubles-related deaths where there is no realistic prospect of prosecution; and information provided to the commission for this purpose would not be admissible in a court of law. However, the Stormont House Agreement makes it clear that no individual who provides information to this body will be immune from prosecution for any crime committed should the required evidential test be satisfied by other means and this will be reflected in the agreement establishing the body. In addition, an oral history archive will be established. These bodies will be overseen by an implementation and reconciliation group, with a mandate to promote reconciliation, a better understanding of the past and to reduce sectarianism. I believe that taken together, those four mechanisms provide an opportunity to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in a way which upholds the rule of law and facilitates justice, acknowledges and addresses the needs of victims and survivors, is human rights compliant and, above all, promotes reconciliation.
Recent weeks have demonstrated once again that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was by no means the end of the journey but it was a seismic moment when we forged a new shared path for how we would address the different aspirations and identities on this island. It requires constant care and attention and my focus in the course of the coming weeks will be to ensure the Good Friday Agreement can be fully implemented and all its institutions can operate effectively.
I assure Senators, especially an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú, of the involvement of the Taoiseach. He is directly involved. In the past ten days he has spoken to the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. I talk to the Taoiseach almost daily about what is happening in Northern Ireland. For the benefit of Members of this House, hardly a talks session concludes without me receiving a call from the Taoiseach, who is updated on a daily basis and whose involvement can only be described as engaged fully and directly involved.
An Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú referred to electioneering. There is no election here. That matter was referred to in the Lower House yesterday. There is no election on here and if there were, Senators would be busily engaged in their own pursuits. Senators can be assured that nothing that has been said on the matter of Northern Ireland will in any way be referenced or related to any other campaign anywhere.
I am not sure how much more time I have, but I am almost ready to conclude. A key component of the Good Friday Agreement remains North-South co-operation. It is important that this co-operation is allowed to continue, despite the difficult political situation in Stormont. North-South co-operation is vitally important not just for police co-operation but also in the areas of tourism, transport and trade. I know several Members of this House also have direct experience of the useful co-operation that takes place in the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association.
I have spoken in recent weeks to the leadership of all the Executive parties. I have heard very clearly the frustration they all feel, but underneath that, I have discerned a deep and steely resolve to ensure the power-sharing institutions are preserved and maintained. Every party is up for talks because, whether they articulate it or not, every party knows what is at stake: the very survival of the power-sharing institutions themselves. There is undoubtedly a realisation that the consequences of failure would constitute a serious set-back for the people of Northern Ireland and the people of our island.
If, despite our best efforts, the institutions fall, under the legislation elections would immediately follow. Regrettably, such early elections would take place in a divisive context and the issues of contention would remain to be resolved in their aftermath. While everybody welcomes elections and at all times the people are sovereign and will cast their vote on the issues of the day, elections in Northern Ireland would not immediately resolve the problems because issues relating to finance, welfare, the Stormont House Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement will still remain and need to be resolved in the aftermath of any fresh elections. It is, therefore, far better to resolve the outstanding issues now. All the parties, with the support of the two Governments, must seize the current opportunity, engage constructively and in a spirit of mutual respect and seek to resolve the current difficulties for the benefit of the people they represent. Of course, it is right that this House should debate the matter of Northern Ireland at every opportunity.
I acknowledge the decision earlier today of a Member of this House to announce his retirement, namely, a colleague of mine, Senator Jimmy Harte. I have had a close association with the Harte family for many years. I concur with the Leader of the House who acknowledged the very important role played by Senator Jimmy Harte, the Harte family and, in particular, the former Deputy, Paddy Harte, on matters not only relating to Donegal and Northern Ireland but nationally. Paddy Harte was one of the few politicians who took risks for peace.
That was, no doubt, acknowledged in the context of the historic coming together of parties to sign the Good Friday Agreement. I know that, in this regard, my fellow politicians in Northern Ireland have invested too much in this project of transformation to allow it to fail. Therefore, all of us have an obligation to go forward in a spirit of positivity, knowing that both compromises and courage will be required from all the participants involved, because it will not work otherwise. In conclusion, I know I can count on the support of all in this House as we seek to bring the current talks to a successful conclusion.
I thank the Minister for attending and for his efforts in the talks, including his presence at Stormont, which we see on television repeatedly. His role is most valuable. In the life of this Seanad, we were so busy dealing with the near bankruptcy of the State, the bailout and so on that we may have lacked time to talk to our neighbours in Northern Ireland, but that has certainly been remedied, which is most important. Given the 3,600 deaths and 40,000 injuries, we cannot go back. The "house on the hill", as the biography of Stormont calls it, should be retained and made to work, and decommissioning should be made to work. We in this jurisdiction have a major interest in ensuring there is peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
I have the honour to represent constituents in that area because so many of them are graduates of Trinity College Dublin. When one crosses the Border in the west, one sees Portora. Samuel Beckett, Henry Francis Lyte and Oscar Wilde are three people who went from there to study just down the road from Leinster House. On the other side were Hamilton Harty in Hillsborough and Brian Maginess, a liberal who was interested in the Orange parades issue back in the 1950s. We have these connections. I regret that about four times as many Northerners come South than Southerners go North. We need to develop the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association, as the Minister said. I would like to see lots of Northern visitors here to talk to people, on a drop-in basis almost, because we are all on the one side of this.
I was with our graduates recently at Fort Dunree in Donegal. It was the last fort to be handed over in 1938, when the Union Jack was taken down and the Tricolour put up. In fact, the two officers, the one leaving and the other taking over, were brothers-in-law who had both married people who lived in the locality. That was the last piece of territory to be handed over by Britain to the Republic as part of the treaty port issue in 1938.
We have so many connections. Speakers mentioned the all-Ireland sports teams in rugby, cricket and hockey and we all gain from this. If it is necessary to find an anthem like "Ireland's Call" that can be sung happily by people of both traditions in this country, I think that would be excellent.
I wish Rosalie Flanagan, Stephen Shaw and Lord Carlile every success in their decommissioning exercise. I commend them for taking up that responsibility in the tradition of Bill Clinton, Reverend Harold Good, General de Chastelain, Tony Blair and all those who have helped us to get so much advancement on the island. We are indebted to them.
When we were attempting a similar exercise here on the very first day of the Seanad, Arthur Griffith in particular was influential in nominating a large number of former Unionists. William Butler Yeats said he came here not as a Nationalist, not as an Unionist, but as a Member of the Seanad. As has been said, the Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness had that momentum going. We have to make sure we do not lose it.
There are concerns about the murders that have been mentioned of Mr. Quinn, Mr. McGuigan, Mr. Davison and Garda Adrian Donohoe. The Smithwick report is terrifying to read in regard to what happened in south Armagh and north Louth on the day officers Buchanan and Breen were killed. There was a paramilitary takeover of a large part of territory from 9 a.m. until those murders took place. We have to get those residual issues sorted out.
Declan Kearney launched a most interesting book last week, with Dominick Chilcott, the ambassador, and Dr. Heather Morris, the former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland. In the book, Uncomfortable Conversations, Reverend Earl Storey writes:
What is this peace process about? Is it about breaking down a historic cycle of division, hatred and violence? Or is it little more than a breathing space until the next round of fighting?
We want what Earl Storey wishes to be realised. In the same volume, Lord Alderdice writes that we have two identities not yet reconciled, despite all of the great efforts that have been made. He states there is a Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist identity which involves "a sense of dominance - a disposition to think and act as though they ought to still be in charge". Of the Catholic-Nationalist-Republican community, Lord Alderdice writes, "Despite there now being parity of esteem and political, legal, social and economic opportunities, many people in [that] community still operate as though they were victims rather than the authors of our shared destiny." It is this analysis of "anxious dominance" and "victimhood" that he feels holds the clue to what Declan Kearney calls "uncomfortable conversations".
I admired the Taoiseach at the weekend commemoration of Thomas Kent when he mentioned the RIC man, William Rowe, who was a victim in that incident. On Saturday, Trinity College Dublin will unveil a memorial to the people of 1914 to 1918. That is coming together in places as far apart as Kerry and Donegal. Ireland is discovering its shared identity. I hope to see the prosperity that will follow from peace benefit Northern Ireland, which is one of the lowest income regions in the United Kingdom. It does not help in this era of high-tech and human capital industries that we have these disputes about flags, demonstrations and so on. A new Northern Ireland will enhance its present position within these islands.
It is very important for all of us that the work of the Minister, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and the Taoiseach succeeds because we cannot go back to the situation where so many people were killed and maimed, as Dearbhail McDonald has pointed out in her works. I wish the Minister God speed and a fair wind in his task, which will benefit everyone on the island. There are no enemies because we are all friends on this. May the Minister succeed.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. I welcome the opportunity to debate the Government position on the current political situation in Northern Ireland. The Minister of State is very familiar with affairs in the North, having previously been Chair of the Good Friday Agreement committee, of which I am a very vocal and strong member. I am delighted to see him here in the House.
It is great that we have the opportunity for this discussion. Particularly in recent weeks, developments have been unfolding by the hour and in every news bulletin we listen to, with allegations and new and fresh information coming forward. In that sense, I hope we did not pre-empt the situation by having the debate today. I ask that, as events unfold in the coming weeks, this might be something we can return to in the very near future.
In the past month alone, there have been discussions, breakdowns in discussions, breakdowns in communication, arrests and releases without charge. We had the First Minister standing aside and Ministers resigning their posts and see a situation where, other than Arlene Foster, there are currently no Unionist Ministers serving on the Executive. I welcome the fact, as the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, said, that work has been ongoing by the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, in encouraging these round-table talks.
It is welcome that the five main parties resumed the talks on Monday. We need to move forward as no one wants to go back to what we had. Senator Maurice Cummins spoke about Dearbhail McDonald’s recent article in the Sunday Independent. Living in Dundalk, I, too, remember the ordeal of travelling across the Border, as anyone from a Border town will know. As a child, I was absolutely terrified of British soldiers, guns and the fortresses we sometimes had to go through. One horrific day, I saw, as a child, the attempted shooting of a British soldier in Newry. It has remained with me. I can only imagine the horror people living in these circumstances experienced, as Dearbhail McDonald said, and the effect it had on them.
It is welcome that tomorrow the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement will meet families dealing with legacy issues. It would be great if we had the Narrow Water bridge project to cement North-South co-operation, both physically and politically. There have been robust discussions about this project, both at the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association. It is awful that such good projects are marred by planning and costing decisions. We could do much more to move it forward.
I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that there will be enhanced support and resources to tackle criminality in Northern Ireland. Fuel smuggling is epidemic across Border areas, a matter of which my colleague and fellow member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, Senator Paul Coghlan, has conducted an in-depth study and which I am sure he will address this evening. Louth County Council has borne the brunt of the inordinate costs of clearing up the diesel sludge left behind by these criminals. We need to tackle and address this question honestly. As Senator Maurice Cummins said, we need honesty on both sides.
During the summer I listened to an emotional address by Paul Quinn’s mother on radio, a mother gutted by the loss of her son but vehement in her view that the IRA is still in existence and controlling areas along the Border. She is also vehement in her view that the IRA was responsible for the death of her young son, who was brutally beaten to death in County Monaghan. She claims people living in Border areas are well aware of the situation, a point backed up by so many people who live along the Border. I travelled between Dundalk and Monaghan for 16 years passing through Cullaville every day. It was well known as an IRA stronghold. One could not drive through it sometimes because of threats or bomb scares. People who claim they have no idea of this need to come forward.
Another person to whom I spoke recently was Paudie McGahon, who came forward in the past few months as the victim of abuse by a Republican member in his own home. He is adamant that the Sinn Féin leader was well aware of the abuse in 2002. Unfortunately, the Sinn Féin leader denies this, just as he denied any knowledge of the horrific abuse of Maíria Cahill and failed to report his brother for abuse while allowing him to work with young children in Dundalk.
The Senator has gone way over time. This is unfair to other Senators who wish to contribute.
He never denied that abuse. The Senator should set the record straight and be factual.
No interruptions, please.
He never denied it.
I am being factual. The Senator has had his opportunity.
I will have my chance.
I, too, regret today’s announcement by Senator Jimmy Harte of his resignation from the Seanad. He was a great colleague, another man who worked hard, North and South, and was an avid soccer supporter.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire arís go dtí an Seanad.
I commend the Irish Government, in particular the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for the work, consistency and the care he has taken in what continues to be an ever-evolving but also a stop-start scenario in the North of Ireland. Speaking as director of the Abbey Theatre, I spend much time working with playwrights of both traditions and both sides of the divide, although artists and playwrights are uncomfortable with the word “divide”. Consistently in the past year and a half we have produced much work by Northern writers such as Owen McCafferty, Jimmy McAleavey, Stacey Gregg and David Ireland. These four writers come from different parts of the community, some from east Belfast, some from Dundonald - the Ballybeen estate, a loyalist estate - and others from a more middle class Catholic background.
Without wishing to sound too vague about it, I consider many artists to be prophets. Seamus Heaney was a prophet. They somehow relate issues, concerns and themes ahead of politicians and the establishment. They relate to the community from where they are writing. That community can often be ahead of the establishment. A play we did this year at the Abbey, “Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts”, looked at the notion and prevalence of criminality in the North. We cannot deal with criminality in the North in an ambiguous way; we have to be clear about it. The signals we are getting from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade are that we cannot stand by, ignore or have an ambivalent view on both sides. My sense from the loyalist community is that there is strong, almost nasty, criminality which is extraordinarily divisive among communities, particularly disaffected and disenfranchised young people. I am hearing about this when it is not necessarily bubbling up to the core of the political sphere. Some politicians in the five main parties are taking leadership. However, I consider what Mike Nesbitt is doing as bouncing Mr. Peter Robinson into a scenario for short-term political gain. I find this disturbing and regrettable.
Of all the challenges in the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the one that has not been mentioned today is the continuing institutionalisation of sectarianism in the North. More peace walls - I use the Orwellian term - have been built, dividing communities in the process, since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. There is very little of a coherent approach, both North and South, in acknowledging this. I am in the middle of rehearsals for a play, “Shibboleth”, by Stacey Gregg from Dundonald, which looks at interface barriers, where communities are being divided for good, not because of culture or political persuasion but because of a physical barrier between communities. I regret that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan did not raise this, but it is prevalent and insidious.
While we consider this extraordinary and very delicate political situation, the five main parties are not leading their communities. Some of the disenfranchised and socially and economically deprived on both sides are being left behind.
Of course, when issues of flags, marches, parades and civil rights arise, they are exacerbated by the fact that the other side, whatever that means, is not seen any more because of these barriers, the so-called peace walls. That is something I find very disturbing. We talk about the wall around the West Bank, the Berlin Wall and other walls in other parts of the world, yet 100 miles up the road we are watching the institutionalisation of sectarianism. Young people, in particular, find it increasingly difficult. No matter what we do in terms of cross-community work and work bringing communities south to engage themselves, the physical barriers - they are no longer psychological barriers - the shibboleths that are occurring in Belfast city, are a matter of concern to me. I listen to the playwrights of today, young people such as Stacey Gregg who is approximately 30 years of age and from a Protestant community. She is saying this is something we should mark and bear witness to, and that we should try to bring those walls down.
I have already seconded the motion. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, and appreciate very much the valuable work he has done in the past as co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the work he is doing in his current position. I thank the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for the contribution he made earlier in the debate. I acknowledge the work of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Villiers, MP. I am delighted that the status of the IRA and other paramilitaries is being assessed. I welcome the establishment of the three-person commission and the appointments of Lord Carlile, Ms Rosalie Flanagan and Mr. Stephen Shaw, QC. The Minister statedthe factual assessment should be in our hands in approximately one month's time. I very much welcome that progress.
Reference was made to the work in which the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly has been involved. Last February, that body was unanimous in respect of the establishment of a task force. I acknowledge the work of Senator Jim Walsh on that matter; he was a member of the same group as myself. From what we found, the police North and South will never defeat these crime overlords. These are people who have been engaged in smuggling perhaps all their lives. If we leave this matter to the police, it will not be dealt with. I mean no disrespect whatsoever and co-operation North and South between the police forces has never been better. We believe that because the criminals are full-time professionals, a task force comprising the police, customs, Revenue, the Criminal Assets Bureau and its Northern equivalent and the environmental protection agencies - with all of these bodies working together on a full-time, professional basis - is required. I am encouraged in that regard by the briefing we received from the Department. In the context of cross-Border crime, there is already very strong North-South co-operation involving the police and other relevant agencies from the two jurisdictions. Ways to further enhance this excellent work will be examined. I hope the task force will not be eliminated and that, perhaps, it may yet be brought into being.
While there are difficulties in north Louth, a matter to which Senator Mary Moran referred, there are greater difficulties in south Armagh. There is no normal policing in south Armagh and there probably will not be for years. The level of policing is so light, I would say the police presence there is but a token. Officers are largely confined to barracks. The station in Crossmaglen is a fortress-like, bomb-proof building. Senator Jim Walsh and I saw it and we could not find a door in the metal sheeting. Eventually, some fellow spotted us on camera and came out and brought us in. I mean no disrespect but policing standards, despite best efforts, are not normal there. Policing levels in south Armagh do not equate to those which obtain in the rest of the North. In a so-called democratic society, I do not think that is right.
I also thought it was very abnormal that the area is littered with these blue, unofficial, community alert notices. There is a number people can ring and it is not the police. I do not know who it is but the locals believe the notices are erected by the Provisional IRA. They believe it still exists on the ground there. The people who are engaged in the criminality, we just refer to them as the crime overlords.
They are very silly to leave their mobile numbers there.
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.
They did not leave their mobile phones. We have a photograph. There is a number people can ring. I asked about it.
Did the Senator give them a call?
He noted it in his phone book.
No, I personally did not need them and I was told that one would get an answer but would not know who might come to see one. I doubt that Senator David Cullinane knows who they are either, by the way.
It is 18 years since the introduction of the Good Friday Agreement and the area to which I refer is still commonly referred to as bandit country. In a democratic society, this is not normal or right. Although we are not party to Schengen, there are international arrangements and so on. We need a North-South corridor along the Border where the Garda and police districts in the North could co-operate. We should allow a kind of joint authority where they can criss-cross the Border and investigate crime. They co-operate excellently, by the way. That to which I refer could be effective.
There is a support factor and a fear factor operating, particularly in Armagh. Perhaps our gardaí would be more acceptable there. The police are not around the streets up there. The last two policemen who lived in that community were murdered. I think provision could be made for a North-South corridor along the Border, just for the operational districts.
I appreciate that Sinn Féin is calling for people to share information with the PSNI and Senators David Cullinane, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and I have been on radio together discussing the matter. I accept their good faith and believe that the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, means what he says. I think if Senator David Cullinane had information he would pass it on, but perhaps he has colleagues or former colleagues who have information. I am talking about individuals up there, not about the Senators. Perhaps they have information they could pass on. The Minister said there was----
I ask Senator Paul Coghlan to conclude. We have a lot of Members after him and they will not get in. He is over time.
The Acting Chairman does not need to say it to me - I know. Others were over time.
The Minister has said a blind eye will not be turned and I accept that. The truth about it up there is that they do not need a blind eye. Policing is so light they are able to carry on with impunity and certainly with scant regard for the law.
I welcome the debate and compliment the Leader on tabling the motion. I welcome the contribution of the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who has left the Chamber. In fairness, he has significantly strengthened the commitment from the Government's side on this topic.
Unfortunately, a light touch has been applied in recent years and this has perhaps created the void. The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, might say we are 17 years into the peace process and it is really time for the politicians in the North to be taking responsibility and showing leadership themselves. That has not been happening, although I acknowledge that Mr. Martin McGuinness, in particular, has been a very good appointment as Deputy First Minister. From talking to MLAs on the Unionist side, I think they would also feel he is someone with whom they can do business. Of course, this whole issue leads to a lack of credibility and trust, which is very much in evidence there.
I will start where my colleague finished. Through our work in south Armagh, it was very apparent that there was a high level of criminality there.
There is intimidation and a spirit of omerta and it is obvious that former IRA combatants are involved. These people can be named and have been named privately to us. It is also clear as one travels around that they are doing very well financially from their exercise. When we were there and talking to locals, what worried me is that it operated as it did in the past, namely, that the money raised was "for the cause". That begs the question - what cause are we talking about now? Is it now a political cause? Therein lies a threat that could skew our political and democratic processes here.
This organised crime must be tackled seriously. In that regard, I must say I am not totally impressed by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Justice Minister, David Ford MLA, hosting a conference on organised crime. A task force that is committed to dealing with it is required. More worryingly, when the Garda Commissioner signalled that the IRA is no longer in existence back in February, one wondered how out of touch she was regarding what was going on. If there is no awareness among the authorities upon which the State depends to keep law and order, there is no hope of correcting or controlling it.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "it is also crucial that we complete the work started by the Stormont House Agreement on establishing institutions to deal with the legacy of the past so that justice and truth can bring what healing is possible to victims and survivors of the Troubles and their families." I will believe it when I see it. It is wishful thinking. We have tried through these Houses for many years to get the British to give some semblance of co-operation with regard to the perpetrators and information they have regarding the largest atrocity during the Troubles, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and in particular, the high level of collusion involving British forces and possibly British politicians in those atrocities. The former Taoiseach made strenuous efforts with his counterpart at the time, Tony Blair, and was told that MI5 would not co-operate in releasing the information. How convenient. Governments are elected to govern and, unfortunately, we have not seen any of that.
I caution the Minister whose bona fides in this area I do not doubt as I think he is highly committed to it. He comes with a lot of knowledge and expertise in the area. He talks about how an international treaty between the British and Irish Governments is required for the establishment of the independent commission for information retrieval. Is this the same British Government that a previous Irish Government entered into an international agreement with? Judge Peter Corry was appointed to look at certain murders and atrocities that happened both North and South. This was subsequently reneged upon when Judge Corry looked for a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. This was done because there were very high levels of collusion involved.
Understandably but regrettably, party politics are interfering with progressing the normalisation of politics and society in the North. What Mike Nesbitt, MLA, and the UUP did in removing David Kennedy from the Executive was obviously done for his own narrow party political interest. The same happened with Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Clearly Sinn Féin is in a bind in that it is looking at politics down here and trying to co-ordinate what it does in the North in respect of whether it will be popular down here. One cannot run an administration based on this.
A number of the murders committed have been mentioned. I can understand that the murder of Jock Davison on 5 May would have resonated with a lot of republicans. He was highly regarded with the republican community. He was a man who played his part when the loyalist murder gangs were assassinating innocent Catholics in the North and gained quite a degree of respect for that. I know there are allegations about him being involved in the murder of Robert McCartney. We have a situation where we have, more or less, a total abandonment of law and order and this must change. The killing of Paul Quinn and the murder of Robert McCartney were never thoroughly investigated to bring the perpetrators to justice. Their families must get restitution by way of the truth and the prosecution of those responsible.
We need to cleanse the process of all criminality, be it the IRA or the loyalist paramilitaries who are also up to the necks in it. All of this must be cleansed. We must build trust and respect and make politics work. This effort must not just partially deal with it. It must deal with it so that we can turn over a new chapter and there can be a progression of the real needs of the people of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Leader for having this debate. We all acknowledge that the struggles faced by the people of Northern Ireland during the Troubles were a real injustice. It was forced on them by the divisions of history and the low bar set by that history for how neighbour should treat neighbour. The way people in the North were treated by paramilitaries during those years must be condemned. The cruel realities of those days are a stain on the histories of these islands and it has long been clear that peace was not only the will of the people but the responsibility of their leaders and the leaders of parties to build and sustain. We must all recognise this, particularly the parties in the North. I compliment the Minister on the role he has played since he took office in ensuring this is done. Recognising the genuine grievances of both sides - I stress both sides - a peace was painstakingly built on imperfect foundations. This peace was rightly held up as a model for the world of what can be achieved when people of good will and strong character reach across divisions in the name of something greater. From the pragmatic and cautious hope of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 to the celebration of the St Andrew's Agreement in 2006, this House has long applauded the inspiring progress made in the North and the South. I acknowledge all people in the current Government and previous Governments who took part in that. I also acknowledge Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness who were regarded as the "Chuckle Brothers".
However, we now face a serious impasse. The hard-won stability of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland is uncertain and it can feel like we have moved backwards in the saga of peace in Northern Ireland. Two things need to be made very clear here. The rule of law is the foundation of any viable state. No crime should stand above or outside that rule of law. No citizen, group of citizens or citizens linked to any party should stand above or outside that rule of law. An imperfect foundation was necessary for the peace process in Northern Ireland - an understanding that the priority was moving forward in peace rather than justice for past crimes. Both sides accepted this and the peace was built. It is a testament to the strength of that peace that we now recognise that this looking the other way is not only no longer acceptable but is no longer necessary. Nobody should look the other way when crimes are being committed.
The latest development in the political crisis was sparked by the shooting of Kevin McGuigan. The police have said current members of the IRA were involved in the shooting - a revelation that has heaped pressure on Sinn Féin to explain why the "supposedly" defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence. This must be researched. I heard the former Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, say on radio last month and write in The Irish Times four or five weeks ago about what happened when he was in power at the time the Provisional IRA "stood down". He said that the Irish and British governments deliberately allowed the Provisional IRA to continue as an "unarmed and withering husk" rather than risk a dissident group filling the void left by its disbandment. We must now investigate whether this "withering husk" is coming to the fore.
Thankfully, Northern Ireland today is not what it once was. The people of Northern Ireland have tasted enough peace now that it has become a stable part of life there. That could be seen in the many recent interviews of ordinary people asking for elected representatives to get on with the job they are paid to do. Any threat to that peace is rightly seen as crime against the rule of law and against all communities of Northern Ireland. This week, the Secretary of State also announced that there would be enhanced support and resources for tackling criminality in Northern Ireland.
This is in keeping with the Government's strong determination to tackle crime, including organised crime. The Secretary of State said that where cross-Border crime was in question, there was also very strong North-South co-operation involving the police. I support Senator Paul Coghlan. The Secretary of State said that ways to further enhance the excellent work of the co-operation between North and South will be examined. I stress that part of the Secretary of State's statement, and support Senator Paul Coghlan in his call for a North-South corridor because more co-operation is needed. Senators Paul Coghlan and Jim Walsh and the fine report by the North-South body on diesel laundering have shown that a blind eye is being turned and it is no longer necessary. As joint custodians of peace in Northern Ireland, it is everybody's responsibility, including Sinn Fein's responsibility, to openly face the elements or some elements that may at one time have been connected to their organisation, be they known or unknown, which act as a threat to peace and the rule of law and which do not take ownership of peace and the prosperity of all the people of Northern Ireland rather than one community over the other. We cannot have a split community. If people are in government together, they should govern as a whole for the entire community. It is their responsibility to face those elements and a culture that shies away from the type of transparency demanded of a parliamentary party in a democracy. It is the Sinn Féin attitude to truth - that truth can be moulded to fit an ideology - that is a cause of concern and a cause of breakdown not only in the North but throughout the whole of Ireland.
The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government has had to make tough decisions to get this country out of the economic mess it inherited. When there are people in power in Northern Ireland, decisions have to be made. I will mention-----
The Senator's time is up.
I cannot engage in a debate without mentioning Sinn Féin's treatment of individuals such as Maíria Cahill and the way that was handled.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
There are many Senators waiting and they will not get in.
I will conclude by acknowledging Senator Jimmy Harte and the role that his family and Paddy Harte have played. As the Minister said, they put their families at risk and I acknowledge their role in the peace garden in Flanders and what they have done to promote peace. In acknowledgement of Senator Jimmy Harte's great work in the Seanad we should work towards ensuring the Assembly gets back on the road to peace.
I welcome this debate and the Minister for this part of the debate. It is not unexpected that many of the contributions that have been made so far, especially from Government Senators, were simply anti-Sinn Féin rants which could have been made ten or 20 years ago rather than deal with the real issues that affect people in the North. They say the first casualty-----
We did not rant.
With respect to the Senator, this is my contribution. They say that the first casualty of war is truth and it would seem that truth is also a casualty in times of peace also.
Sinn Féin interrupted.
Senators from Fianna Fáil and from the Government parties have talked about an abandonment of law and order, intimidation, control, criminality, a lack of transparency, insinuations that some political parties are benefiting from crime, and bandit country, when they talk about one of the 32 counties of the country. They make all of these charges. I will read exactly what the Chief Constable of the PSNI said in his assessment of the IRA a number of weeks ago. It seems that the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Seanad is on a completely different page from the person who is charged with making these assessments, who has the intelligence and who is the person who has expressed his view very clearly. He said, "We assess that in the organisational sense the Provisional IRA does not exist for paramilitary purposes." He goes on to say, "Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda." The Chief Constable of the PSNI says that the primary focus of all republicans is that they follow a peaceful, republican agenda. Obviously, the Leader of the House and some of the Senators do not agree with this. He goes on to say, "It is our assessment that the Provisional IRA is committed to following a political path and is no longer engaged in [violence]." He also says-----
Tell that to the mother.
The Senator should take up that matter with the Chief Constable of the PSNI because I am sayingSenators seem to have a different view from that of the Chief Constable of the PSNI.
There are gravestones and headstones.
If people want to shout me down-----
The Senator shouted-----
A total of 39 people have died.
The Senators do not want to have a constructive debate.
Senator David Cullinane to continue, without interruption, please.
They do not want to listen to the truth and do not want to listen to the facts.
There are 39 people dead; that is the truth.
The Senator should let Senator David Cullinane speak.
I am stating what the Chief Constable of the PSNI has said. The PSNI is the police force in the North. This is what he said. He said, "I accept the bona fides of the Sinn Féin leadership regarding their rejection of violence and pursuit of the peace process and I accept their assurance that they want to support police in bringing those responsible to justice," when he talked about the murder of Kevin McGuigan. He also said, when talking about a group called Action Against Drugs, which has been linked to this murder:
I want to comment on the connection, or lack of connection between the [Provisional IRA] and the group calling itself 'Action Against Drugs'. Action Against Drugs has emerged from within the Republican community from a range of backgrounds. Some are former members of the Provisional IRA, but others have [a violent dissident republican background] ... and others [come] from a pure organised crime background. This group is intent on taking action against what it perceives as anti-social elements in Belfast but this is done in pursuit of their own criminal agenda. They are little more than an organised crime group in my view and we assess that Action Against Drugs is an independent [body] ... that is not part of, or a cover name for the Provisional IRA.
It is clear what the Chief Constable says. I do not know if the Minister of State has evidence to the contrary. I do not know whether the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, or the Garda Commissioner have a different view. Many comments that have been made by some of the Senators here are exactly the type of comments that are seized upon by some politicians in the North to try to bring down the peace process and political institutions. Sinn Féin has been absolutely clear and unambiguous on criminality. We have been absolutely clear and unambiguous on the killing of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan. Martin McGuinness who I believe has given incredible leadership has said those responsible are murderers and criminals and should be brought to justice. If anybody gave me information about any of those killings, I would bring that information forward to the PSNI. There are crime bosses and crime gangs in the State, too. I wonder what the Government has done about all of those crime gangs which also operate with impunity in Dublin and elsewhere. I condemn criminality north, south, east and west.
Then what happened to Maíria Cahill?
I condemn what happened to Maíria Cahill. The Senator can use-----
Does the Senator believe his leader knew nothing about it?
Senator David Cullinane to continue, without interruption. Let him speak.
The Senator can use her tragic circumstances as a weapon with which to attack Sinn Féin. That is up to the Senator. My compassion is with victims of all abuse and crime. Sinn Féin has given very strong leadership on criminality. We cannot say or do any more. We have said very clearly that the people concerned are criminals who should be brought to justice. There is no place for criminality. If there are former members of the republican movement or the IRA involved in crime, I condemn it utterly. The authorities North and South should pursue them ruthlessly. It is outrageous for Senators in this House to claim that the PSNI in the North and the Garda in the South are turning a blind eye to crime. I do not believe that is the case. If it is the case, they should also be brought to book. There should be no turning a blind eye to crime.
I will finish on this point.
The Senator's time is up.
We have a lot of work to do to continue to build peace. I do not want to see a situation where, when the dust settles, when the political charges die down, when the election in this part of the State is over and elections in the North are over, we have to pick up the pieces. The damage that has been done by some commentary in the South and by some Unionist politicians in the North by seizing on these issues to attack Sinn Féin will have to be undone and we will have to continue to keep the institutions in the North up and running and to make sure that we continue with the peace process.
The Senator's time is up; he is well over time.
I ask people to be conscious of this as we have this debate.
The situation that has developed in Northern Ireland has the potential to cause political instability and we see this happening with a great sense of disappointment. This can only be to the benefit of those on both sides who do not want politics to work. It has the potential to see us go back to the bad old days of conflict, with the darkness that it entailed.
I pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for the manner in which he has handled the situation from the Government's perspective. He is making a positive contribution to ensure the Assembly and the Executive will continue to function and offer a democratic alternative in Northern Ireland to the mindless and unfortunate decades of violence we all had to endure.
There are many issues still to be sorted out such as the legacies of the past. Many groups with outstanding issues will address tomorrow's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. They will look for movement and some closure. It is often said Northern Ireland politicians are impossible and stuck in the past. For some, this is undoubtedly true. However, we should also take time to consider the unbelievable burden of history that they face when trying to move things forward, even for those who sometimes appear to be intransigent in their views. A fellow once said to Lester Piggott, "I thought you were going to come there, Lester," to which he replied, "Well, you can't come without the horse." Sometimes it is difficult for those concerned to leave their people, but most are actually trying to do this. It is not easy, however, to move the tectonic plates to progress. In that sense, I welcome the comments of Senator Sean D. Barrett who referred to the launch last week of a book entitled, Uncomfortable Conversations. I was not able to attend the event, but I did read about it. I was pleased to hear Deputy Gerry Adams, with whom I do not often agree, say the united Ireland which might happen might not be the one we had envisaged historically. He was talking about inclusion. The British ambassador, Mr. Dominick Chilcott, said one could not expect republicans to become unionists or vice versa. We are looking at inclusion, which is why this morning I raised the issue of a Sinn Féin councillor and general election candidate in Donaghmede who was calling the hierarchy in rugby West Brits. There is no hierarchy of Irishness. I am not saying any of the three Sinn Féin Senators present would ever do this; I do not believe they would. However, it is important for us - no matter who says these things, whether it be a Fine Gaeler or a Sinn Féiner - to let them know that we are moving on. Even if the conversations are uncomfortable, we want to have them. That is why we need to get the institutions up and moving fully again to sort out the things that need to be sorted out.
It should be remembered that sometimes the process is as important as the product. Often it is more important and significant. As someone who lives in a Border area, I would like to see an enhanced task force to deal with criminal activities, including diesel laundering, petrol stretching and cigarette smuggling. I will not say who is at it because I do not know, but we do know who people say is at it.
Do not stand for such a rumour.
I am not standing up for them. I am not blaming any one group and not going in that direction. All I am saying is I would like to see full support for the task force from all parties. It will come. That is all I am saying.
I am sorry that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, had to leave, but I understand the way the rota system works. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, when I say this. I compliment the Minister on the proactive role he has played in the past few months, particularly in the light of the recent threat to the institutions in Northern Ireland.
Senator Jim D'Arcy mentioned all parties, but I am not sure whether he was talking about the North or the South. In the South we can support all of the initiatives in the world, but at the end of the day it is about what happens behind closed doors at Stormont between the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland and the dominant parties - the DUP and Sinn Féin.
I acknowledge what I believe is the statesman-like position Mr. Martin McGuinness has taken. I have always had great respect for him because he has never at any time shied away from the reality of his background in Derry. He has admitted that he was not only a member of the IRA but also that he was an active member, unlike his party colleague, Deputy Gerry Adams, but I am not going to go down that road.
I welcome Senator David Cullinane's renewed commitment to opposing criminality in all its forms. Whenever I hear Sinn Féin representatives condemning criminality in their new political guise I cannot help it, but my mind keeps flipping back over a lot of murders in this State, not to mention what happened in Northern Ireland, in the name of Irish republicanism and the cause of freedom of Ireland, that of Detective Jerry McCabe being one. There was the young man who went into a bank in Waterford with his son who was shot in front of him. Sinn Féin gave the driver of the getaway car a medal at its Ard-Fheis. As that only happened in the last two years, forgive me if I sound a little cynical.
I do not wish in any way to undermine the commitment Sinn Féin's elected members have, particularly in Northern Ireland, to maintaining the institutions. I know from first-hand experience of dealing with Sinn Féin representatives through the North-South Implementation Bodies and at the various committee meetings I have attended at Stormont in recent years that Sinn Féin is committed to maintaining the institutions in Northern Ireland perhaps even a little more than it is given credit for. However, it seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the political realities of facing two sides at the one time - facing the electorate in Northern Ireland and in the South which have different dynamics.
Did the Senator want us to take the Assembly down?
In that context, we have had disagreements about welfare cuts, to which Sinn Féin will not sign up. It knows full well that if it were to do so, it would be attacked politically in this part of the country for signing up to something in the North it would not sign up to in the South.
While I have a great deal of sympathy for Sinn Féin in that regard, the SDLP which is sometimes forgotten whenever we talk about the Northern parties also has a mandate from the electorate. It has consistently and persistently supported a non-violent way forward for the North and the South. The party and its voters are to be given credit for adopting this position. Its voters have alternatives, but they have stuck rigidly to the view that the way forward is through constitutional politics. In the light of the position Sinn Féin has taken on the North, I have a great deal of sympathy for the party. Anybody watching what happens and is happening in the United Kingdom will see that the Tory Government, a very right-wing government, wants to cut public expenditure on social welfare by €12 billion, which is more than half of the total social welfare budget in this country. The most recent BBC report I saw indicated the Tory Government was to reduce tax credits for those in low paid employment, which will push them over the edge and into the poverty trap again. I understand where Sinn Féin is coming from politically. However, what is the alternative? The party is relying on the block grant from Westminster and it appears the Tory Government is not for turning in that regard. Not only is Northern Ireland being affected by its social welfare policies; all of the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom are being affected also. I hope what is happening will not ultimately be a deal breaker and that there will be some light at the end of the tunnel in that regard.
The DUP obviously wants to maintain the institutions. I know from talking to DUP members that they do not want the administration to collapse either. The mere fact that it ensured Arlene Foster remained as acting First Minister sent a very strong message that it to wanted to have some resolution of the issue. I hope the two Governments will be a little more proactive in this regard. After all, the Government of the Republic, with that of the United Kingdom, is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. This is sometimes forgotten. Perhaps it is not something Unionists want to hear about Southern Irish involvement, but the treaty is an international one that was voted on freely in a democratic fashion by people on all sides on the island. It was the first time it had happened since 1918. Therefore, the DUP cannot run away from its responsibilities in this regard. The Irish Government should be playing a more proactive part and it is about time heads were banged together.
I agree fully with what was said about the so-called peace walls. It is an absolute disgrace that in this day and age, at a time when we are talking about peace and moving forward, there are walls dividing communities in Belfast and that one, in particular, is a tourist attraction. I am glad to note that there have been some moves in recent weeks towards dismantling some of these peace walls. There is no way society in the North, or communities there that are divided physically, apart from psychologically or historically, can have any hope for the future until these walls disappear.
I thank the Minister of State for attending. The North is close to his constituency.
The lack of engagement by the two Governments is the reason there is an impasse. There were attempts, in dealing with the past and flags, to come up with a solution. The US Government became involved in dealing with certain issues and there were failed talks, but there was no substantive engagement. There was some, but there is a need for high level engagement by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to resolve the issues involved. However, that is not really what is of concern to the citizens of Northern Ireland; what are of concern to them are the issues that affect their daily lives, including the cuts to social welfare and services and the block grant in the North proposed by the Tory Government.
To a large degree, the issue that is causing the collapse of the structures in the North is being used by both sides to get away from what affects people in their daily lives in the North. That is a consequence of the Stormont House Agreement. Now we have a political crisis, largely created by politicians for their own ends, and the ordinary citizen in the North is concerned. Catholics, Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists are concerned about the cuts coming their way, yet politics has failed them in that regard in that there has been no engagement.
I agree with my colleagues that the North is a special case in respect of the block grant. I acknowledge the argument being made by Tory MPs that the North is receiving more proportionately than Scotland and Wales, but I do not really care because the North is a special case. If we want a peace dividend, we need to invest more.
On the issues of dealing with the past, parades and flags, the engagement by the British Government has been appalling. It has refused to hand over the files on the Dublin–Monaghan bombings, the largest bombing and biggest mass murder in the history of the State. The bombings happened not one mile from Leinster House. The report of Mr. Justice Barron is quite clear and unequivocal in stating the bombings could not have happened without the assistance of the British Army and security forces. One in three of the deaths in the North was caused by loyalist paramilitaries with the assistance of the British security forces. That is the past, but we cannot move forward until the British Government agrees to hand over the files. However, that will not break the impasse because the real issue is that the Stormont House Agreement was going to cause political problems for all parties in the North. The British Government needs to give more funding because whatever funding it will have to give to solve the problems associated with the proposed social welfare cuts will be nothing by comparison with the cost that would be incurred if there were to be a resurgence of paramilitary activity and a reignition of the Troubles. We are asking the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister to become involved at the highest level and for the renegotiation of the Stormont House Agreement. The immediate issue concerning the IRA must be examined, but a solution is possible.
What is occurring has been used by all sides to try to distract from the real issues affecting the day-to-day lives of citizens in the North and the need to improve their lives and ensure they can go about their normal business. Most of what is happening is, to a large degree, being used for political purposes. Long-term, sustained engagement by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, not just engagement when there is a crisis, is required if we are to have the solutions required to keep the peace in the North. Dealing with the past, flags and parades is part of this process, but the Stormont House Agreement needs to be addressed. Whatever funding is required from the British Exchequer to ensure the stability we have witnessed in recent years is maintained is a matter the Government needs to pursue.
I am sharing my time with Senator James Heffernan.
Like many others in Ireland, I am extremely disappointed that there is such political instability in Northern Ireland 17 years after the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement. In April 1998, after 30 years of conflict in which 3,500 people were killed, there was much rejoicing over an agreement being put in place to address the many issues that had divided communities and politicians over the decades. Much praise was rightly lavished on politicians from all sides and community leaders who had made many compromises in the interests of peace. The people of Ireland, North and South, strongly endorsed the Agreement and expected it to be fully implemented. World leaders hailed it as a template that could be replicated in other war-torn parts of the world. Some, however, referred to it as "Sunningdale for slow learners" and bemoaned the fact that if such an agreement had been reached in 1973, it would have saved many lives that had been lost in the intervening 25 years.
While much has been achieved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in bringing to an end much of the violence, the reform of the policing system, cross-Border and security co-operation, progress on many aspects of the Agreement has been unacceptably slow and disappointing. The Agreement was designed to address some of the roadblocks such as identity issues, the welfare system and the making of the government's finances in Northern Ireland more sustainable. I acknowledge the part played by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan; the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers; the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron. All parties signed up to the Agreement, but when tough political decisions had to be taken, agreement could not be reached. The legacy of paramilitarism and criminality is a major stumbling block and the recent murder of Mr. McGuigan, a matter for the police to resolve, has caused great uncertainty. The issue of criminality and racketeering and the need for additional police resources are obviously being addressed, but cool heads must now get involved. All parties should be brought to the table in order that a lasting solution can be found to the difficulties being encountered. Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days when there was a risk of loss of life. There were major issues to be resolved relating to policing and criminality. On this side of the Border we have an interest in that livelihoods are being impacted on, as are people's properties. I wish success to the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and everyone else who is attempting to broker an agreement that will keep the power-sharing executive in place and bring stability and peace to Northern Ireland.
I thank Senator Michael Mullins for sharing time with me. I did not intend to speak on this matter, but I decided to come and talk about it because it is an issue I have been raising for a number of years in this House.
The recent murders in Belfast, whoever committed them, be they members of the Provisional IRA or State actors, as alleged by Sinn Féin leaders, came at a terrible time politically.
Sinn Féin leaders have alleged nothing.
Please allow Senator James Heffernan to speak.
Mr. Martin McGuinness has alleged that it was actors of the state who had their hands-----
Incorrect. The Senator should check the record on that one.
This is what Sinn Féin does. It is expert at deflecting and it has been deflecting for a long time. The reality is that there are 45 people of whom I am aware who have met violent deaths since the IRA called its ceasefire. If you ask me, it is not much of a ceasefire when 45 people are dead and buried. That means that there are 45 families who are without a loved one. Sinn Féin has stated it is just housekeeping and that we are guilty on both sides of the Border-----
On a point of order, the Senator is making outrageous statements against Sinn Féin that he cannot back up. If he has any evidence to back them up, he should bring it into the House. He should put up or shut up.
The Senator should listen to what I am saying first.
The Senator is accusing Sinn Féin.
I have a lot of time for the Senator and believe he has been excellent.
Senator James Heffernan is making a political charge, which is in order. Will he, please, continue?
It is totally out of order.
Senator James Heffernan may continue, as he is making a political charge, which is appropriate.
It is a political fact.
The Senator is making incorrect statements.
Some 45 people are dead; the Provisional IRA killed them. That is a fact.
Can the Senator back up that statement?
It is a fact.
Will the Senator continue his contribution, please? He is eating into his own time.
There are ridiculous denials by good people like Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
The PSNI chief-----
The Senator knows well that the Provisional IRA is an operational, criminal organisation, both north and south of the Border. It operates one of the largest criminal networks in western Europe. That is a fact.
It is precisely the opposite.
Ask the Criminal Assets Bureau.
I ask that Senator James Heffernan be allowed to continue his contribution uninterrupted.
I asked the Garda Commissioner if she thought the Provisional IRA stilll existed and she could not tell me one way or the other. I hope we will see something more definite in a number of weeks time. If one asks any family member of the 45 people who are lying six feet under whether the Provisional IRA still exists, he or she will say "Yes, they do." If one asks Briege Quinn and Stephen Quinn if the Provisional IRA lured their child, a 21-year old boy, to a farmhouse in County Monaghan on this side of the Border to be beaten to death with cudgels and sticks with nails in them to the point where every single bone in his body was broken, without one bit of him being left to be put back together.
The Senator's time is up.
For him to be left in that state for any parent to see was horrific and it happened at the hands of the Provisional IRA.
There is no evidence to back up that statement.
That is a fact. For the Senator and other good people like him in Sinn Féin to deny it helps the IRA to continue its operations. It is time the Senator and progressive people like him stood up to the IRA from within Sinn Féin.
I ask the Senator to, please, resume his seat.
I thank the Leader for arranging this very important debate. I spent most of my childhood hearing about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Since the Good Friday Agreement life has changed immeasurably for the better. I have spoken to members in Northern Ireland about this issue and they reliably tell me that the peace process is on life support.
I have reservations about the DUP taking the stance its members did on the basis of one police statement. That said, there are serious issues of trust at stake and I urge the Minister to ask the Taoiseach to commit himself fully to getting the Executive and the Assembly at Stormont up and running again. What could be more important to our island than peace? That is all we want - peace and stability. They cannot be put at stake. The suspension of talks or the Assembly would only serve one purpose - the needs of extremists. That is something to which we do not want to go back.
I have reservations about the lack of trust that has crept into the situation in Northern Ireland on issues such as welfare reform. As I understand it, Mr. Martin McGuinness had committed himself to a Second Stage Reading, but when the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin met in the South, with one eye on the forthcoming general election here, the entire tone in Northern Ireland changed. Naturally, I would be very cynical about this. Criminality has been ongoing, but there have been no arrests for up to ten years. It would be outrageous if people were turning a blind eye. Everybody has to wake up to this, as we do to the serious stories of abuse and the kangaroo courts of the IRA. There is a continuum of violence.
As for solutions, the Taoiseach and Mr. Cameron must show leadership. If the Taoiseach wants to show that he is a statesman before this term in government expires, this is the way to do it rather than through cheap electioneering, for which there is no need. That is what everybody expects. That is the micro stuff; this is the macro picture for the island. As the Irish and British Governments are co-guarantors of the peace process, let us, please, measure up. There must be arrests for engaging in criminal activitiy and we need an independent monitoring commission, ideally to be chaired by an American diplomat.
There would be a measure of verification and proof to show that all the actors in this situation are genuine: Sinn Féin, the DUP, the SDLP and whoever is managing the IRA. My overarching request to the Minister is that he talk to the Taoiseach about showing real leadership here. The Minister is doing a wonderful job, but this is time for leadership at the level of the Taoiseach and the same applies to the Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron.
I thank the Chair for allowing the time in the circumstances.
I thank all the contributors to the excellent debate on Northern Ireland, an issue which has not been debated in this House for some time. It is an opportune time to have that debate. I am glad that Senator Jim Walsh and most other Senators acknowledge the full commitment and bona fides of the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the process. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, for his presence also. He has been involved in the British Irish Parliamentary Association and the Good Friday Agreement and is certainly on top of his brief in this regard.
The Taoiseach is accused by some of not being fully engaged. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade outlined that the Taoiseach has been in constant contact with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, almost hourly, in all negotiations. There is a sustained engagement between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister on these issues. We have had a good debate and many issues were raised including the need for a task force to combat criminality. Also raised was the high level of legacy issues such as collusion between the British army and loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles. That was the subject of the Barron report and we have had evidence on that before. Money from diesel laundering previously went to the "cause" but where is it going now?
Many questions have been asked in tonight’s debate, but I believe that ordinary people from all sides of the political divide want their political representatives to get on with their job of representing them. The Government will not be found wanting in assisting the parties in their efforts to agree, as stated by the Minister, a shared vision and a common plan which will move society in Northern Ireland to stability. That is what we all want and I wish everybody well in their deliberations in getting us back to a situation of normality in Northern Ireland.