Northern Ireland Issues.

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1000/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

2 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1001/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

3 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1002/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1003/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

5 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1011/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

6 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister in London on 17 December 2003. [1032/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

7 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he has received the annual report of the North-South Ministerial Council for 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1036/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

8 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in London with the British Prime Minister on 17 December 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1050/04]

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Enda Kenny

Ceist:

9 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with the pro-Agreement parties in London on 17 December 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1051/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in London on 17 December 2003. [1186/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

11 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his talks with Northern political parties in London on 17 December 2003. [1187/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the contacts he or his Department has had with the Democratic Unionist Party since the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1188/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

13 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1274/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

14 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the procedures for reviewing the Good Friday Agreement; the progress so far in the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1275/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

15 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent contacts he has had with the British Government concerning Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1276/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

16 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the meetings he has had with the Northern Ireland political parties since the beginning of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1277/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

17 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the role he will play in the review of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1578/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

18 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his plans to provide for Six County representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2004. [1699/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

19 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 19 January 2004 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [1731/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

20 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the role he or his Department will play in the proposed review of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1732/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

21 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has raised at any of his recent meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, the failure of the British Government to publish the Cory report in regard to matters in Northern Ireland; if he has received an undertaking from the Prime Minister that the report will be published; when he expects this to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1733/04]

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

22 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister on 19 January 2004. [1790/04]

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Joe Higgins

Ceist:

23 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1828/04]

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Joe Higgins

Ceist:

24 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1829/04]

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Joe Higgins

Ceist:

25 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1837/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

26 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he has considered reconvening the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, especially in view of the political vacuum that exists in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2891/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

27 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting on 26 January 2004 with representatives of the Ulster Political Research Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2901/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

28 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 29 January 2004 in London with a delegation from the Democratic Unionist Party. [3150/04]

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Joe Higgins

Ceist:

29 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party in London; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3695/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

30 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of his meeting in January 2004 with a delegation from the Democratic Unionist Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3976/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

31 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the recent contacts he has had with the British Government concerning the failure of that Government to publish the Cory report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3978/04]

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Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

172 Mr. O'Connor asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his historic meeting with the DUP in London; his views on the current situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3469/04]

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Oral answers (22 contributions) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 31, inclusive, and No. 172 together.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution of John Hume to political life on this island and, on his announcement that he will not seek his party's nomination for the European Parliament elections on this occasion, in particular his contribution on the European stage. Throughout his distinguished service in the European Parliament, John has always worked with his fellow Northern Ireland MEPs across the political divide to put the interests of the people of Northern Ireland and the people of this island first. He was central to securing the support of the European Union for the peace process, support that found tangible expression through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. He is a great European who believes strongly in the European project and he leaves a remarkable legacy of achievement. I wish him well for the future.

Since the Assembly elections last November, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and I have had a range of contacts and meetings with Prime Minister Blair, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, and the political parties. I met the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party in London on 17 December. Most recently, I met Prime Minister Blair on 19 January. The Minister for Foreign Affairs met Paul Murphy at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 22 January. I met a DUP delegation led by Dr. Ian Paisley on 29 January in London. On 4 February, I met Mitchell Reiss, President Bush's special envoy. All these contacts have focused primarily on assessing the prospects for making progress, including in the context of the review of the Good Friday Agreement, which commenced on 3 February.

At my meeting with Prime Minister Blair, I urged again the publication of Judge Cory's report into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. As I stated, I met a Democratic Unionist Party delegation led by Dr. Paisley at the Irish Embassy in London on 29 January. I sincerely welcome the opening of this dialogue with the DUP. It was an important meeting, the first in which Dr. Paisley has engaged with the Irish Government on political issues. Our discussions were of an exploratory nature. We want to have good relations with the DUP. We would like, arising from our meeting in London, to see our dialogue continuing at all levels and on the basis of mutual respect.

Both Governments have made it clear that the review that is now under way is not a review of the fundamentals of the Agreement. We have said that there can be no change to these fundamentals, but we are open to considering practical and sensible changes in the workings of the Agreement where there is a consensus supporting such changes.

The Agreement is, of course, wider than devolution. It embraces a broad agenda of changes in other areas, changes reasserted in the Joint Declaration last year, including in policing, criminal justice, human rights and equality. This remains the agenda for both Governments and we will continue to insist thatthe changes are implemented. The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which is chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State, is taking the process forward. We are committed to ensuring that the North-South arrangements continue to function in a satisfactory manner.

On Monday, 26 January, I met representatives of the Ulster Political Research Group. I have long held the view that the opening of dialogue with representatives of the loyalist community was important. This meeting was a logical follow-up to my meeting with the Loyalist Commission last June. I recognise the very real concerns loyalists have about issues that affect their communities, particularly jobs, housing and educational opportunities. I am encouraged by some of the positive work that is being done to address the problems in these communities. We want to be constructive and to assist in any way we can.

My views on paramilitarism and sectarianism are well known. I have made it clear to both republicans and loyalists that all such activity must cease. Violence and the threat of violence are not in anyone's interests. I deplore recent sectarian attacks, attacks against prison officers and racist attacks. Such illegalities and other criminal activities must be dealt with by the police and those responsible must be brought to justice.

I have indeed received the annual report for 2002 of the North-South Ministerial Council. Deputies will be aware that the annual report was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 13 January. The annual report provides a very interesting insight into the work of the Council. It is impossible not to be impressed by the very considerable programme of work taken forward under the aegis of the North-South Ministerial Council in 2002, both in terms of the North-South bodies and in the areas where co-operation is taken forward by the respective Departments. It clearly confirms the importance of North-South co-operation and the benefits it has brought to the people of this island. Deputies will recall that, given that the NSMC cannot meet during suspension, we legislated in November 2002 to provide that both Governments could take any decisions required to allow the North-South bodies to continue to carry out their important public functions.

In the period ahead and against the background of efforts to bring about the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, both Governments are committed to protecting the achievements of the agreement, including the strand two arrangements which include the North-South Ministerial Council and the all-island implementation bodies.

Whether a meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is convened is not a matter for the Government but for the chairperson and all the participating parties. The review process will be the focus of the Government's attention in the period ahead. In these circumstances, I would not expect an early meeting of the forum.

The Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution reported on its examination of how people living in Northern Ireland could play a more active part in national political life to the extent that they so desire and in a spirit consistent with the principles underlying the Agreement. The committee also suggested that it would be especially valuable periodically to have the expertise, experience and insight of politicians from Northern Ireland in specific, appropriate debates in the Dáil and Seanad.

I share the all-party committee's view that it would be desirable to extend and formalise the existing practice regarding representation from Northern Ireland in the Seanad. The review of the composition and functions of Seanad Éireann provides an opportunity in which this discussion and dialogue can be progressed.

In so far as the all-party committee's recommendations on the Dáil are concerned, I hope the Whips can examine the possibility that arrangements for appropriate participation could be considered within the timeframe of this Dáil. I fully subscribe to the view that such participation should take place on a cross-community basis with parity of esteem for all communities in Northern Ireland.

I join the Taoiseach in paying tribute to the efforts of John Hume over three decades in Northern Ireland politics. As an MP and MEP, John Hume strode across the political landscape in Northern Ireland like a colossus and used his considerable influence to enormous beneficial effect. I trust that his experience, gained over many dark days and years, will not be lost to the political process as we move towards implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the announcement by the DUP, following the highly symbolic meeting between him and the party's representatives in the Irish Embassy in London, amounts to what the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, described as a seismic shift in attitude, in that previously the DUP wanted to deal only with the Irish Government whereas it has now declared it would be prepared to deal with republicans provided there is clarity about ending all paramilitary links? Does the Taoiseach regard that as a fundamental change in the attitude of Dr. Paisley and his party?

Did the Taoiseach's discussions with the DUP in London centre on a review of the Good Friday Agreement or were they confined to the possibility of putting new structures in place to effect a return of the legislative assembly?

Various comments have been made about the DUP proposals. They are interesting and constructive. They certainly differ from what the party has said over the years. What must be focused upon above all is that any proposal that is not inclusive and does not allow for power sharing and total participation by all sides will not work. These are strand one proposals which open up the debate. A number of people who have expressed reservations about them have also said they at least constitute a blueprint which will enable people to begin work. The proposals have been interpreted both positively and negatively by different people. I do not wish to go into the merits and demerits of the DUP proposals. They contain a great deal of detail which is crucial and must be examined comprehensively.

The core of the peace process and the Agreement is that there should be full inclusive partnership on a cross-community basis. As I have said many times since the election, that is the real issue on which the DUP and all the other parties must focus. The review is not about the fundamentals of the Agreement. Neither Nationalist party in Northern Ireland will sign up to any dilution of the partnership proposals we have worked on over the last six years. The question for any proposal on the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive is whether it meets the test of partnership. When people look, not just at the DUP's proposals, but all the proposals that will be discussed over the next few weeks, that is the test they must see. That is what they must focus on. Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have made it clear they see difficulties with the proposals as they stand. Any new proposals will have to attract consensus.

That is a challenge for the DUP, but it certainly is a move away from where we have been, hitherto. In fairness to the DUP and these proposals about strand one, while we are not directly involved, we have an interest in the overall balance of the Agreement and this has to be preserved. The DUP proposals are an opening position. We should examine them and then see how they evolve in future discussions.

The DUP put forward three models — voluntary, mandatory and corporate assembly. Two of these have been rejected by Sinn Féin. Did the Taoiseach have any discussions in respect of those models with the DUP? Taking into account that the DUP is now facing into reality, following the electoral mandate it received in the Assembly elections, does the Taoiseach agree that the situation now puts the focus back firmly on Sinn Féin and paramilitary activities? Does he intend to meet Sinn Féin again following his meeting with the DUP to discuss this particular way forward? If the DUP is saying it is prepared to deal with the republicans based on the ending of all paramilitary activities, then clearly the focus has recentred on Sinn Féin.

In respect of Barron and the Taoiseach's meeting with Prime Minister Blair, does the Taoiseach accept that even if the committee dealing with that report was to recommend a public inquiry, it is a non-runner unless the British Government was to say it would compel all witnesses to attend and provide all the information they have? Does he have a personal view, as between an international style tribunal or a public inquiry, in respect of Barron? I accept he may not wish to answer that fully, depending on the final outcome of the committee's inquiries. Will he say if he has a personal view on either of those two options?

Two major issues are involved, as regards the first question. I will repeat what I said earlier. As we get into the discussions the litmus test must be whether any proposals meet the test of partnership, where there is cross-community consent, support for people working together in a devolved executive and in an Assembly. That is the crucial issue in all of the statements. The proposals being put forward by all the parties are interesting. We should acknowledge the work and effort being put in by the parties and their backroom advisers in presenting interesting papers on the review. However, it is important that is clear that what is being discussed is the operation of the Agreement, not its fundamentals. We will not be talking about the fundamentals of the Agreement, but let us see what progress we can make in the talks.

We are not involved in strand one, which is the DUP proposal. We have an interest in the overall balance so we will maintain that issue. Ultimately, the reply to Deputy Kenny's first question is that there are two issues to which we keep coming back. First is to get a devolved working partnership on the basis set out in the Good Friday Agreement. That will only be achieved and people will only work together if there is an end to paramilitarism and all associations with it. That is clear. It is also clear that, unless everybody's mandate and position is respected, there will be no progress. The review process faces the challenge of dealing with both issues as best and as fully as possible. I have discussed this matter with all sides and will discuss it again next week with the leadership of Sinn Féin. It is essential we deal with these issues.

We are now into the second week of the review. Everybody has agreed to two full-day meetings. Obviously, other meetings will take place on the other days and parties have agreed to co-operate. The review commenced in a good atmosphere with no difficulties, walk-outs or problems such as arose in the past. That is positive.

The Deputy's second question related to the Barron report. The committee considering that issue is meeting today and will continue its meetings until it reaches its conclusions. The committee must work its way through the report. Many people involved in past and current activities are giving their views to the committee. I would rather await the outcome of that body's report. I am monitoring what is happening at the committee.

I gave my view on the matter a few weeks ago in reply to a question from Deputy Rabbitte. We should not under-estimate the level of inquiry that has taken place during the past four years. That inquiry was first overseen by the former President of the Supreme Court, the late Mr. Justice Hamilton, and later by a current member of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Barron. All the work done and evidence obtained on this matter from the Garda, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and other Departments and agencies in co-operation with the different Secretaries of State in Northern Ireland and the British departments is contained in the report now under examination. I have tried many times in recent years to obtain as much information as possible in that regard. While I am not against another investigation, I do not think it will be possible for another person to discover issues not discovered by Justices Hamilton and Barron.

I made a promise last week to try to find out more about the missing files. Mr. Justice Barron believes files exist in some areas. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated that, following extensive examinations over the years, it is still unsure whether the files are missing or if they ever existed. I stated last week that this matter had been examined by the Garda Commissioner. That information was incorrect; the Garda Commissioner did not examine the matter. However, an extensive check was made to find out if the files ever existed.

A number of former Ministers who have appeared before the Oireachtas inquiry expressed doubts about the existence of the files. Bringing in an international judge from Canada or Australia will not improve on that situation. No member of the Garda or person currently employed in the Department was around at that time. Members should consider this matter carefully. The late Mr. Justice Hamilton worked very hard on and put a great deal of time into the inquiry, as did Mr. Justice Barron. The matter will not be resolved by bringing in an international judge or by seeking information in other areas. We must leave this matter to the Oireachtas committee and Mr. Justice Barron. I have an open mind on the issue but am reluctant to pretend we will get any further with it by commencing another process for another four or five years. That is the difference.

Has the Government a strategy to end the suspension of the institutions by the British Government and to move the Good Friday Agreement forward to full implementation? If so, will the Taoiseach outline the strategy to the House? Does he agree with the response of both Sinn Féin and the SDLP to the DUP proposals last week that they are, in essence, unworkable and amount to a blueprint for a return to single party and majority rule in the Six County area? Does he also agree the current review must not amount to an exercise in unravelling the important progress made in the Good Friday Agreement, as some wish? Does he further agree progress can only be made regarding the Assembly and a working executive in the context of fully functioning and interlocking all-Ireland institutions? That is what people have worked towards and supported and that is a significant and important cornerstone of the Agreement.

Does the Taoiseach agree, contrary to Deputy Kenny's assertion regarding the raising by the DUP of the ending of all paramilitary activities, that that does not refocus attention on Sinn Féin but demands, as it must, a concentration of effort on the part of all elected voices and all parties to ensure an ending of all such activity, to which Sinn Féin is fully committed?

I refer to the Taoiseach's reply to a question I tabled in this grouping regarding Northern representation. He viewed this as a matter for the Whips to consider progressing within the timeframe of this Dáil. As media commentators have speculated recently on the likely timespan of this Dáil, can the Taoiseach be more specific? Is he actively encouraging his Chief Whip to make this a substantive matter on the agenda of Whips' meetings on which we will see early progress?

I will take the last question first. I have no difficulty with the proposals agreed in the last Dáil and we should get on and try to reach agreement. The only caveat I would add, which I have stated repeatedly, is the true meaning of parity of esteem must be taken into account and this facility must be open to all parties. That must be agreed by the House. The original report was agreed some years ago and I am ready to be helpful and to progress this as quickly as people want, but it must be done with everybody's agreement and representation must be open to everybody in Northern Ireland rather than just one or two parties. This must be done properly.

On the Government strategy, the review which commenced last week will examine the operation of the Agreement, not its fundamentals, and it will provide all parties with an opportunity to discuss areas where difficulties have arisen and where work needs to be done. Our strategy is that there are areas that we classify as fundamental to the Agreement, which I can outline to the House, but they are clear, and there are aspects where we can make progress. There were difficulties over recent years in the operation of the Agreement in many areas. They should be dealt with under the review and that will help.

The mandates of all parties must be respected and that is our strategy in the talks. We, naturally, wish to work with all parties in the Assembly to secure a fully operational, stable institution. My meetings with all the parties have been constructive — my meeting with the DUP took place in a good atmosphere. We must wait to see what emerges in the coming weeks to assess whether the parties are ready to do business. Our strategy is clearly to encourage them to do business and to get the executive and the Assembly up and running.

The Agreement is inclusive and that means that everybody must do business together. The process cannot go on indefinitely and it must be focused. I have stated that we should try to complete this review by Easter, which is not long away, considering the amount of work that must be dealt with. Both Governments are committed to moving the process forward and progressing implementation of the Agreement. I note Deputy Ó Caoláin's comment that his party is supportive of efforts to see the end of paramilitarism, a sentiment with which I agree. We need to achieve that end to get people into a state of mind in which they will be prepared to do business and engage in an inclusive executive, and Deputy Ó Caoláin is aware of that.

In respect of Deputy Kenny's point regarding the DUP's particular focus on paramilitary activity and his assertion that that refocuses attention on Sinn Féin, does the Taoiseach not agree that in reality the address of paramilitary activities, in all their shapes and guises, is the responsibility of all elected representatives and all parties? Does he agree we should be moving forward collectively to an ending of such activities?

Naturally that is what I would like to see in the negotiations. We can see an ending on all sides. There is a willingness in this regard but there are some people on the fringes — the loyalists recognise this — who do not have total control or even a means of exercising such control. Regardless of whether it is republicans, dissident republicans, loyalists or whoever is involved, we must try to find a way to move towards an end of this process. If we can do that, we will open opportunities to find the means of having an inclusive Executive. Otherwise, as Deputy Ó Caoláin is aware, it is obvious we are unlikely to encourage parties to work inclusively.

In the review, we must consider how we can move towards that position. On one hand, the issue is paramilitarism and there should be the inclusion of all sides and all factors and, on the other, the issue is the stability of a working, inclusive executive that represents all people — Nationalists, republicans, loyalists and Unionists — in Northern Ireland. While that is not the only part of the review, it is a central point which will stop us from getting devolution into operation, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, with a working executive and Assembly, with the institutions under strands two and three, the North-South bodies and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference working properly together.

When the Taoiseach met representatives of the Ulster Political Research Group did he raise the question of sectarian attacks on certain nationalist communities? Did they give any commitments or offer any views in respect of that issue? Does the Taoiseach consider favourably the movement by the DUP to offer serious prospects in terms of restoring devolved institutions to Northern Ireland? I had the opportunity in January 2003 to meet a number of DUP MLAs. Does the Taoiseach consider that I am correct in having drawn from them the impression that they were preparing to take part in serious discussions, provided the disarmament issue was dealt with?

In that regard, does he consider that the movement away from militarism within the republican movement is being maintained, or does he think it has slowed or halted? Did he raise this issue when he met Sinn Féin? Given the commitment in respect of dealing with the arms question within two years of the Belfast Agreement, does he consider it urgent that the matter be finally disposed of?

During my meeting with the Ulster research group we discussed the ongoing difficulties and the attacks on Nationalists. That issue is of ongoing concern. The group is forthcoming in its condemnation, particularly of pipe bomb attacks. It is not always possible for it to control all of these issues and there are disparate groups and individuals. However, the leadership of the group is opposed to these activities, wants nothing to do with them and does all it can to control them. In fairness to the group, there are also practical difficulties. It is not an holistic organisation which can control everything in a way that would satisfy everyone. It condemns activities and the situation, including UDA activities, is better than it was. There are also tensions within the organisation. We saw after the group met me that people expressed concerns at it being involved in such meetings. Those pressures are evident.

The issue of ending paramilitarism has not been dealt with. We have still not reach a conclusion on that issue. The discussions and work which have continued since the act of completion speech of autumn 2002 has yet to be completed. Progress is being made, the Joint Declaration has set out some of the positions but we must still reach an end of that process. I hope it will be dealt with successfully because until that happens, there will continue to be concerns — some real, some factual, some based on uncertainty about who is involved. Until there is a final settlement and we see this issue as part of the overall Agreement, it will continue to poison the negotiations. That is the reality. We can wish it to go away but we all know that wishing will not make that happen.

Many of the operational issues regarding the working of the Agreement by the DUP, the UUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party can be dealt with in the review but we still must deal with those two key issues. In the winter of 1997-98 we used say there were only 72 issues and that situation continued for a long time. There are now two issues. The first is the end to paramilitarism. I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin that this means and end to paramilitarism in its totality and on all sides. The second issue is the total respect for everyone's mandate. Everyone must respect everyone else. I believe this issue can be dealt with satisfactorily. It is well set down now and there is not much need to do any more in terms of setting it down. The Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and I have made different statements but their meanings are much the same. We have set out how we believe that could happen. I do not wish to go into every chapter and paragraph we have set down because that can be counter-productive. Nevertheless, it is all there. If that issue is dealt with there can be no reason for anyone to refuse to work on the basis of consent and participation in a devolved executive. I accept that is easier to say than to do, but that is the reality. It is the end of the review looking at the working aspects of the Agreement to see how it can be improved. I accept there are many areas in which we can do that.

Regarding the DUP, which is now a large party, I have already said that it did well with its four principles on which it stood in the election, increasing its mandate, and increasing it further with the defections from the UUP. The DUP stated it stood in the election on the platformof stability, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness. I said I had no problem with any of those issues, provided the DUP also added an inclusive agreement. On that basis we should be able to make progress if we can deal with the other two issues. It is a question of whether we can deal with those issues. If we do not deal with them, I cannot see an agreement being finalised, because it is clear the review will not deal with them.

Deputy Rabbitte must be brief, because I want to hear from two Deputies who submitted questions and who have not had an opportunity to speak.

I want to pay tribute again to the unrivalled work of John Hume, who is leaving the political stage, and to acknowledge that he has been a bulwark for constitutional politics in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years.

Does the Taoiseach agree that, notwithstanding the difficulties, it is regrettable that the British Government has not carried out its promise to publish the Cory report, or at least publish it in a manner which it feels is consistent with good practice?

Before the Taoiseach takes that question, we will hear from the Deputies who have submitted questions.

On behalf of the Green Party I join in the tributes paid to John Hume. He may have paid the price of peace in terms of his own health as well as the politics of his party.

Regarding the Taoiseach's comments about the insights of Northern representatives on this side of the Border, which are laudable, and which will hopefully come to pass in due course, does he regard it as important to engage the total political capital on this island that is pro-Agreement, in this House as well north of the Border? Does he agree it is necessary to find some role for Opposition parties in the Dáil in the review of the Belfast Agreement? Would he envisage bilaterals or round-table discussions being of benefit, or would he at least agree that more can be done than is being done at present?

What is the position of the Taoiseach and the Government regarding the British Government's thinking that a new election should be called in Northern Ireland, perhaps next June? Has the Taoiseach outlined the Government's position, and have any discussions taken place on this matter with the British Government?

Will the Taoiseach join me in calling on the British Government and the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to confirm or deny claims contained in Nicholas Davies' book, Dead Men Talking, that an alleged high level IRA spy — the Taoiseach may know of whom I am speaking — met former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the mid-1980s, and enjoyed access to high level Government intelligence committees? Does the Taoiseach share the Green Party's grave concerns about the implications of high level collusion between British intelligence and Provisional IRA command structures? Has he had an opportunity to raise this matter with the British Government?

Does the Taoiseach agree that five years on, the institutionalisation of sectarian division in the political structures of Northern Ireland, and the sectarian basis on which most political parties continue to operate, have unfortunately resulted in a widening polarisation of the communities? Does the Taoiseach agree that as a result, we now have more of a pretence of a political process than any substantial reality? Does he further agree that with three elections due in Northern Ireland in the next 14 months — the European, local and Westminster elections — we can expect the sectarian-based political parties to campaign true to form, continuing the polarisation?

Will the Taoiseach agree that the tragedy in all this is that working class communities, which bear the brunt of the results of polarisation and sectarianism, are still bedevilled with poverty and homelessness and now, unfortunately, in some areas racism is rearing its ugly head? Rather than having sectarian structures imposed upon them, is it not clear that working class people need a new political formation within which they can come together to unite in facing the problems they commonly face, rather than continue to be divided by sectarian politics?

In regard to Deputy Rabbitte's question on Judge Cory's reports, we would welcome the publication at the earliest opportunity of Judge Cory's reports in the cases of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. I expressed the view strongly to Prime Minister Blair that they should be published as a matter of urgency and that the delay in publication is having a detrimental effect on public confidence.

Deputies will be aware that we have published the two reports relevant to this jurisdiction and that a public inquiry will be held into the Breen and Buchanan case. It is not a source of tension between the two Governments, as some have sought to suggest, but it is something that needs to be dealt with urgently and we believe the British Government should deal with it urgently. It is important that the Governments stand by the commitments we made at Weston Park.

On Deputy Sargent's question about the matter of intelligence and the contacts at various levels, I cannot either confirm or deny these reports but obviously there is contact, and the security forces over the years clearly had contact at different levels. That was inevitable in a period when the level of conflict in Northern Ireland was so high.

On the question of the Dáil's involvement, as has been mentioned here, I know that all parties are in touch and have regular meetings with the parties when they visit. When anything important arises I normally arrange to brief party leaders and I continue to do that. The parties are caught up in two full days of the review and there are other meetings and connections taking place on the other days. At this stage it is just a matter of keeping in touch and when we get towards the end of that, if there is a need to change tactics or procedures, we can do that.

On Deputy Higgins's question about sectarianism, obviously sectarianism continues to be a major problem. There is polarisation and difficulties remain within areas of people being driven from their homes. There is no doubt about that. That continued to happen even last year when things were quieter. We should support the efforts of people like the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the civic forum and other groups which have worked hard to assist this process because there are many people across the divide who are endeavouring to improve relationships.

A major part of this — I discussed this with the loyalists — is a research group. It applies to Catholic areas but also to loyalist areas. The difficulties in some of these communities is lack of resources for basic facilities. We have raised many times with the Northern Ireland Office, both with the Secretary of State and other Ministers, that resources need to be put in to try to rectify the difficulties and hardships experienced in these communities.

That concludes Taoiseach's question time.

Very briefly, a Cheann Comhairle——

Sorry, Deputy. We have gone five minutes over Taoiseach's question time.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I am advised that the Government wants to withdraw leaders' time or to change the sequence to facilitate a debate on the Flynn issue. We are quite happy to facilitate a debate but not to change the sequence of Leaders' Questions. If the Government wants to make an offer in Government time, we want that and we agree to it but we do not want it making an offer in Opposition time.

Deputy, you have made your point. It is not appropriate at this time because you are eating into time that is mainly for the benefit of the Opposition to ask questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.