Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Ceisteanna (20)

Liz McManus


161 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the issues discussed and matters raised at the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held at Farmleigh on 7 July 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25305/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP, co-chaired a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Farmleigh on 7 July this year. The then Minister, Deputy Cowen, was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Mr. John Spellar MP and Mr. Ian Pearson MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Copies of the communiqué of this meeting have been placed in the Dáil Library.

The conference on 7 July reviewed political developments including the discussions on 25 June in Lancaster House. The imperative of seeing an end to all forms of paramilitary activity and of restoring a stable and inclusive partnership government in Northern Ireland was reasserted and the conference looked forward to the intensive talks in September. As the House will be aware, these talks subsequently took place at Leeds Castle on 16-18 September. The conference reviewed the various commitments made in the Joint Declaration, which are not conditional on acts by others, and agreed to continue to monitor and advance their implementation. Progress was welcomed on a number of individual commitments in the areas of human rights, equality and criminal justice.

Security and policing issues were also reviewed. The continuation of a peaceful and orderly marching season was encouraged and those involved in seeking to defuse tensions arising from contentious parades were commended. The conference also discussed cross-Border security co-operation, and ongoing North-South and east-west issues within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement.

Regarding the Cory reports, both Governments agreed that it was important to continue to move forward to establish the inquiries that have been announced following Judge Cory's report and discussed progress in their respective jurisdictions. The Irish Government reiterated its view that the British Government should establish as soon as possible a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case, as recommended by Judge Cory. On 23 September the British Government announced steps to enable the establishment of an inquiry which will be based on new legislation to be introduced at Westminster.

On the broader issue of dealing with the past, the conference agreed that any approach would need to have widespread acceptance across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and to respect the views of victims.

Additional information

In addition, the Government raised concerns in relation to the impact of the requirement to register annually on the rate of registration by eligible voters in Northern Ireland, particularly among marginalised and socially disadvantaged groups. The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference will meet again this autumn.

Arising from the Minister's comprehensive reply, can he confirm what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated on the radio on Sunday, that at Leeds Castle, arising from the talks to which the Minister's reply refers, Sinn Féin asked for a question to be answered in public to the effect that in some circumstances Sinn Féin could participate in a coalition government south of the Border? Did the Minister anticipate the question put to him on this matter and prepare the answer in consultation with the Taoiseach and senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs in response to a very explicit request made in Leeds Castle by representatives of Sinn Féin on behalf of themselves and the IRA?

I was not present in Leeds Castle and I do not want to touch on the issues currently being discussed among the parties following the talks held there.

The comments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, were reported to me. I was asked a specific question with regard to a time when we would have complete peace, full decommissioning and an end to paramilitarism, with the latter being demonstrably shown and with the DUP and Sinn Féin in government together in Northern Ireland. I referred to the circumstances in the Republic and I look forward to a time when there will be no violence in this island, when the gun will be removed from Irish politics.

Was the Minister aware that the question would be asked?

I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I am not a clairvoyant.

Was the Minister aware that a question of that kind was likely to be asked?

Did the Minister know that Tommy Gorman was going to ask that question? Was he tipped off in advance?

No. I answered the question when it was put to me. I gave an answer which showed that on one hand we cannot dictate that the DUP and others should sit in government with Sinn Féin in a time of peace. I did not suggest that there would be a coalition between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On this side of the House, within Fianna Fáil, I am probably one of the people who would be vehemently opposed to the type of policies which Sinn Féin has pursued over the years.

Did the Minister discuss this issue with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste before and after the question was asked and answered? What was the trend of any conversations that took place?

As I said, I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I discussed my interview with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the former fully verified my account publicly in Bodenstown where he said that I made the essential point, namely that there can be no allegiance to another army, that no organisation can come in from the cold until it professes and accepts allegiance to Óglaigh na hÉireann under our Constitution and no other Óglaigh na hÉireann. I look forward to the day when it does so.