I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 32, inclusive, together.
I met Prime Minister Cameron in Downing Street on 18 June last. I congratulated him on his electoral success. I briefed him on Ireland's continuing economic recovery and informed him of our determination to ensure ongoing and sustainable growth in jobs and economic output.
We both agreed that relations between Britain and Ireland were never stronger. We noted the importance of the recent visit of the Prince of Wales and last year’s state visit to Britain by President Higgins, as well as our mutual involvement in this decade of commemorations. We noted good progress in key areas of the work programme arising from the joint statement of 2012, including trade promotion, the roll-out of the common travel area visitor visa arrangement, and co-operation on defence and security matters.
Since then I have spoken to the Prime Minister on the telephone to exchange expressions of sympathy on the tragic loss of life of citizens on both islands through the senseless terrorism in Tunisia. We noted that work continues to be progressed through bilateral contacts between our respective government officials, including at Secretary General and Permanent Secretary level. A further meeting of this group, which oversees progress on over 20 areas of co-operation, will take place this autumn.
With regard to British-EU relations, I expressed the Government’s strong view that Ireland very much wants the UK to remain within the EU. We believe that this is best for Ireland, best for British-Irish relations, including Northern Ireland and best for the EU as a whole. The Prime Minister acknowledged the mutual benefits of the high levels of connectivity of our two economies as well as the strong social and historical links between us.
He confirmed that he wanted the United Kingdom to continue to play a central part in a reformed European Union and that much depended on the outcome of the negotiations in the coming months. I told the Prime Minister that we would be as constructive and positive as possible in the context of these negotiations. We will judge specific British proposals for changes either to EU legislation or policy on their merits when they are presented. Where the United Kingdom seeks reasonable and achievable adjustments in how the European Union operates, or in its own relations with it, our instinct will be to be sympathetic and supportive. At the same time, if and when we believe a UK proposition would be unrealistic or damaging, either to our interests or the broader functioning of the European Union, we will be upfront in saying so.
With regard to Northern Ireland, we affirmed our commitment to full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. We recognised the difficulties that must be faced by the Northern Ireland parties and confirmed that they continued to have our support in seeking to resolve welfare reform and related budgetary issues. We both agreed that it was critical that the Northern Ireland parties themselves should find a way through the impasse for the sake of the stability and growth of the economy, society and the political institutions of Northern Ireland.
I raised a number of legacy issues, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Ballymurphy, the Pat Finucane case and collusion issues raised in recent television coverage. I informed the Prime Minister of my meeting with the Kingsmill families and our efforts to ensure we provided the greatest amount of material possible for the coroner’s inquest in accordance with the law. The Prime Minister said he wanted to deal with legacy issues to the greatest extent possible through the agreed arrangements set out in the Stormont House Agreement and we agreed on the need to continue to make progress on operational arrangements, including for the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. Given our extensive agenda, it was not possible to get through all legacy issues such as the outstanding recommendations made in the Smithwick report. I did, however, raise the question of the UK Bill of Rights and stressed that changes to the Human Rights Act could have significant implications for Northern Ireland, given that the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland law, predicated on the European Convention of Human Rights, was one of the key principles underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. The Prime Minister acknowledged that this aspect of any proposed change would require further consideration. At this time, no legislation is before the British Parliament at Westminster to repeal the UK Human Rights Act 1998. We will continue to monitor carefully developments in this area.
The day after my meeting with the Prime Minister, 19 June, I had the opportunity to chair a plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin, during which I met the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness. On that day I also met the Scottish First Minister, Ms Sturgeon, with the other heads of delegation from devolved administrations and we discussed a number of issues, including the potential to build further on the very strong bilateral relations between Scotland and Ireland.
Earlier last month my Government colleagues and I met the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and the Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, and their ministerial team at the North-South Ministerial Council plenary session which I chaired in Dublin on 5 June. All of these meetings are part of the ongoing dialogue with parties in Northern Ireland, including two meetings attended by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in recent weeks to formally review progress on the Stormont House Agreement. In the course of these meetings he met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, and had bilateral contacts with the representatives of all the parties. He continues to keep in very close contact with developments.
I visited Northern Ireland on 26 and 27 March this year. I addressed the annual CBI conference on the evening of 26 March and met the CEOs of North-South bodies in Belfast. I visited a Co-operation Ireland project in Sandy Row and met the Lord Mayor of Belfast at City Hall. My programme also included a meeting in Bessbrook with the families of those killed in the Kingsmill atrocity. I also visited Ballymurphy and met members of the families of those killed in 1971. We will have an opportunity in the Dáil tomorrow to debate an all-party motion - I am grateful to Deputies for agreeing to this - on the events in Ballymurphy in August 1971 and the legacy issues that arise from them.