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Northern Ireland

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 July 2015

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Ceisteanna (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)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the withdrawal of support by Sinn Féin for the social welfare Bill in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11625/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, following the announcement by Sinn Féin of its withdrawal of support for the social welfare Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11629/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11633/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the North of Ireland in March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15217/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with victim groups in the North of Ireland during his March 2015 visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15218/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has written to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, as he promised during his meeting with the Ballymurphy massacre families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15219/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Confederation of British Industry in Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15220/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the crisis in the Assembly over welfare reform legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15223/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the progress made, and actions taken, by him and his Department on the March 2012 joint statement, which sought to take Ireland's relationship with Britain further by setting out a vision of what closer co-operation might look like over the next ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16204/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the unique, structured process of engagement, activity and outcomes between the Irish and British Governments, underpinned by a programme of engagement by the most senior civil servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16205/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the implications of the British Government's plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, and the possibility of it breaching the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20234/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if has spoken to, or written to, the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, since the recent general election in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20235/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minster, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the implications of his Governments plans to change the Human Rights Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21858/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the impasse in Northern Ireland over the welfare reforms and budgetary matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21859/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

16. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversations with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, following the outcome of the British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22946/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

17. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has been briefed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on developments in the North since the British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22947/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

18. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has raised with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister's plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights; its implications for the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22948/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

19. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the British general election, the stated intention of the British Government to hold an in-out referendum on European Union membership; its implications for the North and for the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22949/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

20. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress arising from the commitment to an intensive programme of work made in the joint statement by the Irish and British Governments, which was published on Monday, 12 March 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22954/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

21. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings that have been held involving the Secretary General of his Department and the Cabinet Secretary with the relevant lead Departments, as committed to in the March 2012 joint statement by the Irish and British Governments; the number of civil servants who have been involved in the exchange programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22955/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

22. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of summits that have been held between him and the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, as committed to under the Irish-British joint statement of March 2012; if he will publish the reviews carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22956/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

23. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, since the crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly over welfare reform legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24596/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the recent British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24597/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

25. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, on 18 June 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25704/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

26. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he raised concerns with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the impact that Britain leaving the European Union would have on Northern Ireland in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25706/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

27. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the ongoing tensions in the Northern Ireland Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25707/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

28. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if Britain votes to leave the European Union, the impact this will have on the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25708/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

29. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he repeated the request to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, for an inquiry into a person's murder, details supplied; if the answer is still negative, his plans regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25709/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

30. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the recent "Panorama" and Raidió Teilifís Éireann programme on collusion, and if he requested the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, to face up to his responsibilities in this regard, via the Stormont House Agreement, as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25710/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

31. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the outstanding recommendations of the Smithwick report with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25711/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

32. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he has met the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, of Northern Ireland since the recent general election in the United Kingdom. [25819/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

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.

The Taoiseach has answered 31 questions together, 16 of which are mine. Three and a half years ago he told the House that he and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, had agreed an urgent set of priorities for Northern Ireland, including deepening economic activity, reviewing institutions and tackling sectarianism. There have since been a number of meetings but no progress. In reality the situation has been allowed to sleepwalk into crisis. The current institutions have been allowed to fall into DUP and Sinn Féin inertia, while the situation on the streets is relatively bad.

Everybody will condemn the behaviour last night of rioters in north Belfast. It is a natural outcome of leaders who work to exploit division rather than seek genuine dialogue and respect. The Nationalists of that area have a basic right to live without the sectarian intimidation they have experienced. I know that many on the other side want to find a genuine accommodation, but real leadership and active engagement have been missing.

Since 2012 the economic and social position of Northern Ireland has deteriorated. We have had a succession of political crises; sectarian tensions have risen; political participation has declined; and alienation from the system has grown. Given all of this, is it not time to try a different approach? Is it not time to become actively engaged again? Should the Taoiseach not admit that the approach which he and the British Prime Minister took at the outset and have followed has not worked and that it is time to change the level of engagement in Northern Ireland?

I put a separate related question to the Taoiseach about the British attitude to the Human Rights Act. The Tory manifesto in the recent UK general election promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and end automatic redress to European courts on human rights issues. A number of questions specifically deal with that issue and I do not believe the Taoiseach addressed it in his reply. This would be a clear breach of commitments made as part of the Good Friday Agreement. The Human Rights Act is a central part of the architecture of peace to which we signed up and for which the people voted. The Taoiseach has taken the approach of trying to avoid direct comments on British policy on most issues, but this must be different. We are not some disinterested party. We have a legal right to demand that no action be taken to undermine a formal treaty between our states. Will the Taoiseach commit to formally stating to the British Government that we oppose the efforts to undermine the Human Rights Act and that we will take legal action over breach of treaty commitments if it proceeds with that policy?

The British Prime Minister has outlined his demands for renegotiation of the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union at the most recent full meeting of the European Council and in separate meetings with national leaders. Bar what the Taoiseach has just said about taking a constructive approach and so on, he has not said anything about Ireland's position on any of the United Kingdom's core demands. Does he support the various areas in which it wants change? So far what we have heard from him are banal generalities about the United Kingdom looking for more competitiveness and that it does not want to move to an ever-closer Union. What does that mean in practice? What is the substance of the British position? For example, what specific changes is it seeking? Has the Government made formal statements on what the British Government is looking for in its agenda in terms of relationship with the European Union?

Therefore, there are three dimensions: Northern Ireland; Brexit, and the policy of the UK Tory Government to the Human Rights Act. I have had very little time to deal satisfactorily with the 16 questions I tabled.

I believe 12 of the questions are in the name of Deputy Gerry Adams. Let me do my best to deal with them.

Over the weekend and last night we saw many incidents of race hatred in the North. The targets in many of them were Sinn Féin representatives whose election posters were placed on bonfires. In a particularly offensive incident an effigy of Michelle Gildernew was hung over a bonfire in Moygashel.

A sign on the bonfire read "Sinn Fein Scum, hands off our culture. Public hanging 10.30pm." Election posters for others, including the Alliance Party, were also placed on bonfires. Last night there was trouble at the Ardoyne when members of the Orange Order attacked the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, following a decision by the Parades Commission not to allow them walk back through the nationalist area. A young teenager was run over by a car. I commend the efforts of local residents and PSNI officers who had to lift the car physically off the teenager.

Will the Taoiseach join with me in condemning all acts of race hatred and sectarianism and in calling on the leadership of the loyal orders and the Unionists’ political leadership to take a stand against all acts of race hatred and especially to use their influence to prevent the future burning of posters, banners, flags and effigies on 12 July bonfires? They cannot describe bonfires as part of their culture and not at the same time accept responsibility for the sectarian use to which many are put. The events of recent days are a source of deep concern to one and all but we should not lose sight of the fact that there were hundreds of loyal order marches yesterday which passed off peacefully. It is important to note that also. That certainly, by any standard, represents progress in the North.

In his so-called emergency budget the British Chancellor has spelt out plans to slash a further £12 billion from the British welfare budget. The British Government’s rationale and excuse for these measures is that support for the low paid and vulnerable is at the root of Britain’s current economic difficulties, or at least that is how the Tories see it.

I remind the Taoiseach that the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, who refused for months to detail the wider impact of potential cuts had told Martin McGuinness, joint First Minister, that they would be eye-watering. She was right in that assessment. The Northern Executive has little control of its own fiscal arrangements. It relies on a block grant from the British Exchequer. Many of the measures introduced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, last week are the direct responsibility of the British. The Executive has precious little say in them and we were conscious of all those factors in the negotiation of the Stormont House Agreement. Has the Taoiseach raised concerns with David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and the British system, about the welfare cuts and the block grant, and if so to what extent? Although the crisis hinges on the issue of welfare and protecting the most vulnerable in society, the cuts the British have introduced are much wider than that in respect of public service provision. We are, or need to be, very aware of the specific circumstances in the North of Ireland of a community and society coming out of conflict and the potentially destabilising effect of a system of vicious Tory cuts to basic public service provision there, bearing in mind that the Tories enjoy no electoral mandate from any section of the community in the North of Ireland.

In response to Deputy Martin’s questions, we did sign a memorandum of understanding that covers a broad range of areas. There has been quite a deal of cooperation and benefit on both sides. In the hospitality sector there was the start of the Giro d’Italia and the Irish Open, which created an impact because of the young superstars on both sides of the Border, Northern Ireland being the jurisdiction of the World No. 1 golfer. Northern Ireland personnel in Brussels were part of our EU Presidency and were fully acquainted with all the issues going through, such as the reform of the Common Agricultural policy, CAP. We had a joint trade mission to Singapore with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and ministers from Britain and Northern Ireland, covering trade and several other areas. We made the point about the possibility of corporate tax being reduced in Northern Ireland and that will become effective in the future.

Deputy Martin raised the Human Rights Act. I mentioned this specifically to the Prime Minister. It is a part of the Good Friday Agreement. The views of this Government are clear and remain unchanged in that regard on the broad question of human rights and the Good Friday Agreement.

Is that being communicated to the British?

Yes, directly to the Prime Minister. As we speak, there is no legislation before the British Parliament to repeal the UK Human Rights Act 1998. If any movement takes place on that we will be very focused on it. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government has a genuine interest in this and takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard the institutions and the Agreement's principles. The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland cannot be taken for granted and must be fully respected. We made that very clear to the Prime Minister.

Deputy Martin mentioned the issues the Prime Minister spoke about with the other EU leaders regarding the referendum question to be put to the British people in due course. He mentioned four things: competitiveness, national sovereignty, fairness and migration, and welfare. He has no intention of interfering with the free movement of people within the European Union. The Prime Minister gave a brief presentation to the European Council at a recent meeting. The outcome was that internal discussions on the matters he raised are beginning. They will go on until later in the year when an updated report will be presented to the European Council. He does not want to interfere with the freedom of movement. He has spoken about competitiveness and obstacles to business. We share many of these concerns. That is an issue for the Single Market, the digital market and so on. He made a point about the relationship between a country belonging to the euro and one that does not belong to it and where the boundaries lie. It is clear that fairness and migration are issues. Ireland differs from Britain on relocation of people in Greece or Italy who have been rescued from the Mediterranean, some by our naval vessel, LE Eithne. I was very clear with the Prime Minister about the human rights issue and the follow through in his communications with other EU leaders over the coming months.

In response to Deputy McDonald, of course I completely deplore what happened yesterday, the stoning of a bus in Greysteel and the events in the Ardoyne and Woodvale. I deplore anything to do with these comments about race or members of the Deputy’s party having their effigies burnt on bonfires. This is not acceptable. The Government is, and will remain, very clear on this issue. I condemn those completely who, through these mindless and thoughtless actions, have exacerbated a situation in Ardoyne and Woodvale and jeopardised the lives of the community and the young teenager injured when a car drove into the crowd. It is not acceptable for members of the Deputy’s party, or any other, to have their effigies burnt. That has no place in the Northern Ireland we all want to work for. I have no difficulty in deploring that. I will refer to this further at my next meeting with the Northern Ireland Executive.

The budgetary situation, welfare cuts and the block grant are strand one issues and are directly negotiated between the Executive and the British Government. I made the point to the First and Deputy First Ministers that Northern Ireland is a community and a series of communities coming out of conflict over several years and that, where imagination and a bit of creativity can be shown about budgetary affairs, that should be considered. The British Chancellor has made clear that there will not be different rates of welfare in Britain and Northern Ireland. This is an issue.

I am glad that the Deputy's party has approved the drafting of the budget. While there is a significant deficit in the budget, at least it allows the Executive to continue, which is fundamentally important because no one wants to see a return to direct rule from London. I hope the political process in Northern Ireland is able to put together a situation where Northern Ireland can continue on the path to peace and, I hope, improved prosperity in the time ahead. I accept that these are challenging times for the representatives in the Executive.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
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