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Good Friday Agreement

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 30 May 2017

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Ceisteanna (325)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

325. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outstanding issues that have not been fully implemented under the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. [20405/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government’s firm position is that the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements must be implemented in full, and this is reflected in the Programme for Partnership Government. The Agreements, and the principles and values underpinning them, are at the core of the Government’s approach to peace, reconciliation and prosperity on this island. The Government will continue to work tirelessly for that full implementation in both letter and spirit.

In this context I have been representing the Government in the talks’ process in Belfast. The talks have two objectives. Firstly, to allow the political parties to reach an agreement on the formation of a new Executive. Secondly, to address the implementation of outstanding issues from previous Agreements.

Since the talks began in early March, good work has been done collectively by the five parties and there has been encouraging movement across a range of areas, but a number of key issues remain to be resolved. While I am under no illusions about the challenge of resolving the core issues that remain outstanding in the talks, I believe there is a shared determination on the part of all parties to renew their engagement on the key issues in the talks, once the UK general election has taken place.

In terms of outstanding commitments, respect for linguistic diversity and the Irish language are important elements of the Good Friday Agreement. An Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland, to be enacted by the British Government, was provided for in the St Andrews Agreement in 2006. Successive Irish Governments have advocated in favour of an Irish Language Act and continue to do so. Regrettably to date, there has been no agreement within the Executive to take forward what is now a devolved matter.

In the Stormont House negotiations in late 2014, while I and other Irish Government representatives advocated for this commitment being honoured and implemented, regrettably it was not possible to reach agreement for such an explicit undertaking. Nevertheless, in the text of the final Stormont House Agreement (December 2014), the Government and the British Government, recalling the commitments from previous Agreements, endorsed the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

In the current talks’ process in Belfast on outstanding commitments from previous Agreements, I have stated clearly to the British Government and the political parties, the Government’s continued and clear support for a statutory basis for the Irish language in Northern Ireland, as envisaged under the St Andrews Agreement. In my discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I have also underlined the leadership role that both Governments must play in ensuring that all provisions of previous agreements are appropriately respected and that the focus remains on achieving full implementation.

On a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which is envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement, the Government advanced the view during the 2014 Stormont House talks, that a Bill of Rights could set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared society for Northern Ireland could be based. While there was not sufficient consensus to take this forward at that time, the final Agreement did provide that the parties commit to: “serving the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the obligations on government to promote equality and respect and to prevent discrimination; to promote a culture of tolerance, mutual respect and mutual understanding at every level of society, including initiatives to facilitate and encourage shared and integrated education and housing, social inclusion, and in particular community development and the advancement of women in public life; and to promote the interests of the whole community towards the goals of reconciliation and economic renewal.”

As reflected in the Programme for Partnership Government, the Government remains supportive of and continues to advocate for the advancement of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Indeed, the continued value of a Bill of Rights in the context of Brexit was one of the themes which emerged from the All Island Civic Dialogue sectoral on Human Rights under the Good Friday Agreement which I convened earlier this year.

A North South Consultative Forum is a further important outstanding element envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement. In 2008, the then Government sent proposals for such a Forum to the Northern Ireland Executive, but there has been no substantive response. Between 2009 and 2011, three consultative conferences were hosted in Dublin to support the establishment of the Forum. While the issue remains on the agenda of the North South Ministerial Council, the Northern Ireland Executive has not been able to give its assent to the establishment of the Forum.

The St. Andrews Agreement provided for a review to identify additional areas for North South cooperation. Again the Government supported a provision in the Stormont House Agreement on this commitment. The Taoiseach has raised the issue at successive Plenary meetings of the North South Ministerial Council. However, taking new areas of cooperation forward would require approval in the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly and this has not as yet been forthcoming.

The Stormont House Agreement provides for regular review meetings with the participation of the Government, the British Government and the Executive party leaders. At the last two Review Meetings – most recently in December – I specifically raised the outstanding commitments from other agreements and suggested regular consideration of them at future Review meetings to ensure that they remain on the political agenda.

The Stormont House Agreement also importantly provides for a comprehensive framework to deal with the difficult legacy of the Troubles. In the discussions in the recent talks in Belfast, I have been very clear on the urgent need to achieve progress, so that these legacy institutions can be established and start working to meet the needs of victims and survivors and to support broader societal healing and reconciliation. I have also emphasised in discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties, the need to ensure that legacy inquests are properly resourced, and urged all with responsibilities in relation to the legacy inquests to move forward as quickly as possible to implement the helpful proposals of the Lord Chief Justice.

Also as provided for in the Programme for a Partnership Government, the Government will continue to pursue the establishment of a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane as agreed by the British and Irish Governments in the Weston Park Agreement of 2001. This is something which the Government continues to bilaterally raise with the British Government and highlight at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The political talks in Belfast will resume after the UK general election on 8 June and I expect that all participants will spare no efforts in seeking an agreement to form an Executive and to resolve outstanding issues, including in relation to the legacy of the past. The Irish Government will continue, in cooperation with the British Government, to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to reach agreement. It is critically important to see devolved Government restored and working effectively in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

The Government views as a solemn responsibility our role and mandate as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government will continue to work with the British Government and the political parties to fulfil the full promise of the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements and to advance political stability, reconciliation and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland.

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