Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Ceisteanna (109)

Micheál Martin


109. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the implementation of the St. Andrews and Fresh Start agreements. [51853/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Full and effective implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements, including the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement, is a key priority for the Government, as reflected in the Programme for a Partnership Government.

Progress in implementing the provisions of the Fresh Start and Stormont House Agreements and outstanding commitments from earlier Agreements are to be considered at Review Meetings, co-convened by the two Governments with the participation of the Executive. Unfortunately, due to the absence of the Executive since early 2017, it has not been possible to convene a Review Meeting since December 2016. Nevertheless, work on implementation has continued as appropriate in each jurisdiction, and to the extent possible in the absence of the Executive.

A key element of the Fresh Start Agreement relates to the ending of the legacy of paramilitarism. On 13 September 2016, the Irish and UK Governments signed an international agreement to establish the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) and it was subsequently given effect to by legislation in both jurisdictions. The IRC reports annually on progress towards ending continuing paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland, and it published its second report on 4 November. This second IRC report is a sobering reminder of the continuing adverse impact that paramilitarism continues to have on society in Northern Ireland and brings an important and timely focus on what remains to be done to tackle it. The IRC has been active in pursuing its remit and has had a wide engagement with a range of relevant stakeholders, both North and South, and I commend the Commission for its valuable work so far and the efforts it has put into fulfilling its mandate.

The Fresh Start Agreement also provided for the establishment of the Joint Agency Task Force on cross-border crime. That Task Force was launched in Dublin in December 2015, and is bringing forward operational actions in the six priority areas that have been agreed as the focus of operations: Rural Crime; Immigration-related Crime; Excise Fraud; Drugs; Financial Crime; and Human Trafficking. These priorities are, of course, kept under review. There has been very considerable operational activity, with a variety of different operations undertaken across all of the priority areas since the establishment of the Task Force. The Joint Agency Task Force is an important example of the extensive and vital North-South co-operation that is undertaken between An Garda Síochána, the PSNI and other law enforcement agencies in both jurisdictions aimed at tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on this island.

The Fresh Start Agreement affirmed the parties’ commitment to implementation of the Stormont House Agreement provisions for dealing with the past. Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacy of the Troubles. I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with all of the political parties to support a way forward to implement the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework. The Government remains firmly committed to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework, and will continue to engage with the next British Government to see this finally achieved.

Under the Fresh Start Agreement, the Government made a number of financial commitments in support of the agreement, including €75m in respect of the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland, exploring the development of the Ulster Canal and the Narrow Water Bridge, and funding of €2.5m to support the North West Development Fund. The latter commitment has been provided and the others are being progressed, overseen by a group of senior officials from the Government and the Executive as provided for under the Agreement.

A number of elements of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreements have not yet been fully implemented, and the Government also continues to work to see this achieved. This includes the provision in the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland to be enacted by the British Government. Regrettably to date, there has been no agreement within the Executive to take forward what is now a devolved matter. In the successive discussions at Stormont that have been held since March 2017 to support the formation of a new Executive, the Government made consistently our support for an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland, as envisaged under the St Andrews Agreement.

I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland throughout these talks processes to encourage the parties to reach an accommodation. The multi-party inclusive talks process convened by the two Governments in May has included a specific working group to seek to reach agreement on rights, language and identity issues, which have proved intractable to date.

All five political parties have engaged constructively in the talks process over the last number of months and progress has been made across a range of important issues. However, some key outstanding issues remain and finding final agreement on these issues will require genuine and courageous dialogue and leadership by the party leaders in Northern Ireland.

I remain in regular and ongoing contact with Secretary of State Smith on how the two Governments can support the parties in reaching an agreement that will get all of the institutions of the Agreement up and running again. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I have confirmed that the two Governments are ready to take talks in Northern Ireland forward again immediately following the UK general election. It is envisaged that talks will commence as soon as possible after the UK election, potentially on 16 December. This of course depends to some extent on the outcome of the UK election.

People want the devolved power-sharing institutions up and running again to represent their interests and address issues of concern in Northern Ireland at present, including the implementation on an agreed basis of commitments from previous Agreements. The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions and the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements.