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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - European Council Meeting.

Tuesday, 8 October 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 469 No. 5

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 2. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on his meeting with Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen on 3 September 1996. [16340/96]

 3. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will summarise the principal points in his address to the European Parliament. [16545/96]

 4. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on the outcome of his meetings in Japan. [17659/96]

 5. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on his meeting with Chancellor Kohl. [17660/96]

 6. Miss Harney Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on the informal European Council meeting held in Dublin Castle on Saturday, 6 October 1996. [17768/96]

 7. Miss Harney Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  if he will report on his meeting with German Chancellor, Dr. Helmut Kohl, in Dublin on Wednesday, 2 October 1996. [17772/96]

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I propose to take Questions Nos. 2-7, inclusive, together.

The Special Meeting of the European Council in Dublin on 5 October last was a success. In relation to the Intergovernmental Conference the Special Council reaffirmed the timetable set by the Florence European Council thereby confirming that the conference should be completed by the middle of next year. The special council also confirmed the need to maintain the level of ambition of the conference so as ensure that its outcome is adequate to equip and strengthen the Union to meet the internal and external challenges facing it.

The Irish Presidency will now proceed to discharge the mandate given to it at the Florence European Council and [1437] submit a revised draft Treaty to the Dublin European Council. It is our objective that this draft will meet the required level of ambition and will provide a basis whereby the conference can be successfully concluded in mid 1997.

I also briefed the special council on the progress on Ireland's other key Presidency priorities in the areas of economic and monetary union, drugs and crime and employment. I indicated that the Presidency was on course to submit substantive conclusions to the December European Council under these headings. The special council saw a particularly strong consensus on the need for the Union to tackle the issues of crime and drug trafficking not just through Treaty changes at the Intergovernmental Conference but also on an ongoing basis. There was acknowledgement of the progress already made on this matter during the Irish Presidency notably at the recent informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers and a determination to see further progress recorded at the December European Council.

In the areas of external relations the Special Council discussed the EU's relations with the US, Russia, Japan and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. We also discussed the Middle East Peace Process and agreed that the Tánaiste should visit the Middle East to meet with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to convey the strongly held view of the European Union of the need to accelerate the Middle East peace process.

As the House is aware the Tánaiste has already carried out his mission during which he met the Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu, President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and President Mubarak of Egypt. The Tánaiste also had discussions during his visit with the US Secretary of State Mr. Warren Christopher. The prompt action of the European Union signifies that the EU will do all in its power to promote a rapid conclusion to the peace negotiations in the Middle East and that we will co-operate [1438] with both the Israelis and the Palestinians in a constructive way.

The Special Meeting of the European Council also agreed in principle to the appointment of a special EU envoy to work on an ongoing basis with all of the parties in the peace process in the Middle East. The Special Council instructed the General Affairs Council to consider a mandate for such an envoy at its next meeting at the end of October.

Chancellor Kohl paid an official visit to Ireland on 2-3 October last. I had discussions with the Chancellor on 2 October which covered European and international issues. The Chancellor indicated full agreement with Ireland's Presidency priorities especially in regard to the Intergovernmental Conference and the fight against drug trafficking and international crime. We also reaffirmed our commitment to economic and monetary union in accordance with the provisions set out in the Maastricht Treaty. I also briefed the Chancellor on the situation in Northern Ireland and expressed my appreciation for his support for the Northern Ireland peace process.

I had a meeting with Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark on 3 September last. We had a discussion on a broad range of European issues with particular emphasis on the Intergovernmental Conference. We also discussed EU-US relations and the situation in former Yugoslavia.

On 18 September as President in Office of the European Council I made a State of the Union Address to the European Parliament. I have arranged for copies of my address and my comments in reply to the debate to be placed in the Oireachtas Library.

In the address I identified the five main tasks facing the European Union. These are: to make the Union more relevant to its citizens, to successfully conclude the Intergovernmental Conference, to make the single currency a reality, to complete the next round of enlargement to the East and South and to secure Europe's place in the world.

[1439] Finally, I visited Japan for an EU-Japan Summit on 30 September. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the summit, copies of which I have had placed in the Oireachtas Library, detail the shared commitment of both parties to key international and economic objectives, notably the promotion of human rights and democracy, the fight against international crime and the strengthening of the open multilateral trading system.

While in Japan I had the honour of an audience with Emperor Akihito and I also had a bilateral meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Hashimoto. At the latter meeting I indicated my strong wish for an intensification of trade between Ireland and Japan. I stressed in particular that Ireland was an ideal entry point to the European Union's market for Japanese investors. I delivered the same message at a meeting I had with key Japanese businessmen.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I thank the Taoiseach for his detailed reply. I have many supplementary questions, most of which deal with totally different issues. In his State of the Union Address to the Parliament in Strasbourg the Taoiseach said that two of the priorities of the Irish Presidency were safer streets and a peaceful Europe. I have no doubt that he was also thinking about this island in addition to the other places to which he referred.

I wish to take this opportunity to utterly condemn those who perpetrated the bombing of the army barracks in Lisburn yesterday and to offer the sympathy of the Fianna Fáil Party to those who were injured in this very grave incident. This bombing again pushes back what all the parties in this House are endeavouring to achieve.

In condemning the bombing and in agreeing with the actions of and statement by the Government yesterday, does the Taoiseach consider it appropriate to have a full summit on the North with Prime Minister Major? He will [1440] recall that at the beginning of September he stated it was necessary for the Governments to put greater impetus and more confidence building measures into the peace process. Regrettably, this has not happened. Neither does it give a good signal that the Taoiseach had only a 15 minute meeting on this issue at the summit. This was always possible but it was not very helpful. However, I am more interested in the future. On the occasion of the three months anniversary of the talks, which have effectively made no progress — this is agreed by everybody — will the Taoiseach have a full summit with Prime Minister Major and try to put some life into a process which I do not accept is dead but which does not have much life?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy There are later questions to the Taoiseach on matters appertaining to Northern Ireland, but perhaps the Taoiseach may wish to intervene now.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I will be happy to do so but there are a number of other matters raised in these questions with which I am sure Members would like to deal. I will facilitate the House in any way.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy Questions Nos. 18, 23, 25——

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke Zoom on Ray Burke We will not reach them.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton We will reach them tomorrow.

I am sure the entire House will join in condemning the outrage in Lisburn, the injuries inflicted and, in particular, the way in which the second bomb was placed in order to interfere directly with and put at risk the lives of those in the emergency services seeking to bring succour and aid to those injured by the first blast. I think Members will also join me in condemning the timing of these bombs which coincided with a meeting between one of the Loyalist political parties and prisoners associated with them and the way in which they could [1441] have been designed to provoke those people into a reaction. All those factors combine to make this a particularly appalling event.

It is important to recognise also that some of the individuals who have been injured who may appear to us to be just casualties or statistics will be in great pain, probably for the rest of their lives on this earth. Some of their families will be traumatised in a way from which neither they nor their families will ever recover. These are the casualties of politics pursued by violent means.

Violence is not just a word which by constant repetition begins to lose its meaning. Violence is severed limbs, violence is destroyed minds and it is people who can never walk on the street again with any sense of self-assurance for fear that there will be a repetition of what happened in Lisburn yesterday. That is what politics by means of violence means in practical reality. It means families who will never recover from the shock. We should never, in our attempts to find words to condemn these events, lose sense of the fact that these are individuals who have been hurt needlessly because a talks process exists in which all legitimate political parties can take part if they forswear violence.

In this regard, I wish to state that of course the talks process is difficult. We all knew at the outset that an all-inclusive talks process, as distinct from a narrowly focused one, would be inherently difficult. If one looks at the history of Europe, virtually no state was established by consensus or by the agreement of 99.9 per cent of the people. Even the Constitution of this State was contested when it was passed in 1937. One does not get complete consensus about the establishment of a state easily in any forum or at any point in history. This has been forgotten and people assume this is an easy process, that it is simply a question of everybody sitting down together and agreeing on a form of government. This is not the case. We could not agree initially on the formation of this State. We eventually agreed [1442] on it but it did not come about through people sitting around a table — they sat around a table but they did not agree.

We should not pretend that because these talks which have been in existence since 10 June have not found agreement yet that that is necessarily an indication that talks are the wrong way forward or that we need something completely different. Seeking agreement on a form of Government by means of consensus is inherently very difficult, even if there had never been any violence in Northern Ireland. However, given that there have been 25 years of violence it is even more difficult. It is even more difficult, given that there have been sectarian and triumphalist marches and reactions such as boycotts. Given that those phenomena have existed, there is even greater difficulty in finding agreement and consensus on the most fundamental question regarding the form of government for a state wherein there are disputed views about allegiance and sovereignty. It is not a simple or straightforward issue.

I acknowledge that progress has been slow. Deputy Harney is correct; it is wrong to state that the talks are dead. Agreement was reached about procedure and the appointment of a chairperson from the United States. The idea that a person from the United States could chair the talks would not have been agreed two years ago. It has now been agreed, however, and has brought focus and status to the discussions which would not otherwise exist. There have been immense difficulties regarding decommissioning but there is an agreed approach between the two Governments on that issue. Such agreement did not exist in the past. It is important that the two Governments agree on that matter because it means that those who disagree with our position have a case to prove.

I acknowledge Deputy Ahern's point that both Governments should continue to work together at every level, including the highest level. I have been involved in intense discussions with Mr. John Major, not merely at the summit [1443] which took place at the weekend. During the past week, I spoke to him on two occasions about this matter at some length. Following those conversations, there have been ongoing and very intense exchanges between our administrations. If Mr. Major or myself are of the opinion that a direct, special summit between us would be helpful, there would be no difficulty or unwillingness in organising one. However, it is important to complete one's preparatory work before engaging in such meetings. If others can be encouraged to come together without the necessity for such a meeting, then that approach should be pursued. On Saturday, the Prime Minister and I agreed to renew our efforts to make the talks work and build on our joint approach to those talks in every way possible. That is the best route forward.

The violence in Lisburn represents a return to a form of political action that led this country into appalling suffering over many years. This form of political action was abandoned for the settlement of disputes in Europe in 1945. I believe it is not appropriate for the resolution of any of the difficulties which remain in this country. There is an alternative way forward by means of the talks, which have been in existence since 10 June. I ask those who have influence with the people responsible for the use of violence to encourage them to respect democracy, make them realise that the opportunity for discussion exists at the all-party talks and request that they attend those talks, take part and not stand aside from the process.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy I find myself in some difficulty regarding the time available for dealing with questions to the Taoiseach. Being Tuesday, only 30 minutes are available for that purpose. Members can observe the clock.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am sure the Taoiseach would have no difficulty in postponing the supplementaries on the other questions he answered until tomorrow because this is a more [1444] important issue. I have supplementaries on practically every question, the replies to which moved from Japan to Germany to Strasbourg to Dublin and everywhere in between.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I have no problem in doing so if the Ceann Comhairle can facilitate us.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy As the Taoiseach and the Leaders of the other parties are aware, there are proposals before the House to amend this situation and extend the time for questions addressed to the Taoiseach. These proposals may perhaps come before the House tomorrow. However, I still have a difficulty with today's time constraints.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Could he provide a word of tactical advice regarding the following? For a number of months, the talks have been ongoing but there has been little progress. As I stated earlier, they are not dead but the public's interpretation is that when there is no action there is a vacuum which, when there was one in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years was filled with violence. Unfortunately we are drifting into that path and hopefully it can be avoided. I hope the loyalist leaders who have practised excellent restraint for the past seven to eight months can continue to do so. It seems that a 15 minute meeting at a summit gives the wrong signal but perhaps that was the only possible arrangement which could be made.

I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that he will see if it is possible to arrange a full summit between himself and the Prime Minister. That would be very helpful because people looking at the process can see that individuals are impeding it and that progress is not being made. The Taoiseach stated that some progress is being made but there is no agenda and ordinary people understand this to mean that we are going nowhere. I am aware of what is happening behind the scenes. However, if [1445] the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister are interested — I am sure they are — in trying to convince everyone on this island that progress is being made, a visible summit between them to put some life into those involved in the talks would help. The fact that Senator Mitchell is not available this week, and will not be available next week, convinces no one and the vacuum is being filled by those who thrive on such situations. The least that can be done is for the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Mr. Major, to meet during the coming week to show that this process remains on the rails and is the only show in town, as they both stated in recent days.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The first point to make is that an IRA ceasefire is needed to enable everyone to participate in the talks. Those denying us a ceasefire are denying one of the parties, which represents 15 per cent of the voting population in Northern Ireland, any participation in the talks. We do not need violence because it is counterproductive and directly contrary to the concept of dialogue. During the past 24 hours spokespersons for Sinn Féin have requested dialogue in response to yesterday's events. The opportunity for dialogue exists at the talks and it is necessary for the IRA to engage in a ceasefire to enable Sinn Féin to participate.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern People who are not present at the talks cannot be blamed for delaying their progress.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton As far as the talks are concerned, I have already stated that we are not seeking to reach practical agreements about a narrow list of items regarding the operation of public administration. The question of allegiance and sovereignty and other broad and inherently difficult issues are on the table for discussion. If we consider the history of the states of Europe, not one was formed by 100, 80 or 75 per cent consensus. It is important to understand that the scale of the problem to be [1446] tackled in the talks is great. Therefore, we should not talk ourselves into failure because we are not able to achieve results to meet press deadlines or the impatient demand for something new on every occasion.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke Zoom on Ray Burke It is not unreasonable to expect an agenda after three months.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton It is very easy to understand why Members are impatient and inclined to interrupt.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke Zoom on Ray Burke It is not unreasonable to——

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton It is important to make the point that we are trying to bring together——

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Taoiseach can live in the past if he wants to.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton ——the viewpoints of nine different parties against a background of 25 years of violence, which continued in Lisburn yesterday. It is not a simple matter of the two Prime Ministers meeting to devise a formula that will make people, who previously held opposite views, agree. In this case, agreement must come from people being willing to compromise with one another.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Where is the leadership?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The Governments' role is to create a framework within which such dialogue can take place, to set out a policy basis upon which that can be discussed — which we did in the Joint Framework Document — and give the parties a reasonable opportunity to advance the issue. Of course the Governments retain the ultimate responsibility in these matters and they are willing at all times to exercise their responsibilities as and when necessary. Having had such a difficult task in getting the talks started, we should be loath [1447] to take initiatives that might have the effect of stopping them.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Who has the veto?

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney I accept that in so far as the talks are ongoing the Taoiseach is correct in saying they are not dead. May I take it from what he said that there is no suggestion of postponing the talks for an indefinite period? Does he believe it is vital for the Government to inject new direction and momentum into the talks to ensure their success?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton Consideration has not been given to postponing the talks. The Governments believe they have an ongoing responsibility to inject momentum into them and we did that in our proposals on decommissioning. The decommissioning of guns, mortars and bombs is one of the issues preventing the parties from engaging in substantive talks. Only yesterday we were reminded of the fact that guns and bombs still have an effect in Northern Ireland and are relevant in people's minds. Unfortunately, as a result of what happened in Lisburn yesterday, people are reminded of the effects of bombs and guns, where they are located, who owns them and the purpose for which they are used. Those who wave their hands in a dismissive manner and ask why this issue cannot be swept aside, as if it were a simple matter, must reflect on the views of constituents if such a bomb were to go off in one of their constituencies. That is the challenge facing us. It is not a matter about which people can wave their hands and claim it is not important.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke Zoom on Ray Burke Who said that?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton In their proposals on decommissioning, the two Governments have put forward their views on how the problem could be solved. If those proposals are accepted by the Unionist parties we can move forward to the agenda without prejudice to any of the concerns I have mentioned. It is important that [1448] we continue to move the talks forward by purposeful leadership, which the Government has shown on the decommissioning issue, while at the same time allowing the parties a reasonable amount of space to reach conclusions. The talks will not work if we attempt to set at nought, or steamroll over, their opinions. We must inject new thinking and leadership into the discussions in a purposeful way and at appropriate times. We cannot approach it on the basis of simply ignoring the opinions of others.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I hope a summit will be held shortly so that the leadership about which we are talking is seen to be given. That is crucial.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Hear, hear.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am not sure to whom the Taoiseach was referring when he spoke about people waving their hands. I do not believe it could be any Member from the Opposition benches. I have not heard any Member state that the violence in Northern Ireland does not concern us because some day, sooner rather than later perhaps, it may return to any of our constituencies. That is a major concern for all of us and that is why we want progress on this issue. Will the Taoiseach renew his invitation to the PUP and the UDP leadership to talk to the Government so that we could at least explain to them that all parties in this part of the island are anti-violence? I accept they refused an earlier invitation from him, but perhaps it is time to invite them again.

I fail to understand how the Taoiseach could claim it is time to sit back and allow them work on the framework themselves. If the three stranded approach and the Framework Document of February 1996 were working, surely there is an obligation on the Taoiseach to influence the talks at this stage rather than wait for them to break up in disorder. It is not a question of waiting for an interjection. At the beginning of September the Taoiseach stated [1449] the Governments would drive the talks process forward but he has done nothing since and the British Prime Minister has not done anything in that regard since 10 June.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The three strands commence simultaneously and until strands one and two start the terms of reference for the talks cannot start. We have not reached the agenda for the strands. Therefore, strand three has not started and it does not provide us with the procedural mechanism to which the Deputy referred.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen When will we get that opportunity? We are like innocent bystanders.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton In regard to the issue of decommissioning, as the Deputy is aware, the Governments tabled proposals on an agreed basis to break the deadlock. Unfortunately, the Unionists did not to agree with the Governments' proposals and came up with their own. The outcome of that exchange must be considered by the Governments and I have discussed the matter with the British Prime Minister on two occasions in the past seven days. The Governments must move the talks forward but in a way that ensures the process is preserved and continues. Our actions must not prevent others from participating. The Government is striking the correct balance between giving direction to the talks and leaving space for the participants to reach conclusions. The approach suggested by others would be foolhardy.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney Does the Taoiseach agree it is a perversion of logic for Sinn Féin to blame the Unionists for what happened in Lisburn yesterday? Does he accept that as a result of yesterday's bombing it will be more difficult to resolve the decommissioning issue?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton Both assumptions are correct, but it is also the case that the [1450] Unionists' attitude has not been as forthcoming as it might have been. While I understand their reservations and concerns, we live in a real world in which it must be recognised that decommissioning will occur only when people agree to decommission. For people to agree to decommission the political process must be seen to be progressing. The Unionists have not been willing to see that fact and their approach has tended to be myopic, focusing on the need for decommissioning but not on the conditions necessary for it to take place in a real world.

The two Governments have adopted the correct approach to breaking the decommissioning deadlock. The joint proposals made in the talks represent the best way forward. I hope it will prove possible for all the parties in the talks to accept the approach the two Governments have put forward in that particularly contentious matter, a matter which has unfortunately been brought vividly back to mind by the bombs in Lisburn.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy That concludes questions to the Taoiseach.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern May we take the remainder of the supplementaries tomorrow — those on the European matters?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I have no problem with that if the House can agree to it under Standing Orders.


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