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Written Answers. - All-Party Committee on the Constitution.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 17. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the action it is proposed to take on the latest report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10283/02]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Seventh Progress Report on Parliament, which has only recently been published has been circulated to all Departments for consideration. In so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, in April 1998, I wrote to the all-party committee asking it to examine how people living in Northern Ireland might play a more active part in national political life, to the extent that they so desire and in a spirit consistent with the principles underlying the Good Friday Agreement. I am grateful to the committee which agreed to undertake this review as part of its wider review of the institutions of the State. In undertaking this aspect of its work, the committee had the benefit of submissions received from a number of organisations and individuals, including the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

[768]I deeply appreciate the thoughtful manner in which the committee has approached this sensitive matter. It has sought to ensure that nothing it proposed was at variance with the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. Its conclusions are fully consistent with that approach. The committee states its belief that the establishment of a North South joint parliamentary forum, to bring together representatives of the Oireachtas and of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the Administrations, representative of civil society, both of which are proposed in the Good Friday Agreement, could make a major contribution to dialogue and mutual understanding between North and South. The Government fully shares this view and would wish to see early progress achieved in these areas.

I share the committee's view that it could be particularly valuable from time to time to have the expertise, experience and insight of politicians from Northern Ireland in appropriate debates in the Oireachtas. The Government therefore supports making the necessary procedural arrangements to allow MPs elected for Northern Ireland constituencies to speak in periodic debates on Northern Ireland matters and on the operation of the Good Friday Agreement, as envisaged by the committee, and will seek the assistance of other parties in the Dáil to bring this about as soon as practicable.

The committee rightly points to the valuable precedent established by the contributions of past and present Senators from the North in the Seanad. I fully agree that it would be valuable to extend and to formalise this existing practice. The committee brings forward a range of options, some of which would require amendment of the Constitution. These deserve careful consideration and we will seek to move forward on the basis of the maximum political consensus to achieve an outcome that will provide, as soon as practicable, for a permanent presence from Northern Ireland in the Seanad.

The committee also suggests, in the context of an enlarged role in the scrutiny of EU business envisaged for the Seanad, that consideration could be given to allowing MEPs elected in the State and Northern Ireland to speak in periodic debates on EU matters. The Government support the taking of the necessary procedural steps that would facilitate such an initiative. I issued a statement to this effect regarding Northern Ireland following the publication of the all-party report last week.

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