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Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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63.

Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date regarding the implementation of the Weston Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10244/02]

[797]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): As the Deputy is aware, after discussions with the parties last July the two Governments, at the start of August, introduced our package of proposals which we believed could deliver the full and early implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Our proposals covered the four key outstanding aspects of the Agreement – policing, decommissioning, demilitarisation and stability in the institutions – as well as other issues, including the appointment of an international judge to investigate cases of grave public concern; a review of the Parades Commission and the legislation under which it operates; and the resolution of the situation of supporters of paramilitary organisations on ceasefire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions or extradition proceedings in relation to offences committed before 10 April 1998. The proposals also suggested that an implementation group of the parties committed to securing full implementation of the agreement be established.

In the period since, we have been able to make considerable headway. Following the election of David Trimble and Mark Durkan as First and Deputy First Ministers respectively on 6 November, we have enjoyed a sustained period of full and inclusive operation of the institutions. On 30 November, the Taoiseach hosted highly productive summit level meetings of both the British-Irish Council and the North-South Ministerial Council in Dublin Castle. On 17 December, together with the First and Deputy First Ministers, I attended the first meeting of the NSMC in its Institutional Format – designed, under the agreement, to address institutional and cross-sectoral matters – in Stormont. The new Policing Board, established on 4 November, has made an encouraging start. It has been able to reach cross-community consensus on sensitive issues, including the design of a new policing badge and a response to the Ombudsman's report on the Omagh investigation. The board will now be responsible for the appointment of a successor to Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who will step down at the end of this month.

Further steps have also been taken towards the achievement of a normal security environment in the North. In addition to the measures identified at Weston Park, the British Government has announced the removal of the military installation at Glasdrumman in South Armagh, and the closure of Ebrington Barracks in Derry. These are further welcome steps which will, I hope, be built upon in the period ahead. In October, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, under General John de Chastelain, reported that it had witnessed a significant event in which the IRA put some of its weapons beyond use. Obviously, I hope to see that process continue. I urge loyalist paramilitaries to address the question of their arms also.

The governments are working together to identify a judge of international standing to undertake [798] a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion in cases of concern, including those of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill. The British Government is also working to resolve the situation of so-called on-the-runs against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings, for offences committed before 10 April 1998. Both governments accept that it would be a natural development of the accelerated release programme under the agreement for such prosecutions not to be pursued. The issue is a difficult one for the British Government but at his recent meeting with the Taoiseach in Barcelona the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, reiterated his intention to honour commitments in this area.

The review of the operation of the Parades Commission is under way and is being chaired by Sir George Quigley. Any legislative changes it recommends would not take effect until after the summer of 2002. The first meeting of the implementation group will take place in Hillsborough tomorrow, when the Secretary of State and I will meet with representatives of the pro-agreement parties.

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 32.


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