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Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 71. Mr. Deasy Information on Austin Deasy Zoom on Austin Deasy  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  his views on whether the Provisional IRA is still involved in paramilitary activities, both south and north of the Border, by way of punishment beatings and intimidation; if this is blatantly in breach of the peace process; if his attention has so been drawn to the fact, whether he has made his views and concerns known to the Sinn Féin leadership; and if so, the response he has received. [10285/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Punishment beatings, shootings and other acts of intimidation are barbaric practices which have no place in a democratic society. They are totally unacceptable. This has been communicated to all parties to the Good Friday Agreement, including Sinn Féin. The Government has consistently condemned punishment attacks and called for an [802] immediate end to all such acts of violence. The matter is discussed on an ongoing basis through the secretariat of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

The statistics available show that punishment attacks rose by a third last year on the previous year, with loyalist paramilitaries clearly responsible for the majority of this increase. In 2001, 331 punishment attacks were recorded by the police – 212 have been attributed to loyalist paramilitaries, 121 shootings and 91 assaults, while republican paramilitaries were responsible for 119 such attacks, 66 shootings and 53 assaults.

From the beginning of this year up to 10 March, 57 punishment attacks took place. Of these, 37 have been attributed to loyalist paramilitaries – 30 shootings and seven assaults – and 20 have been attributed to republican paramilitaries – 17 shootings and three assaults. This figure is nearly double the total number of attacks carried out by both loyalists and republicans for the same period last year.

In so far as this jurisdiction is concerned, the Deputy will be aware that a particular Garda investigation is ongoing into certain events which might come within the terms of the question. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment other than to say that any allegations of criminal activity of the kind referred to by the Deputy will be fully investigated by the Garda Síochána.

 72. Mr. Spring Information on Dick Spring Zoom on Dick Spring  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if his attention has been drawn to the recent report from the Phase II Group in Northern Ireland, which disclosed that almost 700 people had been driven from their homes and their communities in 2001 as a result of threats from republican and paramilitary organisations; if he has raised this issue with the political parties associated with these paramilitary organisations; if so, the response he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10254/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The Government unequivocally condemns the abhorrent practice of paramilitary exiling. I have frequently called for an end this unacceptable practice and have urged the political parties associated with paramilitary organisations to make every effort to ensure that all the exiles, wherever they currently reside, can return safely to their homes. There can be no justification for any paramilitary group in Northern Ireland to violate the right of all citizens to freely choose their place of residence, a fundamental right which has been recognised in the Good Friday Agreement.

The practice of exiling, together with punishment attacks and other acts of intimidation, is contrary to the rule of law, the Good Friday Agreement and the Mitchell Principles. As the Taoiseach has made clear, the best way of ending these practices is through support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. One of the long-[803] standing difficulties in dealing with the issue of exiling has been the lack of accurate information available about the extent of the practice. This issue has been the subject of regular discussions with the British authorities who have informed us that, while statistics on reported incidents of general intimidation are maintained, official figures are neither compiled nor issued by the police on the number of people exiled by paramilitaries. Given the nature of the problem, with neither the groups involved in making the threats nor those who receive them likely to make such information available to the authorities, the police were of the opinion that any such figures may not reflect the true nature of the problem.

I understand a report on this issue has been prepared by Phase II, an organisation run by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NIACRO, and is due to be published shortly. According to media accounts, the Phase II report states that 683 people were told to leave Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups last year with twice as many threats coming from Loyalist paramilitaries, 64%, as from Republican paramilitaries, 32%. The majority of the threats were issued in the greater Belfast area, but incidents and expulsions also occurred in Lisburn, Antrim, Newtownards, Derry, Bangor and Portadown. We will consider the contents of this report closely when it is published.

Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 68.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 50.

 75. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if he will report on progress in Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7695/02]

 91. Mr. Callely Information on Ivor Callely Zoom on Ivor Callely  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the potential of the success of the North-South institutions; the progress of the concept of an island economy which has been fully developed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10457/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I propose to answer Questions Nos. 75 and 91 together.

Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, to bring together those with executive responsibilities in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government to develop co-operation, consultation and action within the island of Ireland on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both administrations.

It was agreed that the NSMC would focus initially on 12 areas of co-operation. Co-oper[804] ation is under way through existing bodies and Departments in six of these areas; agriculture, education, environment, health, transport and tourism, where a new company, Tourism Ireland Limited, has been established to market the island of Ireland abroad as a single tourist destination. Six new implementation bodies were established to develop North-South co-operation in the remaining areas; Waterways Ireland; the Food Safety Promotion Board; InterTrade Ireland; the Special EU Programmes Body; the Language Body; and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, FCILC, which comprises two agencies – the Loughs Agency and the Lights Agency. As regards the latter, a number of technical issues have arisen in relation to the transfer of the functions of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to the FCILC Lights Agency and a working group of officials is examining the question with a view to making proposals as to how best to proceed.

The North-South Ministerial Council has met 53 times since December 1999 including three times in plenary format, most recently in November 2001, and in institutional format last December. A significant body of work in the 12 areas of co-operation has been taken forward in partnership by the relevant Departments and agencies under the direction of Ministers from North and South. The obvious benefit of working together on issues of mutual interest is such that consideration is now being given to the question of expanding the areas of co-operation within the NSMC.

In the economic field, North-South co-operation takes place on a range of economic issues to the mutual benefit of both parts of the island. The North-South trade and business development body, InterTrade Ireland, plays a leading role in identifying and facilitating existing and potential economic co-operation. Working in close collaboration with the relevant Departments and the existing development agencies, InterTrade Ireland has a strong focus on building business links, increasing North-South trade, and developing competitiveness and enterprise capability. A report on enhancing competitiveness was submitted to the NSMC at the plenary meeting held in Dublin Castle on 30 November 2001. This report covers a broad spectrum of issues across a range of administrative functions, including energy, research and development, telecommunications and infrastructure.

As regards other aspects of Strand Two of the Agreement, work is under way to give effect to the provision regarding the establishment of an independent consultative forum. A North-South working group is currently consulting the Northern Ireland civic forum and the central review mechanism of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness with a view to bringing forward proposals for consideration at the next plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. The next plenary will also consider the results of a consultation process currently under way with [805] regard to a report commissioned by the NSMC into obstacles to cross-border mobility. Work is also under way to give effect to the provision regarding NSMC consideration of the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. A North-South working group has been tasked with bringing forward proposals on the arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the NSMC are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.

The Government is very pleased with the level of progress within the NSMC since its establishment in December 1999. Without exception, all meetings of the council have taken place in a positive, constructive atmosphere and an extensive programme of work is under way across the various sectors involved. The experience of working the North-South institutions has demonstrated the tangible benefits of a constructive partnership between both parts of the island.

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