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British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill, 2002: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The Bill I introduce today is essential to preserve and protect a key element of the Good Friday Agreement – the North-South bodies. The purpose of it is to amend the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, to enable the decisions of the North-South Ministerial Council – NSMC – in relation to the North-South bodies to be taken by the Irish and British governments together, during this period in which devolved government in Northern Ireland is temporarily suspended. I am grateful to the House for agreeing to take the Bill as a matter of urgency and for its co-operation in agreeing to take all Stages today.

Immediately following the suspension of devolved government, the Irish and British Governments issued a joint statement which made clear that, while the Assembly was suspended, the Agreement was not. This is a vital distinction. We also gave a commitment to work together during the temporary suspension period to ensure that the Agreement and its achievements were protected and developed. Pending the restoration of devolved government, therefore, it falls to the two Governments, as guardians of the Agreement, to take whatever steps are necessary to fulfil this mandate and to manage the period ahead. In so doing, I firmly believe we are acting in accordance with the wishes and desires of the majority of the people on this island who voted for the Agreement and whose support gives it an enduring democratic strength and authority, which must be respected. We therefore have a clear and compelling responsibility to take action to maintain the North-South bodies during this interim period.

The British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill amends the British-Irish Agreement Act of 1999. That Act gave domestic legislative effect to the agreements between the British and Irish Governments to establish the North-South Implementation Bodies. The North-South bodies were a central element of the Good Friday Agreement of 10 April, 1998 and, in particular, the strand two institutional arrangements which formed part of that Agreement. The bodies come under the overall policy direction of the North-South Ministerial Council and are accountable to it for their operations. They must receive Council approval for their annual budgets, operating plans, recruitment plans and other arrangements. During the current temporary suspension of devolved government, no meetings of the NSMC can take place. Therefore, the Council is unable to make decisions affecting the bodies.

[56]The bodies were established by an international agreement between the British and Irish Governments. As long as that agreement remains in force, unamended, the bodies continue to exist and must operate in accordance with its provisions. That means they must seek NSMC approval for matters such as those I have mentioned. If the bodies are not in a position to obtain NSMC approval for their annual budgets and business plans, they will be unable to operate successfully. They would also, effectively, be left unaccountable to any outside authority. This is not a desirable state of affairs from the political point of view nor from the point of view of good corporate governance. The two Governments want to ensure the continued successful operation of the North-South bodies. Therefore, we have temporarily amended the terms of the international agreement establishing the bodies, by means of a supplementary agreement. This supplementary agreement allows for the decisions of the NSMC in relation to the North-South bodies to be taken by the two Governments, pending the restoration of devolved government.

The terms of the supplementary agreement, which was effected by an exchange of letters between my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the British Ambassador, form a schedule to this Bill. The Bill gives domestic legislative effect to the supplementary agreement, by amending the British-Irish Agreement Act of 1999, in similar fashion. The continued success of the North-South bodies is of critical importance to the Government. They have major work programmes under way in their various areas of responsibility and since their establishment almost three years ago, they have built up good working relationships with the key stake holders in their sectors. The six bodies in question are: The Trade and Business Development Body, under the brand name of InterTradelreland; the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission; the Language Body, comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency; the Special EU Programmes Body, which has responsibility for the management and delivery of the Peace 2 and TERREG EU-funded programmes; Waterways Ireland; and the Food Safety Promotion Board.

It is clear these bodies operate across a wide range of sectors and have diverse areas of responsibility and that the work which the bodies have brought this far should not be endangered. I will also make a brief reference to Tourism Ireland Limited the new North-South Tourism marketing company. It is responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas as a tourism destination. Deputies will note that Tourism Ireland Limited is not mentioned in the Bill before the House, although it is mentioned in the supplementary agreement which is attached as a schedule to the Bill. Tourism Ireland is not a statutory body. It is not mentioned in the original British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999. Instead, it is a company limited by guarantee, incorporated in this jurisdiction, and governed by the Companies [57] Acts. Tourism Ireland has a similar relationship to the NSMC as the statutory North-South bodies. It is accountable to the North-South Ministerial Council and requires NSMC approval for its annual budget and other key decisions.

It is essential that Tourism Ireland is in a position to proceed with its very valuable and important work. The tourism industry is one of great value to the economy on this island and many Deputies will be aware of the very impressive start made by Tourism Ireland in its role of marketing the entire island of Ireland overseas as a tourism destination. Therefore, for the period in which the supplementary agreement is in force, Tourism Ireland will be accountable to the two Governments. In our case, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will be the Minister who will act on behalf of the Government in this regard. I emphasise that this Bill and these arrangements are being put in place solely on a temporary basis in the interests of good order and good corporate governance and in order to deal with the range of routine administrative decisions which are required by the North-South bodies. This will allow them to continue with their day to day operational activities as mandated by the NSMC. It is not the intention of the Government that this mechanism should be in place on a long-term basis.

The North-South bodies have been described as the “secret success” of the Good Friday Agreement. If so, it is not that anyone has been keeping them a secret but simply that they have been so effective and non-controversial in their activities that they have not been in the spotlight. They deserve our recognition. Having been in operation for nearly three years, the North-South bodies have bedded down very well and currently employ a staff of more than 700 people, drawn from both North and South. Their headquarters and regional offices are located throughout the island. They are based in locations such as Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Derry, Scarriff, Newry, Monaghan, Omagh, Carrick-on-Shannon, Eniskillen, Carlingford and Coleraine.

In a relatively short space of time they have become a vital part of the social and economic fabric of the island. The extent of their combined budgets, over €140 million, demonstrates the breadth of activity which their responsibilities embrace, activities of interest and benefit to all the people on the island. For example, Waterways Ireland, which incorporated the Shannon Erne Waterway Committee and now manages all the navigable inland waterways on the island, hosted a highly successful world canals conference held in Dublin, Belfast and Lisburn and is currently establishing a new permanent headquarters in Enniskillen. It has also completed a major navigation project in Limerick, which allows cruisers to travel from the top of the Erne navigation all the way to the Shannon Estuary.

The Food Safety Promotion Board, with headquarters in Cork city, has been running an important television advertising campaign, pro[58] moting the safe preparation of food and the health issues involved. It also provided a very useful all-island helpline during the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

The trade and business development body, InterTrade Ireland, whose impressive headquarters were opened by the Tánaiste in Newry earlier this year, is tasked with improving cross-Border trade. As part of this work, it recently launched its equity network programme, which stimulates the use of private equity and venture capital as a means to accelerate business growth in the SME sector, and Focus and Fusion, two cross-Border graduate placement programmes. InterTrade also continues to make a valuable contribution to work on enhancing all-island competitiveness. The special EU programmes body, based in Belfast, Omagh and Monaghan, has just launched the new INTERREG programme in Newry last week. It is also the managing authority responsible for the ongoing delivery of the PEACE 2 programmes, worth over €700 million to the people of Northern Ireland and the Border region.

Foras na Gaeilge, the Irish language agency of the languages body which took over the responsibilities of Bord na Gaeilge on an island-wide basis, published a parliamentary dictionary, which was launched both in this House and at Stormont, a few months ago. It has also had good success with its major all-island marketing campaign, which attracted thousands of calls to the agency. It commenced work on producing a modern, high quality English-Irish dictionary and is leading a consultation process on the steps necessary for a review of the official standard of written Irish. The Ulster Scots Agency of that body successfully launched a series of informative leaflets on the Ulster Scots heritage in America and made a number of successful presentations on Ulster Scots in the United States. It has also hosted a conference of Ulster Scots organisations in County Antrim. The Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, which has replaced the Foyle Fisheries Commission, is developing an impressive interpretative centre at its newly built headquarters at Prehen in Derry.

I have already mentioned the importance of the tourism industry for the economy, and Tourism Ireland's overseas promotional campaigns are undoubtedly critical to the success and development of this key industry throughout the whole island at a time of challenge and change in the global tourism market. Tourism Ireland was a major exhibitor at the World Travel Market Trade Show in London this month, attended by my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. These six implementation bodies and the all-island tourism company are true pioneers. They brokered a new way of doing business together on this island. In mutually defined areas, where a co-operative approach makes the best sense, we are now united in bringing forward key [59] policy initiatives, taking decisions together, pooling resources and sharing expertise.

However, the bodies have not just had practical successes. They also play an important role in the normalisation of relationships on the island by bringing together colleagues and board members from North and South, by demonstrating the advantages of working together and by providing an enhanced and jointly-delivered service to the public. They make a unique contribution to the erosion of historic fears and suspicions, of the negative mindsets and narrow ways of thinking that can hold back progress on the wider implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

This is also an opportunity to acknowledge the vital contribution made by the chairs, vice-chairs and other board members who serve on the implementation bodies and Tourism Ireland. The members of the boards, who are drawn from all traditions on the island, are to be commended for the extent of their commitment to the North-South bodies and for the professional manner in which they have discharged their important responsibilities. The achievements of the bodies prove the merit of the principles enshrined in the Agreement, principles of equality, partnership and respect. Their very existence demonstrates that the trust and confidence which we are currently seeking to re-establish in the wider process is attainable and deliverable.

We are currently addressing a situation where trust and confidence has been badly eroded. The key to moving forward now will be the re-establishment of that hard-won trust. This is a challenge which cannot be met purely by the determination of the two Governments alone. It is one to which all of us who subscribe to the fundamental principles and purpose of the Agreement must rise. The House will be aware that round table talks, chaired by the two Governments, were convened in Stormont last Thursday, 21 November. I assure the House that these talks were in no way the opening of a renegotiation of the Agreement which remains our only template. The two Governments felt it was important to get all those who subscribed to the Agreement in the first place back around the table to begin to address the key issues of confidence and trust in an open, constructive and collective way. The Good Friday Agreement was a collective endeavour. Therefore, there needs to be a collective effort to tackle the current impasse.

There is no doubt about the challenge we face and, as I told the House recently, time is of the essence in the context of the forthcoming Assembly elections in Northern Ireland. All the parties will need to engage fully on all the issues to facilitate the progress that we all want to see. An encouraging start was made at the round table talks. There was complete agreement that the Good Friday Agreement remained the template for political progress in Northern Ireland. While some parties identified the destabilising effects of paramilitary activity as the key issue that needed [60] to be addressed, others pointed to the need for full implementation of the residual areas of the Agreement. In my view, these are not mutually exclusive positions. The political realities are that the continued operations of paramilitary organisations, both republican and loyalist, have created a crisis of confidence. Equally, however, experience has shown that this issue cannot be effectively addressed without an enabling political context, that is, full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects.

It was agreed on Thursday that there is now a compelling need to fast-forward progress in all these outstanding areas. On the basis of the discussion to date and papers submitted by some parties, the two Governments are now preparing a comprehensive agenda for the next round table meeting, which will take place in Belfast this Thursday, again co-chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State. While the approach to addressing the outstanding issues should be both collective and comprehensive, it need not be lengthy. It is, after all, about reaffirming the Agreement and rededicating ourselves to the values, principles and commitments it contained. With the necessary political will and the required intensive engagement, which are already in evidence, it will be possible to resolve the current difficulties and restore the Northern Ireland institutions in sufficient time for the scheduled Assembly elections on 1 May 2003.

One thing is clear, there must be no turning back on the agenda for positive change which the Agreement represents. The North-South bodies are an intrinsic part of that new landscape which the Agreement has helped to create. This legislation will safeguard their achievements to date and ensure that the bodies can continue to carry out their important functions, protecting jobs, funding and services for the whole island. It will thereby guarantee that the North-South bodies are in a strong position to continue to play their part in ensuring the full implementation of the Agreement and in particular its strand 2 provisions on North-South co-operation.

One of the great opportunities created by the Agreement is the potential for enhanced North-South co-operation. Held back for too long by suspicion, the perception that it cloaked a hidden agenda and that it was some sort of stalking horse for political or constitutional change, co-operation between North and South, within the context of the Agreement and as exemplified by the bodies, is now part of everyday life on this island. Before suspension, the North-South Ministerial Council had held 65 successful meetings in locations all over the island, largely without a whisper of controversy, protest or dissent.

Ulster Unionist Ministers have played a full and productive role in that inclusive process, as indeed have Nationalist Ministers, with cross-community participation and support a vital, built-in feature of every meeting and decision. Four of those meetings were in plenary session, which I co-chaired with David Trimble and [61] Seamus Mallon, and subsequently of course with Mark Durkan, and which were attended by the Government and our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive. I am saddened that the NSMC cannot meet at present and I greatly look forward to renewed meetings of the Council, including attending the next plenary, following the restoration of the Assembly. I look forward to resuming that mutually beneficial partnership with Unionist and Nationalist Ministers.

When I addressed the inaugural NSMC plenary meeting in Armagh, nearly three years ago, I began by saying that it was a day quite unlike any other. It was true to say so at that time, but one of the great achievements of the peace process has been that we have had many days like that one. The fact that council meetings have become commonplace, even routine, does not make them any less significant or valuable and the same holds true for the North-South bodies.

The commitment of the two Governments to the Good Friday Agreement remains resolute. It was never going to be a short haul trip. We have only one route map and there is only one journey. There were bound to be significant obstacles and setbacks along the journey, bearing in mind its newness. As I have said before, a setback becomes a terminal crisis only if we allow it to happen. However serious the difficulties, we have worked to overcome similar problems in the past and we are determined, with the continued support of the House, to overcome them in the future. Despite the current difficulties and the persistent efforts of some to undermine it, the Agreement continues to be supported by a considerable majority of the people of the North. I was struck by a recent poll to this effect carried out by the US consulate in Belfast which suggested that 66% of northern people think the political parties there should continue to operate within the Agreement. If we can secure the acts of completion that it is accepted are essential, we can move forward with confidence and without the hesitations and disruptions of the past. Our goal is to recapture the optimism and hope of the Agreement and to ensure that we will come to accept and appreciate the principles of partnership, fairness and equality on which it is based. I commend this Bill to the House.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I would like to share time with Deputy Gay Mitchell, with the agreement of the House.

I welcome this critical and timely Bill, which my party will support fully. It is particularly welcome in light of the betrayal and erosion of trust and confidence inflicted on the fragile political process in Northern Ireland recently. There is a clear message to those who are ambivalent about the Good Friday Agreement – the hopes and aspirations of this generation, not to mention future generations, will be ended if the political process and the numerous initiatives provided for in the Agreement are immobilised. Those who [62] have suffered so much were within an inch of having it all. This is especially true of the poor on both sides of the conflict, caught miserably in the trap of intergenerational disadvantage sprung in the dog-days of Teebane, Loughinisland and Moneygall. Immobilising the process would paralyse their hopes, aspirations and once wild, but almost realised, dreams of a better, more prosperous, peaceful and peaceable existence. They know that jobs, more money, better homes, equal opportunity, better education and the chance of university and a fulfilling degree will bite the dust if we do not continue with the Good Friday Agreement.

There are, as we know, those in Northern Ireland for whom the Good Friday Agreement was like a meteor falling from the sky. They knew, at an instinctive level, that the Agreement could and would end forever their hereditary economic and social superiority, their higher caste status and the legitimacy and currency of the “not an inch” cant. Their instinct is shared, ironically, albeit differently, by the greener than green brigade – their polar and infinitely poorer opposites. The Agreement and all it facilitates is a diabolical enterprise for these bible-belters and bombers, whose objections to the new-fangled ideas of peace, shared prosperity and, God forbid, partnership hold the people and the process to ransom. With innuendo and vitriol they whittle the stake that will kill it, by peddling half-truths and untruths and by stalling, posturing, beating, threatening and killing. Such tactics did the job for 30 years and in their minds, who says it will not do it for 30 more? Those of us who represent pro-Agreement parties are charged with ensuring that they cannot stall the process and that their tactics do not work. This Bill and its implications must, therefore, be enacted speedily.

Members are aware that the Good Friday Agreement provided for enhanced co-operation in six main areas: transport, agriculture, education, health, the environment and tourism. It was agreed that a number of bodies, including Waterways Ireland, the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Special EU Programmes Body, the North-South Language Body and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, would implement the policies agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council. In addition, Tourism Ireland, a limited company publicly owned by Bord Fáilte and the NITB, markets this island as an international tourism destination. Having served as Minister for Tourism and Trade in the rainbow coalition, I do not doubt the great successes that have been and can yet be achieved by enhanced co-operation in this lucrative if struggling area. The implementation bodies have enormous potential to deliver greater understanding of, participation between, and prosperity and efficiency to the people of all areas of the island of Ireland. After generations of defining what divides us, we have begun to look courageously and with real hope at what beneficially we have in common.

[63]It is not long since a visit to Belfast was seen by people in the South as something akin to an expedition to the polar regions and the North remained terra incognita for thousands of us. Names like Crossmaglen, the Droppin' Well, the Bogside, Divis and the Creggan, as well as terms like internment and the B-specials, conspired to keep us at a discreet and safe distance, although it is not as if we did not wonder. As a result of black and white television, the vast majority of people in the Republic agreed that it was terrible up there. The advent of colour television showed that it was worse than we had imagined. Although people felt like they would like to do something, or more accurately that something should be done, they were not quite sure what measures were needed. Thankfully, all parties, including Fine Gael, played their part in the process that led to the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement means that we know more and that our knowledge is of a better quality. We no longer rely on reports of bombings, riots and killings for our information about the North. The work of bodies like the joint business council of IBEC and the CBI managed to make Northern Ireland a home for hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Broader public knowledge of the North received a great boost from a most unlikely source in the shape of the foot and mouth disease. The people of the North were seen on our television screens for the first time in two generations not as Protestants, Catholics, Unionists, Nationalists or republicans, but as farmers, farmers' wives and children, vets inspecting sheep and cattle and anxious neighbours obeying quarantine regulations but worried about, and offering support to, their friends up the road. Last year's foot and mouth disease outbreak marked a watershed in North-South relations, to the extent that the Centre for Cross Border Studies commissioned the first independent study of it. The report called for an all-island expert advisory group to be convened, modelled on the group that successfully advised the Minister, Deputy Walsh, last year. The new group would become active in the event of a future animal health emergency affecting the island as a whole.

Critically for our purposes, the report identified a number of key advantages in tackling animal health issues on an all-island basis. It recommended the use of the natural water barrier around this island as a means of containing an outbreak and preventing future emergencies. It advocated harmonising identity systems for all animals on a North-South basis as an effective means of tracing animal movements. As Deputies are aware, this has traditionally been a problematic area. The report proposed that record systems be put in place to facilitate mutual access across the Border. Most critically of all, the report found that the co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and Food here and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Develop[64] ment in the North was very effective in containing the disease. It operated at the highest level, to the extent of a joint team of officials travelling to England to interview a particular livestock dealer. The political process and, by extension this Bill, are all about such matters – co-operating to improve life and enhance opportunity for all the people of the island.

I want to discuss the key areas of health and education. There are mutual gains to be made in the health sector. Under the North-South Ministerial Council, the stated co-operative areas are accident and emergency planning, high-tech equipment, cancer research and health promotion. The Food Safety Promotion Board is also relevant in this regard. I spoke last week in Monaghan about the potential of co-operative health ventures between Enniskillen and Monaghan, especially given the disgraceful abandonment by the Government of Monaghan General Hospital. As I speak, families from Monaghan are protesting outside the gates of Leinster House. There is a collaborative opportunity in this case, although we must take into account research published last year that failed to find strong evidence that concentrating acute hospital services on a cross-Border basis, specifically for economy of scale purposes, would significantly enhance benefits to patients.

In April 2001 the CCBS concluded that while collaborative opportunity existed in the area of health, greater clarity was needed about the precise objective of improving North-South co-operation in this area and on the obstacles standing in the way of such improvement. Those obstacles include problematic separate registration of medical personnel, university accreditation, the mix of private and public health care, jurisdictional differences in health policy, cross-Border costs and currency fluctuations, the necessity of choosing one development site over another where two jurisdictions are involved and, critically, medical defence insurance, which is funded privately here but provided by the health authorities in the North.

The advantages of co-operation, however, are myriad. The Border region is a natural geographic entity. That said, its border status has created disadvantage. Collaboration would address the relative disadvantage. The CCBS noted too that health threats do not obey political boundaries. Surely co-operation is not only desirable but highly advisable. There are further observations on universal best practice, improved emergency response and better planning, all of which I agree with.

Apart from health, education must surely be acted upon with some political alacrity. Here, the well paid spin machine talks about our highly educated workforce and our stellar standards of learning and application. The figures and people's individual stories tell it differently. Twenty-five per cent of our adult population have problems with basic literacy – they find it difficult to write a letter, follow written directions or, more worry[65] ingly, understand the instructions and dosage on prescription medication. This is hardly surprising when on the waning cusp of the tiger boom more than 100 primary schools are rat-infested, 2,000 young people leave school every year with no qualifications and 8,000 children never even make it to secondary school. The education system in Northern Ireland has been, to put it bluntly, dangerously discriminatory. The eleven-plus is a perennially thorny problem. If one goes the wrong school in the wrong neighbourhood one risks being ghettoised for life. It is only marginally better here. Only 7% of people in Ballyfermot make it to third level education; in Foxrock it is 77%.

Northern Ireland's so-called learning poor have learned well, and in a remarkably short time, just how much they have to lose if the process goes off track. All over Northern Ireland people on both sides of the divide know exactly what Thomas Davis had in mind when he said “Educate, that you may be free”. I am pleased to see that co-operative ventures include education for children with special needs. I trust this will include children of all ages and that we will not see a cross-Border version of the Sinnott or O'Donoghue cases. Educational underachievement, teacher qualifications and cross-Border youth exchanges should have a powerful impact on people North and South. A scheme involving children from the Shankill and the people of Shankill, County Dublin is proving extraordinarily successful and I look forward to more of the same.

Our universities are also collaborating more, some of them under the INTERREG programme. I am particularly interested in the joint research venture between UCC and Queen's in the area of biomedical science. This project looks at the biological phenomena and mechanisms which cause the neurodegeneration that results in Alzheimer's disease. The outcome is expected to provide a greater understanding of what causes Alzheimer's, with a view to developing treatments to ameliorate its devastating symptoms. UCC has a further collaborative project with Queen's and the University of Ulster at Coleraine on the topical subject of coastal resources and climate change. Many of the senior professors in universities here feel the way forward for Ireland and for the future of job creation is through research, development, innovation and patenting. I am glad to see that the traditional isolation of the universities has been broken down and there is a far greater degree of co-operation between these educational facilities.

Topical, too, is the area of currency. Just two years ago, well into initiatives such as the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council, a survey by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland found that three out of four businesses polled identified exchange rate risks as the biggest barrier to North-South trade. It is worth noting that at the time, net exports from the Republic to Switzerland were greater in volume than total exports to [66] Northern Ireland. Last week I spoke to a businessman in the Border area who told me that after the advent of the euro it was now easier for him to do business with people in Central Europe than with the people a few miles up the road. The euro has serious implications for business in and with Northern Ireland and it must be looked at as a matter of urgency. How does one explain to an American investor, totally preoccupied with efficiency and getting the best possible bang for his or her buck, that we are trading as an all-island entity but he or she will have to deal in two different currencies?

So, yes, we fully support this Bill. It will be of critical import in areas as diverse as the environment, all-island consequences, the CAP reforms and transport and infrastructure – the latter floored here by Deputy McCreevy's Estimates last week. Right now the institutions are suspended but their work must be facilitated and ensured. The strategic guile of the anti-Agreement forces can and will destabilise the lives and the very future of the hundreds of thousands of people of all creeds who want more, who want better and who want it now. This Bill will see to it, in part, that such guile is overcome. The Good Friday Agreement is not perfect. It is a compromise, so by its nature it cannot be. It is there, however, and as a compromise between idealism and pragmatism for the sake of the people it must be worked fully. Fine Gael welcomes this Bill. It will facilitate the working of the institutions and therefore of the Good Friday Agreement, which remains our best and our only hope.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell I join my party leader Deputy Kenny in supporting this Bill and I am grateful to him for giving me time to speak. I read with interest the comments and writings in recent days of Paul Murphy MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, particularly his comments on policing and his article in The Irish Times this morning. I was pleased to note the credit he has given to the SDLP for its contribution at Weston Park to the movement in policing. It is extraordinary for those of us who grew up with the B Specials and the RUC to see the progress that has been made in the Northern Ireland police service and the useful proposals from the SDLP. If this progress continues it will be one of the great achievements of the Good Friday Agreement. Given where the proposals came from and the progress that has been made, if the institutional supervision which has been put in place north of the Border comes to fruition, we should consider it as a model to follow here.

Resulting from an innovation of some Members of the House, together with the Garda Commissioner, in which I was involved, we have prototypes of partnership boards in inner city communities involving the Garda, public representatives and the local community. Perhaps it is time for us to move this on so that at a micro level as well as a macro level there is accountability and exchange between the communities, [67] public representatives and the Garda at senior level. My experience so far is that it is welcomed by the Garda Síochána. It gives the force an opportunity to engage and, sometimes, to break down prejudice and unfair comment that arises because of its duties. The Taoiseach should look further than a Garda inspectorate, although it is welcome and timely, to see how there can be more structured contact between the community and gardaí and how we might learn from what is happening in Northern Ireland.

While Sinn Féin participates in elections to Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas, the same does not apply to the SDLP, which contests Westminster and Assembly elections. Only from time to time does it have representation in the Oireachtas. It is a pity there is not a strong voice for the SDLP in Seanad Éireann. Given the Sinn Féin presence in the House, and it has a mandate and I say nothing derogatory about that, the great work done by the SDLP should be recognised. Dr. Garret FitzGerald wrote about this at some length in The Irish Times on Saturday. If a vacancy arises in the future, the opportunity should be taken to facilitate an SDLP presence in the Seanad.

If paramilitarism permanently disappears in Northern Ireland, there is a possibility for further innovation. We should expand on what I have already said about the SDLP in the Oireachtas and think how we might engage with the institutions in Northern Ireland. I had the honour of studying politics at Queen's University Belfast. Following a referendum some years ago, graduates from beyond the National University of Ireland and Trinity College can be elected to the Seanad. At the time we were thinking of graduates of DCU, Dublin Institute of Technology and other institutes of technology. Will the Taoiseach consider the possibility of extending such legislation to allow graduates of Queens University and the University of Ulster to vote in Seanad elections? It might be controversial for some but for others it would be welcome.

While at Queen's University, I was struck by the access available to Nationalists. In Ballyfermot, in my constituency, there is 7% participation in third level education, while in Foxrock participation is 77%. In parts of my constituency flat complexes as large as sizeable villages have never had a university graduate. In Northern Ireland the minority has been given increasing access to third level education but that has not been the case here. These are issues we can learn from through the North-South bodies.

When we think of discrimination, we are inclined to look north of the Border. Perhaps it is now time to look at the experience of Northern Ireland and visit some of the outrageous elements of institutionalised apartheid in the Republic. Apartheid is the only word that describes it. It is clear that where a person lives, as was the case in Northern Ireland, determines attendance at third level.

[68]Medical care displays similar characteristics of apartheid, not just at secondary level where people can pay, but at the primary level, with the wealthy given the medical card while those in poverty, afraid to turn on a heater or to light a fire at home because they cannot afford it, cannot afford to take a child to the doctor. That is institutionalised apartheid. Did we not learn from Northern Ireland how these issues can erupt into street violence? We need to learn from things that have happened in Northern Ireland before they get out of hand here.

The possibility of devolving justice issues, in certain circumstances, to the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland has been mooted in recent days – the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland refers to it in The Irish Times today. If we could reach that stage it would be a welcome development. We in the South, however, would not dream of sharing Government with Sinn Féin in the current circumstances. We are a sovereign Government and we deal with justice and defence issues. It would be unacceptable for P. O'Neill or his colleague to sit at the Cabinet table when there is a military organisation attached to the party. We should not expect people in Northern Ireland to accept anything different. We have gone along with fudge until now, and that fudge was justified to get people around the table, but if important affairs of state such as justice and security are to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, Sinn Féin cannot expect that someone representing the military wing can sit in such an Executive. There is a time and place for things to come to an end and it is now time that P. O'Neill and the organisation for which he speaks retired.

As Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, I was invited to address the Committee of the Centre in Belfast on the day the two DUP Ministers resigned from the Executive. The committee covers the offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers and it was exploring with the Scottish Assembly, Westminster and the Oireachtas how it might improve its supervision of Ministers in relation to European affairs. This is an area where there could be greater co-operation, not just at ministerial level, or between the Assembly and the Oireachtas, but between the assemblies and parliaments on these islands. We could examine how we, as parliamentarians, might take a greater interest in closing the democratic deficit, one of the major issues being considered by the Convention on the Future of Europe.

Westminster has an advanced system for supervision and I envy its staffing arrangements. Progress has been made in arrangements for the Oireachtas committee, but I still find it exhausting to carry out the duties without even one extra assistant. There is, however, room for us to co-operate on a North-South and east-west basis to see how we can influence the European agenda and hold Ministers to account. We are collectively different from the rest of Europe in that we are [69] not part of the Schengen Agreement and part of the common travel area. I was struck recently by the facilities being made available to Kaliningrad and Russia for travel through Lithuania on a lesser document than a passport. Politicians collectively should put their minds to deciding how those of us who live in the British-Irish common travel area might do away with this “foreignness” we have to the rest of the European Union whereby we must carry a passport going into the Union. We should try to build on the Kaliningrad precedent and perhaps find a lesser document than a passport which could be used when travelling throughout the European Union.

During my term as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1992-93, I was the first Lord Mayor in ten years to go north of the Border. I was received courteously by the Lord Mayor who was interpreted as saying that he would welcome me as he would any foreigner. The man said, in fact, he would welcome me as he would any lord mayor of a foreign city. I was surprised at the reaction from the Unionist community. I received many letters for a long time afterwards from members of the Unionist community who were offended at how they felt I was treated, even though I was treated quite well on a private basis. That taught me there are reasonable people north of the Border who are not spoken for by the extremists and, however mild the extreme comments, do not want to be associated with them. As soon as that Lord Mayor's successor – a Unionist – came into office, he immediately came south and invited me north, therefore we had two visits within ten years. He did so to make amends at the behest of the Unionist community. We sometimes get the impression that anyone north of the Border who dares to have as their aspiration unity with Britain, to which he or she is entitled, is of an extremist or bigoted nature, which is not the case. Perhaps we might learn to reflect on how we see the Unionist minority on the island of Ireland and learn to treat them equally with respect, dignity and consideration.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte This is a Bill which I believe all Members of the House would prefer we did not have to enact, as the legislation is a direct consequence of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 14 October last. There was some hope when the Assembly was suspended that the period of suspension would be relatively short and that it might be possible to secure restoration within a matter of weeks, as happened previously. Clearly that will not now happen. There are fundamental problems in Northern Ireland which need to be addressed. It seems to be recognised in the general consensus among the two Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland that we now need an all out effort to deal with all the underlying problems that form an obstacle to political progress and that have undermined confidence in the Good Friday Agreement.

[70]These talks began last week and there is little likelihood of their successful conclusion prior to Christmas. The Taoiseach expressed the hope in the Dáil last Wednesday that the talks would be successfully concluded by the end of February. Given the painfully slow rate of progress in talks on Northern Ireland previously, this may be an optimistic scenario. It is important that we take the legislative measures necessary to protect the position of the various cross-Border bodies established under the Agreement and that have been operating with some success, as the Taoiseach said. What we all hope will be the temporary suspension of the Assembly should not lead to the suspension, even temporarily, of other bodies operating successfully under the umbrella of the Agreement.

It must be a frustrating experience for those who put so much effort into negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in the first instance and who have spent so much time overcoming the difficulties and obstacles that have continually arisen, as well as for ordinary people who have invested so much hope, that the momentum towards political progress in Northern Ireland should be continually interrupted by crisis after crisis. I am sure when all parties signed up to the Agreement in April 1998, neither Prime Minister Blair nor the Taoiseach believed that more than four years on it would still be taking up so much of their time. Too often over the past four years it seemed to have been a case of two steps forward and one step back or even, on some occasions, one step forward and two steps back.

We must never lose sight, however, of what has been the primary achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, that it has brought a degree of peace, albeit flawed and imperfect peace, not experienced in Northern Ireland over the previous 30 years. The passage of time can dull the memory to the horrors inflicted on Northern Ireland over such a long period. Just a decade ago, in 1992, 91 people died in politically motivated violence arising from the Northern conflict. In January, eight Protestant workers were murdered in a sectarian massacre at Teebane. In April, 15 year old Danielle Carter was among three people who died at the hands of IRA bombers in London. In February, 18 year old Peter Magee was one of five Catholics murdered when the UFF opened up on a betting shop in the Ormeau Road. Loyalist and republic paramilitaries came close to achieving a balance of terror in that bleak year, with 39 people murdered by loyalists and 42 by republicans.

There is still violence in Northern Ireland. One death from politically motivated violence is a death too many, but the fact is that were it not for the Good Friday Agreement many more people would have died. For this, above all other reasons, we must put every possible effort into maintaining and strengthening the Good Friday Agreement. There is no viable alternative to the Good Friday Agreement and its commitment to equality and mutual respect as the basis of [71] relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between these islands. No one has come up with a realistic alternative to the Agreement and there can be no attempt to renegotiate it. The general approach of seeking to deal with all outstanding issues arising from the Agreement in the talks now taking place is the correct one. We must end the stop start approach and remove the instability and uncertainty. Most of all, we must end the series of crises that have bedevilled the process from almost the beginning and replace it with stability and certainty.

Primary responsibility for what sometimes seems like the endless cycle of crises rests with the republican movement and the Unionist parties. If the momentum is now to be restored we need a clear and unconditional demonstration from the republican movement of its absolute and unequivocal commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means of advancing its political objectives. The joint statement issued by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair on 14 October put it clearly when it stated:

It must be clear that the transition from violence to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, which has been ongoing since the Agreement, and indeed before, is being brought to an unambiguous and definitive conclusion.

This is all the more essential in light of the extraordinary decision of the IRA to withdraw its co-operation from the de Chastelain commission and a number of recent incidents and arrests, North and South, including the conviction earlier this month of an active member of Sinn Féin from Cork on serious arms charges. No one can be allowed to take an each-way bet on democracy. One cannot choose to be a democrat one day and revert to terrorism the next.

Following the IRA ceasefire in 1994, there was general acceptance that the republican movement would need time and space to make the transition from violence to democracy. There was an understanding that the leadership was committed to moving towards full participation in the democratic system, but that it would require time to convince the slower learners among the republican movement. Anyone who understands anything about our political history knew it would take time and that there would be slippage and problems. There were times when we all bit our lips and remained silent, when there were harsh things crying out to be said, simply because we did not want to lose sight of the big prize. The Taoiseach put it in his unique way last Wednesday during Question Time when referring to the continued involvement of the republican movement in paramilitary activities. He said: “All of us have managed to stretch our minds to a position where we can tolerate that, if not like it, providing we can get to a closure on it.”

[72]It would be churlish not to acknowledge the remarkable progress made by Sinn Féin under the leadership of Mr. Gerry Adams and Mr. Martin McGuinness. It seems that they are also on the verge of another historic decision, by members of Sinn Féin taking their place in the new policing system in Northern Ireland. However, the time has also come to say “enough is enough”. The republican movement has had the time and it has got the space. Others have made sufficient allowances. It is now time for the republican movement to make up its mind. It is its turn to repay the trust put in it and the allowances made, by showing that the transition referred to in the joint statement by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair is to be completed.

At the same time, there is a requirement for the Ulster Unionist Party to accept that in the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland it will be a requirement, for the foreseeable future, to have the sort of institutionalised power-sharing provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. It also needs to show that, providing all parties live up to their obligations under the Agreement, Ulster Unionism will work the institutions to the full and they will be allowed to proceed, free from the threat of collapse every few months.

There is also a need for consistency in the approach of the Ulster Unionist Party to terrorist organisations and their political wings. Loyalist paramilitary organisations that have subjected many Nationalist areas to a prolonged period of siege and attack during the past year do not appear to have come in for anything like the same degree of constant criticism as the IRA has from Mr. David Trimble and his colleagues. Representatives of the two main Unionist parties apparently had no difficulty in sitting down with the same loyalist paramilitary organisations during a recent conference in South Africa.

In making these criticisms of Unionism, however, all who support the Good Friday Agreement must ask why Unionist support for the Agreement has fallen steadily since the referendum in 1998 and how this trend can be reversed. Part of the reason for the collapse in support among Unionists is the failure to deliver on decommissioning, which was to have been completed within two years of the Agreement. It has also been undermined by the reported involvement of republicans in the unexplained events in Columbia, the convictions of republicans for arms smuggling from Florida, long after the ceasefire and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and the convincing reports suggesting continued involvement in crime and paramilitary actions. These genuine Unionist concerns must be addressed, not just by statements, but also by demonstrable action on the part of the republican movement.

The concerns among Nationalists about the perceived lack of enthusiasm for the Agreement among Unionists must be addressed, not just by statements, but by demonstrable actions on its [73] part also. It is important that we take all possible steps to preserve and protect the progress made to date under the Good Friday Agreement. The operation of the North-South implementation bodies is one such area of progress. Whether you approach the constitutional issue from the perspective of a Nationalist or a Unionist, a joint North-South approach in regard to areas like tourism or inland waterways makes commercial sense.

The implementation bodies are answerable, under the terms of the Agreement, to the North-South Ministerial Council. However, as a result of the suspension of the Executive, the North-South Ministerial Council cannot function. Without the legislation before us, the implementation bodies would become, in effect, political orphans. This would place in jeopardy many of the major programmes of work already under way as well as the jobs of the 700 people employed by the various bodies.

Bodies like these can play a significant role in increasing North-South understanding. If the recent unfortunate comments on the nature of this State by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. David Trimble, proved anything, it was that we need to promote a better understanding of life on both sides of the Border. When meeting members of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, I am often struck by how few have ever travelled south of the Border. In the same way, there are huge numbers of citizens of the Republic who have never had any real contact with Unionist people. Increased understanding and tolerance has to be a two-way process. The cross-Border bodies can help in this regard.

There are two legal issues in the Bill to which I draw attention. The Labour Party has decided, in the interests of maintaining our supportive approach, not to submit amendments but, nonetheless, I highlight these matters for the purpose of obtaining clarification.

The Bill recognises suspension, which hitherto was not recognised legally. It recognises that the Northern Ireland institutions have been suspended and provides accordingly for the continuation of the North-South bodies which will continue to exist as accountable to the two Governments. My party's basic position is that the Good Friday Agreement binds all participants and no one can opt out. That is why we want to hold Sinn Féin, the IRA and loyalists to their decommissioning obligations, why we want to see the IRA and other terrorist organisations close up shop and why we want to see the institutions re-instated.

The suspension of the Northern Ireland institutions, however, comes to us via the Northern Ireland Act, 2001, passed at Westminster without agreement from the Irish Government. It was arguably necessary legislation at a pragmatic level, but it was unilateral legislation – ultimately, unilateralism is not the way forward to full implementation of the Agreement.

[74]At the time, while Government and Opposition did not condemn the Northern Ireland Act, 2001, as illegal, neither was the legality of that approach accepted. It would have been much better if the matter could have been dealt with by way of bilateral agreement which would have preserved the agreed legal basis for dealing with Northern Ireland. It is important that we do not accept the legality of any unilateral move to interfere with the Agreement, even one as arguably pragmatically necessary as the suspension of power. The Labour Party sees this Bill as simply recognising the suspension of the institutions defacto, not as a de jure acceptance of the legality of that suspension.

My next point concerns the timing of the re-instatement of the institutions. The Bill provides that the Act will cease to be in force on the earliest practicable date after the restoration of the institutions. This seems unduly vague as the agreement of 19 November 2002 set out in the Schedule provides that it will terminate on a definite date, namely, when notifications are exchanged. Why can this Bill not cease to have effect on that date? That would seem clearer, although I assume this is the intention of the Taoiseach, even though not stated expressly. I put these points on the record while making clear that the Labour Party will be supporting this Bill and facilitating its speedy enactment.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I wish to share my time with Deputies Sargent and Connolly, by agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Is that agreed? Agreed.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I speak on this Bill on behalf of Sinn Féin, but under strong protest. This legislation should not be before the House. It is necessitated by the unilateral suspension of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, inclusive Executive and Assembly by the British Government. That Government gave itself powers under suspension legislation passed at Westminster, powers that form no part of the Good Friday Agreement but that have been used, once again, to dismantle the political structures which the people of Ireland supported by referendum in 1998.

The British-Irish Agreement of 1998 was a bilateral agreement between two Governments and was a key part of the Good Friday Agreement negotiated between the two Governments and the political parties. I stress that the British Government has acted unilaterally in suspending the institutions and has thereby undermined the Good Friday Agreement. I regret the Irish Government accepted that unilateral suspension meekly and with only token dissent.

It is the responsibility of the Government to represent the national interest. This suspension is clearly against Irish interests. Behind the diplomatic language of the exchange of letters repro[75] duced in the Bill is something with which we are all too familiar – bad faith on the part of the British Government. Unfortunately we are equally familiar with weary acceptance of that bad faith on the part of the Irish Government. It is time we saw a much more robust approach. Let it not be forgotten that the Good Friday Agreement is every bit as important to the citizens of this jurisdiction as it is to citizens in the Six Counties. The people of this State made changes to fundamental articles of the Constitution. The quid pro quo for those changes was the very institutions that have been suspended by the British government. Moreover, there was the expectation that the Good Friday Agreement would allow all the people who share this island the opportunity to shape our political destinies together, without the negative veto of the British Government-Unionist axis. Yet it is this axis that has thwarted the wishes of the people of Ireland.

This is how republicans view the present situation. We will make every effort to help resolve the impasse but we have no illusions about the cause of the difficulties. On 21 September the Ulster Unionist Council passed an anti-Agreement motion. The resolution, hammered out between Mr. David Trimble and Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, was meant to dismantle the Agreement and it is, as I have described it before, a wreckers' charter. The resolution does not even mention the Good Friday Agreement. It seeks the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the Executive and the rolling back of such policing reform as has already taken place. This was the real reason the suspension was declared unilaterally by the British Government. It could not countenance the Ulster Unionist Party and Mr. David Trimble being clearly seen as responsible for the crisis, hence the contrived collapse of the Executive with the raid on the Sinn Féin office in Stormont and a wave of propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last week an initial round table meeting between the parties and the Governments took place in Belfast. Sinn Féin made clear then, and reiterates here, this process of renewed talks cannot and must not be a re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome and appreciate the response the Taoiseach gave to this question in the House last week when he accepted and reiterated that very important point. The negotiations must centre on the restoration of the institutions and the full implementation of the Agreement across the range of outstanding issues. These include policing, the equality agenda, human rights issues, the courts and the judiciary and, very importantly, demilitarisation.

Since my election to the Dáil in 1997, I have felt a special responsibility to the communities in the Six Counties, especially those in South Armagh, which endure continuing occupation by the British army and its massive military infrastructure. It is a disgrace and a scandal that, five years on, the people of that area and other areas in the [76] North of Ireland still endure this military occupation, and in some cases it has actually increased. The British Government is in breach of its responsibilities and commitments. The Irish Government must do much more to end the plight of these communities. It is not enough to offer concern and platitudes – these communities need real delivery.

The British Government, and principally Mr. Tony Blair, made a number of commitments to deliver on a process of rolling demilitarisation and other matters, but it has failed to deliver on them. Successive British Secretaries of State have excused their failure to deliver on commitments citing the likely impact on Unionism of any further movement. We have to challenge this and question whether new commitments will be subject to the same pressures from Unionism. After this negotiation will we find the same excuses being trotted out to excuse further failures and inaction? Despite the historic distrust between Irish republicans and any British Government, there was a widely held view that it was willing to take risks for peace and that we could do business with it. This view has been seriously undermined. I want to refute the impression given about the further policing legislation published by the British Government yesterday.

I listened to Deputy Rabbitte's contribution earlier and noted what he had to say. This legislation imposes a significant new restriction on the ability of the Police Ombudsman to root out human rights abusers within the PSNI. The Police Act prevented the Policing Board from being the accountable mechanism envisaged by the Patten report. It gave the PSNI Chief Constable the power to refuse the board information relevant to wrongdoing by members of the PSNI. The legislation published yesterday missed the opportunity to put the Patten report on policing back on track. Instead the restrictions on the policing board I have described have now been extended to the Ombudsman and doubly undermine the accountability structures recommended in the Patten report. The RUC Special Branch remains a powerful force within the PSNI. We do not yet have the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. The Patten report has not been implemented and, regretfully, yesterday's legislation was a further disappointment and a missed opportunity.

Tá an Foras Teanga luaite sa Bhille seo agus ba mhaith liom díomá a chur in iúl maidir leis na gearrtha siar ag an Rialtas seo ar bhuiséad an Fhorais. I am deeply disappointed at the Government's 11% cut in the budget of Foras na Gaeilge, part of an Foras Teanga, published in the Estimates. In the context of the difficulties of the Agreement and the implementation bodies this Bill addresses, this was a particularly regrettable move.

Sinn Féin will not oppose the passage of this Bill; the party understands the important function it is designed to address. My party does this under the strongest protest. This is legislation we should [77] not have had to address. It is imperative that the Government takes further and concerted action in view of the repeat debacle provided by the British Government and the UUP.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Ba mhaith liomsa a rá freisin go bhfuil díomá orm go bhfuil an Bille seo os ár gcomhair amach. The Green Party supports the passage of this Bill as a necessity to maintain the operation of the institutions, in so far as the cross-Border bodies are concerned. We hope this Bill will be as short in its operation as it is in length.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an leanúnachas atá taobh thiar de na hinstitiúidí Thuaidh-Theas ar an oileán seo ar fad. Tá sé tábhachtach ar go leor bealaí go bhfuil na hinstitiúidí ann, ní amháin ar mhaithe le síocháin ach ar mhaithe le heacnamaíocht agus comhshaol na tíre.

The North-South institutions are important for all of us. They are as important for the Green Party in this jurisdiction as they are for the Green Party in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party in England and Wales. In 1981 and 1982, when the Green Party was set up in this jurisdiction and north of the Border, respectively, one of our first policies was to adopt a joint approach towards the crisis in Northern Ireland. That approach was similar to the template for the Good Friday Agreement in that it stressed the three strands which are part of the Agreement. It also stressed the need for a voting system which would work towards consensus. Unfortunately, the Good Friday Agreement was not able to deliver that.

While we acknowledge that the Agreement is a well crafted document, it is not a panacea. That must be recognised by people who celebrate the Agreement but who fail to understand that it is nothing more than a beginning and that we must all work at it. It is worrying that it copperfastens the reality of division in Northern Ireland, but we must work to overcome that. There is no substitute in the Agreement for continuous hard work and support for many of the community groups and bodies which seek to overcome sectarian divisions in areas such as education. Bodies, such as Educate Together, Co-operation North and others promote visits in the North and the South, as Deputy Rabbitte said.

Although the referendum on the peace process was carried overwhelmingly in this country, referenda in other jurisdictions have sparked conflict. The former Yugoslavia is an example of where referenda started conflict as well as tried to end it. We hope, pray and plead that there will be full decommissioning of weapons and that demilitarisation on all sides will take place because it is a constant cause of conflict.

We must take initiatives, but this is not the time for cross-Border bodies to do so. This is an exercise in marking time. We must give the Assembly time and space to get up and running again. One way to exacerbate the situation is to assume that the all-Ireland bodies are intact and can, therefore, work as if the Assembly is still operating. [78] However, that is not the case. I would like to know what level of consultation has taken place with the Unionist parties about this Bill and the continuation of the all-Ireland bodies. We must show that there is still a level of mutual respect across the political divide which will not be exacerbated by the continuation of the all-Ireland bodies. It is important to send a strong message that the all-Ireland bodies are not a Nationalist concession or an attempt by one side to lord it over the other. They are a practical and vital part of our common interest, north and south of the Border.

The sinking of the Prestige tanker shows that when there is doubt about who takes responsibility for problems as well as day-to-day issues, the situation can become more disastrous than it should. The Unionists should remember the benefits of the cross-Border bodies. The former Senator, Sam McAughtry, often talked about how the fire brigades from Dublin went to the rescue of the people in Belfast who suffered during the blitz in the Second World War. It should be clear that there is a practical reason beyond politics or any historical traditions which are part of the conflict in Northern Ireland for the existence of such cross-Border bodies. That message should be clearly emphasised.

During the foot and mouth disease every person in the North and the South had to co-operate to avoid an all-Ireland catastrophe. There is no reason for complacency. It is also important from a tourism point of view. Years ago people from other countries thought the whole country was engulfed in conflict. The same is true of Nigeria today. If one sympathises with Nigerians over what is happening in their country, they will say they do not know what one is talking about because the part of the country in which they live is peaceful. The international perception of this island is that it is a small place where everyone lives side by side. It is difficult for people to recognise that there are different parts to the island. However, we must respect the fact there are different parts to it.

The establishment of institutions, such as Waterways Ireland, is a common sense approach. Rivers, such as the Rhine, the Rhone and the Danube are managed by catchment area bodies. When water flows through a number of jurisdictions, a common administrative body must be set up to take account of the problems which can affect different jurisdictions. The cross-Border bodies were established to try to avoid problems and to assist people.

Many people feel overwhelmed and alone, such as the Irish speaking communities in the North and the South. The cutbacks, to which Deputy Ó Caoláin referred, highlight that further. The Ulster Scots community also feels overwhelmed. Perhaps in our diversity, particularly our language diversity, we can appreciate our common cause. The spirit of agreement in the Good Friday Agreement is that we will learn from each other and thereby raise the standards on both sides of [79] the Border through our collective efforts. We must always respect diversity and make decisions which allow and respect difference rather than polarise dissent.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Paudge Connolly Zoom on Paudge Connolly I, and the majority of right thinking people on the island of Ireland, regret the necessity for the Bill. Our overriding concern should be to ensure that, irrespective of the length of the enforced period of suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the continuity of the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies should be held as sacrosanct. The current period of suspension should not continue indefinitely. We should regard it as an imperative to nurture the all-island institutions in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly. A significant measure of the level of achievement of the North's institutions lies in the fact that it is quietly assumed by all sides in the North, including the more pragmatic members of Ian Paisley's DUP party, that the current suspension of the Assembly is a temporary arrangement and that the institutions are merely in temporary hibernation. Hence the necessity for the Bill, the purpose of which is to amend the 1999 British-Irish Agreement Act to enable the British and Irish Governments to jointly take decisions relating to the island's implementation bodies.

Prior to the Assembly's suspension, we had the spectacle of balanced or reciprocal brinkmanship by both the IRA and hard-line Unionists. Both groups viewed each other with jaundiced eyes as each waited for the other to blink first. The North's power sharing institutions were in grave danger of being destabilised due to the depressing failure to agree on policy issues of police reform, IRA disarmament and demilitarisation by the British Army and the fledgling PSNI. It is incomprehensible that consensus cannot be reached by all sides without constant retreat into the sectarian mire. Even former First Minister Trimble managed to succumb to this tendency during his recent sojourn in the USA. The stark fact is that a political vacuum exists in the North and this Bill will ensure the vacuum is not filled by the men of violence on both sides. That can also be precluded by simultaneous action from the IRA, Britain and loyalist paramilitary groups. The IRA should make a clear and unambiguous demonstration of its commitment to disarmament and lasting peace, Britain should demonstrably scale down and indicate the eventual withdrawal of its military presence in the North, particularly in Nationalist areas, and all loyalist paramilitary groups should disarm. The removal of all conceivable threats to the fragile peace process would make possible the restoration of the Northern Assembly and the various institutions and the prospect of a real and lasting peace would be a reality.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the North-South Ministerial Council has aimed to develop consultation, co-operation and [80] action within the island of Ireland on matters of mutual interest. Its work covers 12 sectors, not merely the six North-South bodies, but six others which operate through existing agencies in each jurisdiction. The principal areas for which the council has responsibility include strategic planning and cross-Border development of transport; discussion of the Common Agricultural Policy and North-South research and development in agriculture; special needs education, under-achievement, accreditation of teaching qualifications and youth and teacher cross-Border exchanges; research into environmental protection, water quality management and waste management in a cross-Border context; marketing of island of Ireland tourism overseas by a company publicly owned by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; and, in health, my personal principal area of concern, accident and emergency planning, emergency services, co-operation on high-technology equipment, cancer research, health promotion and the food safety promotion board.

The co-operation and working together initiative, or CAWT, was launched in 1992 and involves the Southern and Western Health and Social Services Board in the North and the North-Western and North-Eastern Health Boards in the South. The principal aim of CAWT is to work for health gain and social well-being in the Border area. CAWT was involved in specific projects such as the CAWT region population health profile, the GP out-of-hours initiative, the Craigavon and Monaghan hospital partnership and an all-Ireland working group under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council. Under the British-Irish agreement, the two Governments must fully implement the CAWT initiative in the interests of cross-Border co-operation in the area of quality health care. A gaping void exists in the area of acute emergency services on both sides of the Border and my wish is for the CAWT initiative to be further developed to provide a meaningful level of service to Border communities.

In the area of economic co-operation there is enormous scope for mutual efficiency and competitiveness gains through North-South co-ordination by the two Governments. Co-operation should take place in the development of telecommunications infrastructure, facilitation of cross-Border labour mobility, promotion of energy efficiency, development of transport infrastructure, development of an all-island energy market, development of joint research and development projects and in the promotion of life-long learning by various institutions.

The Good Friday Agreement and all the institutions which stemmed from it have been described as the only game in town and they have provided a bright new day, not merely for the North, but for all Ireland. The implementation bodies and their subsidiaries have contributed to the improvement and normalisation of relations together with the enhancement of mutual confidence and respect. Last week's round table talks [81] at Stormont demonstrated the virtually unanimous agreement that the way forward lies in the complete implementation of the Agreement. Under this Bill, both Governments will continue to operate the institutions under the Agreement and will maintain them in trust, as it were, until the Assembly is restored. I have no doubt they will be worthy of that trust.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt.

Coming from the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting at the weekend, it is with relief that I observe this Bill being brought before the House. It continues to move things that have already been started. We would prefer not to have to come to the House to take power from where it should reside, which is the message I want to convey tonight. All politics should be local and that needs to be the case again as soon as possible. This legislation should be only a temporary provision and the real power should go back to where it belongs.

I look at this in the context of the number of cross-Border activities in which I am involved. I am involved in the north-west region crossBorder group and when we had local issues to raise with Ministers, Derry City Council, Limavady Borough Council and the Strabane District Council had much in common with the Donegal County Council. We had successful meetings with many Ministers across the political spectrum and at the first few I wondered if I would be a help or a hindrance coming from the Republic. I found that local Ministers were extremely competent and I would like to see these meetings resume. It is important the progress that has been made is maintained and continued and I was very happy to hear the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, say that 22 Bills have been brought from the Executive to Westminster to ensure they are progressed. I was also pleased to hear him say this is not the way he wants to see things done. He does not want to scrutinise these Bills in this way when they would get better scrutiny from the people directly concerned.

I am glad to see the Taoiseach here tonight. It is essential the revision of the Foyle Fishery Act, 1952, is progressed as soon as possible. I live on the Foyle and many of my votes come from the fishermen who use it. There is no licensing of aquaculture and we rely on the goodwill of people to manage the fishery. There have been successful years with mussels and oysters, but it would be far better to put in place a proper management structure under licence. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure this legislation is progressed. I would prefer if it were dealt with locally, but it is six or seven years in the offing and we cannot afford to allow these circumstances to obtain ad infinitum. The legislation should be ready and the institutions should be up and running to allow the Bill to be passed by the Assembly before the May [82] election deadline. Whatever has to be done the elections must not be deferred.

The locks agency in the Foyle has had a chequered history between fishermen and staff but the situation is improving. The people see the progress being made, the plans for the development of marine leisure, sustainable development, aquaculture licences and the interpretative centre. We are probably on a better footing than for a number of years. Given that about 90% of the fishermen using the Foyle are from Donegal this is an important issue for me. Perhaps the Taoiseach would respond to the following question at another time. If we get aquaculture licensing on the Foyle and it comes under the locks agency I am confused as to why the issue of the seabed was not clarified under the Good Friday Agreement. I do not wish to expand on the issue at present but it should be addressed. It makes sense that if the locks agency is dealing with the water that the seabed would also come under the locks agency. I would appreciate a note on that issue at the Taoiseach's convenience.

The locks agency has a role in relation to the Foyle but it did not lead on a wind farm that was promoted on the mouth of the Foyle. I am not opposed to wind energy but I have to protect those I represent who are fishermen. I am not convinced that this wind farm of 85 30-storey turbines will not have an impact on a river whose tributaries come under European protection. If we have a river which is protected for its substantial salmon stocks I remain to be convinced that 85 30-storey wind farm turbines will not cause adverse affects. The locks agency has asked simple questions. The salmon rely on electromagnetic fields to leave their spawning ground and return. If they pass this wind turbine and the electricity it is exuding, will it interfere with the magnetic fields? The promoters of the turbines say they will create a sanctuary effect. If we have a sanctuary effect and the smolts are all gathered around these turbines they will be the victims of bigger fish. Is that a positive part of sustainable development on the Foyle for salmon fisheries?

I have been informed that the environmental impact assessment will address the issue of fisheries and will provide me with the answers I seek. However, the environmental impact assessment will be concluded in April before the smolts have left their spawning ground. I would like those three issues addressed. If there is a reasonable argument that the salmon fishery will not be adversely affected, that is fair enough. I am not getting those answers or an indication that the issue is being properly addressed.

At the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body yesterday, Paul Murphy and I asked that a public inquiry into this project be initiated, and we were supported by John Hume. It is important to the north-west as we have only tourism and fishing left. That is why under the trade and business development body I want to see progress in cross-Border trade. As the Taoiseach will be aware another 100 jobs will be lost at Fruit of the Loom [83] before Christmas. Between 60 and 80 jobs were lost there in September. Whatever we can do to progress cross-Border trade should be done. Whatever chance we have with angling tourism measures, our commercial fishermen should not be put out of business over a wind farm from which we are getting nothing. If we got green credits or energy from it that would be a plus. I ask the Taoiseach to take on that issue and have the questions answered. We do not want the locks agency to become redundant due to a lack of co-operation between the Governments. This project has the potential to put the locks agency out of business. There is no point in the agency talking about sustainable development and advancing new plans if it is ruled out by an activity into which we have had no input.

As chairperson of the committee with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs I welcome the fact that we have the PEACE II and INTERREG moneys to disperse. I commend Foras na Gaeilge and those involved in the Ulster-Scots language which is also part of the Good Friday Agreement and wish them well.

We need to get the Executive up and running as soon as possible. The elections must take place on 1 May and many people are working hard to ensure that happens. In areas such as my own there could be far more interaction between the north-west as a unit. Statistics issued during the week show a 29% increase in burglaries in Donegal when the national average is 3%. These issues can and need to be addressed on a cross-Border basis. I do not necessarily want it dealt with by a Minister coming from England but by a person from our own neck of the woods whom we know and to whom we can relate.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Kitt): Information on Tom Kitt Zoom on Tom Kitt I join in commending this Bill to the House.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was an historic breakthrough for all the people on this island, both North and South. We all recall the great sense of hope at that time as we looked forward to a new era of peace and reconciliation.

Since then, we have all been involved in the work of implementing the Agreement and realising its considerable potential. The North-South bodies, which are the subject of the Bill, have played a vital role in this task. The bodies, which have an impressive range of responsibilities from trade and business development to EU Structural Funds to inland waterways, have been one of the undoubted successes of the Agreement.

It could also be argued that they have been one of its unheralded successes. This may be a classic example of where no news is good news. The lack of media focus on the bodies is largely a function of their own success in concentrating and delivering on the job in hand. The bodies have a job of work to do and are busy getting on with it. They are concentrating on work, which is of [84] practical and tangible benefit to all of us on the island, both North and South.

The objective of the Bill is to ensure that such work can continue successfully. Although with the suspension of the Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council is unable to meet, that does not mean that the work of the bodies does not continue. So vital have the bodies become to the overall well-being of the sectors in which they operate, that one could reasonably say that they must continue. I would cite the example of Tourism Ireland, which is responsible for the overseas marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourism destination. The tourism industry on this island relies on overseas visitors for its survival. We cannot afford to allow the current temporary political setback to hold back the future of an industry which has such importance for the economic well-being of the island. Therefore, it is vital that Tourism Ireland can be allowed to get on with the job of marketing Ireland overseas.

Another North-South body which is making a valuable contribution to our economic development, is InterTradeIreland, the cross-border trade and business development body. InterTradeIreland is located in Newry, in a purpose-built headquarters which was recently opened by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. In discharging its responsibility for enhancing cross-Border trade on this island, the body has put in place a number of programmes, including North-South business graduate placement programmes and an equity network programme aimed at boosting growth in the small and medium enterprise sector.

North-South trade is a growing feature of the island economy. Total trade between North and South has been increasing over the past decade at an average annual rate of almost 10%. Cross-Border trade accounts for approximately 13% of Northern Ireland's total external sales.

Debate adjourned.


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