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

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Kitt): Information on Tom Kitt Zoom on Tom Kitt When I last addressed the House, I referred to the work of the North-South bodies, in particular, InterTrade Ireland. I was privileged to work alongside the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and her Northern Ireland counterparts in the context of the work of that body and note that cross-Border [112] trade has been growing substantially recently. InterTrade Ireland aims to tap into this potential and to improve the efficiency of the island economy to the benefit of businesses and consumers North and South.

The supplementary agreement between the Government and the British Government will ensure that the vital work of these and other North-South bodies will continue by ensuring that the bodies have a mechanism which will allow them to receive the necessary approval for their budgets, operating plans and other arrangements. This will allow them to continue to operate successfully and will avoid a situation where they would be prevented from carrying out their important functions to the full as a result of the current temporary political difficulties.

As the Taoiseach has pointed out, this Bill is only intended as an interim measure. The focus of effort must be on ensuring that the institutions are restored in full as speedily as possible. In that regard, the work which began last week in Belfast at the round table talks which I attended, which were co-chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, is of vital importance.

These talks provided an opportunity for the parties to air their concerns on a wide range of issues. This was my first such meeting and I was encouraged by the commitment of the parties to re-engage and by the widespread agreement that the Good Friday Agreement remained the template for political progress in Northern Ireland. While some parties naturally identified a number of specific issues that need to be tackled, the full implementation of all the remaining areas of the Agreement was discussed. Both positions can be addressed as we continue to work for the overall context in which trust can be restored. It was also agreed to keep up the pace in terms of making progress in all the outstanding areas. I do not underestimate the challenges ahead in terms of restoring trust and confidence among the parties but a good beginning was made last week.

Following last week's talks, the Minister for Foreign Affairs spoke of the need to create an enabling context in which the necessary breakthrough can take place. This began last week and will continue on Thursday when we meet the parties for a second time in Belfast. On the basis of last week's meeting and papers submitted by some parties, the two Governments have prepared a detailed agenda for Thursday's talks and I look forward to the next round of constructive engagement with all those committed to the Agreement.

The necessary political will and the commitment to intensify engagement which have already been displayed, support the view that it will be possible to resolve the current difficulties. In the meantime, to protect and maintain the achievements of the North-South bodies, this Bill is urgently required. Although it has only been possible for me and my colleagues on this [113] occasion to give a brief summary of some of the work of the North-South bodies, I am confident of the support of the House in ranking them as one of the key achievements of the Good Friday Agreement to date. They are worthy of our support for their valuable work and for the important part they play in the development of a new era of trust and co-operation on this island to the benefit of all its people. We must ensure that they are able to continue this work pending the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I commend this Bill to the House.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe This is a rare debate for a country that sees the national issue as a priority. It is unusual to have a full debate in this House on Northern Ireland and that is a pity. I suggest to the Government, particularly in the months leading up the re-establishment of the institutions in Northern Ireland, that the opportunity is taken to have more full-scale debates on this issue.

Leaders' questions are taken weekly in the House and my party leader, Deputy Kenny, raises this issue with the Taoiseach when there is an interchange of ideas. However, within the Oireachtas generally, there is a strong body of opinion which is supportive of the need to find a resolution to the problems in Northern Ireland and which is very supportive of the Good Friday Agreement. An opportunity should be given to the Houses of the Oireachtas to give expression to that support.

My position is best summed up by the motion which I proposed to the British-Irish Interparliamentary body yesterday at its meeting in Manchester. I asked that the body reaffirm its support for the Good Friday Agreement; referred to the fact that it was saddened at the suspension of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland; welcomed the determination of the two Governments to press ahead with all aspects of the Agreement; called on all political parties to redouble their efforts towards the restoration of the institutions which have benefited the people of these islands; and urged all involved parties to continue their efforts to secure an early resumption of the Northern Ireland institutions.

That motion could have been characterised as anodyne or equivalent to apple pie or mothers' milk, but it was not. In many ways, the motion encapsulates the only reasonable, logical reaction to the present situation. I say to those who question the Good Friday Agreement without providing an alternative that they are undemocratic in that approach. The Agreement is utterly rooted in its mandate from the Irish people. It is the only show in town, as has been mentioned. The referenda, North and South, produced a large majority in favour and the democratic will of the Irish people is that the Agreement must be implemented. There is no other route to the resolution of the problem.

It is over four years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed and one has to ask why it has not been fully implemented since then. It [114] must be implemented in full. There is no mandate from the Irish people for any other alternative. There is an overwhelming onus on those who think or talk to the contrary to explain exactly where they stand within the democratic system.

It is fair to say that the Agreement was not utterly specific in two areas, policing and decommissioning. Policing was referred to the Patten Commission and decommissioning to the independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Those matters were not referred to those bodies on principle but with regard to implementing the will of the people and the broad principles established in the Good Friday Agreement.

In many ways policing is the key to resolving the current impasse in Northern Ireland. At one stage in this House it was fashionable to criticise the police in Northern Ireland, the RUC was sneered at by some and it was a pity. Even though the RUC was not a perfect body – what police force is – it made what efforts it could in virtually impossible circumstances over the past 30 years. That is not the issue now, the issue now is how we look at the revised police force in Northern Ireland. It is important that we appreciate the changes that have been made and the efforts being made by the members of the PSNI to establish normal policing structures. It is important we acknowledge the contribution made by the policing board in making some difficult decisions regarding badges, flags and other symbols. We should start a trend in this State of appreciating the efforts being made on policing.

If there is to be peace on the streets and neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland the police force will underpin that peace. The police must be accepted by all groups, the community as well as political organisations, if there is to be peace. I point to the issue of Sinn Féin staying off the police board. How can we expect full support for the police from the communities in republican areas when Sinn Féin, that has electoral strength in those areas, does not join the policing board? It is an imperative that Sinn Féin joins the policing board and I urge that it does so. It is a major step that must be taken.

I commend General de Chastelain on his efforts with the decommissioning body but he can only accept what he is given. His job is to supervise decommissioning and, thankfully, there have been a couple of acts of decommissioning. To be blunt, more than decommissioning is now needed. Those who hold arms must go further than that. Why do they keep these arms? I refer to the IRA in particular but more than it is involved. Whether it is Official, Provisional, Continuity or Real IRA, there are a raft of organisations involved on the republican side. The UDA, LVF, Red Hand Commando and whatever is left of those are on the other side. The Provisional IRA is the key. A commitment was given on decommissioning and while I accept a commission was put in place to deal with the modalities and logistics, it has been four and a half years [115] since that arrangement was made in the Good Friday Agreement.

A two-stage report is now required and it is, to a degree, related to policing. Some of the changes in policing announced at Westminster will cause concern for Unionists. Those concerns would be allayed if the issues of decommissioning and disbandment were dealt with by the IRA. I commend Paul Murphy for his efforts so far, he was constructive in our discussions at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body in Manchester. The headline over his article in today's edition of The Irish Times says it all: “North policing issues can be solved if paramilitaries take final step to peace”.

It is time for paramilitaries in general, and the IRA in particular, to say goodbye. They are redundant. More importantly, arms that remain in their possession are redundant. Why are they keeping them? Are they keeping them as toys or to use them? If we are to believe what they say they have no intention of using them. If that is the case, why hold on to them? The message from the Oireachtas must be to get rid of those arms, but the paramilitary organisations must declare that they will take no further action.

One could not talk about Northern Ireland without speaking of the punishment attacks that are being carried out. Many attacks are carried out by paramilitaries and over two-thirds have been carried out by loyalist paramilitaries. Many of us were horrified at the barbarity of recent attacks such as the crucifixion of Mr. Harry McCartan. However, it was not the only attack although it may have been the most outrageous. The earlier attack on Mr. Raymond Kelly was appalling and unrelated to any semblance of reason – there was not even an excuse for it. We must express our revulsion at such barbarity. The IRA has been involved in incidents too, such as the attack on Derry bus driver, Mr. Danny McBrearty. Expressing condemnation and revulsion is not enough, we must point the way forward. The way forward is through policing. Such madmen cannot be stopped without proper policing support. Proper policing support will not happen until communities fully support their action. That is how the issues of policing and punishment attacks are interlinked.

I recall the discussions leading up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. One had to work to remove the Unionist veto. The problem with Northern Ireland was that when people were pushed to a reasonable resolution, their answer was to revert to their tribal position and say “Ulster says no” or “no surrender”. If we are seeking a resolution in Northern Ireland, we must ensure there is an end to vetoes, embargoes and boycotts.

We discussed this issue at a recent meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body in Manchester. We feel proud when we think of Captain Boycott, who was a noted resident in Deputy Kenny's constituency.

[116]Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Yes. An Foras Teanga put him in the dictionary.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe We availed of a system which became known as the boycott system. A weak and defenceless tenantry which could not cope with the overwhelming power of the landlords was able, through that system, to bring the individual for whom it was named and others to heel. The problem with Northern Ireland is that there have been too many vetoes and boycotts.

The benefit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s was that it removed the veto which brought down Sunningdale. However, there are still a number of boycotts. I mentioned Sinn Féin's boycott of the policing board. Whatever about the effect of the original boycott on Captain Boycott in Mayo in the 19th century, we can do without such boycotts at present in Northern Ireland.

The Unionists have boycotted the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. It is not that the members of the body have horns. Deputy Kenny and I attended our first meeting of that body in the House of Commons in 1990. Despite the fact that we reserved places on the body for Unionists, they have boycotted it. Why? If they have a case to make, we want to listen. Sometimes we hear their case by proxy. We might hear extreme Tory views which may or may not coincide with those of the Unionists. I want to listen to the Unionists. We do not ignore what they say. I want to debate and engage in dialogue with them. If they have a problem I want to hear about it face to face, not by proxy. That is another boycott we can do without.

The Taoiseach will probably agree that despite the development of North-South relations and of the implementation bodies since the Good Friday Agreement, we could have done without the boycott of the DUP. What was it designed to achieve? We should carry on without vetoes and boycotts. We should be prepared to enter into dialogue and to debate the issues. We should also be prepared to listen and to take on board the concerns of others.

We are entering a crucial period. Northern Ireland has taken two steps forward and one step back in the 15 years since the Anglo-Irish Agreement came into being. Unfortunately we have now taken another step back, which puts us in a period of uncertainty. How can we move two steps forward again? I am aware of the goodwill of the Governments. I am glad the two Governments can achieve so much working together. However, the parties in Northern Ireland must come up with the end product.

I know there is pressure on the parties in the North with an election due next May. I want the election to be held at that stage. It would be a terrible signal to send if the election was acceler[117] ated or postponed. The election should be held in May if that is the time to hold it. However, the parties must act in good faith in the meantime. Sinn Féin will try to win a few seats from the SDLP and the DUP will try to win seats from the UUP. I want the competition for seats to be contained within a framework of good faith and in the overall interest of Northern Ireland. Let them engage in politicking as they see fit. If all the parties are prepared to act in good faith and do their best to ensure a reasonable solution to the situation in Northern Ireland, then we can move two steps forward. I support the Bill, which is needed as a temporary measure pending the restoration of the institutions.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Roche): Information on Dick Roche Zoom on Dick Roche I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and I strongly commend it to the House. The legislation will amend the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, and will give domestic effect to the agreements between the British and Irish Governments to establish the North-South bodies as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. The amendment has been made necessary as a result of the recent and, I hope, temporary suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the Taoiseach explained earlier, this is largely a technical Bill, the purpose of which is to ensure the proper corporate governance and democratic accountability of the North-South bodies and to ensure the bodies have the necessary approval for administrative matters, such as budgets and operating plans for next year.

The North-South bodies usually operate under the overall direction of the North-South Ministerial Council. The council is one of the most remarkable institutions which bridges all sides of the divide on the island. It is remarkable in that less than a generation ago this institution and the arrangements around it could not have been envisaged. The council brings together Ministers from both parts of the island to develop formal North-South co-operation across an agreed range of sectors. At meetings of the council Ministers from the North and the South take joint decisions on the work of the North-South bodies. It is remarkable, given our history, that this normalisation of relationships should take place. Together these Ministers direct and mandate the work of the bodies and provide necessary approval for their administrative affairs.

Since the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ministers have been unable to attend such meetings. As a result, the council has been unable to meet. If that situation was allowed to continue, it would be a tragedy. A remarkable institutional innovation would wither and ultimately die. The Bill provides for the functions of the council in relation to the North-South bodies to be performed by the two Governments [118] on a temporary basis, pending the full restoration of the Northern institutions. This arrangement is formalised by means of a supplementary agreement between the Government and the British Government, which is attached to the Schedule to the Bill. That Schedule allows the bodies to continue their work and avoids the unnecessary situation where they could be left unaccountable to any outside authority.

The North-South bodies represent a major and remarkable innovation in public administration on this island. As someone who has studied public administration for the best part of three decades, it strikes me that there is not a parallel anywhere to this administrative innovation. Each of the bodies is mandated to carry out its functions throughout the island of Ireland. As such, they are a vital element in the overall settlement reached in the Good Friday Agreement.

As the Deputies will be aware, the arrangement represented a package of measures in which a balance had to be struck between the different goals and desires of all the parties. The Taoiseach referred to that as the silent success of the bodies. It is also a tribute to how well that balance has been struck in the case of the North-South bodies. If one stops and reflects for a mere moment, it is remarkable to consider that these bodies have moved on efficiently with their work, albeit in strict functional, sectoral areas. They have done so in a quiet way that has not attracted any of the rancour one could have expected a few short years ago and they have been very effective in their operations. We should be anxious to protect them because they represent an example of how things can be done as we go forward. The bodies have not, as some might have expected, been the focus of political wrangling and there has been almost no conflict. Instead, they have been a means of delivering practical benefits to the people of Ireland, North and South. The Ministers meeting in the North-South Ministerial Council have learned to work together to provide policy directions to the bodies and the bodies, in turn, have got on with the work they were established to do without histrionics or alarm. They have worked quietly, effectively and efficiently.

The operation of the bodies on an all-island basis makes sound administrative sense. For example, the recent television advertising campaign to promote food safety is being run by the food safety promotion body on stations North and South. Given the numbers of people on both sides of the Border who live in multi-channel areas, this makes sense and creates a level of synergy which increases the penetration and the effectiveness of the campaign. It may be a slight example of what can be done and of what [119] has been done, but it is with such small and basic steps that you move forward to build progress. This is the pragmatic approach to all-Ireland work which the bodies are carrying out on a daily basis and it is the beneficial effects of such work that this Bill is designed to protect. Considerable resources and effort have been invested in the establishment of these bodies and they have almost 700 employees located in offices throughout the island from Colraine to Cork. That in itself is an example of the remarkable progress that has been made. These staff members have played a crucial role in ensuring the success of the bodies during the establishment phase and they will be vital to the ongoing success of the innovations. This legislation is important to provide support to the staff in terms of motivation and to allay concerns about the future beyond merely allowing them to continue for the present.

I take this opportunity to assure the people that the Government is fully committed to the future of these organisations. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that they are protected and can continue to work. The joint statement issued by the two Governments after the suspension made it clear that though the Assembly is suspended, the Good Friday Agreement is not. It was interesting to listen to the previous contribution in which the point was made again and again that whatever the hiccoughs along the way, the Good Friday Agreement is the path and the map that has the endorsement of the overwhelming majority of the people on this island. It is appropriate therefore that the two Governments jointly expressed their total commitment to the full implementation of the Agreement and to protecting and developing its achievements. It is sad to reflect that not everybody has the same level of commitment to the Agreement, but it is the document that has been endorsed by the people North and South and everybody in political and public life and in the broader community should do everything possible to support it and ensure its full implementation.

I share the Taoiseach's hope that the Assembly will be restored sooner rather than later which would be in accord with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of thinking and civilised people on the island, North and South. I welcome the progress made at the round table talks last week and the intention of parties to hold further talks later this week. Talking is infinitely better than the alternative. In the interim the North-South bodies must be allowed to continue their important work, which is what this Bill has been introduced to ensure. I join most of the speakers who have contributed in urging full acceptance by the House of the legislation.

[120]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Is the Minister of State sharing time with Deputy Brendan Smith?

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche Zoom on Dick Roche Yes.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Deputy Smith has been waiting very patiently. When dealing with the Minister of State with responsibility for Europe it is appropriate that he should wait patiently.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith Deputy Kenny can rest assured that the Ceann Comhairle will guarantee the protection of Members from Ulster.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I have never doubted it.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Deputy should not overstate that.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche Zoom on Dick Roche The Ceann Comhairle is blushing.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny He can relax.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. I welcome the fact it is being put in place while regretting that it is necessary due to the temporary suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The great progress we have achieved in recent years is evident from a reading of the Taoiseach's speech of this morning in which he outlined the number of activities and range of work covered by the all-Ireland bodies established as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Those bodies were given particular remits and they have worked extremely well. In Ulster we are particularly aware of the importance of the special EU programme bodies, Waterways Ireland and the other four all-Ireland bodies. I welcome the determination of the two Governments to ensure that those bodies are given the necessary protection in legislation to enable them to continue with their work. The lack of controversy about them is evidence of their success. Years ago one particular community in the North of Ireland would object in the strongest possible terms to the idea of all-Ireland bodies, but today, thankfully, those bodies go about their work with a 32-county remit, performing on behalf of all Irish people.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, said in his closing remarks, the one political parameter we work within in this country is the Good Friday Agreement which was overwhelmingly endorsed in referenda North and South by the people of the whole island. There can be no renegotiation of the Agreement and the bottom line is that it serves as the template for political progress. Deputy O'Keeffe referred earlier to the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and last night we heard the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, [121] endorse the remarks of the Taoiseach who stated clearly that there could not be a renegotiation of the Agreement. That is a view to which we all subscribe. I welcome the Taoiseach's assertion that progress was made at the opening of the multi-party talks in Belfast last week and I wish the two Governments and the co-chairmen, Deputy Cowen and Secretary of State Murphy, every success in their endeavours to bring an early and successful conclusion to those talks. The talks are necessary and we hope that all parties to them will approach them in a constructive manner to ensure the obstacles that caused the suspension of the institutions will be removed. They should also ensure that the devolved institutions in the North of Ireland are operational soon. Last week, the Taoiseach stated that he is hopeful that will be achieved by February, which is absolutely essential. Assembly elections are due to take place on 1 May 2003 and politics does not happen in a vacuum. Strife and conflict thrive in a vacuum and we do not need one in our politics, particularly in the North of Ireland. We hope it will be possible to make the institutions operable again and to schedule the Assembly elections on 1 May.

I am particularly familiar, as is the Ceann Comhairle, with the workings of Waterways Ireland. In the late 1980s due to the foresight and courage of the Fianna Fáil Government of the day, the restoration of the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal was undertaken. Many people throughout this island were totally negative about that proposal, but it was given effect by politicians and it has been an outstanding success.

It was the first cross-Border project of a substantial nature on this island. I am familiar with it, particularly as it covers my own home area. That project brought a new tourism dimension to the south Fermanagh, west Cavan and south Leitrim area. Waterways Ireland, with its headquarters in Enniskillen, is continuing that work with the making navigable of a further stretch of Lough Allen to Dowra, County Cavan, and it has carried out some further works in County Leitrim.

One project that will be of great benefit to both North and South is the restoration of the Ulster Canal. All shades of political opinion in the North and South in the counties affected are supportive of that project. At 2000 prices it was a project estimated to cost Stg£89 million. Some economists would tell us that on a cost benefit analysis it would not be a sensible proposition to go ahead with that project. Those same economists told us it was not feasible to proceed with the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal restoration project. I would say to the Taoiseach, the Government and, I hope, to a restored Executive in the North of Ireland, it is one project that should be considered as a priority. It would cover a large area [122] north of the Border and a substantial area south of the Border and it has the potential to create large scale tourism revenue. I hope it can be analysed and supported in the way the Erne-Shannon waterway was supported in the late 1980s in a far less favourable economic climate.

The restoration of the institutions in the North is essential. There is no place in this country for paramilitarism.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Hear, hear.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith There is no place for punishment beatings. There is no place for paramilitarism from whatever community it comes.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Correct.

Mr. B. Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith There is no reason children in east or north Belfast cannot go to their national school without fear each morning. There is no place for that type of thuggery and violence in society. If, as politicians North and South, we wish to implement the will of the people, we have to implement the mandate given to us in May 1998 when the people North and South voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. By not implementing that Agreement we are defying the sovereignty of the people. As a State we have always prided ourselves on the fact that the people are sovereign. Our Constitution puts sovereignty in the hands of each individual elector. We have to respect that sovereignty. We have to ensure that will is implemented.

I am glad to have the opportunity to support this legislation. I regret it has been necessary to bring it forward due to the temporary, I hope, political difficulties that have arisen in recent months. I hope the policing issue can be resolved in the North. I commend the SDLP for its positive attitude and for what was, undoubtedly, a difficult decision to take its place on the policing board. Many of the Patten recommendations on policing have been implemented. We all know there is more to be done and that there are more issues to be addressed. However, with the recent announcement by the Secretary of State and the establishment of the district policing partnership boards, participation on the boards by the Nationalist community in particular can bring about the changes and the progress needed. It is by participating that an organisation or a community can make changes. We all know that policing over the years did not command the support of the Nationalist community in particular. There have been improvements. The appointment of the Chief Constable has been a positive move. The workings of the police board to date have been positive and I would hope with the enactment of the legislation announced by the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, it will be possible to again make those steps forward to ensure both [123] communities in the North will have confidence in a policing structure. Policing will not be successful in any country if it does not command the confidence of the entire community.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe I wish to share time with Deputies Boyle and Cowley.

Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill as a means of ensuring that the important work being carried out by the all-Ireland implementation bodies continues during the current temporary suspension of the institutions in the Six Counties.

We also welcome the intent signalled in the wording of the letters exchanged by the two Governments that the suspension is of a temporary nature. Combined with the resolve to ensure the continuation of the work of the implementation bodies, this must be seen as evidence of a positive commitment to making sure that the progress made since 1998 is not lost.

The excellent work being done by the implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement speaks for itself. Their success and ongoing work shows that the all-Ireland argument has been won and that they are only being held back by the limited scope of the bodies allowed under the original British Irish Agreement.

The loughs and lights agency, the food authority, language bodies and InterTradelreland have all shown the benefits of all-Ireland structures. Ideally we should be debating how to extend the remit of these bodies and create other new structures such as an all-Ireland energy grid, real co-operation and planning for cross-Border public transport projects, as well as taking practical steps to merge economic development agencies on the island and even preparing for the creation of a single tier health service for all the people on the island. We should be evaluating the work done by these bodies and planning how more can be achieved. We are not doing so because of Unionist back-tracking which was enabled and supported by the British Government.

That there has been progress is clear. On such issues as animal health precautions against the spread of disease, the situation has certainly advanced. There has also been some useful work in relation to other areas of co-operation where common sense if nothing else dictates that matters be addressed on an all-island basis and not under the ridiculous pretence that Monaghan and Fermanagh are parts of two different countries.

I must, however, qualify the support which we are giving to the Bill. While the British Government is making clear its formal commitment to ensuring that the positive aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are continued, the actions of [124] its armed agents on the ground paint a different picture.

Recently I hosted a visit by a group of children from the Short Strand to Tallaght. Following a visit I made to the area where I was appalled by the conditions under which Nationalist residents of that part of Belfast are forced to live, I was delighted to help to give some of these children a day out where they could relax and enjoy themselves. I am sad to report that following their return to Belfast they were under siege for the next week.

The reason communities like the Short Strand and others are under assault is because Unionist paramilitaries see this as a means to destabilise the Agreement. In doing so they are following a similar agenda to those Unionist politicians who have consistently frustrated the implementation of the Agreement. It is the stated aim and the clear responsibility of the British Government to ensure that Unionist violence does not go unchecked and yet we have seen little evidence of its commitment to bringing it to an end. One resident of the Short Strand told me she was driven to phoning a US congressman to ask him to try and ensure a security presence in the area following a week of particularly heavy attacks.

When one looks at the manner in which the British forces themselves are behaving in Nationalist areas one might also begin to question whether there might be some more sinister motive behind their apparent inability to deal with the UDA and other Unionist armed groups. I know from frequent visits to the Six Counties that the level of the so-called security force presence has not declined. Evidence suggests that the level of military activity is increasing in many areas.

At least one of the positive aspects of cross-Border co-operation is placed in daily jeopardy by the actions of the British forces. I refer to the manner in which soldiers routinely trample across Border farms which are under restriction as a precaution against the spread of animal disease. That has been brought to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, by my colleague Deputy Ferris. I hope he will make strong representations to the British Government to ensure that this practise comes to an end.

It is clear that if the intent signalled by the British Government in the exchange of letters is genuine, it must be matched by real action on the ground to demilitarise the Six Counties. The observation towers and army installations must be removed and the soldiers taken out of contact with the population. Perhaps their attentions might be more welcome in Newcastle-on-Tyne than in Newtownbutler, although I somehow doubt it. It must also be the responsibility of this Government to ensure that the British Government lives up to its obligations in this regard.

[125]I would like to put on record my party's intention to support the Bill and to continue to play its part to ensure the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement are re-established. It is our hope that the work of the implementation bodies moves on and that their remit is strengthened and extended when those institutions are re-established.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle The twin themes of this evening's debate have been general approval of the Bill and disappointment at the need to introduce it. There is all-party support in the House for the Good Friday Agreement to be implemented as quickly as possible and in the most satisfactory way. We are disappointed that the suspension was necessary. It is important that this Bill oversees the continued existence of the all-island bodies which have been agreed by all to have been successful in their practice and intent. They have even been successful in influencing other aspects of behaviour. That was achieved partly by bodies that have succeeded the establishment of the all-island bodies, for example, organisations such as Co-operation Ireland, and partly as a result of it.

I had the privilege of attending the peace and reconciliation conference in Rosscarbery, County Cork the other week and it was very satisfying to see a top table peopled by a DUP councillor, an SDLP MLA, and an executive member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry. The absence of a Sinn Féin member was not because of unwillingness to attend but rather inability to attend. The contributions of all present at that conference was at least a starting point in getting where we need to go from here and where I hope the all-party talks that began in the past week are heading, towards an understanding of where the areas of agreement are and where the process can be progressed.

As someone who has been involved voluntarily in youth work I can see the benefits of co-operation between voluntary organisations in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. I would like to think that the continued existence of the all-Ireland bodies will help this process.

In trying to advance the process, we need to be quite clear – I hear it in many contributions to this debate – that the use of violence to further political aims if ever acceptable is not acceptable now and should never be acceptable in the future. That is a principle that should be advanced even further when violence is seen as community policing or some form of community justice. I hope the House will be clear and unequivocal on that. I hope the Taoiseach and the Government, in progressing this process, can put that forward as the clear and unequivocal view of this House.

I commend the Taoiseach for paying particular attention to this debate and for his success in this policy area. There are many areas on which we [126] disagree, such as the degree of economic mismanagement, the quality of social justice and the degree of propriety and ethics in public life. However, in relation to policy on the relationships of all peoples of this island and between the two islands, the Taoiseach has been exemplary and has achieved very real political successes for which he deserves the continued support of the House.

On those grounds, the Green Party is happy to support this Bill, though it is disappointed at the need for it, looks forward to the recommencement of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation tomorrow and hopes that it also will be a helpful contribution towards furthering this process.

Dr. Cowley: Information on Jerry Cowley Zoom on Jerry Cowley I too am happy to speak on this Bill and I also share the feeling of disappointment that it is necessary. I congratulate the Taoiseach on the work he is doing on our behalf to try to resolve this situation which has continued for so long and has divided us so much.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999 and to enable the decisions of the North-South Ministerial Council in relation to the six all-island implementation bodies to be taken by the Irish and British Governments together during the temporary suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This remedial legislation is required to keep those important North-South bodies in operation pending the restoration of the Assembly.

We are all disappointed with the sequence of events which resulted in the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This body caused a sea change in Northern Ireland and by all accounts seemed to be working and getting results. The palpable disappointment felt by everyone on its suspension was only balanced by a desire by all down here that it should be reactivated. That is our sincere wish.

It is very easy for us in the South to say these things. How must a population feel after 30 years of war? How must the relatives of the 3,000 people who were killed feel? Good Friday, 1998, was a momentous occasion which brought such hope to many people and which resulted in a new dawn in the troubled history of Northern Ireland. Life had begun to return somewhat to normality after 30 years of conflict. Business confidence had also begun to return. I remember visiting Northern Ireland during the Troubles and being struck by the complete lack of facilities compared to the South. I visited again after the Good Friday Agreement and felt a great sense of freedom being able to drive in and out of the troubled province, noting the apparently deserted army look-out towers and Border police stations. If I felt like that, what freedom must the people of Northern Ireland have felt?

[127]I travelled to Stormont to meet the Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Bairbre de Brún. It was a great feeling to walk up the long driveway at Stormont and speak Irish with Minister de Brún. I was there on a mission to seek support from Minister de Brún for a North-South helicopter emergency medical service. I had earlier met the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, and had been anxious that the dubious distinction we share with Northern Ireland as the only two areas of Europe that do not have this very essential helicopter emergency service should be recognised. Minister Bairbre de Brún was very sympathetic and referred me on to the North-South Emergency Care Body, a body comprising civil servants from both North and South which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement. I met the body and made my pitch on helicopter emergency medical services and, as a result, a North-South study was commissioned having first been sanctioned by the Council of Ministers. That study was done by the Departments of Health North and South and the report will be released soon. That is my experience of the many good things that happened because of the Good Friday Agreement. This Bill will enable such things to continue to happen during the period of temporary suspension. I also share the good wishes for this Bill and hope it will be short-lived. Other good work has also been done, including progress on the provision of infrastructure. Many new Bills were enacted or were in the process of being enacted. It is only right that this good work should continue.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease and how it was handled North and South in a spirit of co-operation between Ministers Bríd Rogers and Joe Walsh showed how working together was logical and desirable. So many people, North and South, wanted the Good Friday Agreement to work that the overwhelming majority voted in favour of it. It required great courage on the part of all the parties involved to come to an agreement. Nationalists and Unionists decided there was a better future in sitting down together and getting on with it than remaining at loggerheads with each other.

Terrible deeds done in the past have left gaping scars and entrenched positions. It will require even more courage to reactivate the Agreement. That courage and determination is sorely needed now. There is an onus on all parties, North and South, to ensure that the suspension of the Good Friday Agreement is as short-lived as possible. The past in Northern Ireland has been painful and the injustice and discrimination against the minority has sown terrible seeds of hate and violence. Examples abound of heavy-handedness and foul murder on both sides.

[128]As a human being and as a general practitioner who tries to save life, I abhor the termination of life before its natural end. I abhor the thuggery and the gangsterism that go with parliamentary activity, which are still going on. It is past time that the gun was firmly and permanently taken out of Northern Ireland politics. Those who voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement do not want the gun. Those who flout this strong message are in conflict with the wishes of the people. Let us all hope that the suspension of the Agreement is short-lived and that this will be one of the most short-lived Bills of all time. My wish is that it terminates shortly following the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and I hope that will be sooner rather than later. I wish the Taoiseach and the Government every success in their endeavours.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this necessary, useful and constructive Bill. I spoke here during the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and on every review that took place since. It is important to pursue the operation of the North-South bodies. These put the emphasis on what we have in common and on the necessity to use commercial and infrastructural areas to co-operate with each other with a view to providing an example, not just to people here but outside the country, of what can be done.

I attended a Euromed debate in the European Parliament a few years ago and was asked by various people, particularly from Israel and Palestine, what was the secret of the Good Friday Agreement. I felt it was simple yet difficult in terms of the degree of commitment required by all concerned. I compliment the Taoiseach and the various other leaders of Fine Gael and Labour, now and previously, who made a major commitment to bring about the situation we now enjoy. While we may not yet have achieved the ultimate in regard to a resolution of the problems in Northern Ireland and may not have crossed all the bridges and barriers, we have gone a long way towards meeting each others requirements. Now at least we have noted that we each exist and have a point of view.

In any conflict, no matter how long it has gone on, it is necessary to recognise the other person's position before determining where to go, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement did that. Major concessions had to be made in both parts of the island which then brought recognition which was given an imprimatur by a huge majority of the people North and South. Although the Northern Ireland Assembly is now in suspense we should never forget the support the Irish people gave the Good Friday Agreement.

Whenever the Agreement is in jeopardy we should refer to the fact that the people North and [129] South gave a huge vote of approval to what it contained. That was in dramatic contrast to what had taken place beforehand. Notwithstanding the legitimate reasons people may have to pursue a particular objective at a particular time there comes a time when enough is enough. The people have said that. It is critical now to recognise that we cannot have a bit of each. We must proceed on the basis of the path that has been charted in the Agreement. Whatever else it entails, it envisaged all eventualities. The suspension of the Assembly at this time is, we hope, a temporary matter. When reassembled it will have renewed confidence in itself and will operate with renewed vigour.

Some things have happened recently which appear to raise questions as to the commitment of some of the contributing bodies. We can understand that these things happen. They happened at the foundation of our State and they will always happen in cases where there is a combination of circumstances such as has been the case in this country. Whatever happens afterwards, we should recognise that the path now being chosen is seen by the Irish people as the only path. There can be no half commitment to it. It must be total or it cannot work.

While I understand the concern expressed by some people about the police raid of the Sinn Féin offices in Stormont, I have equal concern about some of the information which was allegedly found. This cannot be part of the trust that must exist between both communities in the North and between the North and South if the concept of the Good Friday Agreement is to survive. It can only survive when there is recognition by all, without preconditions, that they will take this road. It may not be the road we set out on originally and it may not contain all our objectives but it is immeasurably better than costing the lives of 3,000 or 4,000 people over another 30 years or of costing huge economic loss to the country. Whether we recognise it, part of the economic revival of this country has been as a result of international recognition that we had come to some agreement to live with each other. This is important and it sets an example for areas of conflict in other countries.

We have a choice, we can decide to live together or die together. It is as simple and stark as that. I pay tribute to the SDLP which for many years conveyed a message and raised a voice that was isolated and that did not seem to have the ability to achieve its objectives. In more recent times other parties joined the chorus and gave legitimacy to what the SDLP and parties in this part of the island were attempting to do. That legitimacy has been given the imprimatur of the people in a way that is unique in modern politics.

In this country there has been a history of the democratic process versus the alternative and [130] both have been pursued with some measure of doubt. In this situation it appears that at long last we have recognised, despite our history where suspicion, religion, politics, tradition and prejudice reigned supreme, that both sides can get together, recognise their differences and yet decide to put national and international interests first. When that happens everybody benefits.

It has been an honour to speak on this Bill. It is necessary and is good for the country. It is good that politics works on this island, particularly with the North-South bodies, in the vacuum that exists.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I thank Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Independent Deputies for supporting the Government on this issue. We have had a long and interesting debate with contributions from a large number of Deputies and I will refer to some of those in my reply. I acknowledge and thank the leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Kenny, for staying throughout the debate, conscious of the fact that he and I have been here for seven and a half hours. I renew my appreciation to the House for facilitating this urgent debate, particularly the party leaders and the Whips for accepting the need for all Stages be taken this evening so that the North-South bodies can continue to operate successfully.

We have been through many issues regarding Northern Ireland this week. We had the start of round table talks last Thursday, over the weekend our colleagues were involved in the British-Irish debate, we are discussing the Bill today, tomorrow the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will sit and on Thursday the Seanad will take this Bill and the next round of round table talks will resume. It is an intensive period and in addition to these activities, officials and parties are communicating with each other on an ongoing basis as they have done for several weeks.

I know that Deputies have a keen interest in the developments in Northern Ireland as is clear from this debate and their general interest at Question Time. I hope they found this debate as useful as I did in dealing with the wider political situation in the context of this Bill and I am grateful for the understanding which has been expressed for the need for the Bill. Regret was expressed by most Deputies that we have to have this debate at all and I assure the House we will continue to work towards resolving matters. I feel similar regret, but one must keep working to move things along. In the long-term it will prove the right thing, regardless of how long it takes and how many setbacks we have. As has been said, at least we are not in the position where we had horrific death tolls such as Deputy Rabbitte referred to relating to one particular year.

[131]As I have repeatedly said in the House and outside it, while the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended, the Agreement has not. The Governments will press ahead with their responsibilities under the Agreement. Last Friday, I was pleased to attend the fourth summit meeting of the British-Irish Council in New Lanark, Scotland. The meeting discussed the experience of the administrations in the area of social inclusion and examined how we might co-operate in addressing the issues behind this real and pressing dilemma. Regrettably on this occasion, the Northern Ireland Ministers were not among the delegations to the council but I look forward to renewed engagement with both the east-west and North-South fora following restoration. On a serious level, while it was regrettable they were not there, as was stated by the Ministers from Westminster who took their positions, we were able to get on with the work. We are prepared to make the Agreement work. Support for it is such that in the event of suspension and the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers, we were able to do much useful and positive work affecting social inclusion, drugs and other issues.

I thank Deputies for the key issues raised and will address some of them. Several Deputies, including Deputy Kenny, leader of the Fine Gael Party, raised the question of suspension of the Assembly. I share their concern that the Bill before the House is necessary. However, we must deal with realities. As Deputy Kenny said, the continuing functioning of the North-South bodies is something which we all feel is important and for which we must now make provision. That is the purpose of the supplementary agreement between the two Governments and the current Bill.

As regards the question of this Bill ceasing to have effect, I can confirm to Deputy Rabbitte that it is the intention of the Government that the Bill shall expire upon restoration of the Assembly. The Bill provides that an expiry order is to be made as soon as practicable following restoration of the Assembly. At the same time the Government will notify the British Government of the completion of the requirements for termination of the supplementary agreement in so far as we are concerned. I assure the Deputy that it is intended that the expiry order provided for in the Bill and the termination notification under the supplementary agreement will be made as close together in time as possible – separate provision for each is a matter purely of mechanics.

I endorse Deputy Kenny's comments on the handling of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The one positive outcome from this difficult period was the enhancement of cross-Border co-operation in the area of animal health. As a result, we are now well advanced in the develop[132] ment of an all-island animal health strategy. Even in the past few weeks, senior officials at Secretary General level and veterinarians have continued discussions on the issue and I am adamant we do not lose the benefits of that. This will be taken forward by the agriculture sector of the North-South Ministerial Council. I recall the widespread praise for the very effective role played by Agriculture Minister Bríd Rodgers during this episode. As Deputy Keaveney said, there are clear benefits to be had from local Ministers taking local decisions.

I thank Deputies for their expressions of support for the North-South bodies and for the range of practical achievements which they mentioned in their remarks. These included the important roles of Tourism Ireland, InterTrade Ireland and Waterways Ireland, all of which are major contributors to the economic well-being of this island. I note Deputy Mitchell's remarks on the SDLP and I fully agree with his views on the crucial role that party has played in the peace process. As I said before, I have worked closely within the North-South Ministerial Council on matters relating to the North-South bodies with Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan. I look forward to working closely with Mark Durkan in the months ahead both in relation to the NSMC and in the wider work of securing the restoration of the Northern Ireland institutions and the full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects.

I note Deputy Ó Caoláin's remarks on the figures in the Estimates for Foras na Gaeilge. However, these should be read in the context of an almost doubling of the budget for the body over the past two years, from €7.5 million in 2000 to €14 million. The Government is fully supportive of the work of Foras na Gaeilge throughout the island of Ireland, for which my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, has responsibility. As the House will be aware, the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has a long-standing personal commitment to Irish language issues and will continue in co-operation with his Northern counterpart to oversee the development of this body to its full potential. There is nobody who participates in these issues more than the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, in Northern Ireland as well as the Republic.

In relation to Deputy Sargent's remarks regarding consultation on keeping the bodies in operation, North-South co-operation has always operated on the basis of mutual respect, transparency and making progress only by agreement. I am confident that this remedial action to preserve the important work of the North-South bodies enjoys widespread support across the political spectrum. Deputy Keaveney raised a number of issues, specifically in relation to Lough Foyle. On the question of the sea bed, I will [133] arrange for the information the Deputy requested to be sent to her in writing. With regard to the issues relating to the proposed wind farm development and the aquaculture licensing, which are of obvious concern to the Deputy's constituents, these are matters in the first instance for my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and I am sure he will take account of the concerns she expressed.

There has been some discussion of deadlines for the process in which we are currently engaged and I will come to those matters shortly. Among other matters raised, Deputy Crowe referred to expanding the North-South bodies to include energy, transport, economic development and health. It is my hope that, in time, as was the original intention of the Good Friday Agreement, the initial range of Implementation Bodies will increase. I share the Deputy's desire that these should develop on a more formal basis. On the Good Friday when the Agreement emerged, people felt that to list any Implementation Bodies would be an enormous move forward and that the world would never be the same again. However, the arrangements have worked very well and North-South development is already well developed in the key areas to which Deputy Crowe referred, both within and outside the remit of the North-South bodies. That high level of co-operation will be maintained.

I agree with Deputy Dr. Cowley's comments in relation to the health area, in which there is enormous scope for co-operation. Deputy Crowe's colleagues, Martin McGuinness and Báirbre de Brún, as Northern Ireland Ministers for Education and Health, respectively, made great strides on those issues and the areas where there is co-operation are very evident. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, and Báirbre de Brún have worked together to achieve substantial progress in the health area. That process brings down barriers. As Deputy Dr. Cowley has pointed out from his experience of medical issues, that co-operation can be enhanced. I fully agree with his comments.

The Implementation Bodies have statutory functions, as set out in the legislation under which they were established. However, the possibility of expanding the areas of co-operation within the council is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and preliminary consideration of this issue had already commenced before suspension. We should continue to address those issues and I hope that will happen once we are up and running again.

To return to the matter of discussing deadlines for the current process, the critical issue is that everyone now accepts the need for a sense of urgency regarding the way we should tackle current impasse. There can be no complacency, no [134] foot-dragging and no digging in. All sides are being challenged to move forward in addressing the outstanding issues in a comprehensive and collective manner. Deputy Durkan referred to the importance of moving on and I agree with him. If we do not move forward we could spend many years arguing that the problems in interface areas – including those at Holy Cross and other primary schools – are caused by one side or the other. That could go on ad nauseam.It is no harm to state the reasons for those outstanding issues. We must take account of the concerns of various groups – which other Deputies and I have met on many occasions – arguing for justice for the forgotten people whose loved ones were killed by one side or the other and who have not succeeded in getting to the truth of what happened in various tragic fatalities over the years. We can consider those issues. A few years ago we had a debate on the possibility of looking at the system used in South Africa to air such issues, but I did not detect great support for that process. We have to move on. It is eight years since the first historic ceasefires and five and a half years since the second ceasefires, which were equally historic. From what has been said in this debate, it is clear people wish to move on from the days of paramilitarism. They know who has been engaged and that it is not all one-sided. They want to move on to the next phase when it is time to do so.

Moving on is not new to this State, which has been obliged to do so at previous stages in its history. The party I am honoured to lead made that move in 1926, less than four years after a turbulent period and a divisive civil war. Six years later the party made another enormous move forward. As I said, there comes a time when it is necessary to move forward. While it may be difficult to equate the past with the present, there was probably a similar degree of bitterness and divisiveness in 1926 as there is now.

I accept that there has to be a period of suspension and I acknowledge that people in the House have been very tolerant in this regard. We must remember that the alternative to society moving forward is that it will drift backward. In that context, we must recognise that this summer was more difficult than last summer which, in turn, was probably more difficult than the summer of 2000. Maintaining the status quo is not really an option because there is a tendency to drift back. The general message from the debate is that we can avoid the need for this Bill and be in a position to rescind it very quickly if everybody concerned moves forward. It is not my job to lecture one side or the other. We have acted as honest brokers with a view to moving ahead in the interests of all the people – Nationalists, republicans, Unionists and loyalists – of Northern Ireland. The people of this island are all directly [135] affected by those issues in terms of image, status, how they think and the mood of society here. I feel sure everybody wishes to move on.

I look forward to attending the first meeting of the re-convened Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin tomorrow, at which there will hopefully be a constructive exchange of views. I hope it can make a strong and positive contribution towards addressing the issues of confidence and trust which lie at the heart of the current difficulties. I also hope the event is well attended and that the proceedings are well covered by the media and brought out into the public domain. Our objective through the forum is to reach a wider audience.

I am grateful to the House for its support in ensuring that the important work and functions of the North-South bodies can, by virtue of this remedial legislation, be protected and maintained during what we hope is a temporary suspension period. I thank Deputies for their co-operation, especially those, including Deputy Kenny, who remained in the Chamber throughout the debate on the Bill. I appreciate their commitment.

Question put and agreed to.


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