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 Header Item Community Development Projects (Continued)
 Header Item Northern Ireland Issues

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello] It is contributing enormously to men's health, as well as everything else. From that point of view, it is important that we give it the recognition it deserves. That can best be done by giving it a special stream of funding that would be available to resource what is there, to look at areas in which it might continue to carry out good work and then to look at its expansion throughout the country.

Deputy Ann Phelan: Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan Funding under the scheme to support national organisations, SSNO, is provided to national organisations such as the Irish Men's Shed Association for core funding. My Department does not provide funding under the SSNO for local and regional branches of national organisations. The organisations funded under the SSNO reflect significant diversity in theme and in the target groups they support, including health and disability, community development, education, equality, integration, unemployment, young people, drugs, older people and child welfare. They are, therefore, all in and around the space to which the Deputy refers. In terms of future funding for these projects, the Leader element of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 will provide €250 million in resources to support the sustainable development of rural communities across the country. This funding will be delivered using a community-led local development approach based on local development strategies. I assure Deputy Costello that the funding for this type of activity will be eligible under that programme, once it is included in the Leader strategy for the local area. As Deputy Costello knows, our President is patron of this association. I take on board the Deputy's desire to raise awareness about this, because the organisation and association does a very significant amount for men and it has been difficult to engage men up to now. I understand what the Deputy is saying and I will take it back to my officials to see whether more can be done.

Northern Ireland Issues

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle selecting this important Topical Issue matter and I very much appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is here to deal with this question himself. The Fianna Fáil Party believes the rights of survivors and victims of the Troubles must stay on the agenda and must be kept to the fore. The newly-agreed Fresh Start agreement comes against the backdrop of protracted uncertainty and instability in the Northern Ireland Executive. While the Fianna Fáil Party has welcomed the agreement, there remains a series of issues that must be addressed to copperfasten progress and safeguard peace on this island.

  This new agreement is welcome because it removes the immediate threat of long-term collapse of democratic institutions established as the result of the overwhelming support of the people of this island. It provides a fresh start only in terms of the implementation of the previous deal. Unfortunately, it does not provide a fresh start or anything close to it for many people in Northern Ireland, particularly survivors and victims of the Troubles. The new, progressive measures to deal with the legacies of the past outlined in the previous Stormont House Agreement, which I welcomed at the time, are not included in the Fresh Start agreement and, therefore, those who are seeking answers and justice have once again been sidelined with no mechanism contained in the Fresh Start agreement to address their issues.

  Unfortunately, the British Government and some political groupings in particular have stood in the way of dealing with the past in order to protect their own interests. Each continues to focus on the victims of others and does the absolute minimum on anything involving their side. We share the outrage of victims' groups about how this issue has been brushed aside. There is effectively nothing in the agreement for survivors and victims to deal with the legacy of the past. Where is the fresh start for those people?

  The WAVE Trauma Centre, the largest cross-community victims and survivors support group in Northern Ireland, has said those it works with feel "abandoned and betrayed" by the agreement. The CEO of the centre, Sandra Peake, has highlighted the failure of the Fresh Start agreement to address the needs of victims. In her words:

The two Governments and political parties have said that dealing with the suffering of victims and survivors is central to Northern Ireland moving forward. They can no longer say that with any credibility. The reality is that they have abandoned and betrayed victims and survivors who have repeatedly been promised that there would be an inclusive and comprehensive way found to deal with the legacy of the past.

  These are strong words on behalf of the WAVE Trauma Centre, but they demonstrate the level of anger, frustration and disappointment felt by survivors' and victims’ families. In the debate here on 25 November, the Minister expressed his disappointment with not having in place adequate measures to deal with these issues. While we acknowledge the efforts made to secure this Fresh Start agreement, we must continue to address issues that were not resolved in the agreement and to fight for the rights of survivors and victims of the Troubles.

  The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, stated in a reply to a parliamentary question I submitted that "[g]ood progress was made on agreeing many of the details necessary for the establishment of the new institutional framework for dealing with the legacy of the past and that Agreement is very close on many of the details necessary for the establishment of these new institutions". Since the signing of the Fresh Start agreement, what has the Government done to address the concerns of survivors and victims and to move forward on institutions that will deal with the legacies of the past? What, if any, progress has been made regarding the historical investigations unit, placing the implementation and reconciliation group on a statutory footing and settling on its purpose and functions, and in deciding on the detail and operation of the oral history archive? The last day the Minister indicated to us during his contributions to the debate on Northern Ireland that he would be meeting with survivors' groups in the aftermath of the signing of the Fresh Start agreement. He might give us an update in regard to that dialogue on the progress we can hope to see made at the earliest possible date on what are very important issues.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I thank Deputy Smith for raising this most important issue this evening. It is important to start with the positives and what was achieved by the Fresh Start agreement. It has placed the Government in Northern Ireland on a sound budgetary footing, which is so important for economic stability and development, and new financial supports that will help to unlock the full potential of the all-island economy were also agreed. A plan was agreed to bring to an end the insidious influence of paramilitarism and measures to further enhance North-South co-operation on tackling associated criminality and organised crime. Crucially, the Fresh Start agreement has assured the political stability of the devolved power-sharing institutions so that they can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

Notwithstanding these clear gains, the Government regrets that the Fresh Start agreement did not include agreement on the implementation of provisions of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the legacy of the past. We share the deep disappointment of the victims and survivors of the Troubles and their families in this regard. It is worth stressing again that it was not the Irish Government that pressed for an agreement that completely left aside the legacy of the past. However, when it became clear that the choice was between having an agreement which uncoupled the past and having no agreement at all, the Government most reluctantly agreed to have a less comprehensive deal that would at least ensure that the devolved institutions would be protected and placed on a stable and sustainable footing.

What is important now is that we find a way forward that banks the good progress already achieved during the talks on legacy issues and secures a solution to outstanding matters, including the key issue of striking the right balance between the onward disclosure needs of families and the national security requirements being sought by the British Government. To this end, I met Northern Ireland's victims commissioner on 26 November to discuss the concerns of victims and possible ways to take the issue forward in a way that satisfies these concerns. I will also meet the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, David Ford, this Friday and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, later this month in order to take stock of the implementation of the Fresh Start agreement.

In that agreement, both Governments acknowledged the "need to resolve the outstanding issues concerning the legacy of the past and to reflect on the options for a process to enable this". While I am determined to re-engage on this work in the very near future, it is also important that the selected process of engagement offers a credible prospect of success; the victims and survivors simply cannot be disappointed again. In so far as the issue of onward disclosure and national security vetoes remain a zero-sum stumbling block to wider progress, there also needs to be a measure of flexibility, compromise and common sense so that an acceptable accommodation can be found.

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