Dáil Éireann - Volume 499 - 02 February, 1999

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

1. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the agreement in relation to the establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive and cross-Border bodies concluded on 18 December 1998. [1055/99]

2. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyuoaka. [1056/99]

3. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent meeting in Dublin between senior officials of his Department and Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. [1207/99]

4. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to visit Northern Ireland. [1209/99]

5. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the conversations he has had since 17 December 1998 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair. [1211/99]

6. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his assessment of the current state of progress in implementing the British-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland. [1212/99]

7. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland since 17 December 1998. [1213/99]

8. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. [1360/99]

9. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with Mr. Seán Neeson of the Alliance Party. [1361/99]

[846] 10. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach his views on whether the relationship between Sinn Féin and the IRA is such that it would be appropriate to regard the IRA as parties to the British-Irish Agreement. [1633/99]

11. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the items he will discuss with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. David Trimble, when he meets him in Dublin on 30 January 1999. [1727/99]

12. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to visit the United States of America for St. Patrick's Day in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1729/99]

13. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to hold a meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1731/99]

14. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the legislative changes, if any, he will bring before Dáil Éireann arising from the British-Irish Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1733/99]

15. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1801/99]

16. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the leader of the Alliance Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1802/99]

17. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when his next scheduled meeting with the British Prime Minister will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1803/99]

18. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on discussions on the peace process with the parties in Northern Ireland. [1873/99]

19. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his views on the question of according Oireachtas representation to citizens in the Six Counties; and the work or study, if any, he has commissioned in his Department on the matter. [1901/99]

20. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the discussions or meetings he has had since the beginning of 1999 in relation to the implementation of the British-Irish Agreement in so far as measures in this jurisdiction are concerned. [1902/99]

21. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his contacts with the British Prime Minister since the adjournment of Dáil [847] Eireann in December 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1903/99]

22. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 30 January 1999 with the First Minister of Northern Ireland. [2499/99]

23. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 28 January 1999 with senior members of Sinn Féin. [2500/99]

24. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting last week with the President of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2577/99]

25. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Northern Ireland First Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2579/99]

26. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2582/99]

27. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report of his meeting in Dublin on 26 January 1999 with Mr. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin. [2762/99]

28. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the First Minister of the Northern Assembly, Mr. David Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2788/99]

29. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on meetings he has had in the past week with leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2789/99]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 29 together.

On 18 December, following negotiations and consultations involving Assembly parties and, as appropriate, the Irish and British Governments, the First and Deputy First Ministers designate reported that agreement had been reached on the departmental structures and on North-South co-operation. The ten new Departments and corresponding ministerial offices which will be responsible for the work of the current six Northern Ireland Departments will be: Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment; Regional Development; Social Development; Education; Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment; Enterprise, Trade and Investment; Culture, Arts and Leisure; Health, Social Services and Public Safety; and Finance and Personnel. In addition, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will have an economic policy unit and special responsibility for equality.

[848] In relation to North-South co-operation, six areas were identified as suitable for the establishment of implementation bodies. These were Inland Waterways; Food Safety; Trade and Business Development; Special EU Programmes; Language; and Aquaculture and Marine Matters. In addition, six areas were identified as suitable for co-operation through existing bodies: Health, Transport, Agriculture, Education, Environment and Tourism. A publicly owned limited company is to be established in relation to the latter.

On 18 January, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister designate submitted their joint report to the assembly. I look forward to the final report which will be submitted to the assembly for 15 February and which will facilitate the enactment in the UK, by the target date of 10 March, of the legislation enabling the formal transfer of legislative powers. Our timetable will proceed broadly in parallel and the objective of both Governments is to have all the Agreement institutions go live shortly thereafter.

I have continued to meet and liaise with the parties and others on Northern Ireland before and after Christmas. In recent weeks I have met the First Minister designate, Mr. David Trimble, the Deputy First Minister designate, Mr. Seamus Mallon, Mr. Seán Neeson, leader of the Alliance Party, Mr. Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, and Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. I have also been in regular contact with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair. I do not propose to report in detail on each meeting or telephone conversation I have had. However, recent discussions have focused on progressing the implementation of the British-Irish Agreement in all its aspects. The question of further meetings with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, is being kept under review.

We all know that difficult issues remain to be dealt with. All the parties to the talks are aware of their obligations and we expect them all to deliver. We must all be willing to take those vital steps forward together in the coming weeks to get over the current impasse. We must ensure that the implementation process is credible, that progress is made and that a political vacuum is not allowed to develop. The process is about bringing an end to a conflict that has dogged this country and its people for too long. It is about delivering good, democratic, accountable governance in Northern Ireland and real practical benefits to the people, North and South. The sooner we are able to do this, the better.

For our part, the Government is pressing on with the work of preparing for the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. Officials from the relevant Departments, together with officials from my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs, are engaged in an intensive programme of work with their Northern counterparts to ensure that the North-South institutions are ready at the same time as the other institutions as required by the British-Irish Agreement and [849] the appropriate legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.

The Secretary General of the Commonwealth paid a courtesy visit to me on 10 December in Government Buildings, during which we had a friendly exchange on a number of issues.

I propose to visit Northern Ireland again next Friday. I will undertake a number of functions, including attending a lunch in Armagh and a reception in Newry, in response to invitations from Armagh District Council and Newry and Mourne District Council respectively.

I look forward to visiting the United States for St. Patrick's Day again this year. The programme for this visit is in preparation.

On the issue of further meetings of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I make the point that this is not a matter for me or the Government but for the chairperson and all the participating parties. I refer the Deputy to my reply to previous questions on 8 December and 6 October.

With regard to the question of according Oireachtas representation to the citizens in the Six Counties, I wrote to the Chairman of the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution on 11 April, following the conclusion of the British-Irish Agreement. I suggested that the committee might consider how people living in Northern Ireland might play a more active part in national political life to the extent that they desire and in a spirit consistent with the principles underlying the peace settlement.

I understand the committee subsequently invited written submissions from the main political parties in Northern Ireland and it received the latest submission on 7 December. The committee intends to invite interested parties and individuals to make oral submissions in February.

As the House is aware, the committee published a progress report on the Presidency last November. It is now examining the provisions in relation to the national Parliament and it will report thereon as soon as possible.

Mr. Sargent: On Question No. 1, will the Taoiseach indicate whether extra staff will be recruited in any of the various Departments dealing with legislation arising from the British-Irish Agreement? Does he agree that there is a need to be severe in prioritising legislation because of the backlog? Will that be dealt with by the recruitment of extra staff?

In relation to cross-Border negotiations, will the Taoiseach comment on the extent of discussions currently under way to move the decommissioning issue forward? Does he consider there is a role for non-governmental agencies and organisations in that regard, such as church leaders who recently suggested a monument based on metal and old materials, similar to the monument between Chile and Argentina following conflicts in that part of the world? Will the Taoiseach respond to those suggestions and outline how they might fit into the process of decom[850] missioning? Is the Taoiseach aware of the Garda belief that the Provisional IRA was involved in the Dalkey raid on a Securicor van? What implications does he feel that might have? Does he agree a serious vacuum will develop unless progress is made on the decommissioning issue?

The Taoiseach: In relation to staffing, additional staff have not been taken on as of yet. However, when the implementation bodies are set up in a permanent location and when structures are working, there will be a requirement for further staff to ensure the system operates effectively. Some estimates of that have been outlined by the Department of Foreign Affairs but the proposals are only tentative at this stage. Staff who work in Northern Ireland at present would comprise part of the new staff.

On the issue of church and community people assisting in overcoming the current impasse, there is always a role for them. Church and community leaders have been of significant assistance over the past decade in these matters.

On decommissioning and the impasse generally, the Deputy will be aware that I have repeatedly conveyed my views on these matters. Parties set out their positions on all issues, including decommissioning. However, it is not particularly helpful at times for parties to reiterate entrenched positions and become more defensive in the process. We have all invested a great deal of time in this process and if we are to make progress, we must face up to the reality of difficult issues such as those referred to by the Deputy. We have faced such issues in the past and have come through successfully. We can get through the current difficulty too if all sides are willing to do what is asked of them under the terms of the Agreement.

The Deputy is correct in saying that whenever there is a vacuum in a political process, there is a tendency for people to use their hands in mischievous ways. That is a always a concern. We have witnessed it happening many times in recent years. The more political action and dialogue that occurs, the better.

In regard to the Dalkey raid on a Securicor van on 4 January, I have been informed by the Garda authorities that investigations into the armed robbery are ongoing and that no conclusions have been arrived at by the investigating gardaí about paramilitary involvement. I am aware of claims made in recent interviews that the Garda or the Government are, for some unspecified political reasons, seeking to suppress knowledge of Provisional IRA involvement in this robbery. That is totally without foundation.

Mr. J. Bruton: I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that the Government is not suppressing knowledge in this matter. I take it that, regardless of possible political consequences, the Government would not suppress such knowledge. Has the Taoiseach examined whether it is likely that the weaponry used in the raid came from IRA [851] stocks given that it was of an AK 47 variety which is apparently one in which the IRA specialised? What procedure would be used to determine whether an action was carried out by a particular organisation and whether such action constituted a breach of the ceasefire? Would such a judgment be made by the Garda Commissioner or would it be made politically?

The Taoiseach: Regarding the examination of arms, I understand it is part of the Garda investigation and they have not yet reported. The judgment will be that of the Garda Síochána because the Government has no other source of information. The House will recall that in the first few days following the attempted raid, the view was that a group from a particular organisation was responsible. I have received no further information since, but the Garda Síochána have not been able to confirm it either. I assure Deputy Bruton and the House that any report made by the Garda Síochána will not be suppressed.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach aware of reports in at least one newspaper that the Provisional IRA have acknowledged their involvement in the armed kidnap in Dungannon of Mr. Fox? Would participation in an armed kidnap, where arms were used to intimidate the person but were not necessarily discharged, constitute a breach of the ceasefire?

The Taoiseach: I regard any act of violence as a breach of the ceasefire. I have said that in relation to punishment beatings on a consistent basis. We have heard what the Garda Síochána and the head of the RUC have said about punishment beatings over the past weeks since we last discussed Northern Ireland issues here. The difficulty in all of these matters is to prove them. There are conflicting reports about who is involved. The fact that something happens in a particular community cannot be taken as meaning that it is part of an organisation. That was stated recently following a number of incidents in Belfast. Under the Mitchell principles, which were the guiding principles over recent years, I take the view that any act of violence against property or, more importantly, persons, is a breach of what we are trying to achieve.

Mr. J. Bruton: What are the political consequences for a political party associated with a paramilitary organisation if that paramilitary organisation commits any act of violence, which the Taoiseach has defined by virtue of its being an act of violence as a breach of the ceasefire?

The Taoiseach: The political bodies associated with these events have totally and unreservedly condemned them as strongly as I have, and have dissociated themselves from them. In so far as there is evidence from both loyalist and republican sources, there is substantial proof to show [852] that the political organisations have been endeavouring through many initiatives on the ground to stop such activities. In my discussions with republican representatives – I have not spoken directly to loyalist representatives of late – their attitude is condemnation and an intention to do all they can to see such activity is eliminated from the two communities. They have no direct control over it and no evidence of who is involved.

Mr. Howlin: In the light of the upbeat comments made by the First Minister, Mr. Trimble, in Dublin at the weekend, is the Taoiseach confident that the establishment of the Executive in shadow formation will be achieved by 15 February, less than two weeks from today? Consequent on his meetings with Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams, will the criteria of reasonable progress on decommissioning set down by Mr. Trimble be achieved by that date?

The Taoiseach: I have no reason to be either upbeat or downbeat following anything that happened at the weekend. I am satisfied all parties and political representatives are endeavouring to find ways to meet the deadline, not so much that of 15 February but that of 10 March, and to find ways through or around the impasse. Of course, it is difficult. We have to try to find some formulation, under General de Chastelain, the chairperson of the International Commission on Decommissioning, which can do this, but there is no such proposal yet. Mr. Trimble and everybody else stressed that they will do all they can. I am continually urging them that we must press ahead with the implementation of the Agreement. We all have to continue to work towards the deadline.

From our point of view we are facing it realistically in the knowledge that people North and South want it to succeed. We are endeavouring to assist the parties in every way we can and we are working closely with the British Government in doing this. I continually put it to all the parties, particularly those which can influence the matter, that if people want a society in which people can live together, where diversity is recognised and accepted and where the normal decencies of civilised behaviour is allowed flourish, they must accept their responsibilities. If people approach it from this point of view and acknowledge what they have negotiated in the Agreement, we can find a resolution. However, I do not underestimate the difficulties in doing this.

Mr. Howlin: I wish to ask a question specifically concerning the target dates set down. The Taoiseach seems to imply he is not terribly anxious about the deadline of 15 February for the establishment of the Executive and shadow formation, and rather looks to the deadline of 10 March for the transfer of powers. Is he saying he is now less confident that the deadline of 15 February, which is less than a fortnight away, will be achieved in terms of establishing the Executive [853] and shadow formation? In relation to decommissioning and a formula being worked on, does the Taoiseach agree the least which can be done by paramilitary groups in the interim is for a clear demand by those signed up to the peace process to call for an end to punishment beatings, that this would at least be a signal that the path of violence has been completely left behind and that all parties are working wholeheartedly towards achieving an agreement in an entirely peaceful way?

The Taoiseach: Of course, that would be very helpful. A number of political individuals have made their views clear on the matter, something which did not happen in the past in terms of punishment beatings and which I certainly appreciate. The number of punishment beatings declined last year in comparison with the previous year, but still amounts to 200 per annum. Information shows that not all punishment beatings are linked to paramilitary bodies. A large proportion are split between loyalists and republicans, but many more are not connected with either group and are undertaken by communities or individuals, which is also in no way acceptable.

Regarding the deadline, of course it would be desirable to have a resolution tomorrow, but 15 February is the date on which the First Minister designate and the Deputy First Minister will make their report to the Assembly. I am not sure that date will bring a resolution of the other matters – I do not think it will. It would be nice if there was a resolution, but we have to try to get a resolution between that date and the end of February. This month is crucial and we have to do as much as we can to resolve this issue which will then allow everything to fall into place. Side by side with trying to find a resolution to the impasse, work is going ahead on the structures of the Departments, the legislation both here and in Westminster for the North-South bodies and on areas of co-operation. Detailed discussions are going on between both Governments and the NIO to try to conclude the make-up and all the relevant details. Preliminary work is also being done on the North-South Ministerial Council. We are not, therefore, allowing one matter to take up all our time. Ultimately, we cannot move to the next stage until we achieve a resolution of the impasse.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputies De Rossa, Ó Caoláin and Higgins have submitted questions and I will be calling them.

Mr. J. Bruton: What is the outer limit of the authority granted by the people for the bringing into effect of the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution? I take it the Agreement must be fulfilled within a certain timeframe for the existing referendum approval to have effect and that if the timeframe is exceeded, a new constitutional amendment process would have to be initiated here. What is the outer limit for agree[854] ment on all the institutions for that existing authority to be valid?

In light of his answer on punishment beatings, that the paramilitary organisations concerned have condemned them, have no control over them and have no evidence about them, will the Taoiseach define what is in his view the relationship between these parties and these paramilitary organisations, bearing in mind that the parties agreed a procedural motion in September 1997 that the arms issue was an indispensable part of the process of negotiation? How could they say and affirm that if they have no control over those who have the arms and are using them?

The Taoiseach: If the constitutional date falls short of the April deadline, a decision for an extension can be made but we would have to refer that back to the House before doing so. A date was set down, which I cannot recall. I believe it was in March but I will confirm that for the Deputy. There could be an extension of the date if all aspects of the Agreement were not—

Mr. J. Bruton: By resolution of the House.

The Taoiseach: Yes, by resolution of the House.

Mr. J. Bruton: For how long? Would it be renewable?

The Taoiseach: It is for six months and it is renewable. Again, there is a limit on that in that it is renewable on two occasions. In all, the time involved could be about a year and a half.

The political representatives, not the paramilitaries, are condemning the punishment beatings. Obviously, it is the paramilitaries who are involved in punishment beatings but their political leaders have been trying to deal with the issue. The difficulty is that some of these matters relate to law and order and community issues. Over the Christmas period there were two accidents in which young people were killed as a result of joyriding. Unfortunately, in Northern Ireland, or at least in some parts of it, the community tends to put pressure on others instead of turning to the security forces as they would in this part of the country. I would like to see them moving away from that position, but public calls and demands have been placed on these organisations. It is a very unsatisfactory position.

The political wings of the paramilitary groups are endeavouring, along with the authorities, to find a democratic way to deal with this type of terror, and they have put much effort into it. An alternative must be found, a community policing format of whatever type. There are examples and there have been conferences in the North to try to find an alternative way to deal with these matters. In some areas where there is a lack of confidence in the RUC, people tend not to follow that route. The police commission is very conscious of this matter too.

[855] An alternative must be found because it is not satisfactory that there is almost one punishment beating per day. Over the past few weeks there seems to have been more rather than fewer punishment beatings. Whether it is community policing where the community is involved in a democratic way, as happens here with Neighbourhood Watch, some format will have to be found. A year ago I said to loyalists and republicans that they should work with the authorities to find an alternative and they are now doing so, which I appreciate.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is it not the case that if a member of the public is in the situation described by the Taoiseach and wants a punishment meted out in the interest of justice as they see it, the only people they could approach are people who are already known in the public as representative of and linked with an organisation, in other words, political representatives? Is it not the case that the initial point of contact between the member of the public who wants punishment meted out and, ultimately, the people who will carry it out is likely to be a visible political representative of some kind who may be associated with a party because members of the public cannot go directly to secret organisations? If that is the case, surely there has to be some measure of involvement of the political parties in at least passing on information which leads to punishment beatings taking place.

The Taoiseach: No, I do not believe that is what happens. Unfortunately, in some of these communities active or former members of paramilitary organisations, who are extremely well known but who are not in the political domain, discuss this matter at times with members of the RUC. The same happens in both loyalist and republican communities. The people who are political in both the loyalist and republican organisations would like to see an end to that because they believe these barbaric attacks undermine their credibility, and that of everyone else, and do not bring any blessings on the communities in which they take place. That is the reason for the work on the policing commission, and whatever conclusions come from that, and the ongoing work in these communities to find some method of co-operation through community policing and involvement on a democratic basis.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): On the same theme, does the Taoiseach agree that savage, so-called punishment beatings have a certain tolerance in many working class communities even though they are carried out by paramilitary organisations which have no democratic accountability to any community? Will he agree the reason for that tolerance is that these communities are plagued by social problems, crime and so-called joy-riding and that because of the way these communities feel exposed, this is the inevit[856] able result? Will the Taoiseach agree that the key question is the development of a community-based civil force to deal with such crime and anti-social behaviour? Has he been party to discussions about such a force that would be under the direct democratic control of the community, and not paramilitaries dressed up?

The Taoiseach: Efforts have been ongoing, particularly over the past year, by the communities, including all their political representatives, to find alternative means of co-operating in this regard. The difficulty in parts of Northern Ireland – this cannot be avoided – is that the normal police, the RUC, is not accepted and the flow of information necessary to deal with crime does not pass to them. The police commission and the RUC are well aware of this problem and are trying to find solutions to it. Some form of community involvement is necessary and I hope the current efforts by the communities to find an acceptable and democratic way to deal with social problems in these areas in the future will succeed. I appreciate the efforts of those people who are involved in that and I am aware they have researched this question outside of these islands to try to find a way to overcome this difficulty.

Mr. Flanagan: Arising from the Taoiseach's contact with Prime Minister Blair and regarding a major report conducted by the British Government on the demilitarisation process, scheduled for publication last November, then December, then January, but which still has not been published, is the Taoiseach prepared to give the House any information he might have in the form of an update on that?

Does the Taoiseach agree the major barrier to progress in Northern Ireland at present is the question of decommissioning? Does he also agree the parties one would expect might be in a position to exercise the greatest influence on those who could play a part in decommissioning are saying General de Chastelain is satisfied with progress to date? Has the Taoiseach any first hand knowledge or evidence of General de Chastelain's position on decommissioning as of now?

The Taoiseach: The normalisation paper has been in various draft forms for several months. Many of the issues raised in it by the British Government and the NIO – the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mo Mowlam, has had a huge involvement – are being dealt with but the paper is not yet completed. There has been much discussion about it. We have made our views known and others have done likewise. The paper is almost complete. A number of demilitarisation acts which have taken place in the past few weeks have formed part of the paper.

Regarding decommissioning and influence which can be brought to bear to bring it about, it is hoped some resolution can be found. No specific proposal has been put to General John de Chastelain at this stage. As of now, it is not cor[857] rect to say he is satisfied. He is not prepared to do something until he is satisfied it fulfils the terms of the Agreement. Discussions which have taken place recently and the ongoing dialogue between those who can assist him have been very helpful and meaningful, but there is no resolution as of yet.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Does the Taoiseach agree the strength of the vote by the pro-Agreement parties in the Assembly on 18 January, approving steps forward for the implementation of the British-Irish Agreement, effectively routed the anti-Agreement elements and provided David Trimble with a renewed mandate to fulfil his obligations as First Minister-designate and to allow the Executive to be established? The Taoiseach and the House should note that I, again unhesitatingly, join my party colleagues in the Northern Assembly and other opinion in a further appeal to those responsible, irrespective of whom they may be, to end punishment beatings, which are abhorrent.

The Taoiseach: I thank the Deputy for his last remark which is helpful. Regarding the vote in the Assembly, it was a rout of the “no” side. The ratio was almost 70:30 and any such vote is evidence of the strength of the pro-Agreement element. I was glad to see it happen, as were all the parties involved, because it was a victory for David Trimble and everyone else involved. I hope the same happens on 15 February when the paper comes forward.

As regards progress being made, there are no preconditions to prevent it. There is an understanding of what needs to be done to ensure the Agreement is implemented in all respects, rather than harping on about one specific area. People in the North have stopped doing that, so we should not start doing it here. It is clear where the grounds for compromise are and, hopefully some resolution can be found. The prize for finding a resolution to the impasse is that we could move very quickly – I was asked on a Northern interview what that means and I said immediately – to the setting up of the Executive and the ministerial North-South body for the Assembly and all its sub-committees and committees to work normally. We could then move on with all the other aspects of the Agreement. That can be done if we can overcome the impasse. As per the Assembly vote on 18 January and the vote on 22 May, clearly that is what the people want us to do. We must ensure the Agreement is implemented in all respects. If there is trust and confidence we can move forward very rapidly.

Proinsias De Rossa: Will the Taoiseach agree that a 70:30 vote in the Assembly yesterday, as the speaker said, is a welcome development but that the requirement for implementation of the Agreement is that there needs to be a certain proportion of Unionists and Nationalists and that the vote yesterday does not reflect that proportion? [858] If Mr. Trimble is defeated on the issue of the establishment of the Assembly, the Agreement will come crashing down and we will all suffer, not only Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, but the people in the Republic, as a result. Will the Taoiseach agree it is imperative that the paramilitary organisations make a significant gesture to ensure the parties elected to the Assembly can get on with their business?

The Taoiseach: I have not changed my position. It is the only way to move forward. Clearly those elected to the Assembly are anxious to get on with their work and are anxious for movement. Practically all sides and all parties are anxious to have the various mechanisms of the Agreement implemented. We have worked on the basis that everything can happen together and I believe that is possible. We still have a difficulty but I appreciate people are trying to focus on that. The way to resolve it is under General John de Chastelain and within his remit. If we can do that we can move very quickly. Conversely, if that does not happen, Deputy De Rossa is right that we will have major difficulties but I would prefer to look at the positive side.

Mr. Currie: At his meeting with Mr. Martin McGuinness did the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to raise the issue of the disappeared and, if so, what was the reply in view of the fact that it is over four years since Mr. Martin McGuinness promised action on this matter?

The Taoiseach: I raise this issue continually, if not at every meeting at least on a regular basis. I have no new information. The political bodies, certainly Sinn Féin have been endeavouring to assist families in a helpful way in the past two months and hopefully, that has resolved some of the cases. I do not think it will solve all the cases but certainly an effort is being made to solve some of them.

Mr. Currie: Will the Taoiseach agree it would have been particularly appropriate to raise this matter directly with Mr. Martin McGuinness?

The Taoiseach: I have raised it with him on several occasions.

Mr. Sargent: I join the Taoiseach in expressing absolute outrage at the daily punishment beatings. From a political point of view, has the Irish Government declared a deadline by which time a police force acceptable to all sections of the community should be put in place? What movement is there on that issue in the light of what the Taoiseach previously said?

What is the Government's response to the serious threats by British and Northern Ireland parliamentarians to name people suspected of involvement in paramilitary activity under the privilege of the House of Commons? What is the Government doing with the British Government to ensure justice is done and is seen to be done?

[859] The Taoiseach: In terms of naming names, I have stated publicly that I think that is unhelpful. There are key suspects in all of these cases, particularly the ones who received much public attention in Omagh. There is no secret in Border areas that the Garda and, on the other side of the Border, the RUC have been focusing much of their effort on certain individuals. Nobody in those communities would need to be a great detective to know that, but to start naming them in Parliaments is not correct and it should not be done. This is a matter on which the security forces are co-operating. Mr. Ronnie Flanagan, the head of the RUC, and Commissioner Pat Byrne are doing everything they can to deal with this matter in their investigations. They, together with the men and women who work for both forces, are more anxious than anybody else to try to resolve it.

A resolution to the Deputy's first question lies in the policing commission report, which I hope will be ready in the autumn. It hopes to start writing it in May or June. It has just finished its tour of many locations in the North where it has had public meetings in community halls and open forums. It has met the political parties and many business, social and sporting community bodies throughout the North. It is looking at work outside the country and at other models also.

It hopes to write the report in early summer so it will be available in the autumn. That will then lead to the implementation report. It is only at the end of that process that the issues of a proper policing commission can be resolved. We all look forward to that day.

Mr. J. Bruton: I welcome strongly the comments made by Deputy Ó Caoláin on behalf of his party and on behalf of his party in the Assembly in condemnation of punishment beatings. I hope his important statement is given the due notice which it needs in the communities where these activities are currently taking place.

Will the Taoiseach arrange for the Garda Commissioner to make a statement as soon as possible on the responsibility for any paramilitary-style action so that there is an established procedure whereby the Garda Commissioner will indicate where he believes responsibility for a particular action lies?

The Taoiseach: I will convey that to the Garda. As I stated earlier, it must complete its work on this. I am sure that as soon as work is complete, it will make its views known.

Proinsias De Rossa: In the Taoiseach's response to Question No. 19, he referred to the Six Counties. In view of the British-Irish Agreement and the referendum which was held here, does he agree that it is not appropriate for the documents of this House to refer to the Six Counties and that Northern Ireland should be given its proper title? Would he also agree with me that it would be in breach of the British-Irish Agree[860] ment to attempt to provide representation in the Oireachtas for Assembly members in Northern Ireland and/or members elected to Westminster?

The Taoiseach: That matter is being looked at by the constitutional review group.

Proinsias De Rossa: No. This is a separate question. I asked if he would agree that it would be in breach of the British-Irish Agreement to attempt to provide representation in the Oireachtas for Assembly members in Northern Ireland elected under the British-Irish Agreement or elected to Westminster.

The Taoiseach: To be part of it one has to be elected.

Proinsias De Rossa: It would be in breach of the Agreement.

The Taoiseach: I was replying to the question which refers to the Six Counties.

Proinsias De Rossa: Does the Taoiseach agree—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?


An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That concludes questions to the Taoiseach.