Dáil Éireann - Volume 501 - 09 March, 1999

British-Irish Agreement Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Currie: Before Private Members' business I was saying that as a Northern Nationalist, I am acutely aware of the importance of the new cross-Border bodies as institutionalised expressions of my Irish identity. Partition was used to try to cut us off from the rest of the Irish nation. Unionists did their best to stamp out our nationalism and, the educational system, to the extent it could organise it, was oriented to Britain and we were not even allowed to use names such as Séamus or Seán. When my brothers' godparents went to register their birth, they were told no such names as Séamus or Seán existed in Northern Ireland and were asked for the English equivalent. Many people do not realise the extent to which an alien loyalty was imposed on people. As a Member of Parliament in Stormont in the late 1960s, I tabled parliamentary questions on the number of employees of central Government, local govern[1320] ment and its committees who were forced to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen as a precondition to getting a job. This applied even to what could be described as menial jobs such as brushing the streets, cleaning the drains or as we call them in the North cleaning out the seoch. The Unionists went to this extent to stamp out our nationalist identity. I am sorry to say it was not only in the North that our Irish identity was questioned. Some in this State questioned our Irishness and there are some who still do. Partitionism over the years of separation became a fact of life, sometimes in the most unexpected quarters, as I found through personal experience including an occasion in this House. We Northern Nationalists were a nuisance and were disrupting the nice cosy arrangement in a State which in many respects is the Northern equivalent of a Protestant State for a Protestant people. Successive Governments of different complexions were good at verbalising on republicanism but in practical terms ignored us until we forced them to pay attention in the last 1960s.

These new arrangements will be a challenge not only to Unionists but to those of a partitionist mentality in this State. There may be some truth in the assertion, not always a jocular one, that the best future for a new Ireland might be a 32-county new Ulster. I do not know how things will evolve, where working together North and South, Unionist and Nationalist will take us. I cannot be sure where we are going. I hope it will develop towards greater unification on this island, but by consent, which is crucially important. Consent is central and fundamental. Without it there is no way forward but there is no inevitable future. The late Cardinal Conway, in the aftermath of Sunningdale, put it very well, I thought, when asked on an RTE programme about the way forward. Catholics and Nationalists were involved in Government in the then power sharing Executive. Asked to comment on what effect that would have, would the fact that Catholics and Nationalists were being treated as equals reconcile them to the Northern State or would it have the opposite effect, spur them on to a united Ireland and give them greater confidence in working towards that goal, the Cardinal, with whom I had my disagreements, was very wise when he replied he was prepared to leave the answer to those questions to history. I think we have no alternative but to do that.

I congratulate the officials on a job well done. I have long admired the expertise and dedication of the State's officials in their dealings with the North. I remember when they first started to arrive in 1969 and for some of them it was very strange, an alien place in which it required courage to operate. They travelled North taking the views of everyone. Some of them have deservedly reached very high ranks in this State and in the EU as well, for which I congratulate them. The Northern Ireland civil servants, some of whom I knew very well in their previous capacities, deserve credit for the way in which they have [1321] adapted to the changing conditions over the years. When I think back to the attitude of Northern Ireland civil servants in the 1960s and 1970s, I marvel when I meet them today at the way in which they have changed. I also welcome the co-operation of officials who in the past, certainly in the post-Sunningdale era seemed more concerned about their own empires in this jurisdiction and in the Northern jurisdiction than about the new possibilities. That was a fact of life. It looks as if it has changed and I hope it has. I give credit to the Taoiseach and to my party leader, Deputy Bruton when as Taoiseach he made it very clear publicly and privately that he would brook no attempt to retain positions to continue with empire building at the expense of new developments.

We were told by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that Armagh is the likely location for the ministerial council. I am not surprised at that. Mr. John Taylor was utterly opposed to the Council of Ireland in 1974 but like a good constituency man and a resident of Armagh he is very much in favour of the headquarters of the Council of Ireland being in Armagh. Séamus Mallon has a constituency interest in Armagh as well and it is likely that the location of the headquarters of the North-South ministerial council is a foregone conclusion. The British-Irish intergovernmental conference will replace the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference established in 1985. It will look after devolvement matters. I hope its role in this respect will decrease as time goes on, as the representatives of the two traditions work together in Government to solve the political, social, economic and cultural problems and this should encourage them together to seek the return of devolved powers.

Irish Nationalists and republicans ought to get back from London any power they can, especially as regards policing, the next big difficulty facing the process. Only when policing is returned to the hands of people in Northern Ireland will it have a proper policing system, and it will eventually come. Any administration which cannot enforce its writ is a eunuch – the late Brian Faulkner believed that, and he was right. If real power is to be shared in Northern Ireland, these functions should be returned there.

Since no one else has done so, I praise the officials at Maryfield. They had a tough task and a difficult life. It was a hardship posting which was called, for good reasons, “the bunker”. I pay tribute to those who served, at considerable stress to their brains, hearts and, in some respects, livers, and for the job they did in circumstances of some danger to themselves.

In that regard I emphasise the importance of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, because what has happened now would have been more difficult, perhaps impossible, without the British-Irish context established in that Agreement. The Unionists learned an important lesson then, because it was the first time they realised their [1322] writ would not run despite their efforts on the streets.

The British-Irish Council, described by some as the “Council of the Isles”, involves Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands and provides an interesting new context. I am a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, which is already considering making changes to its operation. I hope the Unionists will join us at long last.

This is an historic day which reminds me of a passage in White's A History of Italy, describing how over the course of a century the Italians clawed their way to the top of the mountain to reach a plateau where they expected to find a completed city but instead found building blocks. To some extent that is the position we are in today. I am also reminded of what Mr. John Hume, M.P. keeps saying ad nauseam: “Now is the time for the spilling of our sweat and not of our blood”.

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Caoláin and Deputy Conor Lenihan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Cowen: As previous speakers have said, today is of great significance as the Government presents this historic legislation to the House. It gives me immense pleasure that food safety, which is in my area of ministerial responsibility, should be the subject matter of a North-South implementation body, to be called the Food Safety Promotion Board. Previous speakers have mentioned that the significance of the legislation is the implementation of part of the Good Friday Agreement and we hope we can bring that to a successful conclusion.

Food safety issues and food-borne illness do not recognise political borders. The two jurisdictions, North and South, form one island; many of the issues of food safety are common to both and it is only practical we should both work to address these issues together on the island on which we cohabit. In this context, the establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board builds on co-operation that previously existed at official and operational level on food safety in the two parts of the island.

Since taking office, this Government has attached particular importance to food safety generally and the concerns of consumers in particular. It recognises the need for uncompromised and independently verifiable assurances on food safety to ensure consumer confidence. As I stated last year during the passage through the Dáil of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, the primary purpose of the FSAI is the protection of consumers. The Government also recognised that one of the best ways of promoting the Irish food sector was to put in place a strong, independent and science-based food safety authority, which [1323] would have the confidence of consumers both at home and abroad. The establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board will provide this reassurance for the whole island. The board should not only contribute to public health, but will also serve the economic development of the Irish food sector on an all-island basis.

The United Kingdom Government has recently published its “Food Standards Agency – consultation on draft legislation” wherein it proposes the establishment of an independent agency to protect public health and to raise standards across the food industry. The establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board is therefore timely when the legislation and administration of food safety systems North and South are changing.

Article 1 of the Agreement establishing implementation bodies provides for the establishment of the Food Safety Promotion Board. The board will provide an independent assessment, through independent scientific advice, of the safety and hygiene of food produced, distributed or marketed on the island of Ireland. However, the respective food safety enforcement agencies North and South will continue to be responsible for inspection and enforcement in their own jurisdictions. Likewise, existing arrangements for international negotiations, the setting of food standards and the promulgation of legislation and regulations will continue to apply.

The body will draw on the pool of scientific advice and expertise already available North and South. It will establish and maintain links with key interests in the food safety field including the Northern Irish and Irish food safety enforcement agencies, namely, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in the South. The body will have an advisory board and an advisory committee, both of which will be appointed by the NSMC, The committee will comprise scientific experts and representatives of broader food safety interests.

I am pleased to elaborate to the House the functions that will be vested in the implementation body on food safety, which are as follows: the promotion of food safety; research into food safety; communication of food alerts; surveillance of food-borne diseases; promotion of scientific co-operation and links between laboratories; and developing cost-effective facilities for specialised laboratory testing.

The body will have responsibility on an all-Ireland basis for the promotion of food safety and hygiene. Promotional activities will include holding conferences, providing food safety advice, and developing initiatives targeted at the public, professionals responsible for food safety and the food industry. The Northern Irish and Irish food safety enforcement agencies will retain their existing promotional role to support their inspection and enforcement functions.

The body will identify priorities for research and will commission and fund projects as necessary to fill identified gaps. A database of research programmes will be established and maintained. [1324] Research findings will be disseminated to relevant interests. The FSAI will retain a research role in relation to its functions while taking into account the research activities of the Food Safety Promotion Board.

Information on national and international food alerts will be disseminated by the body. A cross-Border emergency response procedure will be developed, including training for personnel involved. Joint action in communicating food alerts will ensure consistency of approach and maintain consumer confidence. Cross-Border co-operation in the microbiological surveillance of food-borne diseases will include promoting harmonisation in the development of surveillance systems. Surveillance data and information will be exchanged between the National Communicable Disease Surveillance Unit, its Northern equivalent and other interest groups.

Linkages will be developed between scientific experts North and South. This will assist the sharing of experience on test methods and surveillance. A system for rapid access to laboratory results will be developed. Linkages between laboratories will facilitate easy access to data and exchange of information. The development of a strategy for the delivery of specialised laboratory services for the island of Ireland will include a study of the relative cost effectiveness of the available options, including use of laboratories in Great Britain.

As I said at the outset, this is a historic day and I am pleased to commend this legislation to the House. I pay tribute to all who have worked so tirelessly over the past few weeks to bring the negotiations on these six implementation bodies to a satisfactory conclusion.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I welcome the Bill as an essential step in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which was endorsed by 85 per cent of the people of Ireland last year. We in Sinn Féin were party to that Agreement; we recognised it as an historic compromise for which all parties took political risks. Not the least of those risks was taken by Sinn Féin. We accepted key elements of the Good Friday Agreement which challenged political positions we had held for many years. We altered our party's constitution to allow attendance at an assembly in the six counties; we urged a “yes” vote in the 32 counties after a painful and heart-searching internal debate and despite our reservations – shared by broad sections of opinion on this island – about changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 Constitution.

We see the Agreement as a vehicle for change in which we can all make the journey towards a just and equal society, leaving behind the injustices of the past and the conflict which has arisen from them. This is not a final settlement and there are many aspects of the Agreement, including the institutions which are established in the Bill, which do not go far enough. The extent of all-Ireland bodies is too limited. We are con[1325] cerned at the minimising of their scope at the insistence of the Ulster Unionist Party. However, like the other aspects of the Agreement, these institutions can be built upon as the historical, political and economic imperative moves the divided parts of our island, and the divided sections of our people, ever closer together. It is up to all of us to create that imperative.

If the Agreement as negotiated was being implemented, then the Executive, the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the all-Ireland implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference would have been established by now. Power could then have been transferred to those bodies and to the assembly tomorrow, 10 March. This could and should have been the case. I am disappointed and gravely concerned as is Sinn Féin that this deadline is being allowed to pass. The Irish Government should have taken a much stronger position, insisting that the Agreement as negotiated be implemented in the agreed timetable.

It is not talking up a crisis to state the plain fact that there is a crisis in the peace process. This crisis exists because the Ulster Unionist Party, for the past 11 months, has been allowed to elevate one element of the Good Friday Agreement above all others. I say “allowed” because I am also disappointed that both Governments have indulged that party in its pretence that the entire Agreement hinges upon a decommissioning gesture from the IRA. This false position was given expression in what can only be described as a disgraceful editorial in The Irish Times of yesterday, 8 March, which argued that it would be better that the entire Agreement should founder than that decommissioning should not take place in the way that is being demanded by Unionists.

The decommissioning issue is being dealt with. It is as complex as any of the other issues addressed in the Agreement. We in Sinn Féin have fulfilled and will continue to fulfil our commitment in that regard. Everyone needs to recognise the duplicity of the simplistic approach which talks of decommissioning gestures. One only has to remember the theatrical and choreographed hand-over of weapons by the Loyalist Volunteer Force some months ago. Armed members of this same force appeared before RTE cameras last weekend and threatened to end their ceasefire. The so-called decommissioning carried out by the LVF was valueless, a propaganda stunt by an organisation whose ceasefire is unstable.

Deputy Quinn referred to opinion polls and the views of republicans. I can reflect those views more accurately than any interpretation of a particular opinion poll. In Nationalist and republican districts in the six counties, the decommissioning issue is seen in the context of increasing attacks and threats from loyalists as referred to at the Taoiseach's Question Time today, and of continuing revelations about decades of collusion between British forces and loyalist paramilitaries; it is seen in the context of more than 130,000 [1326] licensed weapons in the Unionist community; it is seen in the context of the continuing siege of the Nationalist community on the Garvaghy Road; and it is seen in the context of an unchanged, heavily armed RUC and a British Army which may be less visible in some areas but which is still present in large numbers, with all its infrastructure intact. I urge Deputies Quinn and John Bruton to come with me to South Armagh and to speak to the people there about decommissioning under the din of helicopters and under the shadow of dozens of hilltop posts, checkpoints and barracks.

People need to look beyond the Unionist rhetoric about decommissioning and look at the real motivation. The mask slipped recently when David Trimble and John Taylor spoke of moving forward without Sinn Féin. Unionists look to the prospect of the expulsion of Sinn Féin from the process, the breakdown of the broad republican consensus in favour of the Agreement and the splitting of the IRA from top to bottom. The sad reality is that many Unionists and significant and powerful sections of the British military establishment would relish such a prospect. They seek a defeat of Irish republicanism, a defeat that could not be achieved through 30 years of conflict.

An international commission was established to deal with the issue of decommissioning. Its work continues and Sinn Féin has worked with it. The issue is not resolved but the lack of resolution of this issue, like all the other issues in the Agreement which remain unresolved, does not prevent the formation of the Executive now. What is being allowed to prevent it is the lack of political will on the part of the Ulster Unionist Party. I urge the Irish Government not to allow this to continue.

In spite of the negative political context in which this Bill comes before us, it represents a tremendously positive development in the history of our country. It points to a new political dispensation for all the people of Ireland. The failures of the past – partition, sectarianism, one-party rule and repression, among others – can be set aside and we can begin a new era of equality. Let us cast aside the obstacles and enter that new era.

Mr. C. Lenihan: I am surprised by the tone of Deputy Ó Caoláin's comments. It is alarmist to talk of Unionists vetoing or blocking progress on full implementation of the Agreement. It is wrong of the Deputy to state that some element of the Unionist community is trying to push ahead with the Agreement without his colleagues in Sinn Féin. It is not often I get the opportunity to quote Fergus Finlay in a positive light but implementation of the Agreement without Sinn Féin not is worth a penny candle. That was the truth when Fergus Finlay stated it in the lead up to the Agreement being made and it is also true now. There is no point in proceeding with the Agreement if we do not have the full partici[1327] pation of Sinn Féin and the other groups which negotiated and signed off on that Agreement.

The Agreement is predicated on consent and the agreement of all parties who signed it. Deputy Ó Caoláin is correct, it depends on their goodwill. They should obey not just the letter but the spirit of the Agreement. Nobody should move ahead without the consent of others or public support.

The Agreement is being held up because of a dangerous and damaging obsession with decommissioning. It is a dangerous issue on which to get hung up. Deputy Ó Caoláin is correct to highlight the unease in the Nationalist community about guns legally held mainly by members of the Unionist community. Republicans of every stripe, including those who previously engaged in violence, should not become obsessed with the security agenda. There is a much wider agenda. We are right to adopt an upbeat and positive tone about the legislation. It is the first small practical step towards reaching agreement between the peoples who inhabit the island and have separate allegiances.

I am a republican and have not supported the use of violence during the past 25 years. We can reach political agreements and resolve our difficulties in a peaceful manner. That is what the Agreement is about. It is not about an over-emphasis on decommissioning. Good sense should prevail. It should be realised that there is no point in concentrating on decommissioning if the mindsets and attitudes of those who have resorted to violence do not change. There is a need for reconciliation.

Decommissioning is a sensitive issue for republicans. It is noteworthy – I studied history in university – that no republican group has ever surrendered weapons. I, therefore, warn members of the Unionist community not to push the issue too hard. The Agreement depends on the goodwill of all participants.

There has to be decommissioning and a timetable set. I would, however, reject an empty gesture and empty rhetoric. There must be a tangible reduction in tension brought about by the guns used to deny the most fundamental right of all – the right to life. We should push ahead and implement the Agreement. It is in its implementation that its true worth will be seen.

Mr. Allen: I wish to share time with Deputies Deenihan, Kenny and Finucane.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Allen: The two parts of the island, which for generations have been divided, are interlinked. These links will be strengthened by the historic treaties signed yesterday and being ratified today. The leader of my party, Deputy John Bruton, set out the historical and contemporary context of the legislation. He praised all the parties involved and stated that further progress is linked to decommissioning.

[1328] The legislation is a further historic step forward. It will bring the people of the island closer together. The functions set out in the sections dealing with Waterways Ireland, the Food Safety Promotion Board, the trade and business body, the special EU programmes body, An Fóras Teanga and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will give Ireland a keener competitive edge in the European Union as well as over our other trading competitors.

I welcome the establishment of the new bodies. Politics is the winner. Politics is about honourable compromise. That is what was achieved in the Good Friday Agreement.

I will refer to the areas on which I am spokesperson. Sport has been a great catalyst in uniting the peoples in the two parts of the island. In the appointment of the new Irish Sports Council in 1997 the importance of bringing the people of the island together under the umbrella of sport was acknowledged through the appointment of a representative of the Northern Ireland Sports Council. In turn, a representative of the Irish Sports Council was involved in the development of different aspects of sport in Northern Ireland. Co-operation has been achieved in the area of coaching. The Northern Ireland Sports Council has been involved in the development of the drug testing and education programme in this jurisdiction. Sport, through competition, participation and enjoyment, has broken down and will continue to break down barriers.

The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will have the capacity to develop marine tourism in the areas under its jurisdiction with obvious benefits for the Border counties. There will be an extension of his functions to cover the development of angling and marine tourism. I am surprised, however, that the development of tourism in general has not been included.

In a discussion document published earlier this year my party set out ten key objectives essential to a healthy and developing tourism industry on the island. One of these objectives is an effective marketing of Ireland as an island destination. The peace process offers a unique opportunity to market Ireland on an all-island basis through a genuine North-South co-operative approach. Greater funding must be provided to promote the tourism industry throughout the island as the potential of tourism promotion on an all island basis cannot be realised without adequate resources or proper structures. Coupled with a marketing approach must be the enhancement of tourism development in the Border region through the INTERREG programmes.

Why has tourism not been included in the programmes set out in the legislation? The need to market Ireland effectively on an all island basis has long been recognised. It was recognised by the previous Government and Bord Fáilte. This must be done in a sensitive manner avoiding the errors made by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation in his unilateral abolition of the [1329] agreed marketing logo. This serious political error damaged the goodwill and enthusiasm towards a joint approach. Did this lack of judgment bring about the downgrading of tourism in the legislation? How can the development of tourism on an all island basis be achieved?

Earlier this year the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mo Mowlam, announced that legislation would be introduced to establish a limited company to market Ireland on an all-island basis. I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the necessary resources would be available to achieve this goal. If early agreement can be reached on this issue, an excess tax to market tourism in this jurisdiction might not be required.

Mr. Deenihan: I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have numerous contacts, through the GAA, in the northern part of the country. I am familiar with the difficulties and problems the Nationalist community face. Nationalists should be happy with this development. The structures being established under the legislation have great potential.

This is part of a long drawn out process, which will be challenged and come under pressure, to ensure peace is achieved. I also hope it will mean that both communities in the North will feel secure in their homes and villages and that they will feel part of the wider community they can be proud of, as epitomised on sporting occasions when members from both communities play together.

The almost unanimous approval of this legislation in this House reflects a maturity one would not have expected ten years ago. The distance travelled by Fianna Fáil in accepting this Bill and abandoning Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution – sacred cows for that party – and the way it has come around to the Fine Gael approach is extraordinary. It reflects a maturity which we in this House will need in the weeks and months ahead because these have been trying times at official and Government level.

There are people from both communities in the North who do not want this process to work, who will hinder any progress. The fine officials working in the North will face a testing time and that will not change with the passing of this legislation or the establishment of the Executive.

I have a specific interest in one of the implementation bodies, the trade and business development body. I work on a twinning group between Listowel and Downpatrick and we are in the process of developing a five year plan. Business will be very much at the centre of that. I see a major role for such relationships within the framework of the body. We are a small group, but I see great potential for similar groups to interact with the body, including the presentation of proposals. Will it be possible for a group like ours to meet this body, make proposals and seek funding? It would provide us with a means of developing the relationships between Listowel and Downpatrick.

[1330] There is a triangular connection between San José in the Silicon Valley, California, Derry and Listowel on which we have been quietly working over the past six or seven years. People travel from the Silicon Valley to Listowel and on to Derry. Both sides have benefited in different ways, Derry through companies such as Cegate and north Kerry through tourism, culture and other aspects. I see great potential for this kind of development, not only within but beyond the island.

It is regrettable that Deputy Ó Caoláin is not present. I often speak to him and we understand each other. Eilis O'Hanlon of the Sunday Independent sums up politics in Northern Ireland. She is the authority on how people think there. When I want to understand what is happening I read her articles. Deputy Ó Caoláin should read her article in the Sunday Independent last Sunday. The headline asked: “Will Sinn Féin ever grow up?”. She went on to say that letting Sinn Féin into the Northern Ireland Executive is one way to ensure that decommissioning will never happen. That is the bottom line. If Members wish to get a good understanding of what is happening in Northern Ireland they should read her articles because she has her finger on the pulse.

I agree with my party leader, Deputy John Bruton on the issue of deommissioning. For the past three years it has been the issue requiring resolution and he has not wavered in his approach. The Taoiseach has come around to his way of thinking. There must be some decommissioning before we make progress.

Mr. Kenny: The politics of Northern Ireland has in many ways had the most profound and unfortunate consequences for both North and South over the past 30 years. I served on the New Ireland Forum in 1984. It gave me an understanding of dealing with the politics of Northern Ireland and with North-South relations. The fervour with which issues were dealt with in the early 1980s was often influenced by the slant that may or may not have been put on statements issued by members of the forum or by the forum itself.

This House and the people of Ireland owe a debt of gratitude to the many civil servants and politicians from all sides who have contributed to this. I recall impasses and crises of one kind or another where words were the stumbling block. Often it took overnight discussions by civil servants to produce a formula of words to allow the process to move forward.

In this regard 1998 will prove to be one of the most important years in terms of constitutional politics in this country, both North and South. The repeal of most of the British Acts of Parliament relevant to Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Act, 1998, and the changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which, if this side of the House had been in Government, would not have been effected for political reasons, are the most significant changes.

[1331] In addition, the changes and moves made by each of the past number of Taoisigh enabled them to fill in pieces of the jigsaw which others may not have been able to do. They can all claim that their thumbprint is on the fabric of the Agreement and this Bill. Throughout, one would not have thought the fear, bloodshed and terror that existed in Northern Ireland for 30 years would have resulted in ceasefires by the paramilitary organisations.

I am optimistic, because matters have now been reduced to the one remaining stumbling block of decommissioning. When I listen to Deputy Ó Caoláin and hear statements by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to the effect that they are genuinely sincere – I believe them when they speak about proceeding on the road of peace – and contrast that with subsequent statements by the IRA army council that decommissioning will never occur I am concerned, especially when it is understood that the army council takes precedence over the political wing. There will always be a doubt as to how the crisis will be dealt with.

When one speaks to republican elements and to those who have a knowledge about what happened in Northern Ireland it becomes clear that there will not be decommissioning of certain kinds of arms which were used by the Provisional IRA for the purposes of war tactics. These have, in an unfortunate sense, become heirlooms. However, there is no tradition or sacredness about having tons of semtex locked away. There should be decommissioning of semtex because its only use is to blow lives away. If we are serious about the development of our country and our people, about what John Hume often calls accommodating the differences among our peoples, we should ensure that this gesture is made.

I will refer on Committee Stage to the bodies dealing with the inland waterways and the Irish language. There are matters of importance that need to be teased out.

Mr. Finucane: The previous speaker said people have a mindset against decommissioning. It is tiresome listening to radio interviews with people such as Mitchell McLaughlin and Martin McGuinness who keep stating that decommissioning is not part of the Agreement. They are correct but the Agreement states that all decommissioning must be done within two years. As we approach the first anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, it is understandable that there is extreme disappointment that neither semtex or guns have been handed over. The Agreement also states that an independent commission will monitor, review and verify progress on the decommissioning of illegal arms and will report to both Governments at regular intervals. However, that has not happened in the past year as there has not been decommissioning.

This Bill outlines the procedure for establishing bodies. I am particularly interested in aquaculture and marine matters. The Commissioners of Irish [1332] Lights, which are based in Dublin, are responsible for the coastline in the North and South. The 15 representatives on the Commissioners of Irish Lights, who will probably lose their positions when the new board is established, have given great service. I hope they are paid compensation under this legislation.

Legislation must be passed before these changes are implemented by the end of the year. Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough are natural contiguous communities in the North and South and it is only right that they pool their resources in terms of aquaculture development and tourism. I am sure when chief executives are appointed to those bodies, it will be in their interest to advance the causes of those communities by tapping into their financial resources. This is a step in the right direction.

There is a lack of appreciation of the role played by the Commissioners of Irish Lights over the years. They were established in 1781 and the last Act which had a direct impact on them was the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. They have operated effectively with a staff of approximately 260 and 80 attendants who are mainly involved in lighthouse duties.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I wish to share my time with Deputy Brendan Smith and Deputy Coughlan.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Kennedy: It is a privilege to contribute to this historic debate. There may be an air of normality in the House this evening but that does not mask the fact we are marking a historic achievement, the passing of the British-Irish Agreement Bill.

One of the most reassuring things in recent times is that historic events have been treated as almost normal events. When the British Prime Minister addressed both Houses of the Oireachtas, the atmosphere seemed to suggest that major historic event was being taken for granted. We should remember that not only those currently involved in building up this major and important edifice of peace but also those who went before them have played a major part in reaching this significant stage.

This is an agreement between both Governments, between North and South and within the North. As one who has been involved in this process for some time, I feel a sense of envy that I am not involved at its culmination but also a sense of pride and admiration for those who are. Some elements were part of a party policy which I introduced as long ago as 1975. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to see it being put into place this evening in an atmosphere of almost normality if not routine practice.

That both Governments have been working ad idem for some time is a tribute to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. It is also a tribute to the Ministers who have been working hard to bring about this enlightenment and confidence. [1333] As co-chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I, on behalf of the representatives of the elected representatives of our people, whether in this Parliament or the British Parliament, confirm that we will play our part in ensuring that what the representatives of Government have put together, we will spontaneously support. I anticipate that when this body meets at the end of this month in Dromoland Castle, which has significant historical connotations for Anglo-Irish relations, we will spontaneously and warmly endorse what our Governments have been doing in our name.

The areas mentioned in the Bill are the avenues to further common cause and progress. While agriculture and tourism are not immediately included for action, they are included for further serious consideration and development. As Minister for Agriculture for five years, I know that agriculture is the area in which the common interest of the Northern Ireland and the Southern Ireland producers is self-evident. During long night's negotiations in Brussels as Minister for Agriculture, the Ulster Farmers Union always felt closer to our negotiating position than it did to that of the British Minister for Agriculture who represented a consumer society. Surely there can be no threat in advancing the common interest of agriculture any more than there can be in advancing the common interest of tourism? These are matters of natural coincidental interest not just at home but in our multilateral trade negotiations with Europe and the rest of the world.

We have come a long way since I was privileged to be Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1977 when we engaged in bilateral negotiations from time to time. I recall attending with Jack Lynch, a Taoiseach who was greatly respected both at home and in Britain, meetings with Jim Callaghan, the then British Prime Minister, and subsequently with Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. I pay tribute to all those people who have built on that base over the years, including Taoisigh from all sides, who built up an understanding which Governments and Ministers of the day have so efficiently and effectively put in place.

I pay tribute to Ministers from the other Government with which I was privileged to deal from time to time who laid the foundations for what we are now achieving. I am thinking of people such as Lord Peter Carrington, Mr. Geoffrey Howe and Mr. Humphrey Atkins, who were involved in the Dublin Castle Summit in 1979. While there have been stops, hesitations, obstacles and falls since then, the contribution of such people cannot be underestimated much less taken for granted.

I want to mention another area where there is common cause. It is said that communication does not pose a threat to anybody. If I were asked to nominate one area which broke down the barrier between east and west, between totalitarian and democratic states, before the Berlin Wall finally came down, it was communications. Young people inside the Iron Curtain were able [1334] to observe young people living outside the Iron Curtain. They saw them at play and in a sense they shared that recreation with them. Those young people did more to break down that awful wall, not just the physical but the metaphorical wall, than any Governments at that time.

I hope we will shortly see the total and free transmission of our television programmes North and South, whether it is UTV, RTE or the BBC. I realise some commercial arrangements will have to be made with the directors of these interests but it is time that this is done. We have nothing to fear from communicating with each other and transmitting to each other programmes about the routine of our daily lives, our culture, hopes and confidence.

I pay tribute to the Ministers of both Governments who played a dynamic role in this process, to not only the Taoiseach and Mr. Blair but also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, and Mo Mowlam, who, despite ill health, has made a major contribution. It is appropriate that both these people had the opportunity of sealing all those relations. I also mention the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, who is in the House this evening, and her counterpart Paul Murphy, who have demonstrated that it pays to have people of commitment and imagination on the ground, with their respective Ministers, to steer this process in terms of tolerance, understanding and confidence.

I will conclude shortly because I want to share my time with my two colleagues. I want to record my appreciation of the work of some of the most enlightened officials any Government would be privileged to have in the Taoiseach's Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have worked with both Departments and, while these officials do not like to be mentioned, it is significant that one of those with whom I worked closely more than 20 years ago – he was in the Taoiseach's Department – is in the House this evening. I will refrain from naming him but it is a measure of that constant commitment that these officials, with their knowledge and sensitivity, helped to steer us all to this position where, as the Minister said today, we have a transformation from conflict and division to peace and co-operation.

I particularly acknowledge the courage of the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties. Despite the issues with which they are struggling at this time, the leaders of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness struggled for years to get to the point we have now reached – I know this from my own experience – and their efforts, in addition to those of people like David Trimble, Ken Maginnis and Dermot Nesbitt, deserve the success we will hopefully celebrate. The Irish phrase “go mbeidh toradh saothair le gach éinne”, let everyone have the rewards of their efforts, is appropriate. I believe there will be great rewards.

Mr. B. Smith: I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important [1335] debate. I concur with Deputy O'Kennedy's remarks in paying tribute to officials in both the Taoiseach's Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Over the years I had to contact officials, particularly in the Department of Foreign Affairs, regarding difficulties experienced by my constituents going about their daily business due to road blocks, etc. and I was always given the utmost help by officials in the Department who displayed their knowledge of the situation on the ground, particularly in the Border region.

I pay tribute to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, on their presentation of the legislation today. It is historic and a major milestone in the furtherance of the Good Friday Agreement. In recent years we have been privileged to witness historic dates in Anglo-Irish and North-South relations – the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, the Good Friday Agreement last April, referendum day North and South on 22 May last and, yesterday, the signing of four international agreements. The legislation before the House provides for participation in the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, and also provides for the establishment of the implementation bodies.

It is obvious to everybody on this island and further afield that the Good Friday Agreement is the basis for lasting peace in this country. The Agreement won the widespread and enthusiastic endorsement of the people of this island last May. The whole island must benefit from the potential of this Agreement.

I was delighted to hear the Tánaiste say this evening that the working procedures of these new implementation bodies will begin the process of ensuring the economic prosperity of the Border regions which have suffered most as a result of the troubles. The six southern Border counties and the six northern Border counties suffered immeasurably, both socially and economically, over a period of 30 years. It is important that the economic regeneration needed south of the Border is given all the necessary impetus.

In the agreement of 18 December last, six matters appropriate to further co-operation were identified: transport, agriculture, education, health, environment and tourism. These are areas of common concern and the North-South bodies will bring increased trade and generate employment.

These bodies will not only bring practical, economic and social benefits but they will offer an institutional expression of the Irish identity of Northern Nationalists. I wish to refer in particular to the waterways body. I am glad responsibility for the Shannon-Erne waterway will transfer to the new body. It was due to the political leadership, particularly of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, and the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, that the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal was restored and that we now have the Shannon-Erne waterway, which has been a major catalyst for [1336] tourism development in the south Fermanagh, west Cavan and south Leitrim areas. Much more work needs to be done on inland waterways. I appeal to the officials working on the new bodies to ensure that the Erne navigation southwards from Belturbet to Killeshandra and Lough Gowna is completed so that the optimum use can be made of that waterway.

I hope both Governments will decide to locate the headquarters of these new bodies in Ulster, and I can think of no better place than the central Border area of Cavan. I hope that the need to decentralise and regenerate the Border economy can be helped by decisions to locate administrative units in those areas.

Ms Coughlan: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Gabhaim comhgháirdeas le gach duine a bhí páirteach. Táimid anseo ar ócáid stairiúil.

It is important in the discussions that will take place tonight and tomorrow to be supportive, optimistic and forward looking. As an Ulster woman who represents a Border county, I see economic and cultural opportunities for the development of a region which has, unfortunately, not developed to the same extent as the rest of this country. That region includes the west of Northern Ireland as well as the six Border counties in the Republic.

The areas identified in the implementation bodies are ones in which there can be tremendous co-operation. I hope we will see the fruits of working together in economic development through trade and business and in the aquaculture and marine sector, which is extremely important in my constituency. EU programmes are vital for the development of the Border region. I urge the Minister of State to ensure the programmes funded by the Commission include additionality as opposed to substitution for national investment by both the Irish and British Governments, which has been discussed in recent years. There must be additionality to develop the region fully and to ensure the economic progress the Border counties deserve.

I wish to refer to the waterways body. There has been a transfer of functions from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands regarding the development and restoration of inland navigable waterway systems with special reference to the Ulster Canal and the linkage which is proposed on the Erne system. I am sure the staff of the Department studied geography, but it is worth reminding them that the Erne flows into Donegal Bay and does not stop at Enniskillen. It should be included in any developments on the Erne-Shannon waterway system and the Ulster Canal system. Beleek and Cloghore have invested heavily and need tourism development. Linkage to Ballyshannon, which is not beyond the abilities of our engineers, should be included. The Border counties look forward to the implementation bodies reaching their potential.

[1337] I wish to respond to a remark by Deputy Ó Caoláin. There is pain and gain in the Good Friday Agreement. It is the people, North and South, who are anxious to see political progress. No impasse regarding decommissioning is beyond resolution. I urge everybody involved, regardless of their political background, to ensure the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement is realised.

Mr. Perry: There is a need to overcome the effects of divergence in the growth of the economies on either side of the Border through enhanced co-operation. To fully realise the potential of Ireland as a single market, many issues must be dealt with. These include the negative economic impact on both sides of the Border of the recent troubles both within and outside the island, the lack of an all-island strategic approach to many shared economic and social issues and the limited co-operation at all levels of society from local community, private and public sector organisations through to Government.

In recent years much strenuous work has gone into addressing these issues. Many programmes such as the IFI, the special support programme for peace and reconciliation and INTERREG have done excellent work in addressing specific problems at grassroots level. The endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement provides a singular and important opportunity to further develop co-operation on economic activity on the island by providing for new cross-Border co-operation through existing or agreed implementation bodies, as set out in Strand 2 of the Agreement. It is hoped the Agreement will address the many opportunities to improve cross-Border trade links, develop economies of scale and enhance business. The EU, in concert with the two Governments, will have a key role in shaping the future of the economic development of both regions on the island.

I am delighted to speak on the Bill on this historic day.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ms O'Donnell): I am delighted to have the opportunity on behalf of the Government to conclude Second Stage of the British-Irish Agreement Bill. I thank all Deputies for their positive and supportive approach to the Bill and to the agreements signed at Dublin Castle yesterday, to which the Bill gives effect.

All Deputies acknowledged the significance of the Bill. As Deputy O'Kennedy pointed out, there is an eerie normality about debating so quickly issues of such historical significance and significance for the future of the two islands. I regret that Deputies had so little time to study the detailed provisions either of the agreement setting up the implementation bodies or of the Bill. The final text of the agreement was not agreed until lunchtime on Sunday so the Bill could not be completed earlier. The equivalent British order was laid before the House of Com[1338] mons yesterday and debated last night. We considered it important to advance matters in the same broad timeframe.

As was made clear by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, once arrangements to implement these elements of the Good Friday Agreement have been put in place, the technical preparations necessary to enable it to enter into force will have been completed. It is important, therefore, that there be no undue delay on our side. We are most grateful to the Opposition parties for their constructive and accommodating approach.

There will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to consider matters which Deputies may wish to raise about individual sections of the Bill. However, I wish to respond briefly to the concerns raised by Deputy Quinn about section 5 which confers certain powers on the Taoiseach to remedy difficulties in bringing the Act or the agreement into operation. I understand, on the basis of preliminary advice, that this section is intended to relate only to matters of a minor, technical character and that the terms of the Constitution would not permit its use for any wider purpose. Any changes in the agreement would have to be agreed between the two sides and confirmed by an exchange of letters between the Governments, as is provided for. However, this matter can be dealt with more fully on Committee Stage.

It is worth recalling that about 20 months will have elapsed between the referenda in Scotland and Wales and the establishment of devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff. In about half that time, the progress made in implementing the Good Friday Agreement – a more complex and multi-faceted document – has been remarkable and gives the lie to those who assert that no real advances have occurred in that time. It is also important to remember that progress has been made across the board, not just in relation to institutional matters. The creation of the new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, for example, and the advanced state of legislative preparations for a similar commission in this jurisdiction – we hope to be in a position to introduce this legislation shortly – are developments of considerable importance.

The text of the Agreement on implementation bodies, and so of the Bill, is detailed. There is, admittedly, a certain absence of poetry or of rhetoric. However, the history of relations between Nationalist and Unionist, between North and South and between Britain and Ireland has been marked by a good deal of poetry and rhetoric. On the other hand there have been few opportunities in that history to use the more sober prose of effective public administration. Viewed in that perspective, the fact that we must make provision for complex arrangements, worked out in careful detail, is a cause for celebration.

The bodies being set up by the Agreement and being empowered by the Bill are unprecedented. As David Trimble said in the House of Commons [1339] last night, “something rather unique” is being achieved. It is true that there has been worthwhile North-South co-operation for many years and that its volume and intensity have increased in recent years. It is also true that both the Foyle Fisheries Commission and the Commissioners of Irish Lights have, in their different ways, worked on a cross-Border or all-island basis. What is new is that we are putting in place a new structure and system for carrying forward co-operation and common action.

In the lead up to Good Friday, the negotiations on North-South issues in strand two were intensively difficult. More time was spent on issues of North-South co-operation than on anything else. Even during Holy Week, it looked as if the negotiations might break down on precisely this point. It was clear to all sides that not only were there important practical issues to be addressed, but that matters of huge symbolic political importance were involved. Meaningful and worthwhile North-South institutions are for Nationalists an integral part of the overall balance of the Agreement, a counterweight to the Assembly and to constitutional change, and they must be worked vigorously and taken very seriously.

The institutional aspects of the Agreement have been somewhat overlooked since last year, such has been the preoccupation with other issues. They are of immense long-term significance in providing the framework for a new beginning in all our relationships through which we can transcend the troubled history of these islands. In the longer perspective of history, the achievement of these bodies and of a North-South Ministerial Council and a British-Irish Council should not be discounted, minimised or taken lightly.

I was particularly impressed by the contribution of a Northern Nationalist, Deputy Currie. He articulated, with great sincerity, how important the North-South aspect to the historic compromise is to Northern Nationalists who for so long felt abandoned and neglected in terms of their allegiance.

It is unprecedented for this House to have so many Ministers dealing with and speaking on one Bill. The extent and breadth of ministerial involvement reflects the range of Government functions and activities which are affected by this Bill. It also reflects the extraordinary dedication and commitment shown by Ministers and their officials in the negotiation of the implementation bodies agreement. In this jurisdiction sometimes we are accused of being partitionist, an issue to which Deputy Currie referred, and of being long on talk and short on action when it comes to North-South co-operation. If that charge were ever true, the energy, creativity and enthusiasm shown right across our public service, including all the Departments in their approach to these difficult negotiations, demonstrably proves that this is no longer the case. What Deputy Deenihan said is true, to reach the historical compromise, [1340] all the parties in Northern Ireland and the two Governments had to move from cherished positions.

The six implementation bodies represent an important and diverse range of public service activity. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the other Ministers who have addressed the House have spoken in some detail on the role and significance of each of the bodies. As the Taoiseach said, once the bodies are up and running, some £56 million in annual expenditure will be involved and the bodies will have a total staff of about 880.

Each of the bodies will have its distinct mission and organisation. In the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, each will have “a clear operational remit”. It is our intention that from day to day each will operate with the practical autonomy which characterises our own semi-State bodies. They will operate within a common framework and on the basis of certain key principles. I hope this will address the concerns of Deputy Flanagan about their accountability.

In particular, the Agreement specifies that each body will “implement any decisions of the North-South Ministerial Council on policies and actions relating to matters within the scope of its functions.” Moreover, in exercising its functions, a body will at all times act in accordance with any directions, whether of a general or specific nature, given by the North-South Ministerial Council. This ensures that the bodies will be subject to political direction, but on an agreed North-South basis. The bodies will also have to submit corporate plans to the council for its approval and to furnish an annual report on their activities.

The chain of accountability will run through the council to the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but there is also a requirement that any member of a body or its staff, if so requested, will appear before or otherwise co-operate with the Northern Ireland Assembly or an Oireachtas committee or sub-committee, in accordance with normal practice and relevant legislation within each jurisdiction. On the points raised by Deputies Quinn and Mitchell, this will include the Committee of Public Accounts to which reports on the bodies that will be carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General will be referred.

Deputy John Bruton raised the important point of judicial review of the actions of the bodies. As the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, consultation arrangements between the two Attorneys General have been agreed to address any issues which might arise. We are confident that the approach taken, of inserting most of the detail into the common text of the Agreement between the two Governments, should minimise any difficulties.

In the long run we see the North-South Ministerial Council as the principal focus of North-South co-operation. Work is proceeding on the detailed procedural arrangements for the council, which we are determined to ensure will be a [1341] vibrant and active institution, with a dedicated secretariat, and which will address the entire gamut of areas of common interest and mutual advantage. The council will meet at least twice a year in plenary format and regularly and frequently in each sectoral format.

Arrangements are also being made in respect of the British-Irish Council, which has an important and complementary role, though arrangements in respect of its secretariat have not yet been finalised. Deputy Flanagan raised concern about paragraph 10 of strand three. The aim is to strike a balance between the flexibility necessary to allow certain members to pursue issues of special interest to them and the need to maintain the overall identity of the council.

Deputy Flanagan also raised the absence of reference in the Bill to the North-South and British-Irish interparliamentary tiers envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. The Government very much supports the development of these arrangements, which would build on the excellent work of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, but this is a matter for Deputies and Senators to pursue with their colleagues elsewhere, perhaps after power has been devolved to the Assembly and to Scotland and Wales as appropriate.

It is our hope and determination that soon it will be possible for devolution to the Assembly and to an inclusive Northern Ireland executive to take place. As several speakers emphasised, this urgently requires a resolution of the decommissioning issue. To falter at this stage, after so many hurdles have been overcome and with the winning post in sight, would be unthinkable and unforgivable. Dialogue must continue. It will be intensified over coming weeks so that the bright promise contained in the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people North and South and given operational form in this legislation, can be realised.

Deputy Allen raised the issue of North-South co-operation on tourism. That was not one of the areas agreed for implementation bodies on 18 December last. However, it was one of the six broad areas for co-operation, other than the implementation bodies agreed. It was agreed, in particular, that a tourism company would be set up by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to take responsibility for the international marketing of the island of Ireland as tourist destination. Such a company is to be established under company law and, accordingly, is not to be established under statute, as are the implementation bodies dealt with in the Bill. Since 18 December the Departments responsible for tourism, North and South, have worked intensively and agreed a detailed paper on the operation of the company. It remains to obtain political sign-off to what has been agreed at political level. There is full acceptance that the arrangements for the tourism company must be fully in place at the time the British-Irish Agreement comes into effect, subject to agreement by the North-South Ministerial Council. At the recent [1342] meeting between the Taoiseach and the First Minister designate there was agreement on further early steps to bring the preparation of the tourism marketing company to a successful conclusion.

Deputy Deenihan raised the issue of the trade body and whether groups, North and South, would be able to work with that body and develop economic co-operation. The remit of the body is broad. The first function listed in the Agreement regarding the body is to develop co-operation on business development opportunities, North and South. I envisage a very intensive interaction between the body and organisations and groups seeking to develop better economic and business ties between the two parts of the island.

I felt privileged to represent the Government on the team together with the Minister, Deputy Andrews, the Taoiseach and other Ministers, including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who from time to time participated in the negotiations. I join with other Deputies on all sides of the House and Ministers who have given full credit to the excellent expert work of officials on all sides and in all Departments who contributed, with great patriotism and determination, to bringing these matters to a conclusion and without whom we could not have progressed this far.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10 March 1999.