Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 29 September, 1999

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

1. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach his views on whether the murder of Mr. Charles Bennett constituted a breach of the Provisional IRA ceasefire; and, if so, the action, if any, he proposes to take. [17320/99]

2. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the action which in his view would constitute a breach of the Provisional IRA ceasefire; and if it is necessary for the IRA to actually claim a particular action for him to be satisfied that it was responsible for that action. [17321/99]

3. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will give the basis for his statement on RTE on 18 July 1999 that the paramilitaries may have difficulty with the May 2000 decommissioning deadline in view of the undertakings given to him and to Prime Minister Blair in Stormont recently which were described by the latter as a seismic shift, and the fact that, in April 1997 before the current negotiations ever began, all political parties associated with paramilitaries gave their total and absolute commitment to decommissioning by [2] their adherence to the Mitchell principles. [17324/99]

4. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will establish a public inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974. [17433/99]

5. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will establish a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Seamus Ludlow. [17434/99]

6. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if the status of the IRA cessation of operations is affected by the killing of Mr. Charles Bennett; and his views on whether this should influence policy in regard to the release of IRA prisoners. [17435/99]

7. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent telephone discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17437/99]

8. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the Patten Commission Report on policing in Northern Ireland. [17438/99]

[3] 9. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings and discussions with the leadership of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17439/99]

10. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach his views on the current state of talks between the parties in Northern Ireland. [17440/99]

11. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions or meetings with Senator George Mitchell; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17441/99]

12. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings or discussions with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17442/99]

13. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings or discussions with the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Mallon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17443/99]

14. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings and discussions with the leadership of the SDLP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17444/99]

15. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings and discussions with the leadership of the Alliance Party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17445/99]

16. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in London on 6 September 1999 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17405/99]

17. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the official engagements he undertook on his recent visit to London; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17406/99]

18. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17407/99]

19. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and the outcome of his meeting on 6 September last with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17733/99]

20. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and the outcome of his meeting on 9 September last with representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents Association; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17743/99]

[4]

21. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has any plans for further meetings with the British Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. [17735/99]

22. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his assessment of the prospects for political progress and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement based on his contacts since the beginning of July with the political parties in Northern Ireland. [17736/99]

23. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his response to the report of the Patten Commission on policing in Northern Ireland. [17737/99]

24. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his views on a possible future role for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17750/99]

25. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed or plans to discuss the report of the Patten Commission on policing in Northern Ireland with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17759/99]

26. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the progress to date of the inter-departmental committee on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; when he last met the Justice for the Forgotten Group; if the Government intends to accede to its request for a full inquiry into the bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17764/99]

27. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has received a request for a meeting from Dr. Ian Paisley; if so, when the meeting will be held; the matters to be discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18068/99]

28. D'fhiafraigh Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin den Taoiseach cad iad na cainteanna a bhí aige le Príomh-Aire na Breataine, Tony Blair, maidir le cur i bhfeidhm Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [18124/99]

29. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he has had with the political parties in the North during summer 1999. [18127/99]

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

The Good Friday Agreement provides us with the best opportunity for securing lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. It is the foundation on which democratic institutions can be provided, equality and rights can be guaranteed and people can be allowed live in peace and security. The best hopes for the future of Northern Ireland depends on the successful implementation of the Agreement.

The review of the implementation of the Agreement, which is being chaired by Senator [5] Mitchell, takes as its starting point three principles: an inclusive Executive exercising devolved power; decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000; and decommissioning to be carried out in a manner determined by the International Commission on Decommissioning.

The aim of the review is to determine how to overcome the difficulties which exist in the practical implementation of those principles and this is its only focus. I firmly believe that these difficulties can be overcome. Our overriding objective is to implement the will of the people of this island, as expressed in referendums last year, and we will continue to work with the British Government and the pro-Agreement parties to achieve that objective.

On a visit to London on 6 September last, I met with Prime Minister Blair in Downing Street to discuss issues relating to the Mitchell Review. Prime Minister Blair and I, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mowlam, have been in close contact with Senator Mitchell and the pro-Agreement parties in the days and weeks leading up to, and since, the commencement of the Review. At all times we have stressed the reality that political progress in Northern Ireland and the successful implementation of the Agreement depend on the willing co-operation of the parties to overcome the difficulties that exist. I believe that we can find a way through, and that the parties believe that the Agreement is our best chance to achieve a lasting and secure peace. The position regarding further meetings with the Prime Minister will be kept under review.

I did receive a request for a meeting from Dr. Paisley and I shall meet him tomorrow to discuss issues relating to property of the Free Presbyterian Church in this State, in County Monaghan.

Regarding the status of the IRA ceasefire, in the context of a number of worrying incidents over the summer months that have been attributed to the IRA, I would like to assure the House that the Government is continuing to monitor the ceasefires of all the paramilitary organisations, in close consultation with the British Government. I utterly condemn the murder of Charles Bennett and the activity of paramilitary organisations, particularly intimidation and punishment beatings and the continuing sectarian attacks in Antrim and Down, and I welcome Mr Trimble's condemnation yesterday of loyalist violence. However, in the round, I concur with the Secretary of State's judgment that, although these matters are of the gravest concern, the IRA ceasefire has not broken down. On the question of what constitutes a breach of the ceasefire, the two Governments are kept fully briefed on security matters by the security forces, North and South. In judging whether parties are adhering to the commitments they made, fine political judgments must be made, looking at all the evidence in the round, and it is for the Governments to make those judgments. It is vital now that all sides focus on the review that is currently under [6] way. Every effort must be made to ensure that the conditions are put in place that will copper-fasten lasting peace and stability. There has been real progress in recent years and we must not underestimate the benefits that the ceasefires have brought. A political agreement is the only way to ensure that the tragedies of the past are not repeated.

As I have said, the issues of decommissioning and the formation of an inclusive Executive are being considered within the framework of the Mitchell review that is currently under way. My comments of I8 July reflected an apprehension that, as specific deadlines in the Agreement had not been kept and following on from that, some parties might foresee some difficulty in achieving other deadlines. It is now for the parties, under the review, to agree a mutually acceptable way forward that is in line with the Agreement, including centrally on this issue.

The Irish Government warmly welcomed the Report of the Independent Commission on Policing, chaired by Chris Patten. I thank Chris Patten and his colleagues for all their hard work in completing what was a very complex and demanding task. I recognise that policing, in the context of the deep divisions in Northern Ireland and the sacrifices that have been made, is an emotive issue and I appreciate that, for many, some of the proposed changes are difficult to accept. However, I believe that the commission's recommendations address, in a balanced way, a broad range of important and sensitive issues. The recommendations aimed at promoting and strengthening co-operation between the police forces on both sides of the Border are welcome and have the full support of the Governments. I hope that, following the consultation process on the implementation of the recommendations which follow on from the very detailed terms of reference given to the commission under the Agreement, implementation proceeds rapidly. In this regard, I welcome the proposal to appoint an oversight commissioner who will be responsible for ensuring that the changes proposed are implemented in a comprehensive and effective way.

I met with representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition on Thursday, 9 September last. We discussed the situation in Portadown and recent mediation initiatives. It remains our view that any resolution of the problems arising in Portadown must be based on agreement flowing from meaningful dialogue, and that in any determination the Parades Commission must take into account all the criteria set out in legislation, including disruption to the life of the community and the impact of the parade on relations within the community.

I met with the Justice for the Forgotten group on 22 April 1999 and reported on that meeting to this House in my reply of 12 May. On that occasion I informed the group that the recommendations of the victims commissioner, the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, would have to be [7] taken into account as the Government had put the Dublin and Monaghan bombings under his remit. Following publication of Mr. Wilson's report, the interdepartmental committee met with the Justice for the Forgotten group to discuss the recommendations set out in the report regarding the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. I would like here, in this House, to thank Mr. Wilson for all his work in undertaking such a difficult task and for preparing such an excellent, comprehensive report.

As Deputies may be aware, Mr. Wilson, in the case of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, recommended that an independent private inquiry be carried out by a former Supreme Court judge. Mr. Wilson set out detailed terms of reference for the inquiry and recommended that the report of the inquiry be published.

In the case of Seamus Ludlow, Mr. Wilson also recommended that an independent private inquiry be carried out by a former Supreme Court judge but, in order not to compromise any criminal prosecution, this inquiry should not publish its report.

The Government, at its meeting yesterday, agreed to accept Mr. Wilson's recommendations on these cases and also to inquire into the bombing in Dundalk. After some further consultations, the inquiries will be established as soon as possible.

On the issue of a future role for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, this is not a matter for me or the Government but for the chairperson and all the participating parties. I have previously said here that, in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I would see the role that was played by the forum as being more appropriately fulfilled by institutions and arrangements provided for in the Agreement. Accordingly, at this time I believe that it would be best to await the outcome of the review before deciding on the future of the forum.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach said on 18 July that he thought some of the paramilitary organisations who are obliged to decommission their weapons before May 2000 might have difficulty doing so. Which paramilitaries did he have in mind and is he still of that opinion?

The Taoiseach: During the talks at the end of June and in early July, Sinn Féin representatives indicated to me that they could run into severe difficulty, if there were further delays, in holding to the May 2000 deadline. My reference, therefore, was to Sinn Féin. It is the view of General John de Chastelain in recent days, and I support it, that May 2000 has to hold. He believes that full decommissioning of arms and not partial decommissioning is still achievable.

Mr. J. Bruton: I take it the Taoiseach is now aligning his position with that of General de Chastelain and no longer holds the view he [8] expressed on 18 July. I welcome that. Does the Taoiseach believe the killing of Charles Bennett constituted a breach of the IRA ceasefire?

The Taoiseach: With regard to the first matter, I was, as I try to do on these issues, relaying what people say and not whether I agree with them. As it happens, I did not agree with that one; May 2000 must hold. However, when a party of probably the most significant paramilitary group states it might have difficulties, I must relay that. General de Chastelain is the person best placed to state the position and I agree with what he says.

The horrific murder in early August was a deplorable act. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, stated as much on behalf of the Government on that occasion and many times subsequently during her many meetings in Northern Ireland. It was incompatible with normal democratic life. The Government supported the judgment of the Secretary of State – with whom it was in close contact throughout that period – that while it was to be utterly and absolutely condemned, broke all democratic principles and certainly was not in line with the Mitchell principles, in the round, however, it was not a breakdown of the ceasefire. I also concur with the Secretary of State's remarks that it was close to a breakdown.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach explain the distinction between a breach of the ceasefire and the ceasefire breaking down?

The Taoiseach: This has been explained by the Secretary of State and by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and I concur with their views. Under the Northern Ireland Sentences Review Act, when there is consideration of the ceasefire breaking down, all aspects of it are to be taken into account: whether the paramilitary movement concerned has abandoned the ceasefire, if it is likely to go back to war, if it is the intent of the entire organisation, if it can be taken that it no longer subscribes to the Mitchell principles or, at least, its political wing subscribes to the Mitchell principles and if the organisation is unlikely to make an effort to hold the ceasefire together.

The Secretary of State did not make the judgment without having a meeting with Sinn Féin at which she forcibly condemned what had happened and stated that she believed it was the IRA. I must caution that there are cases still outstanding, as she said, but that was her judgment and I will go with her statement. She concluded, however, that while these terrible deeds happened – and she deplored them in the strongest terms – she still believed the leadership of Sinn Féin and the leadership of those it influences had not broken the ceasefire and would continue to work. She forcibly asked the political movements, particularly Sinn Féin, as we have done since – the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, made a statement at that time – to control in so far as they [9] can – and, hopefully, that is completely – people who carry out such deeds.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have two specific questions representative of the range of questions I have on the clár if you will allow me to put them separately to the Taoiseach. First, an aontaíonn an Taoiseach gurb é bealach na síochána bealach Shinn Féin i gcónaí? Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that Sinn Féin is committed to entirely peaceful and democratic means? Does he agree that since the failure of the Ulster Unionist Party to nominate Ministers to the Executive on 15 July a very serious situation has existed, a situation that, I contend, threatens the very existence of the Good Friday Agreement? Does he accept that what is needed now is a very clear focus by both Governments and all who support the Agreement, including, I hope, all parties in this House, to ensure that the anti-Agreement forces within unionism are not allowed to succeed in overturning the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of both islands?

The Taoiseach: In these times, a Cheann Comhairle, I accept that Sinn Féin is committed to the Mitchell principles and ensuring that we can move forward in a peaceful way. Hopefully the Good Friday Agreement can be implemented but it will need everybody's assistance; 15 July was not a very good day, but we must move on. It is a process and I hope that Sinn Féin and all the other parties, particularly the pro-Agreement parties, can help Senator Mitchell in the review and the two Governments to find a way forward. Deputy Ó Caoláin knows that everyone will have to play a part in that. Senator Mitchell does not have a magic wand; neither have I. Even all the energy that all of us can put in will not solve these issues. We all must stretch to the limit our understanding of each other's position to find a resolution, and I am sure the Deputy and Sinn Féin will do that.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: A Cheann Comhairle, very briefly on the specific focus of Questions Nos. 4 and 5, I asked the Taoiseach whether he is aware of the great distress of the families of the victims and survivors of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings and also the family of Seamus Ludlow, and their deep disappointment? While I wish to be associated with the commendation of former Tánaiste, John Wilson, on the work he carried out heading the Victims Commission, nevertheless there is great disappointment at the section of the report of the commission recommending privately conducted inquiries into these cases. Indeed, there is quite an amount of disquiet over this and I note the Taoiseach's indication of a decision of the Cabinet yesterday.

I make a further appeal here today as there is unquestionably a view not unrelated to the series of points that have been exposed by Don Mullan and others in their work over recent years that the reason, or part of the reason, for the resist[10] ance to public scrutiny of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings are the Garda/British intelligence contacts; they are preventing a full tribunal of inquiry. I have raised this before in the House and the Taoiseach is aware of the situation and the concerns—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should confine himself to questions.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I ask the Taoiseach, I appeal to him, to reconsider the decision to proceed with these inquiries in private.

The Taoiseach: This is very important matter. I and other Deputies have paid a great deal of attention to it over a long number of years. I have been at several meetings and I know members of political parties here have taken a deep interest in this issue. I am trying to move it to a situation that has not existed before. To do that, the recommendation of Commissioner Wilson was that we must try to establish the facts and that somebody must look at all the available papers to see whether there are sufficient grounds for an inquiry. I do not think the victims or their legal representatives disagree with this view because they have been working with the interdepartmental group to try to establish an inquiry. To set up an inquiry, we must inquire into some evidence and facts. If we moved into a position where, as is believed by everybody, people outside the State were involved in this matter, moved in for this purpose, and if these events happened, we would not have witnesses to call. We do not have the people who drove the cars or the people who parked the vans. We have none of these people and we do not have a great deal of evidence, as I have said.

However, there is some evidence and the advice of Mr. Wilson is that we would get a Supreme Court judge or a former Supreme Court judge to examine all the evidence in three of these cases – the Dublin-Monagahan case, the Seamus Ludlow case and the Dundalk bombing case – to see whether there is sufficient evidence to build an inquiry. That process must take place first – that has certainly been the legal advice and I do not think it is disputed.

To take the other view of setting up an inquiry with practically nothing prepared will not get us very far. I hope that during the process with the Supreme Court judge, contact with the legal representatives of the victims can be maintained. What other way can the Government try to achieve an outcome to this very difficult issue? I hope people can support this.

I have spent many days during the summer discussing this matter with legal people, in the main, who say that to go the other route would be a “needle in the haystack” syndrome. I do not want to be seen to set up something which will only achieve that. A Supreme Court judge will be appointed and will examine and discuss all papers and documents in relation to these matters. If [11] there is a basis for an inquiry, we will move in that direction.

Of course, Mr. Wilson has made a distinction between the two cases. He has said that the report in the Seamus Ludlow case should not be published because of criminal prosecutions but that the evidence in the Dublin-Monaghan case should be published.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I think there is more evidence than the Taoiseach suggests.

Mr. Quinn: I have a number of supplementary questions, the first of which relates to the position in regard to the ceasefire. Are the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister still of the view that the position of the IRA represented a seismic shift, as reported or opined by the Prime Minister in July, in relation to decommissioning? Is the Taoiseach of the view that that position has been maintained and that, as a consequence, a successful outcome to the review of the Agreement, currently being conducted by Senator Mitchell, is in prospect?

The Taoiseach: If we had been able to get total clarity on that issue, we may not have had the difficulties we had in the early days of July. Prime Minister Blair and I believed that what we were told was the seismic shift. We set up meetings with the Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in order that they could speak to each other. Those discussions took place in a friendly manner and I believe people were being truthful and honest. However, the reality is that the Ulster Unionist Party did not see the certainty and clarity we saw. They heard the message but could not be certain of it and I accept that is their position. I do not think it was bad faith or misunderstanding on anyone's part, it is merely that the manner in which things are said and heard within parties is not the way things always are.

To reply to the Deputy's question, the issue must be made even clearer now. While it may be clear to me, it must also be clear to the Ulster Unionist Party. That position must be made clearer in the review and I know that is an issue which Senator Mitchell will explore. On the other side, the UUP must make it absolutely clear to Sinn Féin that if that happens and if the issue they are stating is made clear, they will move on the institutional issues. It is quid pro quo.

Mr. Quinn: What precise steps has the Taoiseach taken and what steps does he think the British

Prime Minister should take to ensure that the message you heard so clearly is actually heard as clearly by the Ulster Unionist Party? Will he outline what steps he has taken since July to bring that message clearly home?

The Taoiseach: All summer, through a number of public meetings and many private meetings [12] between the parties – they are now in the public domain so they are not that private – we have been trying to build up trust and confidence. The issue is one of belief. Things are said and heard but the question is whether people believe them on each side. That is continuing under the Mitchell review. There have been a few very successful meetings, not to conclusions but at least undoing many of the difficulties that arose out of Castle Buildings and 15 July, on all sides. I do not want, in any way, to purport blame because that is a hopeless exercise but to try to build up confidence again. I believe that a little more strengthening and clarification of what was on the table, so to speak, on both sides will bring about a major shift, but it must be clearly understood, as must timings. I do not wish to be over-optimistic or over-pessimistic – it would be wrong to be either – but there is the possibility. What we are doing and what the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, have been doing with the parties is trying to develop that over recent weeks, with some success.

Mr. Quinn: If the Mitchell review process ends in impasse or failure, do the British and Irish Governments have a plan B and, if so, what is it?

The Taoiseach: No, we have not got a plan B, we are not contemplating a plan B, we have not discussed a plan B and I would rather not consider a plan B. We have an obligation to implement the people's agreement which is the Good Friday Agreement negotiated in Belfast, concluded on 10 April last year and voted on by the people, and there should not be another plan.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Is the Taoiseach concerned that while a peace process is supposed to be developing in the North there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the communities are being more and more polarised? Does the Taoiseach agree that it is not a peace process if it involves merely politicians at the top who are, after all, based on forces that are based on sectarian divisions in society? It is not a peace process unless it involves moves towards real conciliation at the base of society and particularly in working class communities. Is the Taoiseach aware from reports that while the process has been going on working class areas are becoming more and more segregated? Throughout Northern Ireland the bunting, graffiti and murals that are springing up everywhere mark out, more and more, territory that is either exclusively Catholic or exclusively Protestant. Does the Taoiseach agree that is a very worrying development which needs to be changed by involving people in the process?

With regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the aspirations of the families of the victims, has the Taoiseach been shown evidence that British military intelligence may have been involved in those atrocities and, if so, will he [13] undertake to publish the evidence? Does the Taoiseach agree that because of these allegations, any inquiry should be in public rather than behind closed doors?

The Taoiseach: Sectarianism in any form, North or South, is a bad thing and has to be condemned. We have seen some of that in our own jurisdiction this year. Of course, the difficulties of people being burned out of their homes and forced out of estates is still very worrying. In the Garvaghy Road and the surrounding areas we have seen that. We have also seen it in attacks of SDLP members in Lurgan, Antrim and Down. This year the intimidation, particularly against SDLP people, must be condemned. Over this winter we must try to find some basis for a model and dialogue on the marches because most of these issues, in one form or another, emanate from marches. This year, thankfully, so far we have not had too much difficulty with marches but there have been some difficulties. More than 3,000 marches have taken place so far, and there will be about 300 between now and Christmas. They are all potentially very difficult, but there be some understandingin that regard because out of them comes hatred, bigotry and secretarianism. However, if people were to engage directly with each other, perhaps we could make more progress. That still remains the difficulty, but many initiatives are still going on, although many others have failed.

On the better side of things, there were very few incidents in the marches, except perhaps on the Lower Ormeau Road, and Apprentice Boys' march into Derry. Unfortunate events surrounded that and some heavy handed activities by the RUC that morning did not help the day; that evening there was thuggery by people who had no interest in any peace process or anything else other than breaking the law. There has been a big decline this year – probably by more than a third – in various violent activities. We must be grateful for that as we move into the autumn of 1999, but we still have to deal with sectarianism. It is sad that in 1999 people are burned, threatened, intimidated and forced to leave their homes because of their religious belief and for no other reason but, unfortunately, that continues to happen.

I am not sure to which estate the Deputy was referring but there is one estate in Northern Ireland that was built for the Nationalist community as an extension of an area some years ago but now only a handful of Nationalists remain in it; that is quite extraordinary. Along the peace line many loyalists have been driven out of their homes – and that still happens. There are many community, trade union and religious groups working across the divide like never before to improve on this initiative. UNISON and many other groups are making successful progress and we have to support their endeavours.

In relation to the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, [14] I have said what I have said. I should correct myself on one matter. The reason I did not name the Supreme Court judge is that it not easy at present to have a retired Supreme Court judge or a Supreme Court judge for that matter. It might have to go to a High Court judge or an eminent legal person but, hopefully, a High Court judge. I just wanted to correct that. I hope that we can make successful progress on this. The Deputy was correct in saying that some papers have been looked at and many things have been said, but it would be better if an eminent legal person were to look at all this first and then publish whatever he or she were to find.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): The Taoiseach has the evidence himself.

The Taoiseach: I do not have evidence. Some documents have been handed over to the interdepartmental group and some evidence is in the hands of the Garda, but it is best that all these papers and documents are looked at by a professional person. It is not much good for amateurs to be looking at these things. That has been happening for the last 25 years and if we are to get anywhere, and, as I said before, if an eminent legal person, hopefully a Supreme Court judge, could substantiate enough grounds to have a tribunal and issue a report, then so be it. That is what the Government will do, but we cannot start from scratch. One cannot set up a tribunal into something that is very narrow. That work could take place in conjunction with legal representatives for the families.

Mr. J. Bruton: I would like to ask the Taoiseach two questions. I commend him on his positive response to the Patten report. Will he consider implementing some of its recommendation in this jurisdiction vis-à-vis the Garda Síochána, including training in regard to human rights and a form of local democratic involvement in the supervision of Garda activity in a general way? In response to the very interesting answer he gave in reply to Deputy Quinn's first question in regard to the—

Mr. Quinn: Seismic shift.

Mr. J. Bruton: —crossing of the Rubicon, to use the Taoiseach's words, or the seismic shift, to use Prime Minister Blair's words, that was received by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister at their meeting with Sinn Féin and believed by both of them and also received by the Unionists but, according to the Taoiseach, they were not as certain of it. The Taoiseach said that the Unionists heard the message but could not be certain about it and that a bit more strength of what was on the table could be clarified in regard to the matter. What was the actual message that he heard from Sinn Féin and what was put on the table by it?

[15] The Taoiseach: We are looking at the Patten proposals in terms of the totality of what we have to do. I will certainly look at the points made by the Deputy. The issue for many of the five days was how decommissioning could be dealt with, how it could happen and in what order. It is clear to everybody that decommissioning will not happen until the institutions are in place. In the event that the institutions are put in place and the UUP take the opportunity, the considerable risk, what would happen if there is no delivery on decommissioning? What was debated in those long hours and days was precisely how that could happen, how long it would take and in what way it would happen. The message we were hearing was that it would happen under General John de Chastelain in a way agreed and set out by him which would lead to the issue being satisfactorily dealt with. The problem was that there was no certainty. David Trimble said last week or the week before that while he heard that part of the message he also heard that we may not succeed. I have to be fair in these matters. The problem is that while one hears the story, there is a proviso, “Sorry, I might not be able to do it after we make the agreement”.

There has to be certainty. I tried at the time, it was not that we did not see it. I brought the two sides together. I asked Sinn Féin if it would meet the negotiating body of the UUP and it did. I asked Sinn Féin if it would meet all the elected representatives of the UUP and it agreed but the offer was not taken up. We have therefore moved a long way. It was a pity, Sinn Féin having moved to that extent – meeting the negotiating body of the UUP to explain its position and Martin McGuinness being prepared to make a presentation to the entire party – the parties concerned were a long way apart in terms of how the messages were received. Without getting into the nuts and bolts which I do not want to do because the matter will be taken up another day, that explains where we are at.

Mr. J. Bruton: I thank the Taoiseach for his very helpful response. Would it be fair to say that the commitments given by Sinn Féin on decommissioning were adequate but that the problem was that it did not appear to have the authority to make those statements in a fashion that would bind anybody to deliver on them?

The Taoiseach: As with any leadership, when one makes an agreement, one does one's best to implement it. When Martin McGuinness took up his position on the decommissioning body on behalf of Sinn Féin in September last year he did so in good faith. I think he did it to work under that process – under the international decommissioning body – to achieve the situation that Sinn Féin agreed to, which is that there would be decommissioning by May 2000. I do not know precisely, and it is not much good speculating, how the leadership of Sinn Féin would go about bringing that through the entire republican fam[16] ily, but I assume from all I have heard and learnt that it would not be easy. I think people were being honest on the Sinn Féin side in saying: “We will do our utmost”. I do not think they said it as a way out, and the interpretation that they did so is unfair. I think they genuinely would have gone through the processes necessary to achieve this.

Equally, I understand that if David Trimble was to go back some months later – I do not want to get into times or spans – that would be a matter for General John de Chastelain. Some of the comments about a week and a day were entirely unhelpful because the Sinn Féin leadership never agreed to a week or a day. There were spins going out that were entirely unhelpful, untruthful and dishonest because Sinn Féin never agreed to these things. Of course they were creating difficulties for Sinn Féin, which was right in those matters because it never agreed to these things. David Trimble could have found himself agreeing to a position and then, some months later, he had nothing. He had set up the Executive in Northern Ireland, everything was working and nothing was going to happen on the other matters. It is not that I agree, it has nothing to do with me agreeing or disagreeing, but I can understand the positions. I still believe – I do not think this was fully understood in the early part of the summer – that these gentlemen are nearer than people think. It is not easy but I still think that we are not many miles apart.

Mr. J. Bruton: I hope the Taoiseach is right.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach still hold the view that Sinn Féin and the IRA are two sides of the one coin? In the course of the discussions that took place earlier this summer, was a piece of paper put in front of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister indicating the scale of the crossing of the Rubicon or the depth of the seismic shift?

The Taoiseach: The answer to the first question is yes, I do. We had lots of paper. We had The Way Forward and the Agreement. Everything was not written down but there were enough meetings between the British and Irish Governments for people to be clear. That was not where the difficulty lay.

Mr. Quinn: On that point, if I may, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please allow the Taoiseach to conclude, Deputy.

The Taoiseach: On the aspects of how decommissioning would work, that was not a matter for the Irish or British Governments, or the Unionist Party, it was a matter for the paramilitary groups or their political wings, with General de Chastelain. If we are ever going to deal with the decommissioning issue the only way it will happen, in the view of both Governments, is under General John de Chastelain. It will not happen any other [17] way and it is a hopeless exercise believing or urging it to happen any other way.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree that it is a common observation among political commentators and others that the Presbyterian community, in particular, in Northern Ireland has a high regard for scripture, of whatever kind, and would have a high respect for something that is written that they can individually and personally interpret, parse and analyse? Do I take it that the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach were prepared to form a judgment that Sinn Féin had crossed the Rubicon, or that the position on decommissioning represented a seismic shift but that that position, as understood by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, was based on what they were told and not on any specific pieces of paper or sentences written by the president of Sinn Féin and Martin McGuinness?

The Taoiseach: The Way Forward was the joint statement by the British and Irish Governments, and we knew what that statement meant. We discussed it thoroughly. It was not documented in the terms of a contract, but we certainly understood what it meant.

Mr. Flanagan: I wish to ask the Taoiseach about two matters. How long does he reckon the Mitchell review, which is ongoing since the beginning of the month, will last? I also wish to raise the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings announced by the Taoiseach following yesterday's Cabinet meeting. I take it this inquiry does not include an earlier bombing in Dublin, namely, that in Sackville Place. Has consideration been given to including the Sackville Place bombing in the inquiry? If so, why will there not be an inquiry into this matter? Why has it been omitted?

The Taoiseach: If I can I wish to finish on the issue raised by Deputy Quinn. There were three principles on which we were working and which we set down on that occasion, namely, that the parties would re-affirm the three principles agreed on 25 June, a week earlier: an inclusive executive exercise and devolved powers, decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000 and decommissioning to be carried out in a manner determined by the international commission on decommissioning. There were three very specific items and, while there was discussion about how the third one would happen, it was a matter to be determined. It was not in any way a grey area – the issues were very clear.

Mr. Quinn: I put it to the Taoiseach that part of the difficulty that was reflected by Mr. Trimble and others was that while the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach were clear they had heard a seismic shift and were convinced of a change in the position on what has been a net point going back a number of years, namely, arms and [18] decommissioning, no written indication of that was transferred from Sinn Féin to the Ulster Unionist Party, and that still remains the position. Is that a correct understanding?

The Taoiseach: Could the Deputy have visualised a short period ago that we could have delivered, sending Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams down to talk to the entire negotiating team, and on the basis that that night it included Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, it was some feat and was better than the paper it was written on in my view?

Mr. J. Bruton: Was there not a written statement?

The Taoiseach: Yes, but not to the detail about which Deputy Quinn is talking. In reply to Deputy Flanagan's question, I think the review will go on a little longer than people thought. However, I ask Deputies not to ask me to specify how long I think that will be. Originally, at the end of July, we said the end of September, that is tomorrow. My judgment is that it will go on into a good part of October. In relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, there was no consideration of the Sackville Place bombings which I recall. They had not been mentioned at all. The bombings in Dundalk had been mentioned but had not been included in recommendations by Mr. Wilson. The Cabinet decided to include those because there had been many representations from the people and religious groups in Dundalk over a long number of years. I am sure if issues arise concerning these matters in the course of looking at the records the justice will conclude on them.

Mr. Flanagan: Is the Taoiseach saying no representations were made in relation to Sackville Place?

The Taoiseach: Not in relation to the inquiry.

Mr. Currie: I wish to raise two matters with the Taoiseach. In relation to the Patten report, does he agree that, while ideally the creation of new institutions in Northern Ireland, particularly a partnership sharing government and the creation of an acceptable police service supported by both traditions in Northern Ireland, should go hand in hand, if there is to be any delay in relation to the new institutions the creation of an acceptable police service is so fundamental that implementation of the Patten report should go ahead?

On the first day of the new Dáil session I wish to raise again the issue of the disappeared. Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to inform the general public, particularly the relatives of the disappeared, that despite the events of the summer and, in most instances, the fruitless and frustrating digging which took place, the Government and the Garda will be totally unremitting in searching for the bodies of the disappeared and that those disappeared will include those who [19] were not on the IRA list, such as Charlie Armstrong and Gerry Evans from Crossmaglen? Will the Taoiseach please give an assurance that the efforts will be totally unremitting and that the digging will start again if the slightest additional evidence is forthcoming?

The Taoiseach: In relation to the Patten report, of course it stands that a good policing force is required one way or another; the difficulty is in the implementation of the report. It is part of the Good Friday Agreement that the police authority would include members of the Assembly represented in the same way as d'Hondt – proportionately within the authority. That is a good thing. There would be grave difficulties, however, in trying to get it all working as envisaged by Mr. Patten without the other institutional aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. Currie: There are many other recommendations which could be implemented.

The Taoiseach: In so far as they all can be recommended, they are all justifiable.

On the disappeared, there has been some success, a great deal of failure and many names with no evidence and no information. Wherever there is evidence or information, of course I will be glad to give the assurance that searches or inquiries will continue.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That concludes Taoiseach's questions. We now move to questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I remind Deputies that the temporary arrangements for setting time limits for Priority and Ordinary Questions, agreed by resolution of the Dáil on 5 May have lapsed. This means that we revert to the previous system under Standing Orders, that is, Priority Questions will last for 20 minutes and if the fourth and fifth questions are not reached they can be taken as ordinary questions. There are no time limits on Ordinary Questions.