Dáil Éireann - Volume 574 - 19 November, 2003

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

  2. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23823/03]

  3. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23824/03]

  4. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet with the British Prime Mini[1362] ster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23825/03]

  5. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23826/03]

  6. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, the UUP and Sinn Féin leaders in London on 13 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23834/03]

  7. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister in London on 13 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23835/03]

  8. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of the meeting on the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London on 13 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23836/03]

  9. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting in London on 13 October 2003 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [23837/03]

  10. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent contacts with the British Government and political parties in Northern Ireland. [23838/03]

  11. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Progressive Unionist Party leader, Mr. David Irvine, in Dublin on 15 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24191/03]

  12. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 15 October 2003 with representatives of the Progressive Unionist Party. [24262/03]

  13. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24765/03]

  14. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if there are plans for President George Bush to visit Ireland during Ireland's six month EU Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24766/03]

  15. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24775/03]

  16. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political [1363] parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24776/03]

  17. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent discussions with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24777/03]

  18. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet with the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24778/03]

  19. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on developments in the peace process since 19 October 2003. [24802/03]

  20. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24869/03]

  21. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24875/03]

  22. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24876/03]

  23. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the President of the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24881/03]

  24. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the US Administration. [24882/03]

  25. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24884/03]

  26. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference held in London on 13 October 2003. [24890/03]

  27. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair and other political leaders in Northern Ireland, at Hillsborough on 21 October 2003. [24993/03]

  28. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his discussions with General John De Chastelain at Hillsborough on 21 October 2003. [24994/03]

  29. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the con[1364] tacts he has had with the British Prime Minister since the failure to complete the planned process at the Hillsborough talks on 21 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24995/03]

  30. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the contact he has had with the political parties in Northern Ireland since the failure to complete the process at the Hillsborough talks on 21 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24996/03]

  31. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the steps he has taken or plans to take to restore political momentum in Northern Ireland given the failure to complete the Hillsborough talks on 21 October 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24997/03]

  32. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his participation in the talks in Hillsborough on 21 October 2003. [25308/03]

  33. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he expects to meet the US President, George Bush, during the course of the Irish Presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26331/03]

  The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 33, inclusive, together.

  The people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls on 26 November. Members will understand and appreciate that, as the campaign is under way, this is a time when the Governments should stand back.

  We all know that, following the election, a way will have to be found to restore the operation of all the political institutions and I hope we can do so. We made progress on 21 October despite the difficulties that arose. I have already made clear the significance we attach to the Sinn Féin and IRA statements issued that day. Both the British Government and this Government look forward to resuming political dialogue with the parties in the aftermath of the election. We want to achieve rapid agreement on the setting up of an inclusive Executive to pressing on with the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and fully securing its vision of a new beginning for all the people of this island.

  The Good Friday Agreement remains the template for political progress. It is the only viable basis for an agreed way forward and the only one that offers the prospect of attracting support from both communities. Its fundamental values, principles and protections are not up for negotiation. I commend the efforts made by all the pro-Agreement parties over the past five years to make politics work in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. While we know of all the difficulties and frustrations, we have also seen what can be achieved. The situation in Northern Ireland is unimaginably better as a result.

[1365]   I greatly appreciate the work of General John de Chastelain and his colleague, Mr. Andrew Sens. The integrity and commitment they have brought to the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has been crucial to the progress made thus far. In my statement to the House on 22 October, I addressed in some detail the issues that arose at the meeting in Hillsborough the previous day.

  I met the PUP leader David Ervine in the context of a number of bilateral meetings and contacts I had with the Northern Ireland political parties, including the SDLP, the Women's Coalition and Alliance, in mid-October. I hope to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, at the next plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council which is due to be held in Wales on 28 November. Ambassador Haass participated in our meetings in Downing Street on 13 October and I thank him again for his constructive engagement in the process.

  As is customary, I expect to travel to the United States in March of next year for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations. No date has yet been set for this. I also expect to meet President Bush in the context of our EU Presidency, including at the G8 summit which will take place in the United States on 8 and 9 June and at the EU-US summit, arrangements for which have yet to be confirmed.

  Mr. Kenny: In his capacity as Head of Government, does the Taoiseach think it is appropriate that posters of a Sinn Féin candidate in Northern Ireland should use the picture of Uachtarán na hÉireann in an electoral contest? This has never previously happened and all parties have respected this. Will the Taoiseach comment on this?

  The leaders of the Opposition parties have received letters from Margaret Urwin, campaign secretary for the Justice for the Forgotten group. She has informed us that on 16 December 1999 the group received a letter from the Taoiseach co-signed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This letter said that the report by Mr. Justice Barron would be produced as quickly as possible and brought before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. The Taoiseach will be aware that the Government received the report on 29 October. Will he indicate when it is expected the report will be published, come before the Dáil and be transferred to the appropriate committee?

  I have previously expressed concern about the Nally report into the Omagh bombing. Early in the summer, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that he would make a statement to the Dáil on the matter immediately on its resumption. The report runs to more than 100 pages and has been in the possession of the Government for some time. While I accept that it is quite a sensitive report, has the Government been able to resolve the legal difficulties that it [1366] perceived as not allowing the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law to make a statement to the House to this point? Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Minister will come before Dáil to speak on the Nally report?

  When can we expect to see the Cory report published?

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny is correct in that, in this jurisdiction, photographs with the President of the day have not been used in election literature. I know that throughout my career in politics such photographs have been excluded and I think this has been a convention since the foundation of the State. While I think I am aware of the case the Deputy has raised, I do not want to get into it. I have expressed views on this privately.

  While a question has been tabled regarding the Justice for the Forgotten group, we will not reach it in the course of Question Time. I have control of this report and I am anxious that we issue it quickly. Mr. Justice Barron gave me a letter regarding his concerns on some of the names and I would be glad to show it to the leaders of the Opposition in confidence. The obvious issue that arises is the safety of the individuals mentioned. I have no other problem with the report and am consulting on this issue only. While some of the names will have to be blacked out, I am anxious that not all are because I would wonder about the point of publishing a report if that were done. The Deputy will be aware of the system that operates in the House where the report is presented to the committee. I am examining whether I can give the names to the committee in some other way. While I do not see why I should hold back on this, I am engaged in consultation on the issue. I have no reason to withhold these names but there is that one difficulty. While Mr. Justice Barron has included the names, he has pointed out the difficulties that might arise from their wider publication.

  I cannot say that I am up to date on the Nally report. However, I know it is now with the Attorney General and, at least as per a fortnight ago, he is considering exactly how to deal with it. There are sensitive issues in the report about the security of the State and this is where the difficulties mainly lie. The problem in this report does not relate just to names, it is about the content of what was investigated. The information was given to the policing ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, and subsequently investigated by Mr. Nally and the two eminent former officials. The Minister gave a commitment that he would report to the House on the issue in October and he is anxious to do this. I would like these issues to be dealt with before Christmas.

  We received two parts of the Cory report – relating to the Buchanan case and that of Lord and Lady Gibson – and the British Government received six parts. I am not privy to anything contained in the reports submitted to the British Government. The discussions at official level with [1367] Judge Cory have just concluded. The original intention was that the reports would be published together. We are almost ready to publish our parts of the report and I hope to raise this with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, next week.

  I am not sure where the British stand on their parts of the report. If the British are not ready to publish the reports, we will have to consider whether we will publish ours. I promised Geraldine Finucane that I would not only publish our report, but also use our influence to try to get the British to publish their reports. Our work on the Cory report is effectively finished and we will be ready to publish our parts subject to that arrangement with the British.

  Mr. Sargent: I wish to complain that the questions to the Taoiseach from Members, including myself, regarding meetings with President Bush have been grouped on the understanding that they referred to Northern Ireland. They were tabled for many different reasons, particularly in relation to President Bush's visit to the United Kingdom and also in relation to Iraq and Europe.

  The Taoiseach: These matters have nothing to do with me. I have no discussions with the American administration other than on Northern Ireland matters.

  Mr. Sargent: It is not necessarily the Taoiseach's fault and I do not accuse him. An assumption has been made by someone that we only wish to talk about President Bush in the context of Northern Ireland, worthwhile though that may be.

  It is important that the report of Mr. Justice Barron go to committee as quickly as possible. Can the Taoiseach do anything to speed it along? Does he share the view expressed, I think, by Senator Mansergh that there is a growing level of moderation in Northern Ireland politics? Will the Taoiseach give his perspective on whether that is a wish or a reality? Much work needs to be done in terms of getting the Assembly up and running after the election. What steps are being planned to bring about the culmination of that process?

  All too often in Northern Ireland politics we clutch at straws and try to read omens. Can the Taoiseach take some encouragement from the current edition of Wings, the magazine of BirdWatch Ireland, which has indicated that the corncrake has, for the first time in six years in Northern Ireland, been recorded at Drumcree, near Portadown. There is an omen in the fact that a bird which rarely accepts any habitat in Ireland is managing to find a home in Drumcree. I hope we will be able to say that Drumcree has brought about parity of esteem, not merely between Unionists and Nationalists but also in a wider biodiverse way.

  The Taoiseach: I have said all I can, in reply to Deputy Kenny, about Justice for the Forgotten [1368] and the Barron report, and I do not wish to add anything.

  It would not be helpful to speculate on anything relating to the Northern Ireland elections. It is essential that they take place in a positive atmosphere to enable the pro-Agreement parties to outline the real progress made under their stewardships and present their vision of a stable and inclusive partnership Government over the next four years. There is a democratic imperative for the holding of elections and the people have a right to pass a democratic verdict on the politicians who have represented them for the past five years and whose mandates have now expired. I hope the electorate will turn out in great numbers on 26 November. I do not wish to say any more on that matter.

  It is the intention of both Governments to work closely with the parties following the election to create the conditions which allow for the operation of a sustainable and fully functioning Executive as quickly as possible, together with the other institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement. I look forward to playing that role.

  Deputy Sargent asked about my perspective. It seems to everyone that the elections will take place in a normal atmosphere and that the debate is what one would expect during an election campaign.

  I am glad to hear the corncrake is in Drumcree. It is quieter there now.

  Mr. M. Smith: They are scarce generally.

  The Taoiseach: In my Budget Statement of 1993 I gave a small amount of money to an agricultural group which was involved in the preservation of the corncrake, to help to convince farmers in the Border region not to cut grass too early and to do so in a way that would facilitate the breeding of the corncrake.

  Mr. Kenny: You must start in the middle of the field and work out.

  The Taoiseach: I was the object of some ridicule because of that initiative.

  Mr. Sargent: There has been a return on the investment.

  The Taoiseach: It took some time for the investment to show a return but I am glad the corncrake is preserving itself well in that area.

  Mr. Kenny: The cuckoo is in Punchestown.

  Mr. M. Smith: Deputy Rabbitte will find it hard to follow that.

  Mr. Rabbitte: It is hard to fine one's feet after that.

  Mr. Kenny: Or to find one's wings.

[1369]   Mr. Rabbitte: Whatever about the dove in Northern Ireland, the corncrake is the new catalyst.

  The review of the Good Friday Agreement, which was due to take place in the autumn, was postponed because of the election and because of the situation that has developed in Northern Ireland. What are the Taoiseach's views on the review and when is it likely to take place? Is it the intention that the parties in Northern Ireland, or the pro-Agreement parties in any event, will be involved or will it merely be a matter for the two Governments? Does the Taoiseach know how long the review is likely to take place? If there is a majority of pro-Agreement parties in the Assembly will priority be given to getting the institutions up and running again before a review of the Agreement is embarked upon?

  In respect of the collapse of the talks at Hillsborough, at which time the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister hinted – the Prime Minister hinted more explicitly than the Taoiseach – that they were in possession of information to do with decommissioning that was in addition to the information placed in the public domain by General de Chastelain, will the Taoiseach confirm that he was in possession of such information and does he wish to indicate the source of it? Does he wish to indicate the implications of the Prime Minister's statement that if we knew what he knew it would have transformed the possibility of the talks concerned?

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Rabbitte has raised three points. First, after the election I hope circumstances will allow us to move on. It is the intention of both Governments to work closely with the parties following the election to create the conditions to allow the operation of a sustainable and fully functioning Executive as soon as possible. That is the preference of the two Governments.

  Second, the terms of reference of the review are set out in the Agreement and have been restated in paragraph 34 of the Joint Declaration. It is the intention of the two Governments to consult the parties prior to bringing forward proposals on the agenda and conducting a review. However, it is important to say – I do not over-emphasise the point – that the review of the operation of the Agreement is not a renegotiation. Some parties may attempt to gain political advantage by characterising it as a fresh negotiation, but it is not that and cannot be that. As far as the two Governments are concerned, the fundamental values, principles and protections of the Agreement are not open to negotiation.

  I would be glad to answer Deputy Rabbitte's last question in detail but I would rather not go into it now, as I am sure Deputy Rabbitte will understand. No matter what way I explain the matter, one side or the other will take it up. It is true that, as is on the record, we got information from General de Chastelain. It is not true to say he breached the agreement he had. It went no [1370] further than that and any other interpretation would be unfair. He did give us a good account but did not breach his understanding of the agreement he has to operate. I do not want to spell out all the details at this stage but will do so at a later date.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am not able to respond to the earlier point regarding a Sinn Féin election poster other than by saying that I have just been advised it is not a poster but an election leaflet that makes reference to a profile of the candidate, who was the recipient of a Gaisce award from the President. I understand this is the context in which the matter arose.

  Mr. Kenny: The candidate is a neighbour of mine.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Very good. I will pass on Deputy Kenny's good wishes for her electoral success.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a tête-à-tête between Deputies Kenny and Ó Caoláin. Deputy Ó Caoláin should ask questions to the Taoiseach.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Maybe the Taoiseach, Deputies Kenny and Rabbitte and the Tánaiste might like to have some of their own party members take a more balanced view on the contest north of the Border rather than the one they are currently sticking to.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Has the Deputy a question?

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Can the Taoiseach state what progress has been made on the issue of British demilitarisation? Is he aware that in many areas within the Six Counties, there remains the intrusive presence of British military monstrosities and the patrols that work from them daily? They have an intrusive impact on the daily lives of ordinary citizens. Does he agree that this is proving very difficult, that it is challenging the changed political disposition that permeates throughout the island and that it runs contrary to everything we had hoped to see in terms of the working out of the Good Friday Agreement? What efforts has the Taoiseach employed in recent months to address the issue of ongoing British demilitarisation? What progress, if any, can he report or expect to report to this House?

  On the collapse of the agreement reached in October, the Taoiseach in his commentary to the House made a direct appeal to the IRA to reconsider its position on its confidentiality arrangements with the IICD regarding the decommissioning process. Since then, has he addressed such remarks to the Ulster Unionist Party to urge it to reconsider its position on the agreement reached and the need to ensure that the political process is back up and running with all-party support?

[1371]   The Taoiseach: The issues on security and demilitarisation are set out in the Joint Declaration and I stand fully behind our efforts to implement it. I am very conscious that there will soon be an election north of the Border and I do not want to deal with any of the arguments that open up issues I would normally address.

  Deputy Ó Caoláin knows my views on the second part of his question. I would be glad to express them but do not want to do so seven days before the election.

  Mr. Kenny: I thank the Taoiseach for his response in respect of the Barron and Nally reports. I accept his word that he is anxious to have them published and available to the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.

  The Taoiseach will be aware of the campaign of the families of those who were killed in the SAS ambush at Loughgall in 1987. When the Taoiseach meets the British Prime Minister next week or at a later date, will he raise the question of the allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in that ambush? Does he share my view that the families of those involved deserve to know the truth?

  President Bush is visiting London today amid very tight security. Fourteen thousand policemen have been put on duty as a result. On some occasions in recent months the US Government has issued warnings about intended terrorist activities in various parts of the Middle East and Great Britain. In view of the fact that security forces in Northern Ireland are now on their second highest state of alert since the atrocities of 11 September 2001, have the Government, especially the Ministers for Defence and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and our intelligence services had any contact from the US Government, for instance, in respect of the possibility of US or UK interests in Ireland being targeted by international terrorist groups? God forbid that this should happen.

  Mr. McGinley: Does the Taoiseach agree that the SDLP has played a pivotal role for many years in the development of peace in Northern Ireland and of the Belfast Agreement? Does he agree that it should have a crucial role in further developments of the peace process in Northern Ireland after the election?

  Does the Taoiseach feel he can justify, with others, the virtual exclusion of the SDLP from negotiations that were taking place at Hillsborough immediately prior to the declaration of the election? Does he believe the party was more or less left out of the loop in spite of its adherence to democratic principles? Will he undertake that, in any negotiations after the election, the SDLP will be given a pivotal role and that it will no longer be excluded? The impression is given that one does not count in Northern Ireland unless one has a military dimension. This does a very serious disservice to an entirely democratic party.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Deputy McGinley [1372] should note that the Taoiseach will not have a vote next week.

  The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Kenny, at Weston Park some years ago we agreed to consider a number of the cases that affect the communities across the divide and to conduct a comprehensive independent investigation into them. This is really what the conclusion of the Cory report is about. I, like Deputy Kenny, have been approached by many different groups from different communities that have, in one way or another, suffered horrendous atrocities over the years. All of these would like to have their cases investigated. We examined the concept of a truth and reconciliation commission at the start and this did not find favour right across the board. It is impossible to examine all the elements of each case. One will never be able to find a mechanism to address all the groups on an individual basis. While I have met many groups – I am sure I could name 20 or 25 off the top of my head, one of which is the Loughgall group – it is impossible to deal with them all. Every time we consider one group another comes forward. I understand the predicament of the Loughgall group.

  On President Bush's visit to the United Kingdom, it is correct to state that the security forces are on a state of high alert. There is no particular aspect of this on which we have received information but I assure Deputy Kenny and the House that we are constantly in touch with security authorities in the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe and across the world in respect of intelligence. No particular issue arises at the moment but we maintain a state of readiness, as we have done since the events of 11 September 2001.

  I assure Deputy McGinley that nobody has done more to include all the political parties in Northern Ireland, particularly in the recent discussions that took place in September and October. During these discussions there were many meetings with the SDLP and Sinn Féin and, as I stated, with the other parties, including the Women's Coalition, the Alliance Party, the UUP and the PUP. We have always tried to be inclusive. At times, certain issues affect one or more parties and in such cases we tend to focus on these parties. This does create problems. I hope the outcome of the election will allow us to return to a fully inclusive Executive and institutions, in which case none of these issues would arise.