Seanad Éireann - Volume 143 - 08 June, 1995

Northern Ireland: Statements.

Mr. Manning: I welcome this debate and the atmosphere within which it is being held. However, could I at the outset, ambassador, or a Leas-Chathaoirligh——

Mr. O'Toole: Congratulations.

[1746] Mr. Manning: I have not quite promoted you yet, Sir.

Mr. Norris: It is so strange from the Government Leader.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Manning on item 1, please.

Mr. Manning: I am not sure how Freudian that slip was.

Mr. Neville: Congratulations, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

Mr. Manning: I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of two very distinguished Americans, Mr. Bill Flynn and Mr. Bill Barry, who have played an important part in the peace process so far. Both men are very deserving of the thanks of people on both sides of the Border for the work they have done in helping to further the peace process and also in helping to encourage economic investment in this country.

In many ways they are typical of so many of the friends that this country has found over the past number of years. Without any doubt whatsoever the peace process would not have made the progress it has were it not for the stimulus given from friends of both sides of Ireland, externally, who could do and say things that often were not possible for politicians here to say and do.

The huge volume of support from politicians, not just in the US but also in Britain, is something that has not happened by accident. It is the result of long years of hard diplomatic work by ambassadors, politicians and leaders over the years who persuaded and encouraged people to take a positive role. One of the more encouraging things for any of us as politicians visiting Capitol Hill today is the number of senior distinguished Senators and Congressmen who are deeply and often critically informed of events here and who are willing to be helpful.

The same is true of the House of Commons, and it is appropriate at this stage to pay tribute to the work of the [1747] British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. This body has been in existence for about five or six years and has helped a great deal to break down the barriers within the House of Commons, thus ensuring that MPs are fully informed on all the complexities of the issues here. I am sure that Members would like me to pay tribute to Mr. Peter Temple-Morris, the leader of that group in the House of Commons, for his work over the years.

We have had a year of almost miraculous normality. So much has happened, and so quickly, that there is a tendency to take it all for granted and to behave as if it had always been thus. We must never take what has happened for granted. It may be growing in strength and solidity, but the process is still precarious and its roots have not gone deep enough yet to ensure that it will remain firmly in place. There are still people who are either opposed to, or doubtful or worried about, what is happening. There are still people who can put a stop to the progress and they must now be firmly in our minds as we move ahead into the next phase of the process.

It is no harm in this debate to thank God and thank all those people who made possible the joy of peace which we have had for almost a year. It is a pleasure to travel to Northern Ireland today and see people with the burden of fear lifted from their shoulders. It is a pleasure to see the new openness which is slowly beginning to inform the relationships between the different communities in Northern Ireland.

The priority now for the Government, this House and for all involved, is to continue the building of trust. This will be done not by any manifestos, major pronouncements or grandiose statements, but by quiet dialogue and the coming together of people in whatever shape or form this takes place.

A great example of that took place in the last few weeks at the Washington Conference on Economic Investment in Ireland. I did not have the pleasure of being there but I have spoken to many [1748] of my colleagues, to journalists and others who were. By every account it was a total success in that it will almost certainly mean an influx of economic investment on both sides of the Border which will help to underpin the peace process. Much more importantly, it was a success because it provided a forum for people to come together who would never normally come together on this island. People came together, saw each other as human beings, discussed each other's problems and, most of all, they enjoyed each other's company.

It is perhaps significant that a major event in the Irish Embassy was called a party, while in the British Embassy it was called a reception. I gather that there was a difference between the two events. Nonetheless, to see loyalists — and loyalists perhaps with a very doubtful past — enjoying the hospitality of the Irish Embassy and feeling that they were genuinely welcome, was something which impressed and touched all of those who saw it. People were similarly impressed to see republicans — and again people over whose own past and background perhaps many question marks hang — enjoying the hospitality of the British Embassy and mixing in a way that is not possible at home.

I pay tribute to the work of the Irish Ambassador in Washington, Mr. Dermot Gallagher, and I am sure that Members of the House would like to express their appreciation of his work. It is through events like that, although they will not all be as grand as the Washington Conference, that the trust-building process must go on. Whether it takes place in town twinnings, cross-Border discussions or people coming on holiday, those are the most fundamental ways in which progress will be made.

The agenda of the peace process itself is long, and it is well known by now. It is not my intention to look now at the issues which remain to be tackled, though on the question of the release of prisoners a great deal of progress has been made. There probably never will be a time when all prisoners can be released in a hurry because some of the [1749] crimes that have been committed on both sides were too heinous to allow for early release. Nobody could think that any political act could ever have justified the killers of Greysteel, nor would anyone want to see the early release of such people back into the community. But there are other areas where people who were politically motivated and idealistic are no longer any threat to society and where the early release process should be taken very seriously indeed. I am glad to say that our Government has taken a positive lead in this direction. We would all like to see the pace stepped up considerably on the other side of the Border and in Great Britain.

I will not go into all the issues raised by parity of esteem, but the agenda is by now fairly specific and detailed. Nobody is in any doubt as to what republicans mean by parity of esteem as translated into specific acts and concepts.

There are some worrying signs about the question of policing because policing will be at the centre of any stability in Northern Ireland. Most people in the South would like to see a more rapid rate of progress there. There are other issues and worries on the loyalist side. The reassurance to people — a reassurance we have given and over which we will stand — that their sense of Britishness and their freedom to remain within the UK is as secure as any other promise and must be respected. There is, above all else, the fear of the unknown. We in the South have to be conscious and sensitive to the fact that people have lived in what was often described as a laager mentality for almost 30, 50 or 100 years. They treated the outside and the unknown as the enemy. Their thinking was inward bound. They must now come to terms with changes — changes greater than any of them could ever have anticipated two or three years ago — happening so quickly.

There is also the question of arms, with both sides fearing the presence of large arms dumps on the other side. We [1750] have recently seen the importance of listening, of according respect to other people's points of view and to their fears, and of realising that any solution has to be big enough and capacious enough to accommodate all of us. I have personally met with Sinn Féin on a number of occasions since the ceasefire. A year ago I did not think that would have been possible. I would not have wanted to meet with Sinn Féin a year ago. I was impressed, when I met the Sinn Féin people, by their sincerity and goodwill. I believe they are honest people honestly seeking a way out of the problem. They are honestly trying to find a fresh start to build an Ireland in which they will have their full legitimate part. They honestly want to see the fears of Protestants and Unionists respected and to see that they are also given their chance to breathe freely in whatever new arrangements are made. I hope that when they spoke to me and to my colleagues in Fine Gael, they accepted our goodwill and our sincerity on the matter. I believe they did. We have seen much of the mistrust and suspicion that built up over the past terrible 25 years swept away quicker than anybody could have imagined. If these meetings can be continued and replicated and if they can take place between communities, towns and groups, we are making real progress which will not be easily overturned.

I have one big worry with all that is happening, and it is a worry which other politicians here share. To a certain extent, the middle ground is being squeezed out and the genuine worries of people on the middle ground are not being taken account of. I am speaking in particular of the positions of the SDLP, the Official Unionist Party and, to a lesser extent, the Alliance Party. The SDLP is a party which has shown extraordinary courage and resilience over 25 extremely difficult years. It has shown extraordinary physical and moral bravery. It is a party which has lived in a political vacuum for much of that time. It has demanded huge sacrifices from its members. There is a danger, in the adulation and the novelty of Sinn [1751] Féin being within the political process, that we ignore or marginalise what the SDLP has done. Everyone knows and appreciates the achievements of Mr John Hume. People like Mr. Séamus Mallon, Dr. Joe Hendron in the Falls Road in West Belfast, Mr. Eddie McGrady and the dozens of councillors and local representatives, who have carried the SDLP message at lonely times throughout the last 25 years, have paid an enormous price. It is important that the role of the SDLP would not be minimised in any way. They must not be squeezed and they must be recognised. Their form of nationalism must be seen to be at least as equally representative and as important as any other.

Much the same is true of the Official Unionist Party. It is difficult for a Southern politician to speak warmly or well of Official Unionism, but there are some extraordinarily fine people within the Official Unionist Party who have fought hard with their own traditions and prejudices — and often with the prejudices of their own supporters — to try to bring about change. The last thing we want to see at this stage is that these people are either ignored or that their contribution is marginalised or minimised in some way. The same is true of the Alliance Party. The danger is often that — like the prodigal son or Mary and Martha in the Bible — those who are labouring in an unglamorous but worthy way and without whose presence the entire system might have collapsed are pushed to one side at a time like this. These are the people who have always been democratic, who have always acted constitutionally, and who have always been brave. We must ensure that they, above all, are not marginalised in what is happening.

I will conclude by saying that this is and will be a happy debate. It is a debate that none of us could have envisaged taking place in this spirit a year ago. There will be disappointments and setbacks; it is part of the human condition. Things will go wrong. But it is my firm belief at this point that so much [1752] progress has been made, that the reality of peace has been so powerful, with the possibility of economic rejuvenation and development and the quiet miracle of ordinary life, that the prospect of all these things is so great that there will be no going back. In that context, it is vital that we in this House maintain the bipartisan approach which has characterised both Houses for the past few years. Northern Ireland must never again become an item on the domestic agenda of any political party here. If we can maintain that sense of unity, then the debate today will be another step which will have a happy outcome for our country.

Mr. McGowan: I warmly welcome the opportunity to make statements on the current situation in Northern Ireland and I welcome the Minister to the House. Hopefully, as the Leader of the House said, our debate will be harmoniously constructive. That is a tremendous achievement and I am entitled to feel pleased at the developments over the last 12 months. I am a little disappointed that when Senator Manning was complimenting so many people and including the SDLP — all of which I agree with — the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, was not included in his list. Everyone in Ireland knows that nobody made a greater sacrifice.

Mr. Manning: I agree with that.

Mr. McGowan: I personally know that some of the major players had actually thrown in the towel but Deputy Reynolds got them back on the rails. That was not publicly known. But for the persistent stand and the solid negotiations between the British Prime Minister and our former Taoiseach, we would not be having this debate today. That is as clear as a bell to everybody in this country, whatever side they come from.

Mr. Manning: I accept the Senator's point completely.

[1753] Mr. McGowan: I want to join with Senator Manning in complimenting the various sections of the people. I will start with our former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds. The British Prime Minister and all of the British public representatives had a major role in the process and it was easy to see how enthusiastic the British electorate were about resolving the Northern Ireland problem. I want to put on record our appreciation of the major contribution that President Clinton has made, because he held steadfast in spite of criticism. He brought the parties together and held conferences. He sent Mr. Ron Brown, his personal representative, Senator George Mitchell and several other envoys to the North to keep the peace process on line. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the President, Congress and people of the United States, not only for their contribution to the peace process, but also for their major contribution through the International Fund for Ireland, to alleviate the serious deprivation experienced over the past 25 years. This House could not do any better than to send them our good wishes and thanks. If we have the procedure to do so, we should send to America our deep appreciation of the assistance and contribution which the President of the United States and all of the American people have made to the peace process in Northern Ireland, as such thanks is long overdue.

Nobody in this House could be more pleased than I am about the present developments. I come from a small farm on the Border. The nearest town is Strabane, where I go three or four times every day. I have a deep knowledge and concern about this matter. I have lived through the times when we had a commercial Border — it has now, thank God, disappeared — where somebody coming from the North to the South with a load of sand or gravel would have to wait four hours to get their book stamped. We had commercial, psychological and political borders. The commercial and psychological borders are gone bringing about a tremendous new [1754] situation; but the people of my county have suffered greatly.

For 25 years, all public representatives, myself included, would not make a contribution or a statement in case we rocked the boat. We kept our heads down and did not make any statements which might aggravate the difficult situation prevailing in the North. Most of us were uncomfortable or unsafe. I changed my car every two years because on coming through checkpoints, where one is known only by the number recorded in the computer, I would be told that I had had a car too long. The situation was very serious for those living in the Border area.

The peace which we now have in the North has opened up new horizons. I want the support of all of the people who have been far away, especially our own Government. I suggest that as many people as possible from the South go to the North and find out the situation on the ground. We have had to listen to contributions and opinions expressed by people who were far from the North. Those people had very little knowledge about the situation, but they had theories and simplistic answers and solutions. I have no political flag to wave, but in my book nobody contributed more than Deputy Albert Reynolds, because the day that he was elected Taoiseach he put it at the top of his list and he succeeded. He will be remembered by history. When the full story is revealed it will be understood what he did to keep on side some of those who are now to the fore.

In 1981 the Economic and Social Committee of the EC made a study of deprivation in the area. They published a map which showed a black area and it was not very encouraging for me to see the whole of County Donegal in that black area. The study showed that Strabane had the highest number of unemployed in Europe. The towns of Strabane and Lifford are divided by the Foyle river and they work very closely together. We have a Strabane-Lifford commission and cross-Border co-operation. The high level of unemployment [1755] in the Strabane area was a serious problem for County Donegal as well as for County Tyrone.

That whole area has lost its base industry and deserves special focus and attention. The garment industry, the whole of the shirt industry, was a traditional industry in Derry, Strabane, Lifford and Buncrana and provided high levels of employment. Boys and girls leaving school had good prospects of getting jobs in the garment industry because the manufacture of shirts and pyjamas provided high levels of employment. All of that was lost and there was no training, modernisation or input. While there are one or two survivors which specialise in high quality shirts, very little remains. Third World countries have relabelled their products, which now sell in Dunnes Stores and supermarkets, and shirts costing £4 or £7 have taken over. My region suffered serious deprivation and consequences, with very large numbers of young people unemployed. I am glad that the serious deprivation shown in the study by the Economic and Social Committee of the EC in 1981 is over.

We should look at the agreement which was reached prior to the peace settlement. On 21 October 1987, the Irish and British Governments agreed at a meeting of the Anglo-Irish InterGovernmental Conference to initiate a study of the north west region: County Donegal and the areas covered by the district councils of Derry, Strabane and Limavady. What they said was important then and it is important today. They stated “Both Governments have decided to press ahead with the study because they recognise that the problems of the area are enormous and cannot be effectively tackled by either Government acting in isolation”. That was an honest recognition of the serious economic problems which prevailed in that area. However, despite the peace process and our hopes and aspirations, and although that agreement is on paper, no serious attempt has been made by the last Irish Government and [1756] the current one. The north-west cross-Border study produced a very positive plan, but there has not been a single pound of input from the Irish Government.

I have a letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, dated 20 August 1985, which states:

The lack of financial additionality is a major drawback from the Government's point of view in so far as an integrated operation is concerned. It would, in practice, lead to a situation whereby the existing receipts from the Structural Fund would be over concentrated in certain areas at the expense of the broader, national development priorities.

In other words, not one pound note was on offer at that stage, when it was not even safe to go out.

Senator Manning is right. Part of the reason why the British are pulling back and are so anxious for an agreement is that the North costs them £9 million a day, and Britain has plenty of financial problems. In fairness to the British, they compensated for everything which happened in the North; when property and goods were damaged and destroyed, they paid for everything. The British did a marvellous job in very difficult circumstances and pumped in a great deal of money. I am sorry to say that the Irish Government did not pump in any money.

I am the chairperson of the north-west cross-Border group, which consists of four local authorities, three in the North and one in the South. We have established an office in Derry city and we employ a development officer. It costs £80,000 per year to run that office.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator has one minute left.

Mr. McGowan: The Irish Government has not contributed £1 to date towards the maintenance of that office. Surely that is an indication of its concern. The crocodile tears are great, but in politics an ounce of performance is [1757] worth a ton of publicity. The only reason we have a cross-Border office which accommodates elected representatives — the only structure comprised of elected representatives from both sides of the Border — is that EU INTERREG funding contributes £80,000 per year to keep our office open. Pious platitudes, appreciation of the peace process, complimenting each other about it — all these things are great; but a year has passed and it is time we were seen to perform. Public representatives in the Border areas are not as vocal as they should be.

There are 400 American companies in Ireland, but the six Border counties in the South have only 16. No companies have located there recently. We have experienced deprivation which we have not been able to record — we have kept our heads down.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator has exceeded his time.

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Minister to convey to the Government the fact that people in the North of Ireland on both sides of the Border expect a little more than a clap on the back and a “well done”. We expect a financial input. EU funding, whether it is INTERREG, the Delors package or otherwise——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to conclude. A number of Members are offering to speak and there is a time limit on this debate.

Mr. McGowan: I appreciate the Leas-Chathaoirleach's help. The Minister must convey to the Government that it is expected to deliver more than expressions of appreciation. We want a contribution towards the structures that maintain the peace in the north of Ireland.

Mr. Wilson: I welcome this opportunity to speak on Northern Ireland. I join in the welcome which the Leader of the House extended to his two friends from America. I also welcome four [1758] other Americans who are here this morning. They are from Pittsburgh and are heavily involved in reconciliation work in that city. They could not have chosen a better morning to visit Seanad Éireann.

Yesterday, at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in Belfast, Dr. Godfrey Brown, a sound man for whom I have a great deal of time, talked about the new “feel-good” factor in Northern Ireland as a result of the ceasefires. I feel good. I feel that quality of things being great because of the ceasefires. I am optimistic that they will hold. Every morning I wake up, listen to the news and do not hear of another death or bomb, I feel that is a great morning. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be for the men of violence to return to violence. Those who have been affected by the troubles feel good. The unemployed in Northern Ireland feel good. Young people in Northern Ireland feel good because they have had their fill of violence during their young lives and they are glad to be able to walk about in safety.

However, there are vast numbers of people in Northern Ireland, mostly of the Unionist tradition, who are in employment, are comfortable and who were not and are not affected by the social unrest or the violence we have suffered. They appear to be disinterested, perhaps even complacent. I was saddened when my daughter, a primary school teacher in a school located in the heart of Unionist/Protestant Northern Ireland, told me two nights ago that in the staff room of her school the peace process has never been mentioned. There are about 27 staff members. The ceasefires have never been mentioned among them. She is amazed, as I am, that that should be the case.

I must ask myself: why is this so? Do they feel helpless? Do they feel there is nothing they can do? Do they want to leave it to their politicians? Do they feel that having, as it were, held out before and having maintained their position, they will do so again? Are they afraid [1759] that the British Government cannot be trusted? Are they even more afraid that the Irish Government wants to rule them? These are decent honourable people, pragmatic to a fault. They are down-to-earth and honest. I can but appeal to them, in love, not to feel frightened. Nobody wants to frighten them; nobody will frighten them. I appeal to them to realise that change is in the air. Changes have taken place. This is 1995; we are heading for the 21st century and 1690 was three centuries ago. The opportunity for a lasting peace was never as good as it is right now.

I appeal to them to acknowledge the peace dividend, which will show itself in so many ways — in the economy, trade, tourism and employment. I appeal to them to encourage their politicians to come to the table — any table — to present their case. The Unionists have a case. I wish they would come and present it. I say to those politicians that reconciliation is not a negative factor; it is a positive attitude. Compromise is not defeat. Here is a people, largely Protestant, rich in values — determination, enterprise, forthrightness, wit and a great cultural heritage. They are needed in our society and in any solution. Do they not feel sad that so many of their bright young people are crossing the water for higher education and are not returning? We will miss those young people. We need them. Do they not want to be part of a society which will create a structure where their children can live in peace and harmony?

Dr. Godfrey Brown at the same meeting in Belfast said:

Yet the peace is still an unstable thing. There remains the paramount need to convince our politicians and our people of a genuine commitment to democracy, and this clearly requires that former paramilitaries face up to the will of the majority that their weapons of destruction should be convincingly decommissioned.

He is right. This must happen, and it must happen soon. If it did, then the [1760] people of whom I have been speaking would and will be convinced that we and they are truly on the road to peace. I will finish with something said in Dublin city last night by the Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Robin Eames, who is perhaps the nearest we have to a visionary in Northern Ireland, if not in the whole of Ireland. He urged those involved in the peace process to seek new ways of understanding age old problems and he warned that the cost of failure would be too terrible to contemplate. I would say amen to that.

Mr. O'Toole: I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. I understand he is under pressure and I will give way to him. I understand the debate will come back to me.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): I am very grateful to one Kerryman for stepping aside for another Kerryman——

Mr. O'Toole: We are tolerant people.

Mr. Spring: ——on a temporary basis. I welcome the decision of the House to make provision for a series of statements on Northern Ireland. This is a time of hope and opportunity in Ireland. Since last autumn, the guns have been silent. No one on this island has died in the name of any political cause. Now, however, we must translate the cessation of violence into a just and lasting peace. That means availing of this unprecedented opportunity to address in a new way the underlying divisions which allowed violence to develop and to persist for so long at such tragic human and material cost.

There have been many encouraging and positive developments over recent months. Indeed, as I have said on a number of occasions, we seem to have a perverse tendency to underestimate what has been achieved so far. Many obstacles which loomed large at one time or another have already been overcome. For me, the fact that these difficulties have been resolved is an indication [1761] of a collective goodwill working towards the success of a process which is vital to all of us in these islands. Rather than taking courage from the many important milestones which have been reached in the process so far, the debate immediately concentrates on the next obstacle in view, as if that were the only reality.

I think the sense of the peace process being composed exclusively of a series of hurdles does not do justice to the transformations which are happening, as it were, below the headlines. I draw great hope from the new culture of dialogue and mutual respect which I see taking root in both traditions, even if it has not yet made itself fully felt at the formal political level. There are good grounds for hope that, in a climate of peace, a true opportunity exists for us to move forward towards a lasting political accommodation on this island. The overriding goal of both Governments is the launch of an inclusive talks process on a three-stranded basis. Dialogue must be developed at every level, but clearly as a contribution to this goal, and not in any way as a substitute for it.

For our part, the Government will do everything in its power to achieve the earliest possible commencement of comprehensive negotiations involving the two Governments and the relevant political parties in Northern Ireland. We will seek to advance that goal in every way in our dialogue with the parties and the British Government. As the House will be aware, the Government has recently invited the political parties in Northern Ireland to engage in bilateral discussions with us. These discussions would take place on an informal basis and on an entirely open agenda. I hope that all sides will feel able to respond positively to this invitation, completely of course without prejudice to any position they may adopt in future talks. Against the background of what we have been through in Ireland and the opportunities now open to us, dialogue is a duty and not a form of concession.

[1762] The British Government has also over recent weeks issued invitations to bilateral discussions and a number of such meetings have already taken place. I have already warmly welcomed this development and the meeting between Sir Patrick Mayhew and the president of Sinn Féin held on the margins of the Washington conference last month. It is my hope that the present meetings between the British Government and Sinn Féin will lead to early and genuine progress so that all relevant parties can move on to full comprehensive and inclusive talks. We hope, equally, for a positive outcome from the talks which British Ministers are holding with loyalist representatives.

Another encouraging development in recent months has been the bilateral contacts which some of the Northern Ireland political parties have established among themselves. There is no alternative to dialogue, and such contacts hold the promise of enhanced understanding across the political spectrum for the differing viewpoints. I especially welcome the recent meeting of a joint delegation of the UUP and the SDLP with the Prime Minister, Mr. Major, to discuss a range of economic and social issues of concern to both parties.

The urgent objective for all sides now must be to transform the absence of violence into a lasting settlement. This means we must painstakingly construct a new set of political arrangements which address all the relationships and embrace the concerns of both communities in Northern Ireland so as to be capable of winning the allegiance and consent of both traditions. This will not be lightly achieved. Difficult or not, we in Ireland have no choice but to embark on this journey.

The Opsahl report put well the salient fact of political life in Northern Ireland when it said both communities have “the critical mass to resist imposition”. Many practical consequences flow from that reality. It means the choice for both communities is either the politics of co-operation or the politics of mutual frustration.

[1763] The politics of frustration, of two communities locked in mutual denial, is already familiar. It has borne bitter fruit in the past and will always do so. It is also becoming clear that it leads to a dangerous erosion of the stuff of politics itself. Young people who in more promising circumstances would enter creatively and constructively into the world of politics turn aside in disgust if they feel that a mainly negative agenda has usurped a positive goal of building for all. The political process, to be healthy, must constantly renew itself. That will not happen while parties are deadlocked in some kind of zero-sum-game. It is important to break out of that mould, not least for the health of the democratic process itself.

If, as I believe, the politics of co-operation is the only viable alternative, then the qualities of consent, mutual respect and parity of esteem become something more than moral ideals. They are also simple political necessities, since neither community will in practice co-operate without them.

I sense on the Unionist side a deep-seated fear that the agenda of equal treatment and parity of esteem is merely the ante-chamber of the transition point to new forms of domination, and that if they concede equality they will then be asked to concede more than equality. I believe that, properly understood, this agenda is both morally right and a valuable and impartial protection for both communities. Moreover, returning to Opsahl's point about critical mass, Unionists have the capacity and strength in negotiations to ensure that these principles are applied in their proper sense and not as code for some future subservience which will leave Unionists with less than equal treatment.

The goal of creating a “new beginning in relationships” is an ambitious one. It is a goal that has the full support of everyone in these islands seeking a way out of the present impasse. There are challenges in our collective path that are clearly difficult but I remain convinced that these are amenable to rational and [1764] reasoned resolution. The key is to discard for good the old politics of assertion and denial, in whatever form, and to relegate to history the failed expedients of the past.

The only realistic way forward is to be found in accepting that, virtually by definition, there is as of now no consensus among the people of Northern Ireland on the fundamental constitutional issues at stake. We must instead proceed by reaching agreement on how to manage and overcome the underlying divisions through developing new forms of constructive engagement and interaction. If we cannot realistically expect consensus on the fundamental constitutional issues themselves, we can aim for agreement on generally acceptable ground rules on how to handle this lack of consensus, so that diversity enriches rather than destabilises the political process.

It is now obvious to everyone that there can be no stable or lasting agreement that does not win the allegiance and consent of the Unionist community. That viewpoint is accepted without reservation by all sides in this House and increasingly by all shades of Nationalist opinion on this island. Equally, political consent is a coin with two sides. As the joint declaration puts it, “stability and well-being will not be found under any political system which is refused allegiance or rejected on grounds of identity by a significant minority of those governed by it”.

I have said on many occasions that the Framework Document was designed by the two Governments to challenge both sides. We deliberately set out to outline a possible accommodation that could address two sets of legitimate rights, not just one, and that would be fair to the concerns of all. The close partnership between the Irish and British Governments, exemplified by the joint declaration and the Framework Document, represents an enormous asset in reaching the fair and balanced compromise which is indispensable for a lasting settlement.

Both Governments have made clear at every stage that nothing will be [1765] imposed. There is however a clear distinction between ignoring the Framework Documents and ignoring the underlying realities which they seek to reflect.

We will actively welcome any alternative proposal which deals with these realities in a different and better way. What would not be acceptable, however, would be to solve the problem by suppressing that part of the equation which relates to the rights of the other side. We know from history that this kind of solution is no solution at all.

Northern Ireland is a conflict of two sets of rights. A precondition for any new understanding must be a general acceptance of the legitimacy of both traditions. Nationalists must accept the right of the Unionist community to be Unionist and the legitimacy of their tradition. Unionists must, in turn, offer an unquestioning acknowledgement of the right of Nationalists to be Nationalist and of the equal legitimacy of that tradition.

The shared approach by the two Governments in the Framework Document rests on our assessment that only an accommodation that is fair and reasonable to the concern of both sides has any prospect of lasting success. This involves constructing a political framework which adequately deals with the complicated realities of the relationships between both traditions on the island and between both islands.

The Framework Document is built on this reality and on the shared assumption of both Governments that a new beginning in relationships requires flexibility and compromise on all sides.

I have no doubt that most Unionist political leaders unhesitatingly accept that there can be no return to the days of majority rule. When applied to a deeply divided society, majority rule cannot succeed and is incapable of providing the potential for change which is an indispensable attribute of a healthy democracy. The task now is to agree a workable accommodation that both sides accept as fair and honourable.

[1766] This involves not only agreement on new arrangements within Northern Ireland but new patterns of interaction between both parts of the island. It is necessary to say clearly that the development of North-South structures is desirable not just because of their obvious economic and social benefits. They are also an essential dimension in obtaining the assent of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland for any new accommodation.

In the Framework Document the two Governments have done a great deal to take on board long-standing Unionist concerns in relation to the operation of future North-South structures. We state in very clear terms that this could be done with safeguards of unanimity; through democratic accountability to an Assembly representing the people of Northern Ireland and by criteria of clear and defined mutual interest.

There is now a unique window of opportunity. It is, therefore, important to proceed with all urgency to inclusive negotiations involving the two Governments and the relevant political parties in Northern Ireland.

In deference again to Unionist concerns, we have sought to put the best possible safety-net under what some might fear to be a “high-wire act”: both Governments have made clear in the Framework Document that we intend that the outcome of future negotiations will be submitted for democratic ratification through referenda, North and South. All the parties have, therefore, the assurance and the safeguard of the people's will as we seek a shared and agreed conclusion to future dialogue.

It is accepted by all sides that the issue of paramilitary arms is an important element in the quest for a settlement. It is an encouraging starting point that all sides accept that the goal is to remove the gun forever from Irish politics. It is impossible to envisage a lasting peace without the objective of the removal of paramilitary arms having been achieved. I have said on many occasions that we must avoid a circular argument on whether prior decommissioning [1767] is the condition for political progress or political progress for decommissioning.

We must avoid making the resolution of any one factor of the equation a precondition for negotiations, or viewing the peace process as a one-item agenda. Progress in one area will create a dynamic of confidence which will unlock new possibilities in areas which might otherwise be intractable. It is important to make progress on each and every element as soon as we can and in whatever way we can, treating the process at all times as a shared journey towards mutual trust.

Anyone from this House who was present at the Washington Conference last month can only have been moved and impressed by the sight of Irish representatives, North and South, working together for the good of all the people of the island. It showed how quickly even entrenched barriers to dialogue can crumble in the face of the shared goal of economic development, which I believe is common to every responsible politician on the island.

With the achievement of peace, there is now an enormous opportunity to use the resources of our island in the interests of all Irish people. Such co-operation can only serve to advance the welfare and prosperity of all, Unionist and Nationalist alike. We have to take advantage of the real, tangible benefits to be gained by such co-operation for both parts of the island. I believe that there is widespread acceptance that this was one of the main themes to clearly emerge from the Washington Conference.

The economic benefits of the conference will of course depend to a large degree on the quality of the follow-up to it, especially by the business community itself. The Government for its part will be pursuing this vigorously over the coming months and I look forward to discussing progress with Senator Mitchell when he visits Ireland towards the end of this month.

[1768] I believe the conference has also, without any damage to its central economic goal, advanced the political process by giving a significant boost to the culture of dialogue on all levels. I have already put on record on several occasions our deep appreciation of President Clinton, his Administration and the friends of Ireland on both sides of Congress, for the signal assistance they are giving to us in consolidating the peace process by developing a dividend of peace for the communities on the ground.

In the course of a visit on other business to Belfast the day before yesterday, I was able to make time to avail of an invitation given to me some time ago to visit Harland and Wolff shipyards. It is a visit I would commend to anyone still tempted to view the Northern Ireland situation through the prism of ancient myths. This was not some tribal bastion, obsessed with politics. I met an intelligent and outward looking management, fully supported by their workforce, determined to make a success of their enterprise in conditions of acute, and to some extent unfair, international competition.

The concerns voiced to me had nothing to do with political agendas. They were rather that all of us should see their industry as a valuable resource for the whole island, and that we should be mindful of that both in terms of any orders we might be in a position to place in the future and in terms of various developments in the European Union, or in economic diplomacy generally, where the Government could support measures to ensure a fair competitive environment for shipbuilding generally.

It is contacts such as these, by how happily the norm rather than being something newsworthy, which are perhaps the real story of the peace process, rather than sagas about handshakes, or the apparently endless obstacle race which we see reflected in the media treatment of it.

The potential for co-operation in the economic field, entirely without prejudice to anyone's political position, is [1769] now more or less universally accepted. We must build on that for our common prosperity. I believe the same potential exists in the political field, only that it is not yet so widely recognised.

The two traditions in Ireland are poised at the threshold of a new relationship. The Nationalist tradition has the capacity, and now also, I believe, the will, to confer on the Unionist tradition something that that tradition, however proud and independent, can never achieve by itself alone. I mean a fully recognised and accepted role for their tradition in its integrity in a new political dispensation across all three strands of our relationship.

We must all work to ensure this unique opportunity is not squandered by a failure of courage and vision, or even of a simple tendency to see myths rather than the reality on the part of either of our traditions.

For both North and South, there are important new levels of trade and business co-operation to be developed and the prospect of important advances to be made in attracting new inward investment. To do this, we must work together in trust and partnership.

On the political front, the need is for all sides to sit down together and seek a new way forward for the people of this island. We must seek to build on what binds Irish people, in our diversity, together.

Our shared task on this island must be to build and to heal.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Fitzgerald): Go raibh maith agat, a Thánaiste. I congratulate you on your continued efforts for peace and reconciliation and the reaching of a solution in Northern Ireland.

Mr. O'Toole: I compliment the Tánaiste on his wide ranging speech, in particular on his reference to a democratic assembly with unanimity as a system of protection.

Senator Wilson made a point earlier which struck me as being vital to what is happening in the North at the moment. [1770] Members of the House will be aware that I have an office in Belfast and spend quite an amount of time addressing this issue in Belfast. I have been working for a long time to encourage progress at ground level in schools and staff rooms. Senator Wilson gave us the example that his daughter is worried that in her staff room the ceasefire has not been mentioned at all.

I recently asked the teachers in a staff room in the North on the Nationalist side why I was not hearing from them on the issue. I challenged them at some considerable length because we have been attempting to address this issue in a broad way. Eventually a member of the staff asked me what I knew about it and told me that until the day I have to sit in a staff room held at gunpoint by terrorists while the pupils are taught how to make bombs in the laboratory, I will not understand. I was told that it takes time to come out of all this, that they need more time. Senator Wilson and I are well aware that this is a true story.

On a positive note, this morning before I came here I opened my post in my INTO office. I received a letter from the general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union which is probably the union to which Senator Wilson's daughter belongs and which comes from a very strong Unionist tradition. It broke away from the INTO in 1920. That letter confirmed that the Ulster Teachers' Union at its executive meeting on Tuesday has agreed, following negotiations with me, to be present at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on 30 June when education will be discussed. For those who know the North, that is an extraordinary move forward and, for me, it is the most significant thing which has happened for a long time.

I note that the Minister of Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, has joined the debate. Her presence in the North on a number of occasion has been more than helpful in a number of areas. Work needs to be done in the education area in terms of recognition of qualifications, [1771] something for which the Minister has shown support. It is recognised that education has work to do. I believe that process is moving down through the system, but people are afraid to make the first move. The Ulster Teachers' Union has shown great courage in taking this decision. We will move forward in the North by considering how education might make an impact not only at staff room level, but at class room level.

Difficulties have been experienced by teachers from the Unionist and the Nationalist side. I am careful about the terminology I use. I notice the Tánaiste never confuses republicanism with nationalism, and I compliment him on that. Teachers on both sides are involved in the implementation of education for mutual understanding. It seems to be working well, but more progress needs to be made. We come up against a number of practical problems. For example, the involvement of pupils in certain activities does not create problems, but it does in others. It is easy for two twinned schools from both sides of the community to meet for a game of soccer, but difficulties arise when trying to get them to agree to a game of cricket or Gaelic football. Parents ask questions and there is uneasiness in the community. Schools cannot move ahead of the norms of the community which they serve. There is a difficulty in breaking that down. Schools can only move in tandem or in parallel with opinion. That is how we want to move forward. We must ask each other what price are we are prepared to pay.

The only part of the Tánaiste's speech which caused me concern was when he spoke about the two sides. That is an irritant to a lot of people in Northern Ireland at present because they do not consider themselves to be on one side or the other. I hope that the views of those who do not see themselves as Nationalist or Unionist would be subsumed into what I would see as republicanism, although most people would not see it as that. I regard Senator Wilson as a true blue quintessential republican [1772] in that he sees the need to bring both sides together to be subsumed into a new area where, in terms of the original definition of republicanism. Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter would work happily together with parity of esteem. As Senator Wilson will be aware, parties like the SDLP and the Alliance Party are vociferous in the forum in asserting themselves as not being on one side or the other but as being in the middle or in a third place where there is room for everybody.

As regards parity of esteem, an opportunity was lost during the visit of the Prince of Wales to deal with a number of outstanding issues. It was a time, if enough courage had been shown, to respond to the Mullaghmore bombing and Bloody Sunday. We could have shared apologies and made a comment which would have lessened uneasiness for people. May I share my time with Senator Lee?

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Toole: I reiterate the points made earlier as regards work done by many people and I support what was said about the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds. I would like to single out Mr. John Hume, who took a lot of stick over many years and not only in recent times. I recall discussing with him in this House in 1987 or 1988 the difficulties he faced and the lack of support from politicians in the South when he first began talks with Sinn Féin. The greatest danger is that people will become remote from the peace process, a point made by Senator Wilson. If teachers and others do not talk about it and leave it to politicians, it will not develop.

I believe the process of violence began in 1969 through a sense of alienation, non-participation and remoteness from where decisions were being taken. We must move forward and learn to accommodate difference and that parity of esteem is broader than just recognising Unionists or Nationalists. It also [1773] means recognising Muslims, atheists, those with no views and those with different coloured skins and attitudes. We discussed the attitude towards travellers in County Westmeath on the Order of Business. It is the same issue. I heard on the news this morning that a child with an Irish accent was attacked in England. This shows a lack of tolerance and a need to accommodate difference, which can only be addressed in homes and in schools. When children become adults they must understand that others are different because that is a sine qua non to parity of esteem, which must felt as well as acted. We should celebrate the ethnicity and the various views and beliefs on this island. We should be proud of them and not submerge them. As Mr. Ken Magennis asked many years ago, why should an Irish person not be able to wear the shamrock on St. Patrick's Day and also march on 12 July to celebrate another aspect of culture?

The most hopeful aspect of the Tánaiste's speech was his commitment to an Assembly to which there would accountability. As somebody who works on a day to day basis in the North, I know that whatever rows and differences I have with the Minister for Education or the Government, the fact that there is a political process is extremely important. Those of us who take it for granted should recognise that there is a great void in the North by not having that interaction, tension or argument between those with political responsibility and the people.

Professor Lee: Tá fáilte roimh an Aire. I hope I will not intrude on this love-in between Senator O'Toole and the Minister for Education. I agree with the Tánaiste, who said that we must avoid making the resolution of any one factor of the equation a precondition for negotiations or viewing the peace process as a one item agenda. Both Governments since last August have handled the peace process well, better than the British Government, although by its own standard, it is learning. We [1774] are going in the right direction at the right speed.

The Tánaiste was right to welcome the economic potential of the various American and European developments. I hope, however, we will not become more dependent. However, I hope we will not become more dependent on a dependency mentality and that we can accept whatever directions we receive without becoming further mired in the assumption that our serious problems be resolved elsewhere.

In conclusion, I was interested to hear the Minister refer again to diversity of identity. In that context, and partly taking up what Senator O'Toole said about the visit of Prince Charles, I have no doubt about the resilience of Unionist identity. I would not respect Unionists if they were to abandon their identity, or move any significant distance in that direction, in order to conciliate a Nationalist identity. I would be far more concerned about the resilience of a Nationalist identity on this part of the island. When we talk about diversity of identities, I look at how the Republic of Ireland is developing and wonder what diversity of identity will remain in a very short time. In that respect, it is worthwhile to draw attention to Mary Holland's column in today's Irish Times which expresses, in a responsible and restrained way, sentiments of unease which many people felt about the official tone for the reception of Prince Charles. Without in any way endorsing the counterproductive and discourteous protests against that visit, I felt very close to being demeaned by part of the tone adopted. It was quite unnecessary. I do not see how it can earn any respect, either from across the Irish Sea or from north of the Border, for attitudes of an undue sense of deference. It may be that the Irish wolfhound is an unduly belligerent symbol of the new thrust toward conciliation, but I hope it will not be replaced by the poodle.

Ms O'Sullivan: May I share my time with Senator Maloney?

[1775] Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms O'Sullivan: When the issue of Northern Ireland was addressed in this House in the past, it tended to be at times when there had been a dramatic breakthrough, whether it was the ceasefires, the Framework Document or other steps being taken in the current progress. This is a difficult time because there are no obvious steps in that progress. The Tánaiste referred to this and it underlies the contributions of Senator Wilson and Senator O'Toole.

It is a difficult time but it is more important, or at least as important, as the more dramatic breakthroughs which have been made. It is a time when the peace is being cemented, when the politics of fear — politics which were established for the past 25 years in Northern Ireland — are gradually being replaced by the politics of trust and co-operation. That cannot be done quickly. It takes time, patience, balance and agreement. I appreciate that, with the need to take time and have patience, there is also the need to maintain a momentum and avoid the kind of disillusionment about which Senator Wilson, in particular, was concerned, that people are afraid that nothing is happening. A lot is happening, though not, perhaps, in a dramatic way. The Tánaiste referred to a series of meetings which are taking place between the British Government and various political parties, the Irish Government, which is seeking to meet with various political parties, the political parties themselves — notably the Official Unionist Party and the SDLP — and a variety of organisations in Northern Ireland and on this part of the island.

The most central tenet of the Framework Document is the tenet of agreement. That agreement will not happen quickly where there are two main traditions with directly opposed goals, either full integration with Britain or a united Ireland, which cannot be achieved at the same time. What we are seeking is something which will not fully [1776] satisfy either side; we are looking for a compromise. Senator O'Toole correctly referred to what is sometimes called “the third strand” — or the middle ground — which is growing. It is probably the greatest sign of progress that more people are showing a willingness to try to understand what others want and to try to accommodate them. That central ground is growing which is, perhaps, the greatest sign of hope.

We need to ask ourselves what we should be doing at this time. We should be encouraging dialogue, inter-community co-operation and trying to analyse what kind of society we hope to have at the end of this process. In that context, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is fulfilling an important role. There have been contributions from many different organisations working together, between north and south and within Northern Ireland — communities, women's groups, farmers, industrialists, trade unionists, etc. In the kind of dialogue which we, as representatives of the political parties north and south, have had with these organisations, an understanding has developed about the complexity of relationships and the potential for co-operation. It is very important to encourage and facilitate this. Structures need to be worked out that will accommodate a bottom-up as well as a top-down approach so that people feel — whatever their contributions might be or whatever organisation they belong to — that their views are being listened to and that they can contribute in some way to whatever kind of society evolves from this period of discussion.

The contribution made by Boyle and Hadden to the forum referred to the need to have policies which bring people together rather than policies which divide. Our concentration should be that whatever policy we support should encourage people to come together, not keep them apart. I would like women to be encouraged to become more involved in politics, particularly in Northern Ireland. Very few women have been involved as public represenatio [1777] tatives in Northern Ireland because it has been particularly difficult. It is difficult enough for women to participate in politics but it has been particularly difficult for them in Northern Ireland. Some people, such as Brid Rogers and Annie Courtney — with whom I have had personal contact and who was mayor of Derry two years ago — have made their contribution as have the leaders of the political parties.

The Tánaiste also referred to young people. We need to ensure that the voice of young people is heard. There has been a sense of glamour about some of the more dramatic events, be it handshakes or whatever. However, the more important work is done quietly and consistently, on a long term basis, and achieves more than handshakes. This work should be given the kind of recognition it deserves.

Many parties have referred to the need for a bill of rights when discussing the sort of society we want to create. This is an important point. The Labour Party would like to see a bill of rights and some basic understanding of what people's — individuals and communities — rights are in the society that develops from the ongoing discussions in Northern Ireland. I would like to see that issue addressed. The other main issues are policing, the release of prisoners and arms. These are difficult issues and discussions are ongoing. It might be useful, in relation to the arms issue, to have an individual from outside act as an honest broker. That proposal should be examined.

In conclusion, there is a need to balance, a need for momentum, a need to move forward and take steps in the process of building peace and developing new structures. There is also a need to appreciate the fact that time must be taken. Current discussions need to be in-depth and ensure that everybody's fears are taken into account. It must be ensured that what emerges is a process of genuine agreement, that people have the time to relinquish some of the things they may hold dear to accommodate other people, that there can be parity of [1778] esteem and that the firmly held beliefs of all people in the various communities in Northern Ireland — I would not say just two communities — can be taken into account.

Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister to the House. The people of Northern Ireland and the Border counties have lived in changed times during the eight months since the ceasefire. I come from Donegal and can feel the difference in what is happening there at present. The ending of political violence gives us all a clear possibility of looking each other in the face again and of presenting ourselves without the fear that our views, identity, history and feeling will be rejected.

The question which everybody on this island would love to have answered is whether the violence in the North is over. Politicians have grappled with this problem over the past 25 years. We all hope at this stage that the future is geared towards peace. I have to commend the British and Irish Governments on their dedication and commitment to the peace process and for their joint and open ended search for a solution to this problem. Consolidation of the peace process is now the crucial priority.

Progress has been dramatically illustrated in recent days. A week ago we had the visit of Prince Charles. This would have been unheard of this time last year. A few weeks ago we had the Washington conference on trade and commerce in which President Clinton played a major role. These are only the latest in a series of significant events on the road to further peace. I was privileged to attend the conference. It gave us all great hope of what we can achieve by working together. This conference was not about hand outs but an opportunity for business people to come together to see what marriages could take place in trade and commerce to push the peace process forward. It also brought together political representatives of every major political party in the Thirty-two Counties under the one [1779] roof for the purpose of seeing that the peace process is given a chance and to see what can be done to help people who have suffered over the past 25 years. People have suffered at the hands of the paramilitaries and have paid an extremely high price in lives and destruction. At the end of the day for what have they paid this price?

I am extremely pleased at the way meetings have taken place between southern and northern political groups over recent months. I am pleased to have been a member of the Labour Party delegations which went to the North on a number of occasions. We had constructive meetings with all the political parties in Northern Ireland and I hope this process will lead to a better understanding. There is now an onus on all political parties to foster relationships in every way possible with our friends North and South of the Border.

I hope the dialogue between the British Government and Sinn Féin will gain momentum. They are two of the major players in finding a final solution. The issues of decommissioning and punishment beatings must be addressed by all sides. I have no doubt that both parties will play their part in seeing that the talks continue and that progress is made at a steady pace. To engage in talks is important to the development of true understanding between the two traditions on this island. I believe all political parties now see and will grasp this opportunity to inform all the people at first hand of the efforts being made to achieve a just and lasting peace and reconciliation on the island.

At present we are at an impasse because of the position of the British Government on the decommissioning of arms and the position of Sinn Féin on the release of prisoners. What can be done to achieve movement on these issues? What can any of the politicians from opposite sides of the fence do to move from their strongly held positions? The former President of America, Mr. Jimmy Carter, said that the single major problem is the first step of [1780] getting parties to recognise the status and integrity of the other side. He believed the key requirement for movement towards a resolution is mutual recognition of each other's existence and rights and a mutual reassurance, involving a new relationship, between former enemies.

Are people willing to sit down with the criminals and terrorists they denounced for the past 25 years? In effect, we are asking a political tradition, which has experienced a state of siege for many years, to suddenly turn around and accept the legitimacy of their former enemy. We have only to look to the remarkable example of South Africa where Mr. Nelson Mandela and Mr. F.W. de Klerk struck up a whole new political relationship. Why can this not be done in Northern Ireland? I believe it can be done if the will and courage are there. I feel the war in Northern Ireland is over and that Unionists must sit down with Nationalists and negotiate an agreement which will work.

In Northern Ireland at present each party views the other as the enemy and it is hard to move the peace process forward without the parties connecting with each other and understanding from where the others are coming. This is an area in which we can help if we continue to have dialogue and build up trust with the parties in Northern Ireland. We can help them to resolve their problems. It may be slow and take a long time but I feel we are capable of this and that it is well within our reach.

Mr. Dardis: The first and most important thing to say about this subject is thank God we have reached this point in the history of these two islands. Maybe it is sufficient to simply say we have reached this point and are grateful for it. Too often during our regular statements in this House on Northern Ireland we have been marking tragedies and atrocities. We have marked great events like the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document but, as often as not, we have marked [1781] tragedies like Loughinisland, Greysteel, the Shankhill and others which I cannot think of now. They became regular occurrences. It is important that we continue to remember the people who suffered, were slaughtered and died.

We have shown a tolerance and moderation in the language we use in the Seanad. This sends out a good and positive message of hope. It is important that we continue to debate Northern Ireland at regular intervals because it would be easy in the context of the peace process to sit back and relax and not try to drive matters forward.

I endorse the sentiments expressed at the start of the debate by the Leader and others about the importance of the quiet work of peace and building reconciliation. It is appropriate we should mark the contribution of our Government and the British and US Governments but there are many quiet heroes who are not publicised and whom we do not know. They have brought us to this point as much as the work of Governments. Each of us, as ordinary citizens, has a role to play through social, business, sporting and religious contacts with both parts of the island, to foster peace and reconciliation and this can be done effectively.

An instance, of which Senator Wilson will be familiar, is when the rotary club of Enniskillen visited Newbridge before Christmas. They visited the Dáil the evening before Deputy Albert Reynolds resigned from the position of Taoiseach. They chose a historic moment to visit us. This is an important part of the work which must be done on the ground.

According to press reports this morning, the Leader of the Alliance Party, Dr. Alderdice, has expressed worries about what he has termed a blockage in the peace process. He has been one of the moderate and tolerant voices which stood alone at times over the past 25 years and we must listen to what he has to say.

However, I think it is not unreasonable for people to just breathe the oxygen of peace and to be given time to enjoy it. There must not be too much [1782] impatience about trying to solve overnight things which have taken many years to get to the stage of even being talked about, let alone solved. We must remember it has taken 25 years to reach this point and it is only nine months since we had bombs and bullets. We have made great progress and for that we are grateful. While I understand that impatience and the worry that a consequence could be a slide back to violence, I think it is reasonable to say that people should be given space and allowed enjoy being able to go about their business and make social contacts in the knowledge that they are safe.

We must also accept, as the Tánaiste accepted in his speech — it is a speech I would commend — that there are aspects of the principles of unionism and nationalism which are irreconcilable. This does not mean that compromise and political settlement are impossible and that the process cannot best be advanced by talks between moderate unionism and moderate nationalism. I was pleased that the Progressive Democrat conference in Galway was attended by Senator Wilson, Mrs. Bríd Rogers, Mr. Ken Maginnis, Dr. John Alderdice and Lord Home. It was crucial for our members to hear what those people had to say because their message is important and as many people as possible should listen to what they say.

The question of arms is central to future progress. There are people in the North, as there are in the Republic, who believe concessions have been won by the implicit threat of violence which exists as long as arms are present. I welcome the intervention of President Clinton who asked the paramilitaries to put away their arms. I wish to avoid the circular argument mentioned earlier by the Tánaiste but it is imperative that arms be decommissioned.

I object to the inordinate attention given to Sinn Féin by RTE and the media, when one considers the SDLP enjoys much more support from the electorate and the Alliance Party enjoys an equivalent level. Those of us who attend the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation [1783] wonder why there is such a rush by the media to interview Sinn Féin representatives when they emerge from meetings while others with a more moderate and balanced message are left to one side. Sinn Féin is critical to the process but it is not the only important element in reaching a solution.

The arms are in the background of all the coverage; the disproportionate attention afforded to Sinn Féin may be due to the knowledge that it can fall back on supporting the campaign of violence if events do not go as it wishes. As Deputy O'Malley said at our conference, Sinn Féin will become a normal party with the same rights as other parties when it furnishes evidence that it has no intention of returning to violence as a purported political weapon. In that context punishment heatings by the paramilitaries must be addressed and must come to an end.

I appeal to Unionists to come the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. They have nothing to fear; it is not a pan-Nationalist forum and there is no intention on the part of any of the participants that it should become one. We want to hear, listen and know. We have had major contributions from the Presbyterian Church, we will receive one from the Methodist Church and we have had contributions from individuals from a Unionist perspective. They have put their case well and clearly but we need to hear the parties of the Unionist tradition at the forum and it would be a great step forward if they would come to tell us what they believe. In that context, it is regrettable the Catholic Church has not put its point of view to the forum when the other Christian churches have.

As we come into the marching season there is a need for moderation. Provocative displays do not help and people who have peace at heart should be conscious of that.

There are eight principles for a permanent solution. There should be, first, a total commitment to exclusively peaceful policies and politics by all [1784] sides; second, a recognition that Northern Ireland is in a real sense both Irish and British and not a homogenous society; third, acceptance that the current status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom cannot change without the freely given consent of a majority of the people there, as enunciated in the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document; fourth, genuine equality of esteem and of rights for the two parts of the community and the two traditions of nationalism and unionism within Northern Ireland; fifth, a written constitution underpinning such equality of rights and aspirations in Northern Ireland and affording a means to vindicate them; sixth, a devolved power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland; seventh, as part of the overall package, changes in Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution to recognise that the aspiration to Irish unity will only be achieved on the freely given consent of a majority of people of Northern Ireland; and eighth, new North-South institutional links to underpin the Irish aspiration and allegiance of Northern Nationalists and optimise practical economic and social co-operation between the two parts of the island. There should also be inclusive talks with all parties involved to chart the way forward.

Mr. Doyle: Senator Wilson's contribution reminded me of the most depressing memory of the violence, watching on television the funerals of those who died. That has now stopped and I share the “feel good factor” he mentioned. I also join in Senator Manning's tribute to Mr. Peter Temple-Morris, the Co-Chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. I have been a member of that body for the last three years and I will confine my remarks to its work, especially in relation to the International Fund for Ireland.

The economic and social committee of the body, of which I am a member, recently held its first substantive meeting on this subject with the intention of providing a preliminary overview of the [1785] operations of the IFI, as well as an opportunity to visit a selection of projects and meet those involved. As Members know the IFI is an international organisation established by the Irish and British Governments in 1986. Its objectives, as set out in article 2 of the founding agreement, are to promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between Nationalists and Unionists throughout Ireland.

The agreement requires that the fund spend about three-quarters of its resources in Northern Ireland and about one-quarter in the South. The fund is financed by international contributions from the United States, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand and, most recently, Australia. These contributions represent a major international recognition of the joint efforts of the Irish and British Governments to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

To date the United States has committed a cumulative figure of approximately $229 million to the fund. As part of the recently announced US package of assistance to the peace process, President Clinton has proposed to increase the contribution in 1996 and 1997 from the current $20 million per year to $30 million. The US Congress is following a policy of retrenchment of foreign aid but in view of the peace initiatives I hope it will concur with the President and give approval.

The EU has contributed 90 million ECUs to the fund between 1989 and 1994. In the aftermath of the Joint Declaration and subsequent ceasefire, the Commission brought forward a draft regulation which provides a legal base for the EU contribution and proposes that it be extended for a further three years, from 1995 to 1997.

The fund's most recent report, published in September 1994, showed it had approved assistance for some 300 projects during the period in question, the year October 1993 to September 1994. This brings to 3,000 the total number of projects assisted by the fund. The input [1786] has stimulated investment of about £800 million, of which the fund's contribution was approximately £230 million.

The projects offered support during the past year are expected to help in excess of 1,700 direct full-time jobs plus substantial part-time jobs. Cumulatively the fund has assisted in the creation of some 25,000 full-time jobs since its establishment in 1986. While the fund's geographical remit covers the six counties of Northern Ireland and the six border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo, it gives top priority to areas of particular disadvantage and on average has committed more than 70 per cent of its resources in these areas.

Special stress is laid on cross-community projects and cross-Border co-operation, including projects of an all-Ireland nature. Reconciliation and improvement of community relations are central to the fund's work and are promoted through all its activities. For example, under its disadvantaged areas initiative, the rural programme of the fund assists cross-community groups in developing regeneration projects for their areas. Under the business enterprise programme, those groups are helped develop enterprise centres to act as a focus for the promotion of local enterprise.

The International Fund for Ireland has supported three major flagship projects which will provide great benefits to the areas in which they are located and which are of immense symbolic importance. One of these is the £30 million restoration of the Shannon Erne waterway. This project has received £6.1 million from the fund to date and is the largest single project approved by the fund. The second flagship project is the development of the Navan Fort interpretative centre in County Armagh, which has been successful in attracting visitors to this historic area. It is encouraging to note that since the ceasefires a significant number of visitors to Navan Fort are from the South. The third flagship project is the regeneration of Strabane and Lifford.

[1787] The Shannon-Erne waterway was constructed in the middle of the last century and was then called the Ballymore-Ballyconnell Canal. It linked the two largest waterways, the River Erne and the River Shannon. It was designed to serve as a way in and out of Counties Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh. Its construction began in the years preceding the Famine and was a great source of employment in the area. The canal became uneconomic when it was unable to compete with the rail transport which opened up the region shortly after its construction. By the middle of this century it had fallen into disrepair, its lock gates were broken and its banks had collapsed and were overgrown. Instead of opening up the area, it formed a physical barrier which divided farms and communities.

Five years ago the International Fund for Ireland became involved in the restoration of the waterway. Old skills and new talents were employed to repair 30 miles of the waterway and 16 locks. The charm of the 19th century is retained, while 20th century engineering standards and technology are cunningly concealed.

The work of the International Fund for Ireland in Derry cannot be underestimated. At one time there was virtually no private investment in the city. Its four hotels had ceased to enjoy good custom and any investment was the work of local community groups which had little access to resources. Today the city is a new showpiece of urban and community development. The objective of any construction is the creation of pride and self-worth among the community and individuals. The fund is involved in the development of community owned shopping centres and the establishment of a strong tourism infrastructure for the city, which was once a proud regional capital. The status of a major tourist destination will be added to the city's reputation for regional trade.

The value of property in Derry increased significantly following the [1788] recent ceasefires in Northern Ireland. For a long time the fund has supported local groups in their endeavours which meant that when the ceasefires were announced a lot of the infrastructural work had already been carried out. Credit for this work must go to Mr. Paddy Doherty, chief executive of Inner City Trust, and Mr. Glen Barr, manager of the Maydown Ebrington Centre.

In the disadvantaged housing estates which accommodate many, if not all the city's unemployed, new commercial centres have been opened or developed with the support of the fund. These centres are community owned and have an attractive prestige anchor tenant because they are community focal points. The state and local authorities have also located public facilities, such as libraries, there.

Almost every project undertaken in the city includes a number of people who, in one way or another, have been affected by the troubles. This is a creative venture which not only restores their sense of worth, but stimulates their productive skills and ensures that they can identify with the newly emerging Derry which is now a place of hope. The International Fund for Ireland has played a major part in achieving this.

On the southern side, the main initiative is to use the fund for those towns and villages closest to the Border which have been affected by the troubles. I had the privilege of visiting Newtowncunningham, County Donegal, where the local shirt factory, which had closed, has now reopened and is employing 30 people as a result of support it received from the fund. I also had the privilege of seeing the regeneration project in Lifford, County Donegal, which transformed the old courthouse into an interpretative centre. This will be a great tourist attraction. These are only a few of the beneficiaries of the International Fund for Ireland.

I ask for a little latitude to speak about another aspect of the fund which has a Dublin dimension because it is one of the most remarkable programmes in which the fund is involved. [1789] The training and reconciliation programme in west Belfast, Tallaght and Dublin, called Springboard, has brought together 337 young people since November 1991 and hopes to bring together a further 540 young people from the three different communities and to offer them vocational training, which is deemed to be the best anywhere. Springboard began as an experiment in an attempt to find a vehicle which would enable young people on both sides of the so-called peace line, which divides west Belfast Catholic and Protestant communities, to come together. The peace line was a psychological and physical barrier separating near neighbours. West Belfast has suffered significantly from the violence of the past 25 years. This scheme trained people from west Belfast and Tallaght in America and Europe.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock): I have given the Senator a lot of latitude.

Mr. Doyle: I mentioned it because I thought the House would be interested.

Ms Ormonde: I welcome this opportunity to speak about the situation in Northern Ireland. We must acknowledge that a dramatic transformation has taken place since the ceasefire. This underlines the urgency of pressing ahead to find a long term lasting solution to the Northern Ireland question. This House has on many occasions expressed its views on the unfolding developments in the North. There was a great sigh of relief throughout the country and internationally when the ceasefire was announced after 25 years of death and destruction and 100 years of conflict and disunity. We are now taking the slow painstaking steps to peace and a lasting solution.

I welcome the support we have received from the international community for the peace process. I compliment the Irish in America, particularly President Clinton for his unswerving support throughout this campaign. The recent conference in Washington not [1790] only indicated political support from the United States, but it also demonstrated a keen willingness on the part of powerful American industrial and economic interests to backup the peace effort by investing in Ireland. I pay special tribute to these people who have expressed their interest in the search for peace. I also pay tribute to the Irish American political leaders who have kept this burning issue to the forefront of American public opinion. I compliment the American Ambassador, Mrs. Jean Kennedy-Smith, for her contribution to the peace process, particularly as regards east-west relations.

As a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I had the honour of being present when the United States delegation addressed the forum in Dublin Castle. It is encouraging and rewarding to know that we have such powerful backing from the United States. I also want to put on record the volume of work done under the chairmanship of Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness. For the past nine months a range of submissions have been made by a variety of organisations and interest groups, political leaders, Church leaders, community workers, etc. The central message was peace. Each committed themselves to working for the betterment of the community, North and South, and resolved to play their part in making the island of Ireland a better place to live.

I am concerned about the British Government's vacillation in its acceptance of the ceasefire and its adoption of a more lasting trust between Sinn Féin, the SDLP and those taking part in the ongoing discussions. Pressure should be put on these people to take the lead during the ceasefire. I cannot let this occasion pass without again referring to the strength of Gerry Adams, John Hume and the Government under former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, in their initial painstaking effort to bring about the peace.

We expect that the British Government will try to adopt a more trusting approach than heretofore and use its [1791] influence to persuade the Unionists to join the process as part of the final component towards a lasting solution. We can go around in circles with talks, but if we cannot bring the Unionists on board we will not reach such a solution. I call on the British Government and all our leaders to do whatever possible, North and South, to persuade the Unionists, be it at leadership or middle rank, to come to the table and, if nothing else, to listen to us. It is the only way forward and the forum is the golden platform for that to take place.

The British Government should also review the issue of Irish prisoners in custody in the UK, especially in view of the fact that we have been willing to release some of our prisoners. A similar gesture by the British Government would be another movement on the road towards peace and reconciliation. In addition, the decommissioning of weapons is another issue of concern and is a precondition to discussions. While it must be on the table, the issue should not be as absolute as when the ceasefire commenced.

The British and Irish Governments must also follow up on the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document with a clearly focused political and constitutional timetable to advance the issues with regard to constitutional change and relationships between the two countries. It is important that we move forward and focus our attention on how best we can bring about constitutional change in order to achieve a long term settlement.

The debate in the House today should indicate a unified approach to this issue. The improvement which has occurred in the past six months augers well for the future and for political co-operation between the two countries. This was reflected in the visit last week by Prince Charles. It was another indication of the process of normalising relationships and an acknowledgement that there is a mood for this process which we should always bear in mind.

Parity of esteem is taking place and many submissions have been made to [1792] the forum as to how best cross-Border co-operation can be achieved with regard to tourism, trade and other areas. It is only when we start building up these links between the two countries that we will create more employment and better prospects. We will also create a better relationship, which we have not had for the past 500 years. This is a golden opportunity for all of us to work together as a united front, to hold the peace and to do everything we can to bring the Unionists on board.

Mr. Cotter: I join with the Leader of the House and other speakers who have heaped praise on all those involved in initiating the whole process and who have continued to try to develop contacts and processes which were designed to bring about a lasting solution. It is interesting to hear the views expressed in this House and the other House on this matter. People have an incisive understanding of the difficulties in the North. There is a greater understanding and greater sensitivity on this side of the Border towards the problems that exist, and their complexity is well understood. In this respect, debates in the House will not do any harm because people now approach the problem from a position of knowledge and they are showing a remarkable sensitivity towards the issue.

We probably have a great expectancy, which is perhaps pitched too high. We expect much political movement, and we expect it to happen very quickly. However, it is expecting too much to ask people to change their clothes entirely, move into a new situation and perhaps leave themselves open to losing their support. People are naturally afraid of moving out of the positions they have traditionally held. It will be a long time before this fear is worn down and before people get the confidence and the feeling that no matter how far away they move from their traditional positions, they will take their people along with them. Indeed, it will probably happen that as time goes by, people will propel politicians rather than the reverse.

[1793] Acting Chairman: I have three speakers offering. Senator, and we must conclude by 1 o'clock. Could we reach an agreement on the dividing of the time remaining?

Mr. Cotter: I would be happy to do so. Could we sit for an additional five minutes?

Acting Chairman: I am advised that by reason of the time having been agreed it is not possible to do so.

Mr. Cotter: If you divide up the time and tell me when to conclude I will do so.

Acting Chairman: Senator Mulcahy, do you agree?

Mr. Mulcahy: Yes.

Acting Chairman: I call on Senator Cotter to continue.

Mr. Cotter: I attended the Washington Conference along with a number of other representatives from the Oireachtas. I was a bit cynical on my way to the conference in that I was expecting a kind of political send up with little substance. However, I was most surprised and returned happy in the knowledge that it was an historic and substantial event. This little country got an incredible amount of advertising across the USA as a result of the conference and of the very strong input from the political side in America. The President, the Vice President and all of the “heavies” from his team attended the conference. As a result it received incredible coverage on television and that alone was a great reward for us. In addition, many business contacts were made and many business people were present, working very hard to make contact. It is important that these contacts be followed up and that some job creation derives from them.

The underpinning of the peace process, whereby people see that peace is [1794] good and brings about prosperity, must be visible on the ground. In this regard, is it appropriate that the kind of national policies we have established with regard to the sectoral areas should form the basis for investment in the Border counties? We do not have control over the North, but we do have control over the Border counties. Is it appropriate that such policies should be the guiding influence on the way investment is made in the Border counties? They are not. We have special funding for the Border counties, and Northern Ireland development, because this region lagged behind development in the rest of the Ireland. Given this, the two Governments, and especially our Government, should find a way of allowing local conditions in the Border counties to dictate the way the grant aid is applied.

Take the tourism industry, for example. Who would go on holidays to Beirut? Nobody. That is why there was such a small return from tourism in the Border counties and, indeed, in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years. Nobody wanted to go there. It was a dangerous place. We are being forced to follow a national policy with regard to the application of funds in the Border counties and that is quite inappropriate. Tourism and development would be much better served and development if the policies were tailored to suit the needs of the area. I impress that on the Minister and I hope the Government will listen too. If a body was set up to handle the funds in the Border counties and given a free hand more or less to set their own guidelines, we would achieve what I am looking for without any difficulty.

Acting Chairman: Senator, I propose to give five minutes each to Senators Mulcahy and Belton, so I ask you to conclude.

Mr. Cotter: I was happy to get an opportunity to speak. Those of us who live on the Border appreciate the opportunity to speak at times like this.

[1795] Mr. Mulcahy: I am happy to be in a position to make a small contribution to the debate today. We had statements on the Framework Document in the House when it was published. The document was well received, not just here but in the other House too. It was generally well received by the vast majority of the people of Ireland, North and South. The question now arising is what progress, if any, is being made to implement the findings and proposals of the joint Framework Document. The two most significant events in the meantime were the Washington Conference and the visit of His Royal Highness, Prince Charles. I will begin with the latter.

It is easy to write off the visit of His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, as simply a personal or a token one. We must remember that he holds a meaningful constitutional position in the UK system. He is the son of the monarch, who is at the apex of the pyramid that is the UK structure. The United Kingdom, of course, does not have a written constitution; it is a constitutional monarchy. We should note the Prince's visit. I am delighted it went off well. In particular, he was received not so much in a formal but in a friendly way. Frankly, the Prince and the British people may well have learned more about Ireland than we learned about Britain as a result of his visit. The British people will have learned there is a feeling of peace, “forgive and forget” and moving on to the next business. If that is the outcome of the visit and if there can be an increased normalisation of relations, it will help move the peace process along.

With the Washington Conference, I am reminded of the fact — and I hope my colleagues will not laugh in any way — that Deputy Albert Reynolds, as one of the principal architects of the current peace movement, was always about business. His vision was that business and commercial activity would be an impetus toward closer co-operation, North and South. The Washington Conference was a good idea and it was obviously a successful conference. It put business and commercial activity, the [1796] way we all make a living and manage to sustain ourselves, at the top of the agenda. Of course, that is at the top of the agenda under normal circumstances.

I read with interest the position paper which the leader of my party, Deputy Bertie Ahern, submitted to the conference. It contained three important proposals. First, the IDA and the IDB in Northern Ireland should jointly market Ireland as a location for industrial projects and agree on specific targets for unemployment black-spots. Second, priority development should be given to the Belfast-Dublin economic corridor; and, third, development agencies and business organisations should develop greater linkages between firms, North and South.

It cannot be said often enough that the problem will not be solved by any grand, sweeping gesture, final solution or great document signed in ink, blood or whatever. The solution will emerge through ordinary people co-operating in business ways. If I can be a little critical of the Government, the wind appears to be leaving its sails. I ask the Government to redouble its efforts and try to get the economic integration and co-operation to the level the architect of the process, Deputy Reynolds, would wish.

Mr. Belton: I welcome the opportunity to add my voice to the peace process that has continued since last autumn. I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the rest of the Government for their efforts over the past number of months. It has been a difficult time for the Government in the sense of holding the balance of the peace process and moving it forward without upsetting the balance of ideas or fears people have. The latter is a major factor; it is always foremost in people's minds. The Government and, indeed, the British Government are always conscious of this point. While it is easy to criticise and say it is not moving forward fast enough in certain ways. all reasonable people understand how important it is [1797] to hold that balance and move forward in a progressive way.

The Washington Conference and the benefits that will flow from it are a welcome step along the way. There is no doubt that the Irish people, in the North especially, have been known for their business and industrial initiatives. Given the right atmosphere and opportunity, I have no doubt that will continue and add an overall dimension to the island. It will improve the lot of people, North and South.

On the tourism front, the visit of His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, can only give the right signals to people, not alone in the UK but in the rest of the world too. A vast number of holidaymakers had reservations about visiting the island and the Prince's visit erased those fears. I compliment the Government, the security forces and everybody else who were involved in showing that normal circumstances prevail on the island.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.