Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Northern Ireland Issues.

11:00 am

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the margins of the EU spring summit. [12216/06]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister in Brussels on 24 March 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12659/06]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the status of his proposals to establish a committee of the whole Houses of the Oireachtas to facilitate the involvement of public representatives from Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12891/06]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12893/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting on 30 March 2006 with a number of political parties from Northern Ireland. [13057/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach when he expects to next meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13058/06]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the margins of the Brussels European Council meeting; the other meetings he has held on the peace process since 24 March 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13425/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [14267/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14269/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [14270/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the US Administration. [14271/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the privatisation of the Sellafield nuclear processing plant with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. [14278/06]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the President of the United States, Mr. George W. Bush. [14281/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in Armagh on 6 April 2006. [14445/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 15: To ask the Taoiseach the proposals agreed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, at their meeting in Armagh on 6 April 2006 regarding future political structures in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14446/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 16: To ask the Taoiseach the status of his proposals to establish a committee of the Oireachtas to facilitate the access of public representatives; if he has discussed this matter with political parties in Northern Ireland; the response he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14867/06]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 17: To ask the Taoiseach the response he has received from political parties in Northern Ireland to the proposals announced jointly with the British Prime Minister in Armagh on 6 April 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14868/06]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 18: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the margins of the EU March 2006 summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15131/06]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 19: To ask the Taoiseach his views on his April 2006 meeting in Armagh with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and the initiative taken there on the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15135/06]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 20: To ask the Taoiseach if he will proceed with his proposal for a committee of the House to facilitate the participation of elected representatives from the Six Counties in the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15167/06]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 20, inclusive, together.

I met Prime Minister Blair on the margins of the EU summit in Brussels on 24 March. At that meeting, we discussed our plans for the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive, which we announced on 6 April. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and I met the leaders of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party on 30 March. These meetings were part of a wider range of contacts by the two Governments in advance of our joint statement in Armagh.

When we met in Armagh on 6 April, Prime Minister Blair and I announced our intention to recall the Assembly on 15 May. The primary responsibility of the Assembly will be to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and to allocate ministerial posts under the d'Hondt formula and to make other preparations for government in Northern Ireland. If, despite best efforts, the Assembly is not able to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister on a cross-community basis within the normal six week period, we have said that we are prepared to allow a further period of 12 weeks after the summer recess in which to form an Executive.

The restored Assembly will, however, be required to form an Executive by 24 November. If an Executive cannot be successfully formed by that date, there will be no choice but to cancel the salaries and allowances of the MLAs and to defer restoration of the Assembly and Executive until there is a clear political willingness to exercise devolved power.

The two Governments are working for a successful outcome to our initiative. We are giving Northern Ireland's politicians space and reasonable time to reach agreement. For our part, Prime Minister Blair and I will devote ourselves in every way possible in these coming months to help them achieve this.

While we will continue to work for success, we know that we must also address what we would have to do in the event that an Executive is not formed by 24 November. We are agreed that this would have immediate implications for our joint stewardship of the process. Our joint statement stated that we are beginning detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements that will be necessary in these circumstances. We have made it very clear that we will together actively develop the agreement across its structures and functions.

The British Government last week published emergency legislation to facilitate the restoration of the Assembly and the election of an Executive. The parties must now engage if this initiative is to be successful. Their response following the announcement in Armagh has been measured and it is the hope of the two Governments that this initial reaction will provide a solid foundation for real progress after 15 May. Every party has a role to play but there is a particular onus on the DUP and Sinn Féin. They will take their seats in the Assembly for the first time as the largest parties representing their respective communities. I hope that we will at an early stage see the opening of productive dialogue between them and with the other parties.

Everyone in Northern Ireland is aware of the dangers of a political vacuum. We want to see the politicians who are elected by the people carry out their democratic mandate and make decisions for the people. The two Governments are united in our conviction that the devolved government of the Good Friday Agreement is what will best allow Northern Ireland to move on and to prosper. The opportunity to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland may not arise again for some time if it is not seized this year.

Earlier this morning, the two Governments published the tenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. This is the most positive IMC report to date and I welcome it. It is the IMC's view that the IRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path and has expended considerable effort to refocus the movement in support of its objective. The IMC says it is not aware of current terrorist, paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the IRA leadership. It says the leadership continues to seek to stop criminal activity by its members and to prevent them from engaging in it. It also states that it is not aware of any intelligence-related activity that is outside the aims of the statement of July last year. Its overall assessment on the Provisional IRA is positive.

This report from the IMC comes at a crucial time. It is an encouraging boost to the process. I hope the developments outlined in the report will help to create a constructive climate and add momentum to the initiative of restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland this year. While there is an inevitable focus on the Provisional IRA, the IMC also reports on the activities of loyalist paramilitaries and is a timely reminder of the ongoing threat posed by dissident republican groups.

My discussions with President Bush on St. Patrick's Day focused on Northern Ireland, immigration reform and a range of relevant international issues. I have no plans to meet the President. I expect to meet the US Special Envoy, Mitchell Reiss, in the coming weeks. I very much welcome the firm support of the President and his Administration for our ongoing efforts.

I have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the privatisation of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant with Prime Minister Blair. I next expect to meet the Prime Minister during the EU Latin America Caribbean summit in Vienna on 11 and 12 May.

In light of the various views I have received, I hope to be in touch in the coming period with party leaders in the House with revised proposals in regard to participation, on a cross-community basis, by Northern MPs in an Oireachtas committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and North-South relations.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I was going to ask the Taoiseach about the IMC report but he dealt with it in his reply. I welcome what he said and presume his interpretation of it is that the contents of this latest IMC is helpful to the process. What precisely do the two Government have in mind when they talk about joint stewardship in the event of discussions not being successful between now and November? What exactly is involved? Will it be a reversion to the Anglo-Irish Agreement with cross-Border bodies added on? If that is the case, is it not a considerable step back from the Good Friday Agreement?

Has the Government received a report yet from the Garda on the murder of Denis Donaldson? Has a file been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of that killing?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The short answer to the first question on the IMC report is that this was always going to be an important report because while the last one was positive, there were a few areas which created concern. I highlighted those at the time and there was much focus on them. This report covers the period from the end of last year up to the first quarter and it has been a positive one across all the sectors. I do not want to go into any of the negative aspects of it, which do not relate to the Provisional IRA, but we must continue to focus on some of the loyalist paramilitary activity which is not too positive and on what has been said about dissident republicans, particularly the Continuity IRA. Some strong issues have been raised regarding that organisation and we are required to bear them in mind. On the central issue in the process, the Deputy stated correctly that the report is positive in light of what we are trying to do to get the institutions to work.

The Deputy asked me to outline plan B. On the day of the press conference, we outlined what we wanted to do for the next eight months. We obviously want to devote all our energy and effort to making plan A work. However, we must also be honest in that one cannot just leave a vacuum. While the focus of the two Governments is on making the Assembly and Executive work, any alternatives would clearly be second best. I consider this to be the case and have made this very clear for the people of Northern Ireland. No matter how good the alternative in terms of co-operation between the two Governments may be, one would be doing it in the absence of the political process in Northern Ireland. That would not be a good or healthy position. There is no doubt that a partnership arrangement dealing with all the issues could well be achieved but it is certainly not what I want to put in place.

In the event of a failure to form a power-sharing Executive on 24 November, we will have to examine the immediate implications of what we have called our "joint stewardship" of the process. We have obligations to people on both parts of the island under the Good Friday Agreement. In the absence of a power-sharing executive, we would have no choice but to bring forward alternative arrangements to ensure the implementation of all aspects of the Agreement other than those related to the institutions. We would have to do this to the maximum extent possible. The simple answer to the Deputy's question is that all the aspects of the Good Friday Agreement not concerning the Executive or Assembly would have to be dealt with in another way. We will do the detailed work on this. Plan B is very much a second-best option. The Good Friday Agreement envisages an inclusive cross-community process and this is what I want to achieve.

No information on the Denis Donaldson murder has been brought to my attention. There is a very active Garda investigation into the issue and obviously the Garda and PSNI will collaborate closely and share information on the case. Nothing of any substance has been reported to me since the murder.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

To follow on Deputy Rabbitte's question, I welcome the report of the IMC, which points to further progress regarding the IRA fulfilling its commitments. I urge the DUP, in particular, to use the opportunity presented by the forthcoming recall of the Assembly to engage further in dialogue that might bring about further trust before the recall of the Executive later in the year. Does the Taoiseach have a view on the IMC's opinion that the proceeds of IRA crime might be used as what it calls a "strategic asset" in the Twenty-six Counties? Is this not a clear indication that every resource and facility should be made available to the Garda, the PSNI and the CAB so they can follow the money trail to ensure assets acquired through criminality by the IRA are not channelled into strategic asset use, as the IMC report indicates? In this context, has the Taoiseach examined the rates of duty that apply to diesel and petrol on either side of the Border? There is obviously a racket going on all the time in this regard and it needs to be monitored and stamped out.

Arising from Deputy Rabbitte's question on the murder of Denis Donaldson, has the Taoiseach any information on the possible outing of further persons alleged to be involved in spying activities north or south of the Border?

Will the Taoiseach outline the changed position on representation by Northern Ireland representatives in a committee of the House? Surely this could not work if Unionist representatives were not included. Is the Taoiseach aware of their position on this?

Yesterday at the meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in Killarney, Mr. Eddie McGrady, MP, a member of the SDLP, stated, significantly, that the SDLP and other parties are being ignored in the current talks and have not been advised fully by the Taoiseach or UK Prime Minister on the proposals in hand. I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware of this statement but there were obviously occasions on which the SDLP in particular felt left out. Given that the Taoiseach must now deal with Sinn Féin and the DUP, the UUP and SDLP may sometimes feel left out of the discussions. Therefore, is it not in the interest of everybody that they should be informed fully? Perhaps the Taoiseach will take the opportunity to respond to Mr. McGrady's comment in view of his party's long association with constitutional politics and its belief that communities should be able to live together and deal with normal politics.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Deputy Kenny asked a number of questions, the first of which raises an important issue. He is correct in that the view is the Provisional IRA has built up a considerable asset base over the past 30 years and its resources are somewhere. Powers of investigation exist and it is a matter for the CAB and other bodies to engage with this issue and investigate it fully. The powers are very strong, as they are in respect of any form of criminality. It is important to deal with the issue. I do not have any information on any cross-over into politics but obviously the view is that significant assets were built up over the years and that they are somewhere. The legal authorities, the PSNI, the Garda and the CAB have to and should deal with these issues and there should be co-operation between them. We have seen such action recently in the Border region and have seen investigations in other areas to deal with these issues. Any development in the ongoing peace process will never remove the obligation on the State to continue to pursue these issues — it is very important that they be pursued.

As I said, I have no information on the Denis Donaldson issue. On the outing of spies, we were talking about the McCord case yesterday. It is a matter of how much and the extent to which spying took place. The issue of Denis Donaldson arose around Christmas and I reported to the House on what was said to me at that stage by the head of the PSNI. I have my own view on the matter but, as with many matters, when dealing with spies and espionage one must ask what one can ever prove. There was certainly much dealing, double-dealing and treble-dealing taking place at all levels. God knows what kind of outing could happen.

Regarding public representatives from Northern Ireland, anything we do here regarding proposals to invite members to attend a committee, which is what we are talking about, would have to be done in an even-handed way. Nothing else can be done on it. There is scope for this in dealing with European issues and issues that are important. I have talked to all the parties and am informed about that.

On the issue of people not being informed, we go to enormous lengths with everybody to keep everybody briefed, but I am afraid it is just a bit of a catch call of everybody that the officials talk to them. I have great regard and respect for Eddie McGrady and I do not know the context in which he said what he did yesterday. Before we undertook the initiative I personally briefed the leader of Eddie McGrady's party and my officials have been with him several times. I am afraid this is just an ongoing part of the process. When the relationship was UUP and SDLP, Sinn Féin and other parties said they were not in the loop, and now this has changed as numbers changed. I can honestly say for our part we do great work to keep them in the loop. Officials bend inside out trying to assist all parties. They are available to them and they go to huge lengths. They have always had an understanding of their position. We will continue to do that.

I repeat that the importance of this is that it is a very positive report. This report has been talked about. I know we could just jump over it today and say that it is now out. However, since October I have had to listen to people say: "I'm not answering you now: we will wait till the end of April report". I have heard that endlessly. Obviously I welcome the DUP's presence and comments at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in Killarney. It has nothing to fear from that body and has much to contribute to it. I welcome its focus on power sharing. However, I urge it not to delay too long. Deputy Kenny is right in what he has said on this matter. The timeframe we have set is fixed for this year. If agreement is not possible in this timeframe it might be a long while before the opportunity comes around again. That is the view of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and it is my view.

In the short term we would like to see open and direct dialogue between all the parties. I believe one way in which the DUP can seek to establish the bona fides of Sinn Féin and vice versa is through direct dialogue. This report allows that direct dialogue to start and I know the DUP wants to be satisfied before going into government with Sinn Féin. However, if it is serious about working towards that end, it should talk to Sinn Féin now. This report allows that position. I do not believe there is any reason it should not do so. I believe that opening a dialogue with Sinn Féin could make a real difference and I hope that happens.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I ask the Taoiseach to note my regret that he has withdrawn his proposal to allow Six Counties MPs to attend here in this institution and this year to participate in meetings of the Dáil, sitting as a committee of the entire House. The Taoiseach should use the opportunity to call on the leaders of the Fine Gael and Labour parties to withdraw their opposition to such a proposition, which would have ensured access for all Six Counties MPs to this new and very important opportunity. Does the Taoiseach agree that partitionism, plain and simple, is at the root of their respective opposition to the proposal? Recognising the ever-changing situation, the importance of imaginative initiatives being taken and his own previously stated commitment to the proposal he constructed and tabled, would the Taoiseach not now restore the proposal and put his plan into effect?

As a former member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, I record my welcome for the DUP's attendance at the meeting of that body on Monday in County Kerry. Having previously declined to attend any of its meetings, in Britain, the Six Counties or this State, the fact that the DUP representatives have now travelled south — they could hardly have travelled further south than to Kerry — must be interpreted as a positive signal. In this context, did the Taoiseach note Peter Robinson's statement that his party wants to form part of a power-sharing government? Does the Taoiseach agree that there can only be a power-sharing executive with DUP participation if Sinn Féin is an integral component part? That is exactly what a power-sharing administration equates with in terms of the Northern configuration as it currently presents.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the apparently more conciliatory remarks of Mr. Robinson would be very helpfully repeated in address to his own community and his party's support base, which is where it needs to be heard most clearly? Does the Taoiseach agree that the best interests of not only the DUP but also the broader Unionist community in the Six Counties can be served best when the DUP fully takes on its responsibilities of the political leadership of Unionism today and fully engages with all other parties, including Sinn Féin, in addressing the important issues that affect the lives of the people they represent and of all people living in the Six Counties area and the echoes of that throughout Ireland?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Deputy raised three different issues. On Oireachtas participation, as I said in my reply, I will be in touch with party leaders with revised proposals. Last year I agreed I would consult with everybody and we listened to what people in the North said as well as the parties in the House. We have worked on a cross-party basis on many of these issues. A joint Oireachtas report was prepared on this matter. It was not my proposal, but a proposal of an all-party committee. While I tried to implement the report, it did not find favour, which is the reality of the situation. We tried to find revised proposals.

What I have in mind is the establishment of a new joint Oireachtas committee to address the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and North-South relations. These are clearly matters of the utmost national importance and would benefit from the attention a dedicated joint committee could afford them. In addition to its membership, in accordance with normal practice it would be open to all Members of the Dáil and Seanad to attend and contribute to the proceedings of the joint committee as is the case with all committees. Existing committee procedures regarding the conduct of business would apply and the normal committee facilities and resources would be made available. As I said in response to Deputy Kenny, Northern Ireland MPs would be invited on a cross-community basis to attend and contribute to the proceedings of the joint committee following the precedent that applies in the case of Northern Ireland MEPs at the Oireachtas Joint Committees on European Affairs and Foreign Affairs. I am sure their expertise and experience would make an important contribution to the work of a new joint committee. Of course we will continue to progress the establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum and the North-South consultative forum, which also form part of the Good Friday Agreement. I will discuss these proposals with the Whips and the party leaders shortly.

I have already answered the question and will restate the position. Based on the progress that has been made in the past nine or ten months I believe there should be dialogue between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which would make a real difference. The better those two parties get on with each other based on the strength of their mandates in the last election, the better it would be to work an inclusive agreement.

In reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, my idea of an inclusive agreement is, obviously, an agreement with which the DUP and Sinn Féin are involved. If they are not part of the process, it will not be in line with the basis of the Good Friday Agreement as it was envisaged. As I have said, the d'Hondt system is the only system that can resolve that particular difficulty. The important thing is for us to capitalise on the positive developments of recent months. As I have said on many occasions, there is no reason the parties cannot make progress long before the final date of 24 November. I would be the happiest person in the world if the DUP, Sinn Féin and all the other parties were to follow the normal arrangement by trying to work and get on together in the first six weeks. I urge all the parties to be as responsible as they can and to work together as best they can.

We do not want to have to deal with a very unsatisfactory position after 24 November. That date is not being used to threaten anyone. The reality is that the position cannot go on as it is at present. Politicians in Northern Ireland understand that as well as I do. The greatest difficulty I had in the United States — all the parties know that because they were there — was to try to make people understand how people who had been elected to an assembly and an organisation for over four years had not met during that time, despite all the progress that had been made. I was really stretched to try to explain that in the US Senate and on Capitol Hill. People throughout the world have political differences, but it is hard to explain to politicians in the United States or the United Kingdom who take an interest why people will not sit down to try to work to an agreement that was voted on by the people.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is no more acceptable here.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

No. Everybody has to play a part. The more Deputy Ó Caoláin's party cosies up to the DUP and the DUP cosies up to his party, the easier my life will be.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

They can snuggle up.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I do not want to be the meat in this sandwich. I have been doing that for a long time. The more Sinn Féin and the DUP can smile at each other in the Assembly and talk to each other nicely, the easier my life will be. I will not be in the Assembly, but I wish the parties well on 15 May.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I wish to return to the Taoiseach's earlier comment that the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, is well aware of his views on the privatisation of Sellafield. I know from what he has said that he has not made a formal written submission on the British Government's nuclear plans in general, but I suggest that he should do so. He spoke a moment ago about the parties in Northern Ireland cosying up to each other, but a fair bit of cosying up is taking place in those debates and discussions. If the Government were to make a written submission, it would be on the record. It could be referred to as a matter of record that this country has made a submission in respect of the UK's nuclear expansion plans.

I thank Mr. Hickey and the other officials in the Department of the Taoiseach for meeting us to update us on the peace process, but it was a little too late, unfortunately. The meeting did not represent the type of engagement with Opposition parties that is needed. Future briefings on the peace process should be given to Opposition parties at an earlier stage of the proceedings to facilitate an exchange of views. They should not merely involve passing on a message, which is what happened in this instance, in effect.

The Governments have set a target date of 24 November and given some aspirational indications of what might happen under the default mechanism. Will they make absolutely clear the divisions of power that are envisaged in that scenario? There is a danger that the British Government will do to the parties in Northern Ireland what the Government does, in effect, to the Opposition parties in this House. The Government sets out its policy and expects the Green Party and other parties to go along with it. Will the structures under which a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister are in place be retained? Can the Taoiseach give the House some reassurances in that regard? The imposition of any other structures would represent a victory for anti-agreement Unionists and republicans. We need to guard against that. Have the details of the default mechanism, apart from the aspirations we have heard about in the media, been worked out?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

As I said, I have not had an opportunity to discuss the privatisation of Sellafield with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair. The issue has been raised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at official level, however. Issues of this nature are regularly raised at meetings attended by officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and their counterparts in the UK. I will check whether the officials in question have made some submissions in this regard.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Government has consistently held the UK Government accountable and responsible for the continued operation of the Sellafield complex. It has submitted some very detailed papers, admittedly in the context of the cases taken under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The UK Government is well aware of the Irish position. I have had endless discussions with the British Prime Minister over the years on Sellafield and related issues, following from what happened under successive Governments over many years. The announcement by Mr. Alan Johnson MP, the UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, of the proposed sale of the British Nuclear Group to the private sector does not change our position. It has been stated that the decision to privatise the group was taken to facilitate competition in the UK nuclear clean-up industry. The Government has emphasised to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the UK Government that competition should not compromise safety and environmental standards. We have dealt with that position.

I appreciate what Deputy Sargent said about consultation. The two Governments are trying as hard as we can to get the parties to buy into the proposals in a positive manner so that we can move forward together in the run-up to 6 May. It would be unhelpful to the process to lose either side or any of the parties. The toing and froing will continue almost to the end. If it had been finished and a clearer position had been known, we would have been able to brief the Opposition parties at an earlier stage.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The point I am making is that it needs to be better in the future.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I appreciate that. I was referring to the toing and froing that always seems to happen. We have no difficulty with giving briefings on any aspect of the process and we are always available to do so. Our officials are always glad to discuss the various matters because they appreciate the support they get from Members on all sides of the House as they engage in their detailed work.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the involvement of the DUP in Killarney this week. It was good to see the representatives of that party in a more realistic and conciliatory mood. Does the Taoiseach accept that criminality and the lack of support for policing are two of the biggest issues which have yet to be dealt with? Does he accept that the only way to address the first of those issues is to ensure that the Garda and the PSNI have a clearer involvement in dealing with criminality? Will he seriously examine the number of gardaí who are needed to deal with criminality in the Border counties? The Taoiseach should read the transcript of the sincere comments made by Mr. Eddie McGrady, MP, at yesterday's meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. It is important that the centre groups which did so much for the peace process should not feel left out. I welcome the spirit that existed between the various groups in Killarney. That spirit represents the basis for a move forward in the new context.

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I, too, express my good feeling as regards what happened at Killarney where the DUP attended. The next step, I hope, will be its involvement in the whole process so we may achieve what is hoped for. Because of the Good Friday Agreement many good things have happened. One good outcome was that a North-South body looked at the feasibility of a helicopter emergency medical service. The two parts of this island are the only areas in Europe which do not have such a service — in particular, a centralised hospital transport service. I ask the Taoiseach to examine the feasibility of such an initiative. If a service such as this could be shared between North and South, it would instil confidence into our ability to work together and to have a much better country for all our people, particularly as regards health needs. The report on helicopter emergency services was published in 2004 and we are still waiting for action.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I agree with Deputy Crawford that the policing issue is very important. It is enormously important that communities support and ultimately participate in policing. That is the best way to address and ultimately to defeat criminality and so, policing is a key issue. I welcome the new announcement of the Policing Board and I wish it well in what is a challenging responsibility. It is important that progress is made in extending active support across all sections and communities for the new policing arrangements throughout Northern Ireland, so no individual community is denied its rightful access to police protection. I hope the draft British legislation on devolution of policing and justice will help move the issue forward on the republican side as well. Deputy Crawford asked about co-operation and of course that has to continue. We have seen much of that by the specialist units in recent times.

On Deputy Cowley's question about North-South aspects, there has been very good co-operation recently, particularly on the health side between officials. Secretary of State Hain has been very active in progressing co-operation on those issues. In the last six months in particular we have seen far more engagement on these issues. I have not got the details of that particular report, but the amount of co-operation, activity and engagement has been stepped up dramatically, in general, as regards health. I understand that today, or perhaps last night, a large number of Secretaries General from various Departments have been engaging with their Northern Ireland counterparts. That level of engagement is growing all the time.