Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Ceisteanna - Questions
Northern Ireland Issues
Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron MP, in London on 23 June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27879/10]
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach if he will report on the British Irish Council meeting in Guernsey on 25 June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29189/10]
Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach if he will report on recent developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30216/10]
Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach 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. [30217/10]
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30218/10]
Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach the costs that have accrued to his Department in respect of the McEntee Inquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30239/10]
Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he has had with the British Prime Minister David Cameron in relation to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew's Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32329/10]
Question 15: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach the further action he will take on foot of the Barron, McEntee and Oireachtas Justice Committee reports on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other fatal acts of collusion in this jurisdiction, as well as the Oireachtas resolution in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32330/10]
Question 16: To ask the Taoiseach Taoiseach the discussions, if any, he has had with trade unions and other non governmental organisations regarding the promised establishment of the All-Ireland Consultative Civic Forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32346/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 16, inclusive together.
I should start by saying that I totally condemn Monday night's car bomb attack in Derry. The people who have perpetrated this attack are not representative of the will of the people on this island and they will not be allowed to succeed in undermining the peace process. The ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI will remain critical in tackling this threat. I am glad to say that the current excellent level of cross-Border co-operation in policing and justice matters is unprecedented. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform met with the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, Mr. David Ford, twice in recent weeks, and the Government is also in ongoing contact with the British authorities in our joint efforts to combat this threat.
I met with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, MP, in Downing Street on 23 June. At our meeting we discussed recent developments in EU affairs and agreed on the need for continued close engagement between both Governments and administrations on this agenda. On matters relating to Northern Ireland, I expressed my appreciation to the Prime Minister for his handling of the publication of the Saville report into Bloody Sunday and thanked him for his brave apology for the events of that day. We also discussed the potential for the exchange of State visits as part of the normal courtesies between neighbouring countries and reflecting the transformation of relationships between Ireland and Britain. I expect to meet Prime Minister Cameron again at the next meeting of the European Council on 28 October.
I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Guernsey on 25 June. The meeting was hosted by the Chief Minister of Guernsey, Mr Lyndon Trott, and was attended by BIC heads of administration including Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister; Carwyn Jones, Welsh First Minister; and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, as well as Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, representing the British Government.
The main theme of the summit was marine renewables energy. We shared information on the activity currently under way in this area in the different administrations and discussed areas for future co-operation and growth in this sector among member administrations and with the European Commission. We also discussed the economic challenges facing all of the member administrations and shared our experiences on measures being taken to stabilise public finances, repair banking systems, cut costs and boost employment. At the meeting it was also agreed that a standing secretariat for the British-Irish Council would be based in Scotland and that work would begin on the arrangements to put this in place.
I also chaired a plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Farmleigh on Monday, 5 July. A Northern delegation of 12 Ministers was led by the First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. They met with 13 members of the Government. The main items for discussion were the fiscal and economic challenges which face both administrations on the island.
We discussed how both Governments can work together to help bring about an economic recovery and to bring about renewed economic growth and job creation. We gave consideration to how we can improve public services, while still making necessary savings. We discussed areas of shared interest such as banking, NAMA and the implications for Northern Ireland; growing our food industry; attracting EU funding for reconciliation and economic development; and many other areas. We also re-affirmed the Irish Government's commitment to provide part of the funding for a new radiotherapy centre in Derry which will be of huge assistance to cancer patients in Donegal. I firmly believe that the ongoing work of the North-South Ministerial Council can play an increasingly important part in our strategy for economic recovery and can realise benefits for all of the people, North and South.
I also briefed the plenary meeting on the second North-South consultative conference, which took place on 24 May last and which was addressed by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness. Deputies may recall that I addressed the first conference, also facilitated by the Government, which was held in October 2009. The event in May focused on sport and young people and the role that innovation can play in economic recovery on the island. It was well attended by a broad range of participants from these sectors and from the social partners and cross-Border groups. It is intended to hold a further such event in the coming months.
On the issue of the formal establishment of the North-South consultative forum, the Government made a formal proposal on the role, format, membership and operation of the forum to the Northern Ireland Executive in that regard in September 2008. That proposal was agreed followed consultations with the trade unions, other social partners and other non-governmental groups who work on a cross-Border basis. I am glad to say that those groups have been very active participants in the two consultative conferences held to date.
While there have been ongoing discussions since September 2008, including at the NSMC plenary, the Northern Ireland Executive has not yet been in a position to respond formally to our proposal. I am glad to note that the first ever North-South parliamentary forum conference is to take place in Newcastle, County Down, over the next two days. That conference will be attended by representatives from all parties in the Oireachtas and Stormont and will be co-chaired by the Speaker, Mr. William Hay, and the Ceann Comhairle. I understand there is a detailed work programme covering issues such as building parliamentary links with Europe and agriculture and rural development issues, and that the Tánaiste and the British Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Nick Clegg, will be guest speakers at the conference dinner. I commend the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker for taking this very valuable initiative forward and I trust it will lead in due course to the formal establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum. The next plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will take place before the end of the year in the North.
I met with Mrs. Margaret Ritchie, leader of the SDLP, in Government Buildings on 20 September. We discussed the latest political developments in the North and the economic challenges facing both jurisdictions. I also held a brief meeting with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, on 19 September. The focus of our discussion was the current economic situation in the North and the concern about the potential impact on the Northern economy of the proposed public expenditure cuts.
I sent my congratulations to Tom Elliott on his recent election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues for the mutual benefit of all those that we represent, especially at this time of great economic difficulty. I have also sent my best wishes to Sir Reg Empey as he steps down as party leader.
With regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the Clerk of the Dáil received a reply from the Clerk of the House of Commons arising from the Oireachtas resolution of 10 July 2008. As I have said previously in the House, any future follow up to this should be considered in consultation with the parties and can be raised with the Whips. The total amount spent on the MacEntee commission of investigation was €2,632,702. All costs of the commission of investigation have been
discharged. There are no current plans to reconvene the Forum on Peace and Reconciliation.
I thank the Taoiseach for that lengthy reply. Three weeks ago the director general of MI5 said there had been a persistent rise in activity and ambition among groups in Northern Ireland with the intention of disrupting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. He also said it represented a real and rising security challenge and that, as a consequence, MI5 had to reinforce its presence in Northern Ireland to deal with a situation in which he said the threat had increased from moderate to substantial.
On 23 May, the Independent Monitoring Commission said that the persons involved were highly active and dangerous, with some in a state of heightened activity, ruthless, violent and prepared to kill and committed to undermining the peace process. This became a reality last Sunday. The report also stated that the so-called Real IRA and Continuity IRA are actively recruiting young men without previous involvement in terrorist activity or experience. They are engaged in serious criminal activity, such as weapons acquisition, kidnapping and robbery, and they are being trained for that. This is a most serious situation.
I do not agree with the term "dissident republican". These people are traitors to the cause of peace and development in our country because the people, North and South, decided by secret ballot to endorse the Good Friday Agreement as the way forward for all the people of this island.
There was always a process where the Government or the Taoiseach's office advised leaders of Opposition parties of what was happening by way of security briefing. Perhaps the Taoiseach would see that would happen now. Has the Government taken any specific action following the threats of activity and the bomb that went off on Sunday night which, I understand, caused substantial damage to a hotel and some nearby buildings? But for the swift action of the PSNI, it could have been very serious.
There was a report in a Sunday newspaper that bomb-making factories are operating in the Republic and that suspected training camps and shooting ranges are operating in the west of the country. Has the Taoiseach any evidence of that? I assume he has already spoken to the Garda Commissioner and will make available to him whatever resources are necessary to allow the Garda to do its job. As I repeated yesterday, the Government will have the full support of the Fine Gael Party in whatever it must do. This is far too serious for our country to allow it go unhindered or for it not to be dealt with. The Taoiseach has my full support in that regard.
How does the Taoiseach see the North-South parliamentary body evolving? There are meetings on Thursday and Friday of this week in Newcastle, to which I intend to go. Do the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister have a timescale for its evolution? Does the Taoiseach see it as a long-term conversational engagement before anything serious comes out of it? Perhaps he will comment on that?
In respect of the North-South Ministerial Council to be held before the end of the year, in view of the comments made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paterson, about his interest in some of the taxation rates, has there been any discussion between the Department of Finance and the Chancellor of the Exchequer or his people on changes to the tax codes which would eliminate incentives for smuggling or otherwise? Perhaps the Taoiseach will comment on that?
I know what I and Deputy Kenny had to say in regard to this most recent incident and all the activities, if one could call them that, of dissidents is shared by all Members. They have no support in the community, they defy the settled will of the Irish people, North and South, as expressed in the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement, and they have no democratic mandate whatever. Whatever they seek to undertake is in the face of total opposition by the Irish people.
It is important to say that it is against that background that we speak about this issue. It is also against the background of an unprecedented level of security co-operation on these islands in regard to these matters. I very much welcome the comments made by many in the North about the need for these people to desist from what they are doing and confirming that the full rigours of the law will be applied to them in respect of ongoing investigations into these incidents.
It is important to comment and condemn in an unambiguous way and for the professional services involved to assess the security threat these people represent and for it to be dealt with it on an ongoing basis which is being done very successfully in many respects. Unfortunately, as has been said, there have been some instances where they have succeeded - that is not a word I like to use - or have been able to complete their efforts to engage in wanton acts of violence, destroy property and undermine the democratic institutions which have been agreed to by the people of this country.
We should not give them the oxygen of publicity to the extent that they get it into their heads that, in some way, they will overcome the security forces or that they will, in any way, be regarded by us as legitimate or mentioned in way which might in some perverse way encourage continuance of such activity.
The dissident threat has remained with us and the summer saw an increase in incidents with the targeting of individual PSNI officers and a spate of bomb attacks. The attempt by these small groups to disrupt the democratic process will not be allowed to succeed. The ongoing co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI will remain critical in this context.
On Friday the UK published for the first time a separate threat assessment in regard to Britain raising it from moderate to substantial. Obviously, that is a matter for it. However, what we should not lose sight of is the fact that threat level in the North remains at the higher level of severe. This reflects the fact that the focus of these groups so far has been on attacks in the North. While these groups may aspire to launch attacks elsewhere and in Britain, the more severe risk is in the North.
One way or another, we continue in our determination to take all measures open to us to counteract these activities. That needs to be said. I assure the House that the Garda Commissioner and the chief constable of the PSNI are working closely on all these matters across a range of security issues. It would not be helpful to say any more than that. Should there be any requirement for me to engage with the Deputy beyond our normal engagement in the House, that will be forthcoming but what I have said should provide sufficient reassurance to us all that people are doing all they can to deal with these issues. Clearly, the way in which they do that is a matter for the police and the security services to continue but I would say that the co-operation is full and unprecedented.
Deputy Kenny raised a number of other matters. On the establishment of the North-South parliamentary body, that is a matter between the Oireachtas and the Assembly. I welcome the approach and the work that has been undertaken by the Speaker and by the Ceann Comhairle, who have an excellent personal relationship. This is a matter that should not be dealt with by the Executives. This is a parliamentary matter. We all accept and understand that it is part of the architecture of the Agreement. We want to see it established as quickly as possible. People are acting in good faith and significant progress is being made. The meeting over the next two days in Newcastle is a significant development and we should allow that take its course on the basis that we would all like to see it established as quickly as possible.
Regarding the North-South Ministerial Council, that is a forum in which many issues are discussed both formally and informally. As the Deputy is aware, there has been a review of the work agenda of the council. I believe we need to move on to a more expansive agenda. There is a lot of potential for mutual benefit and in consistency with the Agreement that can and should be undertaken. We continue to make that point to our partners and we hope that, internally, the Executive can come forward with a review process that can be completed and allow us proceed.
All of us would recognise the value of the work that is done bilaterally between Ministers in the structured formats that have been agreed and also that much progress has been made outside the structured format in addition to it. That is not to suggest that the structured format should be dissipated or withdrawn. The contrary is the case. It should be intensified and widened because we need structures in place, as envisaged by the Agreement also, and those were seen to be evolutionary rather than comprehensive at the time.
Regarding corporation tax issues, the Minister for Finance has not had any detailed discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that matter. As the Deputy is aware, we have been positively disposed towards any issue that will assist the all-Ireland economy in any way possible.
I join the Taoiseach and Deputy Kenny in condemning the recent bombing in Derry and the succession of incidents that have arisen as a result of dissident republican activity. It is not just that it is a small, unrepresentative group of people who are involved in this activity. It is also that it flies directly in the face of the determined will of the Irish people as expressed in the ballot box in the referenda on the Good Friday Agreement. These groups are attempting to derail that Agreement and the political institutions in Northern Ireland. It would appear that their hope is to carry out a bombing attack that will succeed, as far as they are concerned, provoke some kind of counter-reaction and try to bring down the institutions. It is critically important that they are dealt with forcefully and effectively at this early stage rather than allow them develop and assemble support or succeed in any of their activities. In that regard, is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Garda has sufficient resources to deal with the threat and if there is a sufficient level of co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland in regard to their activities?
With regard to the Taoiseach's meeting with Prime Minister Cameron, were there any discussions at that meeting about a possible visit to this State by Queen Elizabeth? Has a visit been confirmed and have any dates been agreed or are there any indicative dates as to when that visit might take place?
With regard to the issue of the report which came out during the summer on the bombing in Claudy which reported that a priest, Fr. James Chesney, was involved in the bombing and was subsequently moved from his parish to a parish in County Donegal with the involvement of the then Secretary of State, the late William Whitelaw, and the late Cardinal Conway. I do not recall seeing any formal Government response to that report when it came out but were the authorities in this State notified at that time, or does the Taoiseach know if they were notified, that Fr. Chesney was being moved from the parish he was in at the time of the bombing to a parish in Donegal, and if they were briefed as to what the thinking of the Northern Ireland authorities and of the Catholic Church authorities was at the time regarding that matter?
First, sufficient resources are being applied by the Garda Commissioner. At no stage has there been any indication to the contrary from the Garda Commissioner that the gardaí are not in a position to do this important work. They are adept at it and are a very experienced police force in this entire area, as the Deputy can imagine. It has never been indicated to me that this has been compromised in any way from a resourcing point of view.
On the second matter raised by the Deputy, I would make the point that there is no obstacle to a visit taking place in view of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and now that we have seen the full devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. That has been an important part of the Agreement which has now been worked through. The formal process of any details or the issuing of an invitation would have to be worked through but presumably any visit that would take place would be before the end of the term of office of President McAleese in November 2011, but that is an issue for further work and consideration.
There is no specific question down on the Claudy bombing and therefore I do not have any information in my supplementary information. It has never been suggested to me that the Irish authorities were informed. That is not something that has ever been brought to my attention. It was an internal church matter and comments have been made by the churches in regard to it. The report speaks for itself in its own terms but I am not aware that there has been any Irish involvement.
At the outset I would like to say that regarding the bombing in Derry, Martin McGuinness made Sinn Féin's position quite clear. Such activities do nothing to advance the cause that all of us hope to see, namely, a united Ireland. The motivation behind some of those people currently involved in trying to destabilise and undermine the peace process is questionable, and our position is clear on that.
Does the Taoiseach agree that in the context of the continuing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement there is huge scope not only for co-operation but integration services? I refer to the statement by the Stormont health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, of 14 September 2010 that he and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, had decided not to take forward or to publish the North-South feasibility report on co-operation on health. That study recommends much more extensive co-operation in health services, including provision of surgical procedures on an all-island basis that people currently must leave Ireland to access. Is it in line with Government policy on all-Ireland co-operation for a Minister here to agree to suppress such a report? Why should the report not be published and implemented?
In his meeting with the British Prime Minister, did the Taoiseach bring the Prime Minister's attention to the unanimous call from all parties in this Dáil in July 2008 for the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all original documents held by it relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction, which were inquired into by Mr. Justice Barron, in order to assist in the resolution of these crimes? If he did, what was the Prime Minister's response? If the Taoiseach did not raise the matter, why not?
With regard to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, I have pointed out that the Clerk of the Dáil has written to the Clerk of the House of Commons, arising from the Oireachtas resolution, and, as I have said previously, any follow-up of this should be considered in consultation with the parties and be raised with the Whips. Obviously, there is always an ongoing effort at official level to resolve outstanding issues and to put forward various points of view of the Government on a range of issues. However, the specific issue was not raised by me in my first meeting with Prime Minister Cameron. That matter relates to broader political issues within Northern Ireland. It was my first meeting with Prime Minister Cameron as Taoiseach and I was anxious to establish a rapport and relationship with him.
The meeting took place in the aftermath of the publication of the Saville report. All of us would recognise that Prime Minister Cameron discharged the responsibility he had in light of the content of that report in an impressive way. His response, while it may not have brought closure, has brought a great sense of reassurance and has been very helpful to the families of the deceased and to the city more widely in terms of promoting community relations after that traumatic event in 1972. It was in that context the meeting took place. Other wider political issues were also discussed, European issues, etc.
The Deputy raised the issue of co-operation. I agree there are many areas where the Government would like to see greater co-operation, particularly in the context of the fiscal challenges faced on both sides of the Border. It makes common sense to get the best possible return for taxpayers' money, North and South. This matter is being dealt with in many respects.
I do not have at hand the particular context or reason for non-publication of the report to which the Deputy referred. Perhaps a direct question to the Minister for Health and Children would elicit that information. I remind the Deputy that, as with all North-South issues, the consent of both parties is required to proceed with either investigations into various policy issues or whatever arises in terms of publication of papers or reports that would come about as a result of the work undertaken. It may be there was not full agreement to do that at the time. I do not have the information with me and do not want to engage in conjecture that would be unjust to any party. The health area generally is one where we have co-operation. I refer to the fact that the development of cancer services in Altnagelvin in Derry will provide an excellent service for the people of Donegal, which is the natural hinterland of the Derry city area. I am also aware that renal services have been provided for people in the Cooley peninsula in Daisyhill Hospital in Newry for a long time. Many other areas could be examined productively. We are engaged with the North on medical and scientific research on an all-Ireland basis. There is also significant collaboration on health issues generally between industry and the universities on an all-island basis.
I accept the Deputy's point. The Government and all in the House would like to see every opportunity being taken where co-operation would bring a better service for people, particularly in the context of the limited budgets both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government must contend with in providing services.
I would like to reiterate that there is tremendous co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI. It is at an unprecedented level and is certainly needed now. The Derry bombing, following the Forkhill, Newtownhamilton and other threats, reminds us there is a group of mavericks which has no interest whatsoever in the future of the country. It is only in peace that we will have tourism and job creation.
I have two questions for the Taoiseach. Can he assure us that despite the difficult financial times, some money will be kept in the purse to encourage what is going on in the area of peace and reconciliation? Groups meeting and moving back and forward across the Border and across the different divides in Northern Ireland is tremendous progress. Second, is the Taoiseach satisfied that we have a strong enough Garda force to deal with the issues mentioned by the Fine Gael Party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, such as the discovery of bomb-making factories and training camps, etc? I understand there has been a decrease in the number of Garda personnel in the Border areas. Will the Taoiseach confirm there is a commitment to ensure we have the best possible force there?
I would like to mention two other issues. First, I urge the Taoiseach at his next opportunity to try to see if the Dublin-Monaghan bombing issue can be moved forward. It is an issue that has been ongoing for a long time. Second, the Taoiseach mentioned many issues involving cross-Border interests. One in which I have a keen interest is the need for an all-Ireland animal health programme, particularly in light of the fact that brucellosis is once again prevalent in Northern Ireland.
On the issue of animal health, even prior to the establishment of the Good Friday Agreement, there has always been a very good practical and pragmatic relationship between the Departments of Agriculture, North and South, on the issue of brucellosis. If the Deputy reads the progress report of the joint secretaries to the North-South Ministerial Council - the communiqué issued after the meeting in Dublin on 5 July - he will see it makes specific reference to agreement on an all-island animal health and welfare strategy which has been promoted proactively by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his counterpart in Northern Ireland, Minister Gildernew.
On the question of funding, the progress on the implementation of the EU peace programme and INTERREG programmes is also referred to in the communiqué. Projects already approved under PEACE III have a total budget of €171.8 million or £156.2 million. Projects approved under INTERREG have a budget of €103.7 million or £94.3 million. This is an indication of the considerable efforts that are being made by both finance ministries to ensure projects under the programmes are approved and proceed.
With regard to the other matter raised, I refer the Deputy to the response I gave to Deputy Ferris.
I want to return to the question I asked the Taoiseach about a possible visit by Queen Elizabeth. In his reply, the Taoiseach said that if there was to be such a visit, it would be likely to be in the term of office of President McAleese, which expires in a little over a year. I am still unclear on the position with regard to an invitation. Has an invitation been issued to Queen Elizabeth to visit Ireland? Has the Government made a decision on a visit before the expiry of the term of office of President McAleese?
I indicated formally in my meeting with the British Prime Minister that I do not see any obstacle to the exchange of visits between the Heads of States of neighbouring or friendly countries. The question of a formal invitation, etc., is a matter that would be dealt with in the event of a visit proceeding. No formal invitation has issued. Invitations only issue in the event of something that is going to happen.