Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Northern Ireland Issues
4. To ask the Taoiseach if the recent dissident activity in Northern Ireland will have an impact on the G8 Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17254/13]
7. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the Parades Commission and broadening its role with Prime Minister Cameron at his recent meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10971/13]
8. To ask the Taoiseach if there has been any update from the British Government in relation to the request for an independent inquiry into the death of Mr Pat Finucane; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12329/13]
10. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed England's membership of the EU and the forthcoming referendum in 2016 at his meeting with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13597/13]
11. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the European response to the financial crisis with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13598/13]
12. To ask the Taoiseach if he received any update on the independent inquiry request into Mr Pat Finucane's murder from Prime Minister Cameron at his meeting in London; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13599/13]
13. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the €3.8 billion loan from the United Kingdom to Ireland at his recent meeting with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13600/13]
14. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed youth unemployment and the response from the EU with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13602/13]
15. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed his upcoming bilateral with President Obama with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13603/13]
18. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed developing new markets between Ireland and England with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13606/13]
20. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed job creation and foreign direct investment to the North of Ireland with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13608/13]
21. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed reducing the rate of the corporation tax in the North of Ireland with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13609/13]
23. To ask the Taoiseach if he has raised the issue of the implementation of outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement during his meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron on 11 March .2013 [15998/13]
26. To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of the need for an independent public inquiry into the killing of Belfast human rights Solicitor Pat Finucane during his meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron on 11 March 2013. [16001/13]
30. To ask the Taoiseach if he raised the issue of Britain's membership of the EU and the proposed referendum in Britain on that issue during his recent meeting with Prime Minister Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22139/13]
32. To ask the Taoiseach if he will outline the topics discussed with the British Prime Minister David Cameron at their recent bilateral meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22142/13]
33. To ask the Taoiseach when the next follow up meeting will take place with the British Prime Minister David Cameron following the recent bilateral meeting; if there will be bilateral meetings on the fringes of the up coming EU Council of Minister meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22143/13]
I propose to take questions Nos. 1 to 34 together, which concern my bilateral meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron on 11 March in Downing Street, and other Northern Ireland-related issues. As it has been some time since I answered questions in the House on these issues-----
It is incredible. It just makes a mockery of the whole thing. There are many distinct questions there. We discussed this last week, the Taoiseach said he would engage in reform but it is all nonsense. He has no serious engagement with these questions-----
We have already discussed proposals. I will not accept a fait accompli. It does not matter. The Taoiseach can do as he wants because he has the numbers. That sums up his reform.
No, the Taoiseach does not have to extract that. What about bankers' pay and bonuses? Clearly that is not relevant to Northern Ireland. That is the point. There are distinct elements in Northern Ireland such as the Finucane case, parades and the Good Friday Agreement.
Where we discussed matters with the British Prime Minister about Northern Ireland, they are relevant to the Northern Ireland questions. May I give the answer to the group question? The Deputy can then ask any individual question he wants to ask.
I share Deputy Martin's frustration. I made this point last week. I do not know how many questions I have down here, it is approximately a dozen. I got one intervention last week and sat here for an hour and 15 minutes. Each of these questions is seriously important. Deputy Martin always raises issues which are important. We are now going to talk about meetings which happened last March. This is the middle of May.
I will answer the questions as a response to all of these questions about Northern Ireland, the involvement of the British Prime Minister and these relationships and if Deputies want to ask individual questions about the 34 questions, I am happy to answer them.
Our meeting took place one year on from the signing of the joint statement which set out the vision and a framework for improved cooperation between Ireland and the UK over the coming decade. We had a productive discussion across the range of issues that we have agreed to work on together, and where we have seen significant progress over the last year. We intend to keep up that momentum.
The joint economic study that we proposed a year ago is almost completed. I am confident that it will help to identify further areas for cooperation. We have made real progress on energy. The launch of the east-west interconnector last year was a landmark achievement. January's memorandum of understanding on the export of renewable energy enables detailed engagement towards an inter-governmental agreement in this area. We have also made considerable progress towards a reciprocal visa arrangement for travel to Britain and Ireland. Other good examples of progress include greater cooperation between Tourism Ireland and Visit Britain, between our enterprise and trade agencies and on research and development.
The joint statement also envisaged a comprehensive programme of engagement between the two Administrations, including close bilateral engagement between departments and regular meetings at Secretary General-Permanent Secretary level. A number of bilateral meetings have taken place across a range of policy areas since the March 2012 joint statement. A plenary meeting of Secretaries General and Permanent Secretaries from the UK took place on 16 November 2012 in London to assess progress and map out future work. A plenary meeting of Secretaries General and Permanent Secretaries from Northern Ireland also took place in Dublin on 4 March 2013 to discuss the North-South aspects of the wider joint economic study.
We asked our Secretaries General and Permanent Secretaries to work up further policy recommendations on the back of the joint economic study once it is finished. A further meeting of that group is scheduled to take place in Dublin for this purpose and to look ahead to the annual review summit in 2014.
At my bilateral meeting with the British Prime Minister we also had an open and positive discussion about political, economic and security developments in Northern Ireland. We re-affirmed the support of both Governments for the full implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, already raised here, and expressed our confidence in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Judiciary and the Parades Commission in their work.
In this context, I welcome the announcement by the First and deputy First Minister that they will be publishing a strategy on building a reconciled and united community in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks. This, together with the other measures they announced, represents good progress. We remain committed co-guarantors of the peace process and we will continue to work closely with the Northern Executive to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. We want to work together with the Executive to build a strong shared future. The British Government's economic package for Northern Ireland that has recently been proposed consists of a range of options to boost the private sector in Northern Ireland. The British Government will work closely with the Executive to help rebalance the economy in Northern Ireland, increase its competitiveness and help to build a shared society. The package covers a wide range of proposals from additional tax and borrowing powers for the Executive, through to measures to encourage infrastructure and investment.
As I had also done at other meetings, I referred to the Pat Finucane case. As Deputies are well aware, we have a different position to that of the British Government and I fully support the Finucane family's quest for a full inquiry. I did not discuss other cases with the Prime Minister.
On EU issues we discussed the outcome of the multiannual financial framework, MFF, negotiations which had concluded shortly before our meeting and on the need for the European Parliament to approve the deal, which the Irish Presidency is very focused on. We both strongly support the goal of improving the competitiveness of European business and will work to see the single market deepened further, particularly in services, the digital economy and energy, all clear aims of Ireland's EU Presidency. We both agreed that we would use our respective roles as EU President and the G8 chair to press for the launch of negotiations on an EU-US trade agreement this June.
I did not discuss reducing corporation tax in Northern Ireland or the bilateral loan to Ireland with the Prime Minister nor did we discuss the UK's future in the EU, the referendum in 2016 or events in Mali. I am pleased that both the British Government and ourselves will be working closely together and contribute to the new PEACE IV programme valued at €150 million and which the Government negotiated with the European Commission.
This was secured through our intervention in Brussels in the lead up to the negotiations on the MFF budget and I am pleased the Government's efforts were successful. The new PEACE IV programme's aims and objectives will be clarified over the coming months. We remain committed to meeting together at annual summits to review and oversee progress in our joint work, and I look forward to the next summit in 2014. After our meeting the Prime Minister and I went together to the annual reception at Westminster, also sponsored by Tourism Ireland, an event which was attended by many involved in delivering peace in Northern Ireland.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary session in Letterkenny in March. The theme of the plenary was "Energy across Borders - Delivering the Economic Opportunities". The discussions centred on the issues of energy innovation and the development of renewables, with a particular focus on how the British and Irish Governments, along with the devolved regional parliaments, can work together on this increasingly important issue.
Preparations by the authorities in Britain and Northern Ireland for the G8 summit meeting are ongoing. Given the proximity to the Border and the scale and significance of the event, there are important security implications for this jurisdiction. In this regard, the Garda authorities are working closely with the PSNI in putting in place the cross-Border security arrangements which will be necessary for the event. This dedicated co-operation will continue up to and during the event.
The Government remains firmly committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrew's Agreements. To this end I look forward to attending the next BIC summit in Deny in June and also the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, plenary meeting in Dublin in July where I hope progress can be made across a number of areas. The Tánaiste attended the NSMC institutional meeting in Belfast with the First and Deputy First Ministers on Monday, 29 April, and also attended a cross-community event to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement with the Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers.
I will curtail my contribution to four questions and there may be an opportunity to return. First is the issue I raised earlier, namely, welfare cuts. I know there is a certain irony in my asking the Taoiseach, who is imposing austerity here, to raise the issue of austerity with the British Government in regard to the North. However, I do so because the economy in the North just cannot cope with the swingeing cuts this Tory Government is imposing. When I raised this during Leaders' Questions, the Taoiseach did not respond to the point I made about £1 billion in welfare cuts being imposed on people in the North and he did not commit to raising this matter with the British Government even though, as the Taoiseach rightly reminded us, the Good Friday Agreement is about people's rights. I raise the issue again now.
Second, I raise the issue of Marian Price. I do not know if the Taoiseach knows that Ms Price has just been moved back into the City Hospital and is very seriously ill. She has been in detention for two years but is facing no charges and has not been subject to due process. She and Martin Corey are effectively being held without charge or trial. Marian Price has serious problems with her immune system and is at heightened risk of infection. I got that report this morning by calling people in Belfast. The parole board to which Sinn Féin has made representations is due to make a decision on her case before 30 May. What representations has the Taoiseach made on behalf of this Irish citizen who is being held in isolation without access to fresh air? What representations has he made to accelerate her release?
Third, I refer to an Acht na Gaeilge, although none exists. For what it is worth, within the so-called United Kingdom there are language Acts in Wales and Scotland. There is also what we have in this State but there is nothing of the kind in the North where the Irish language community is in resurgence and there has been a renaissance of Irish language schools and communities.
Fourth, there is the issue of Narrow Water Bridge, which I have raised before with the Taoiseach. I have written to the Ministers involved, Mr. Danny Kennedy MLA and Mr.Sammy Wilson MLA. My big concern is that the funding currently provided under INTERREG will be lost as a result of the time limit placed on such funding. If the project slips past that limit, for whatever reason - although the Minister, Mr. Wilson, has assured me he is not delaying - we will have a real problem and this substantive tranche of funding will be lost. I would like to contribute again later, if possible.
I thank Deputy Adams for those questions. He mentioned the welfare cuts, what generally comes under the much maligned phrase "austerity bites". He well knows that the answer to this problem is investment, growth, prosperity and job opportunities in Northern Ireland and that is why I fully support and engage with the First and Deputy First Ministers in their efforts-----
-----to promote Northern Ireland. That is why, when they went to China, we made available to them our ambassador and gave them every assistance we could in that regard. We are very happy to co-operate with the Executive in what it wants to do in this area. I point out to the Deputy that some of the proposals put forward by the British Government include additional tax opportunities and borrowing powers for the Executive in order to stimulate investment and create jobs.
I was in Dundalk recently with the Deputy at the launch of the Paypal-eBay event and we met the chamber of commerce and a cross-Border delegation in regard to Narrow Water Bridge. This matter has been raised by us with the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government and we strongly support the project. Louth County Council and this Government have put moneys in place and have carried out their work. The Minister, Mr. Sammy Wilson MLA, has to make a decision in respect of his responsibilities with the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel. As the Deputy is aware, substantial moneys from Europe are in place for Narrow Water Bridge. The matter was raised at the North-South Ministerial Council. I hope the work which has been carried out by the Minister, Mr. Kennedy, and the review made by the Minister, Mr. Wilson, will see to it that the project is brought to a successful conclusion. It would be a shame were it to be lost, given the moneys invested from both here and from Europe.
I refer to Marian Price. I was not aware she had returned to hospital until the Deputy informed me just now. The parole commissioners are reviewing that case and a decision is due shortly. This issue has been raised by the Tánaiste, by me and by the British Government in regard to her medical condition, which can vary from day to day or week to week. Following the information that Ms Price is back in hospital, as given to the House by Deputy Adams, I will have the matter followed through again. In regard to Martin Corey, the Deputy is aware the authorities have confirmed he was released under licence in 1992; that this licence was revoked in April 2010 and an appeal in regard to his case has been submitted to the Supreme Court in Belfast and is going through the process.
I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, to follow through in regard to an Acht na Gaeilge. I do not have information to date on that position. However, there is no reason this matter could not be progressed. I do not have detail on how things stand with the Executive but will-----
I wish to protest in the strongest possible manner at the way in which Questions to the Taoiseach are being handled. There are 34 questions here, of which 18 are mine and they are not all related. Putting the 34 together is a far-too-clever attempt to bury some of the questions.
This has been a tactic of the Taoiseach since the beginning. He said he would desist and for a while he did, but today he has come into the Chamber and has thrown-----
I am sorry, I have the floor now. The Taoiseach has given his answer and I am now going to ask questions based on those answers.
The answers are very relevant to the point I am about to make. The first question I asked concerned dissident activity in Northern Ireland and the impact on the G8 summit. Question No. 5 asked the Taoiseach the way he commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He did not answer that question because he wanted to bury it but I will return to the matter in a moment. I asked three other questions which had nothing to do with Northern Ireland. I asked whether the Taoiseach, at his meeting with Prime Minister Cameron, discussed bankers' bonuses, England's membership of the European Union or the forthcoming referendum in 2016. These are separate matters unrelated to Northern Ireland and they demand a distinct and separate reply. Question No. 11 asked whether the Taoiseach discussed the European response to the financial crisis with Prime Minister Cameron. Again, that was buried in the overall reply. I also asked about the bilateral loan, which the Taoiseach says he did not discuss, and a range of other issues that are not related to Northern Ireland.
It is unacceptable. When the Taoiseach first took office he reduced by one the number of days on which we take Taoiseach's Questions. In previous Dáileanna we took them on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Accountability to this House is being reduced in respect of the Taoiseach's areas of responsibility. In regard to the questions I have tabled on the issue of commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is disappointing that the Taoiseach and his Government decided not to mark the anniversary of what was a hugely important event by any yardstick. The failure to mark it in any meaningful way points to two emerging themes in this Government. The first is an alarming disengagement from what is happening in the North. I have spoken on this at some length over the course of the past year. An attitude seems to have taken root in the Irish and British Governments that the North is sorted and should be allowed to get on with things on its own. I believe that is a fundamental mistake because the increasingly fractious relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin is creating a dangerous vacuum about which all of us should be concerned.
It is important for those of us who occupy positions of political leadership to have the generosity of spirit to acknowledge our shared and non-partisan history. The Taoiseach's failure to mark the Good Friday Agreement springs from an attitude and approach to Government which is very partisan. His leadership is of a partisan kind. I have raised this previously in the context the speech he gave last year at Béal na mBláth. There are occasions when he should step outside of his partisan base to acknowledge properly seminal and ground-breaking events in our history. Marking 15 years of the Good Friday Agreement could provide a launch pad to create energy for the next iteration of politics on this island and the relationship between Britain and Ireland. A number of issues remain to be addressed and attended to because a degree of stasis exists with the politics of the North, particularly on the Executive. There is a lack of legislation in the Assembly and the Executive in the North has not been working as effectively or optimally as it could be.
Did the Taoiseach speak to Prime Minister Cameron about extending the remit of the Parades Commission? Parading remains a major risk to civic stability in the North. There is considerable nervousness in the North about the upcoming parading season, particularly because of the flag violence we witnessed last Christmas. These events were particularly harmful for communities like the Short Strand enclave in east Belfast, which has effectively endured a continuous parading season. It is vital that the authority of the Parades Commission is underpinned by both Irish and British Governments. That has not been happening to the degree it should have, particularly since Christmas. It was agreed at the Hillsborough talks two years ago to commence a process which would get agreement among the various strands of opinion on an alternative structure, but no obvious progress has been made by the parties. In the absence of any alternative, the Parades Commission can only continue its vital work if it is clear to all that it has the support of the Irish Government and will not be second-guessed or undermined by any strand of political opinion simply because somebody does not like a decision it makes. The performance of First Minister, Peter Robinson, MLA, last summer, when he co-signed an open letter condemning the commission, was a major setback. It was exactly the opposite of what the families of Northern Ireland have a right to expect from their leaders. Was the Taoiseach aware of this and has he a view on the fact that Mr. Robinson co-signed a letter that fundamentally undermined the only authority designed to call it in terms of parades? These issues demand to be raised and discussed with the British Government.
Other issues arise in regard to policing and the PSNI. I support the PSNI but Sinn Féin picketed a PSNI office because it did not like who it arrested.
If Sinn Féin members are on the Executive and the policing boards, they undermine the authority of the PSNI if they question its operational decisions on who to arrest or which crimes to pursue. That is fundamentally wrong and Sinn Féin does not enjoy that luxury.
It is accountable through the structures created under the Patten reforms. That is why people sit on the policing boards. There is accountability through the boards. Various communities and political parties, including Sinn Féin, have representatives on the policing boards. There is a line of accountability but, unfortunately, there is a grave danger that policing in the North will be compromised because of this activity. A pattern has emerged whereby there are protests when arrests happen in loyalist areas. People can switch on riots if they do not like who is being arrested. People cannot condemn that kind of activity on the one hand while deciding to mount pickets on the other.
It increases tensions, inflames opinion and undermines the authority of the PSNI. No institution is perfect but the PSNI represents one of the better transformations or new departures to have emanated from the Good Friday Agreement. The work done by Chris Patten and everybody else has been held up as a model for policing in conflict areas. All parties should be extremely careful that nothing is done to undermine that transformation. By all means we should enhance it but let us not play to all bases all of the time. The problem in Northern politics is that the main parties play to their electoral bases to the detriment of the common good on social, economic and political issues.
Can the Taoiseach expand on his discussions with Prime Minister Cameron on the independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane? What was the British Government's response, is he genuinely pushing the matter and has he suggested any creative approach to breaking the logjam and implementing - this comes back to my point about marking the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements - internationally binding agreements between the two Governments? It undermines the authority of agreements and confidence in the relationship between the Governments when aspects of the agreements are not followed through and developed.
There may be a desire on the part of the British Government to leave well alone because of the fear of what it could open up in terms of collusion with loyalist gangs and others at the time. In my view, however, the truth must come out as transparency is required for a better future.
I do not have a problem with that. I will answer any questions the Deputy wishes. He is wrong to state the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement was not marked. Deputy Joe McHugh called a special hearing of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which received presentations from the chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, a former PSNI officer and two other contributors.
It would have been all too easy to issue a statement and leave the matter at that. However, Deputy McHugh called a special meeting to mark this significant event. Everybody present supports the Agreement.
The last time I tried to intervene when Deputy Martin was speaking, he indicated he was in possession. I ask him to listen to me for a moment and I will answer his questions, of which I have taken careful note.
The issues discussed with Prime Minister Cameron in Downing Street included the following: progress in developing and implementing the programme of work within the framework of last year's joint statement; bilateral relations and economic relations; recommendations from the joint economic study interim report and what it will lead to; political developments and the security situation in Northern Ireland; the commemoration of significant centenaries, starting with the First World War; the G8 summit in June in Fermanagh and the opportunity it presents to showcase Northern Ireland in a very positive light; the EU Presidency and the outcome of discussions, until that point, on the multiannual financial framework, MFF; the CRD IV directive; using the roles of the EU Presidency and G8 to press for the launch of the mandate in respect of the EU-US trade agreement; and the European arrest warrant. In the case of the final issue, I pointed out the impracticality of suggestions of withdrawing from this and trying to renegotiate particular aspects of it.
Deputy Martin also referred to the Pat Finucane case. As I have stated repeatedly in response to questions from Deputies Martin, Adams and others, the Government is following through on an all-party motion in my name passed by the House some years ago, which called for an independent public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. I have made the case for such an inquiry very clearly to the British Prime Minister. Obviously, the British Government has a different view from the Irish Government on this matter and the two Governments have differed publicly on it on a number of occasions. I contacted the Finucane family directly after the de Silva report was completed and they made clear they were not happy with it and wished to pursue the option of having a full-scale public inquiry. I support their wishes, as I reiterated when I spoke to Geraldine Finucane in Washington. Officials from my Department remain in contact with the Finucane family. I made clear that the Irish Government will continue to seek, at every opportunity, an independent public inquiry into the Finucane case. The Tánaiste made this view clear to the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, when he met her recently.
Deputy Martin also referred to the Parades Commission, about which a number of issues have arisen. The Government supports the rule of law. The Tánaiste and I have discussed with the British authorities on a number of occasions the position regarding parades and the role of the Parades Commission. For example, the Tánaiste raised this issue specifically with Secretary of State Villiers when they met on 29 April. The Government's view is that all parties should co-operate fully with the Parades Commission and respect its determinations and decisions. As Deputy Martin correctly noted, no one wants a return to the deplorable violence that sullied Northern Ireland's reputation in the past. It is very important in the context of the upcoming marching season that the decisions of the Parades Commission are fully respected and the commission and PSNI receive full support in ensuring the rule of law is upheld. Clearly, there were breaches of its determinations before and after Christmas and I am glad the situation has settled down. I hope the determinations of the Parades Commission will be respected.
Deputy Martin tabled 18 questions. The first was on the Parades Commission, the second on the Finucane case and the third on bankers' bonuses.
We discussed the CRD IV directive during Ireland's Presidency. The directive limits the bonuses paid to bankers, of whom there are also some in Northern Ireland. As I stated, I did not discuss the Prime Minister's view that there should be a referendum on EU membership in Britain. In terms of whether we discussed the financial crisis, I raised the issue with the Prime Minister and we discussed it.
The Deputy asked a second question about Pat Finucane. I did not discuss with the Prime Minister the €3.8 billion loan. The PEACE IV dividend is to deal in part with youth unemployment, for which a specific €6 billion fund has been established. This matter was discussed last week. I did not discuss with the Prime Minister my bilateral arrangement with President Obama.
As late as yesterday, it was acknowledged at a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly that, since taking office, the Taoiseach has attended all plenary sessions of the assembly held in Ireland. The most recent meeting of the assembly in County Donegal discussed at some length strand three of the Good Friday Agreement - east-west relationships - and the possibility of enhancing the role of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, particularly the relationship between the assembly and British-Irish Council. What is the Taoiseach's view on that possibility?
On an issue I have raised previously with the Taoiseach, will the President make a reciprocal visit to the United Kingdom following the Queen's successful visit to this country? Does the Taoiseach wish to comment on a finding, which was made available to us yesterday by the Northern Ireland Office, that more than 80% of respondents to a survey indicated they were very satisfied with the work being done by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and had confidence in the force. The official from the Northern Ireland Office present stated that few UK police forces enjoy such public satisfaction and support levels.
In regard to the development of east-west relations, these things normally take on a life of their own. Once bodies have been established, it is a case of the co-chairpersons or chairmen of the individual bodies making their own arrangements as to how often they will meet and working with both Governments on the issues to be discussed. As the Deputy will be aware from his experience, some of the issues discussed at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly do not find their way onto the agenda of this House. As a former member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association, I am aware that it takes some time to develop new concepts. East-west negotiation and discussion builds a sense of understanding, trust and recognition and allows Members such as Deputy O'Donovan to have direct contact with Members of the House of Commons.
I can confirm that a proposal for a return visit to Britain by President Higgins following the historic and successful visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland is under active consideration.
A date has not yet been agreed. I suppose it is a matter of arranging the schedules of the President and the Queen and deciding upon the other engagements with which the President might be able to be associated or with which he might involve himself. I expect the visit will take place in 2014. It is a case of Buckingham Palace and Áras an Uachtaráin making appropriate arrangements. I am quite sure the President will be quite happy to accommodate whatever schedule is most appropriate in order to undertake that reciprocal visit.
I saw the report relating to confidence levels among people in Northern Ireland in the PSNI. We are strongly supportive of the great co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI. Such co-operation is extremely important in the context of dealing with terrorist and dissident activities, smuggling and other criminal activities on a cross-Border basis and on an information-sharing basis in the context of persons who might have evil intent in their minds. From that point of view, we support the work of the PSNI and we strongly support the work of the Garda. I am glad this is reflected in levels of confidence expressed by the people of Northern Ireland. It is important that everyone should understand the impartiality involved and the need to have trust and faith in the police forces, North and South.
Has the Taoiseach or any other member of the Government been involved in discussions with the authorities in Northern Ireland regarding the security arrangements relating to the G8 summit, which he will be attending? Is he aware that many civil society organisations and human rights groups are extremely concerned that the policing board in the North has agreed to the purchase of two military-style drones which will essentially be used to spy on protesters and those who intend to assemble in a peaceful manner in order to oppose the policies espoused by the big capitalists and politicians who will be represented at the summit? Those organisations and groups, quite correctly, see this as an extremely sinister development. Is the Taoiseach aware of the purchase to which I refer? Considering that Enniskillen is located just a few miles from the Border, has the Irish State been involved in any discussions on this matter? Will the Taoiseach indicate that there is no possibility of a drone being allowed to enter Irish airspace? Does he agree that he should make representations to the effect that neither drone should enter Irish airspace, particularly in view of the feeling among many people in the North and the South in respect of this matter?
Will the Taoiseach outline his priorities in respect of the G8 summit? What role will he play in the context of the meeting? Does he intend to raise some of the crucial human rights issues relevant to the political leaders who will be assembling in Fermanagh? Is he aware of the great unease in the United States in respect of the inhuman and tortuous conditions which obtain at Guantanamo Bay, where dozens of prisoners who are being held on remand and without charge are on hunger strike? Does the Taoiseach agree that raising issues of this sort helps to refocus attention on the plight of Marian Price and Martin Corey? Does he also agree that detaining people on an unlimited basis - without charge and without supplying them or their lawyers with information on why they are being held - should, by modern standards and in light of the wishes of the majority of people, simply not be allowed? Does he further agree that this type of detention represents a blight on society and that he and the Government should be doing far more in respect of it and related issues?
I thank Deputy Higgins for his questions. Security arrangements in this jurisdiction are a matter for the Garda Commissioner. As a result of the proximity of Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, to the Border, there is a great deal of engagement between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I have not had any discussions with the Garda Commissioner in respect of security measures. This is a matter which relates to the professional competence of the Garda Síochána and the PSNI. I am not aware of any the details with regard to what those security measures will involve. In addition, I am not in possession of any information in respect of the possible purchase of drones by the authorities in Northern Ireland. As already stated, I have not had any discussions with the Garda Commissioner and nor would it be normal for me to engage in such discussions. The matter in question is one which relates to his professional competence and responsibility. If he wishes to inform other members of the Government or me about any particular issue, I am sure he will do so.
I have not received the agenda for the G8 summit. Obviously, I have never previously attended such a summit because Ireland is not a member of the G8. The invitation for me to attend was extended by Prime Minister Cameron on the basis that Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the EU. One issue we wish to progress at the summit relates to the mandate being sought by the Irish Presidency to open negotiations with the United States in respect of free trade between it and the European Union, with particular reference to the non-tariff area. By all accounts, free trade in this area could potentially lead to upwards of 2 million jobs being created in the EU and the same number in the US. It would also give rise to the opportunity to grow economies. That is one issue on which we will be focusing.
In the context of raising human rights issues such as those relating to Guantanamo Bay - a matter I have followed on news broadcasts - and elsewhere, as already stated, I am not yet in possession of the agenda for the summit and, therefore, I am not sure what will be the opportunities for the Presidency to raise such issues.
I have already responded to Deputy Adams in respect of Mr. Corey. There is an appeal before the Belfast Supreme Court and obviously this will take its course. I have already outlined the position with regard to the date of his release, the revocation of his licence and the fact that an appeal was lodged to the Belfast Supreme Court.
I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that citizens have the right to picket peacefully. The leader of Fianna Fáil appears not to believe in that right. As one of those people who was baton-charged, gassed and water cannoned off the streets over a long period, I am of the view that drawing a comparison between a peaceful picket and the loyalist riots during which Sinn Féin councillors received death threats, the homes of Alliance councillors were fire-bombed, the offices of Alliance councillors and other representatives were fire-bombed and a series of illegal marches - there were also other breaches of the Parades Commission's stipulations - were held in the Short Strand, Rasharkin and Carrick Hill shows just where we stand. I agree that there is a very accountable policing service. Had we listened to the advice offered by a previous Fianna Fáil Government or by the then SDLP Minister of Justice, however, we would not have such a service.
We were told that the policing and justice powers for which Sinn Féin was negotiating were not achievable. We stayed with our negotiations and eventually got a system that, while not perfect, was commendable, given where we had come from.
In the Taoiseach's answer, he implicitly agreed with my charge that actions of the British Government were undermining the institutions. He stated that there had been no action on Pat Finucane - he disagrees with the British, and they and the Irish Government have different positions - no action on Ballymurphy and no action on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. As he has not corrected me, I assume he accepts my assertion that the British Government has reneged on the St. Andrews commitments.
I have made considered proposals to the Taoiseach on these matters. What is the Irish Government doing about this situation? As an equal co-guarantor of the agreement, the Irish Government does not just have a duty to raise the issue with the British. Mr. Cameron is not perfidious Albion, but he might be preoccupied or not know. The Government should make a case. Prior to the Saville inquiry into events in Derry, for example, the Government of the day made a case in co-operation with the families and others. I know for a fact that that case persuaded the then Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, to opt for the type of inquiry that eventually came about. The same could be done in the case of Mr. Finucane, the Ballymurphy massacre, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings or any other event.
Similarly, Acht na Gaeilge and the bill of rights are not being acted upon. The British set up a commission and hid behind it for two or three years. Ironically, the commission found that the North was a unique place and had suffered from conflict, that there were divisions, etc. It argued for a distinctly different bill of rights for the North as opposed to the rest of the British State.
It should be appreciated that people look to the Government and leaders in the Dáil to uphold their positions. They do not want people to play politics with these matters. In the new dispensation, they want the Taoiseach to stand up for them and their rights under the terms on which the two Governments have agreed and that have been lodged as an international treaty.
I commend the approach I have outlined to the Taoiseach. If he does not believe it will work, he should tell me. We will brainstorm and come back with a different idea. These issues must be addressed. Politics do not top primacy. Those who want to retard the progress that has been made - they can never bring the process down - have a perverted, warped argument for their cause.
Following up on the Taoiseach's response about an independent inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane, my opinion and that of my party is that such an inquiry would be an important and clear commitment to a greater level of truth and transparency concerning what happened in the North. Until we have that, the healing process needed by this country will be delayed further.
This matter is relevant to other actors who participated in violence at that time. Some seem to take the view that nothing can be revealed about the past until everything has been agreed. To a certain extent, the failure to have an independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Finucane is adding to that viewpoint. I do not accept it. We have watched political leaders in this country continuing to evade questions about their personal involvement in acts of violence-----
-----on the basis that there needs to be an international process before anyone can tell the truth, knowing full well that this will not happen. The charade continues.
If those who independently know the truth are committed to it and to transparency, they should come forward, take the lead and share their information. This is the real challenge. The principle applies to the Head of the British Government-----
-----just as it does to those who were personally involved in violence in the North, including violence that led to unnecessary loss of life in too many cases. We need action on the Finucane case not only because of the issue itself and the fact that it forms part of a binding agreement, but because we should leave no cover for those who were involved and who have chosen to be selective about what should be shared with the wider community concerning the acts that were committed in the North and the Republic for which there has been no political accountability.
It was wrong, and speaks of a certain partisanship on the Taoiseach's part, not to have marked the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is a committee of the Oireachtas and the Government should have hosted an event, which could have become a catalyst for discussing these issues in greater detail. Perhaps there is time yet to do something to mark the 15th anniversary of the agreement, take stock and review the outstanding issues, changes and so on that need to be addressed to move things on further.
Turning to the Taoiseach's meeting with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Tory party has been pulling itself apart again in the past two days regarding the EU. The party's position is becoming increasingly extreme. The Prime Minister and his party have been clear in their view that the only basis on which the UK will stay in the EU is what they call free trade plus co-operation. In the months since the Prime Minister set out his agenda, the Taoiseach has said nothing of substance other than that he does not want Britain to leave the EU. He has not outlined Ireland's response to the agenda being promoted by the Tory Government of hollowing out the Union, particularly its social dimension. Did the Prime Minister seek the Taoiseach's support for his proposed renegotiation of the treaties? What is the Taoiseach's response?
I share the view expressed by Deputy Martin that if there are people who have information or are in possession of facts that are relevant to issues with regard to Northern Ireland or anywhere else, they should make them known. I listened to a portion of an interview that Deputy Adams gave recently during which he was asked direct questions about a particular range of matters. I also heard about his engagement with the relations of someone who had been shot quite a number of years ago. They deemed him to be serious about trying to help in that particular case. I hope he can. If there are others out there who can bring closure to long-past tragedies, it would be very helpful.
The Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, have announced a good relations strategy for Northern Ireland entitled Together: Building a United Community. They intend to launch it within the next few weeks. That is a positive engagement from the First and Deputy First Ministers. The Northern Ireland Executive has a strategically important role in promoting reconciliation and dealing with sectarianism. I hope there is an understanding of just how this affects the well-being and lives of people across the communities, particularly those in disadvantaged and interface areas. I look forward to the publication of that strategy and to further discussions about it when I meet with the First and Deputy First Ministers.
I understand that it is proposed also to establish an all-party group with an independent chairman to consider parades, protests, flags, symbols and emblems of the past. I welcome that proposal. These are difficult but important areas for the Executive and the Assembly in Northern Ireland and for the people of Northern Ireland generally. It is important, therefore, that the views of all parties be considered.
What will be critically important in the months ahead is that any new initiatives and policies to tackle sectarianism and segregation are fully delivered upon and that this will in part be a matter over which all parties in Northern Ireland can have an oversight. For our part, we as a Government want to stay fully engaged in terms of supporting the Executive, the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland in dealing with unresolved issues where they are a legacy of the conflict.
Regarding the bill of rights, I said previously to Deputy Adams that this is part of the Good Friday Agreement. We have said that it should include the reflection of principles of mutual respect for identity and ethos of communities and parity of esteem alongside the rights that are contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. If the parties in the Assembly are to engage in constructive discussion on the issue, we would be very supportive of it. The Good Friday Agreement also tasked the joint committee of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to consider the possibility of establishing a charter for the protection of fundamental rights for everyone living on the island of Ireland. The advice of the joint committee was delivered to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and to the Ceann Comhairle in June 2011. They then passed on all the advice to the political parties in both jurisdictions for their consideration. According to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the charter of rights would be for signature by the political parties. This advice should now be given serious consideration by all of the political parties on the island of Ireland. I urge our colleagues here and in the Northern Ireland Assembly to make every effort to progress this particularly important decision.
Deputy Martin asked an important question about the attitude of this country towards what is happening in Britain. I do not speak for the Tory party – the Conservatives. The Prime Minister has set out his position in so far as his view of Europe is concerned. He has said quite clearly at European Council meetings that he wishes Britain to remain a member of the European Union. For our part, we want to keep the doors and the ports open between Britain and this country because of the trading relationships and for so many other reasons. That is building on the strategic partnership that we signed last year and the memorandum of understanding on energy and the possibilities in that regard, but also the enormous trade over and back across the Irish Sea. The Irish people voted 60:40 in favour of the fiscal stability treaty. As the only English-speaking country in the eurozone we are a fundamental part of Europe, the eurozone and the European Union. The Prime Minister has for some time spelled out his views regarding the capacity of the Single Market. I stressed the point to him that Europe must get its act together on banking union, which is affecting the eurozone. I am pleased to see progress being made at the ECOFIN meeting today in that regard. The issue affects all the countries in the eurozone. If Europe and America can agree on a mandate to open trade negotiations it would be of direct interest to Britain also although it is outside the eurozone area. That is why for our part we have said growth, stability and jobs are central pillars of the Presidency.
A meeting of the European affairs committee was held yesterday. We hope to conclude 100 dossiers in the next six weeks. Great progress has been made in a number of areas but there are many complications in other areas, some very technical, where all kinds of issues have arisen and it will not be possible to get them through. Substantial progress has been made in the negotiations by the permanent group and Ministers dealing with their business. From our point of view, we very much want to keep our links with Britain open but we are also clearly focused on the potential of the European Union. I cannot speak for what the British people will do in due course, nor any decision or change that might be brought about by the Tory party or what the Prime Minister wants for his government or his party. For our part, we want to see European leaders follow through on the decisions that are made with particular interest in the banking area which is so important for the economic revival and renewal of this country and others. In that sense, these issues have been articulated by me to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, and at European Council meetings in full, formal session.