Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
Northern Ireland Issues
5. To ask the Taoiseach if he met separately with the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, at the British-Irish Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46814/14]
8. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the case of the hooded men, who have alleged torture against the British Government, at the recent meeting of the British-Irish Council in the Isle of Man; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46820/14]
9. To ask the Taoiseach if he raised with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the commitment in the Weston Park Agreement to hold a public inquiry into the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane and the need for an investigation by an expert panel into the Ballymurphy massacre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2143/15]
10. To ask the Taoiseach if he discussed the Government's decision to re-open the European Court of Human Rights case on the hooded men with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, during his talks in Belfast or since; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2146/15]
12. To ask the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, recently regarding the Pat Finucane inquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6615/15]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, together.
I attended the British-Irish Council summit hosted by the Isle of Man Chief Minister in Douglas in November last year. We had an open and detailed discussion on the improving economic situation in member Administrations and reviewed the various initiatives in place to stimulate our economies. We discussed the benefits and increasing importance of digital participation in everyday life, including examples of work under way in the different council jurisdictions to promote digital inclusion. We also reviewed the work under way across each of the 12 council work sectors since the last summit in June 2014. I met the Scottish First Minister, Ms Sturgeon, briefly, congratulated her again on her election and welcomed her to her first British-Irish Council summit as First Minister. I also met the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Villiers, on the margins of the summit. At the time, efforts to make progress in the Northern Ireland talks were well under way. I look forward to hosting the next council summit in Ireland. It will take place in Dublin Castle in June this year.
The case of the hooded men was not discussed at the British-Irish Council, nor did I discuss the matter with the UK Prime Minister at the December European Council meeting. However, Members will be aware that the Government decided in December to ask the European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment in this case. The decision was taken following a review of thousands of recently released documents and taking account of legal advice received.
The question of dealing with the past, including the Finucane and Ballymurphy cases, featured in my discussions with the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, in Stormont on 11 and 12 December. I have constantly stated that the commitment to have a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, as provided for in the Weston Park Agreement of 2001, should be honoured. On 12 February the Pat Finucane case was the subject of a Topical Issue debate, during which the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, reiterated the Government's position, informing the House that he had raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Villiers, again at their meeting in Dublin on 11 February.
I understand an all-party motion in support of the Ballymurphy families and related legacy issues remains to be agreed by the party Whips. This is being redrafted in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade following the Stormont House Agreement.
The Government fully supports the all-party motions of July 2008 and May 2011 urging the British Government to allow access by an independent judicial figure to all original documents in its possession relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The issue has been raised with the British Government on numerous occasions, including most recently by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, during his meeting with the Secretary of State on 11 February. She assured the Minister that she will consider anew how the British Government might respond to the Dáil motions.
I welcome the continued all-party support for the campaign on behalf of the Dublin-Monaghan families. The Justice for the Forgotten campaign, which supports victims and their families and operates as a project of the Pat Finucane Centre, receives grant support from the reconciliation fund operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The funding will assist Justice for the Forgotten with its important work.
Last week, I outlined to the House the key elements of the new framework for dealing with the past under the Stormont House Agreement as well as its significance for victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict, including those in this jurisdiction. We remain committed in the programme for Government to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Working with the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, we will continue to emphasise the need to implement outstanding issues and to protect and sustain the political institutions and principles of that and subsequent agreements. We will continue to promote greater North-South co-operation, including the development of the North-South institutions, with a particular emphasis on economic and infrastructural development in the Border regions.
As Deputies are aware, the main forum for advancing North-South co-operation is the North-South Ministerial Council. There were 24 meetings during 2014 covering all sectors, including two plenary sessions and one institutional meeting. The focus of Ministers throughout 2014 was on identifying priorities for co-operation that could help efforts to support economic recovery and job creation as well as ensuring the best use of public funds and the most effective delivery of services for citizens. In line with the Stormont House Agreement, a report on the sectoral priorities identified during all of the ministerial discussions will be brought to the next North-South Ministerial Council institutional meeting, which takes place tomorrow in Belfast.
Under the Stormont House Agreement the Government has committed to several measures which will contribute to economic renewal in Northern Ireland as well as being beneficial to the all-island economy. These include £50 million in financial support to complete the A5 road project in the north west and a commitment to further progress the north-west gateway initiative. The Government also remains committed to the Narrow Water bridge project and to developing the Ulster Canal. The Government made a decision in regard to an element of that project today.
In conjunction with their Northern counterparts, Ministers will continue to identify and act on opportunities to co-operate in several areas of mutual economic benefit, including co-operation on an all-island bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
I expect to chair the North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting here in June.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I put it to the Taoiseach that one of the driving forces behind growing disillusionment with the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive has been a belief that the two largest parties are primarily interested in promoting their respective party interests. In other words, they see themselves as leaders and protectors of their part of society, rather than taking the tougher and braver route of looking at it in terms of society as a whole. It is striking how these parties always protect their own when they are caught out for behaviour which would end the career of any office holder in this House. It is interesting that when one Sinn Féin Minister was found by an independent tribunal to have discriminated in appointments and to have installed a party supporter as head of Northern Ireland Water, the party then went on to attack the tribunal. Then, when the Northern Ireland High Court found the party guilty of defaming a person, it attacked the court. I gather there have been similar problems with DUP ministers.
This shines a spotlight on the constant attempt by the dominant parties to close down alternative forums for civil society. They believe in community activism, but only in so far as it serves an interest of theirs. Openly and secretly, direct preference is being given to organisations connected with the two main parties. This was why the civic forum was shut down and never got off the ground.
I put it to the Taoiseach that there is a legal obligation under the Good Friday agreement, yet this legal obligation continues to be ignored. There is some commitment in the Stormont House Agreement to a civic consultative body, whatever that means. That body is to be appointed by the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It will be made up of people hand-picked by Sinn Féin and the DUP, rather than a genuinely representative civic forum. Notwithstanding the misgivings of the parties in respect of the civic forum, articulated off the record and in private gatherings and so on, the degree to which they can decide that such a legal obligation in the Good Friday Agreement can be essentially dispensed with is alarming. What is the Taoiseach's view? Why does he say nothing about it? Why does he allow such a flagrant breach of the Good Friday Agreement? Can he offer any assurances that the consultative body to be established will not be simply another Sinn Féin-DUP stitch-up? We have had too many of those in recent years.
Will the Taoiseach outline his views on his meetings with Theresa Villiers and the analysis of the budget situation? The budget announced in Stormont will have a savage impact on core services. The Northern Ireland Executive will be able to borrow more money, which may moderate some of that impact, but essentially the only parties now suggesting that front-line services will not be cut are the DUP and Sinn Féin. The fact is that 500 teaching posts will go while the parties are claiming that things are getting better. Moreover, 20,000 public servants will be removed. What Sinn Féin would term serious cutbacks or austerity if implemented here is deemed to represent social progress in Northern Ireland.
We, the Taoiseach and our Government have a role. I have discussed with Theresa Villiers how Northern Ireland is exceptional. It has a real issue with education completion among a substantial proportion of those who attend second-level schools. Up to 40% of pupils in some schools are not completing second-level education. This is storing up numerous issues for the future in Northern Ireland.
It seems to me that both Governments, the Executive and all the parties should be taking a sort of Marshall plan approach to social injustice in the North in so far as it relates to education completion and health inequalities. That has never happened since the Good Friday Agreement, and there never has been that sort of concrete comprehensive, co-ordinated response to all of those concerns. In terms of the overall development of the North and the sustainability of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, these are very serious issues. Will the Taoiseach inform me whether the Government has carried out an analysis of the impact of the budgetary decisions that have been taken in Northern Ireland as part of the Stormont House Agreement?
The Taoiseach spoke about North-South co-operation. Four years ago, he said that new proposals for North-South bodies were being prepared. In the interim, he has told us that things are going fine, and all the rest of it. However, I have seen absolutely no progress at all either in terms of new bodies being established or new ideas being churned out with regard to how we can enhance and improve the degree of interaction between North and South. I accept there are difficulties but we could have seen far more imagination than we have in the past four years. I have outlined some ideas on this already, as I did in a speech more than two years ago in Clare in regard to a range of bodies. One I suggested is in the enterprise area, where I think there should be one all-island Enterprise Ireland, or whatever name we give it, to support indigenous small to medium size companies on the island as a whole, with a common set of supports in terms of external marketing, mentoring, development and so on. There is absolutely no reason this could not happen. There are other areas, for example, in health, where we could be more effective, particularly in terms of rare diseases and, in particular, paediatric health in centres of excellence on the island, where, if we allied both, we could achieve quite a lot. I know some work has been done already in the cardiac area.
On the cross-Border side, in a timely manner a committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly has produced an alarming report, Cross-border Police Cooperation and Illicit Trade. The scale of this is quite alarming in terms of its financial impact, which is €250 million to €260 million in loss of revenue to the Exchequer here, and the committee members also found the visibility of the fuel laundering operations meant they were there for all to see. The report states, "The problem was ... most concentrated along the Monaghan/South Armagh border, constituting a large drain on council resources" in Louth, Monaghan and Donegal in terms of supporting the authorities' efforts to halt this illicit trade and deal with the pollution clean-up. When stations had moved on, the cost of cleaning up the toxic waste from dumping sites was estimated to be approximately €1,000 per cu. m. In addition to fuel laundering, there is also the issue of tobacco fraud.
What is interesting is that resources have been enhanced for revenue collection in the UK, where there is a substantial addition of Stg£917 million in funding which focuses on tax evasion, organised crime and debt collection. This is expected to raise additional revenue of £26 billion per annum. In other words, if we put more resources into Revenue, we will get a greater outcome.
With regard to the Revenue Commissioners in the Republic, the committee noted that overall expenditure had been reduced by 21%, with a reduction in full-time staff of 13% in recent years, which impairs its capacity to deal with this particular crime along the Border. The committee "...recommends that the Cross-Border Enforcement Groups establish a permanent, full time task force dedicated to eliminate the activities of organised crime gangs involved with cross-border illicit trade." It wants such a force to be "...comprised of seconded staff from all relevant agencies, including environmental and criminal asset recovery agencies, and supported by a central dedicated secretariat." I would ask the Taoiseach for his perspectives on that.
The report also states, "The Committee is alarmed by the evidence of the widespread presence of fuel laundering plants and filling stations selling illicit fuel in border regions." One can apparently drive by and look at them, which raises all sorts of questions about the level of enforcement. How serious is the crack down on this? Something has to happen. While it may be unfounded, there has been an anecdotal view that, because of the peace process and everything else, a certain blind eye has been turned to some of this. That may be unfair but it seems to me that the budgetary difficulties faced by the Governments in both jurisdictions has caused issues here. The very fact that these plants are so visible to Seán Citizen is incomprehensible. The committee also "...believes that concerns regarding the ultimate beneficiaries and application of proceeds of these crimes can only be addressed through a more focussed and concentrated effort to deal with these cross-border activities, and through Criminal Assets Bureau and National Crime Agency investigation to follow the money trail."
Does the Government intend to act on this report? Will the Government, with the British Government, establish a full-time cross-Border enforcement task force? Will the Taoiseach initiate an investigation between the Criminal Assets Bureau and the National Crime Agency towards dealing with and following the money trail?
I thank Deputy Martin, who has raised quite a number of issues. I hope the forum and the opportunity for discussion in respect of civic matters will not be just, as the Deputy said, a stitched-up operation between two of the major parties in the Assembly. I hope it is realistic and that it is allowed to address issues that need to be addressed.
The co-operation that exists between ourselves and Northern Ireland has probably never been at a higher level. I can testify to the level of activity between the different Ministers on the North-South Ministerial Council. They are very active on a range of co-operative and beneficial measures either side of the Border and they meet on a very regular basis to discuss issues that need to be talked about.
In transport, for instance, Ministers have discussed the operation of the strategic transport priorities, which includes strategic road and sustainable transport networks across the island. We have this business of truckers from here going into Northern Ireland, and the roads that are tolled, charged or levied as a consequence. There is a lot of activity at the moment in regard to the possibility of European Union funding for a system of greenways throughout the island of Ireland, with particular reference to cross-Border opportunities. As I said, the A5 project has been already reaffirmed, with Stg£50 million to be allocated, depending on how the legal process works out for the sections of the A5 that have to be done.
In the whole tourism and hospitality sector, there is a great deal of co-operation. I recall that, when the Canary Wharf bomb went off, the big tourism fair in Earls Court was to take place just a couple of days later. Baroness Denton, God rest her, was the Minister for Northern Ireland at the time. There were a lot of claims that we should not attend the Earls Court tourism fair. For years, there was the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte but, instead of having two separate entities, we put them all on the one stand - the Ireland stand or the island of Ireland stand. I remember seeing the pride in people's faces, whether from North or South, in that they were, in those difficult circumstances, promoting people coming to the island of Ireland and, irrespective of where they landed, be it Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock or otherwise, they were visitors to our country.
That has obviously, as Deputy Martin is well aware, moved on to the co-operation with regard to the Giro d'Italia and the spectacle of colour and excitement that brought; the co-operation before the Olympics with the Olympic flame and the children from North and South; and the Irish Open golf tournament, which has been moved from the Republic to Northern Ireland on a one-in-three basis, and this year is in the home course of the world No. 1 golfer, which is an opportunity for the European tour, and for those who follow the sport or participate in it, to have another engagement in visiting Northern Ireland.
I attended an event at the Royal School in Armagh on the occasion of the last meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council where it was agreed to make a joint North-South bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. My assessment is that Ireland can win the right to host it, which would have an enormous advantage in terms of what it can bring to the island of Ireland, a small country where people would not have to travel 1,000 miles between games and which is close to the major rugby playing nations in Europe. After Japan has had the opportunity to host it, it will come back to this continent for 2023. The bid will be decided in the course of the next year or so. It will be a brilliant opportunity to get the very best of co-operation North and South in terms of the island of Ireland and what that means.
I commend the Gaelic Athletic Association, which made its decision promptly to say that if this is good for the island of Ireland and the economics of Ireland it will gladly support the bid and made its stadia available. There will be a new one in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork and I assume that Casement will be dealt with. Other pitches around the country, where appropriate, will be made available.
The Deputy is aware of the British-Irish visa scheme which was launched in October 2014. It removes the need for those visiting Northern Ireland to apply for a separate visa to travel across the Border and vice versa. It applies in a number of Far Eastern countries, to Britain and Ireland and, of course, to Northern Ireland. The scheme was initially rolled out for India and China, and will significantly boost business and holiday visitors here. I am glad to note the decision of the Chinese authorities to open the doors of their country to Irish beef. In an island context it will be of benefit.
IntertradeIreland continues to grow and support cross-Border business. It has had a significant impact on SMEs. We have worked very hard to make extra credit available for SMEs. It used to be the case, as Deputy Martin is well aware, that a company would test the market in Northern Ireland, which is a small market. We have moved through that. We still have great contact with Northern Ireland, but we also have contact with Britain and beyond in terms of the expanding capacity of Irish SMEs.
I was in Monaghan within the past fortnight. It was quite an inspiring opportunity to see that the personnel from Combilift are moving to a new 100 acre site in Monaghan to build a brand new engineering plant for specific forklift trucks for large steel loads and so on. The company employs 500 people and will go beyond that. It operates on a global scale and has cross-Border personnel.
Of course. It was called Moffets. The chief person, Mr. McVicar, became the chief engineer for the original firm at 20 years of age. The company now sells heavy machinery on a global scale and is able to compete and manufacture it. That is the kind of thing we need.
In respect of the barracks in Monaghan, an issue in which Deputy Martin's Government was directly involved, the sale of the barracks has resulted in a new education entity being established. There is a gaelcholáiste and a college for third level education which is already making arrangements for apprenticeships to deal with the major engineering firm in terms of the North and South.
IntertradeIreland chairs the Horizon 2020 steering group of agencies North and South. It holds out an ambitious target of about €175 million for North-South projects from the EU research and innovation fund. I hope that becomes a reality. It is also true to say that the initiative taken by President Juncker of the Commission allows us to consider what might be an appropriate project or project scales eligible for consideration under that fund which would have an impact on the infrastructure and economics of the country.
In terms of the Environmental Protection Agency and the environment, there is a great deal of co-operation. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is working with its Northern equivalent to develop new projects, such as how used tyres can be restructured to prevent environmental damage. There is also North-South collaboration on the river basin management plan which is important for inland fisheries, clean water and so on. That comes under the EU water framework directive.
Education is a sector of great promise. Joint work is being undertaken by the two education departments and the Middletown Centre for Autism to expand the centre's range of services, which is important. The centre hosted a two day international conference in January this year, involving leading international experts who gave great guidance on how best to get education outcomes for children and young people with autism. Education Departments North and South are working on measures to tackle educational under-achievement, which Deputy Martin mentioned, and literacy, numeracy, collaboration on a range of other issues, co-operation between inspectorates and recognition of teacher qualifications. Such things are important.
As we know, the radiotherapy unit in Altnagelvin is of great assistance North and South. There is a new hospital in Enniskillen which is open and will be able to deal with medical cases from the South and across the north west. There are a number of important areas involving co-operation in terms of abuse of and access to drink and the price of drink. Minimum unit pricing is a matter of co-operation between the two jurisdictions and will be introduced on the same day across the country.
The Deputy mentioned a number of other areas, including the new children's hospital. It will cater for the island of Ireland and the children of Ireland. It is to be hoped that the process, which is now in train, in terms of the lodging of planning permission and assessment, will come to fruition. It can be of great assistance.
This morning, on a recommendation from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Government approved a recommendation from Waterways Ireland to allocate €2 million from its resources to address a 2.5 km section of the Ulster Canal. It is a stand-alone project which will demonstrate further evidence of great co-operation. I understand a further 11 km are due for assessment after that.
I take the Deputy's point on the report produced by the British-Irish Parliamentary Association. I spoke to it yesterday morning in the Seanad and commended Senator Coghlan and all of those who attended and served on the committee. It is fair to say that there has been great deal of engagement with persons involved in criminal activities in regard to fuel laundering, smuggling illicit cigarettes and other areas. It has been quite successful. The committee was very concerned about the scale of what it saw.
The question is what is the best thing to do. Is it to enhance the existing services where there is great co-operation between customs, the Garda, the PSNI and the industries involved? It is a scandal that somebody who pulls into a filling station and pays for fuel on the assumption that it is of the highest standard then finds that the car's engine has been destroyed a short time later. The answer to the Deputy's question is that we will consider the report very carefully. It is a joint report from elected representatives from the North, South and Britain. That is the least it deserves. We will be very happy to follow through on that. They are the main points the Deputy raised.
I was checking my notes when the Fianna Fáil leader started his remarks. I was not paying an awful lot of attention to him, but for a moment I thought he was making a confession and was outlining the way Fianna Fáil used to run its business. Then I woke up and realised he was at the usual rubbish of making ridiculous, unsubstantiated attacks on Sinn Féin.
He also attacked those people who supported us in the North. I commend the Fianna Fáil leader on bringing negative campaigning almost to an art form, although it is very tedious and boring to hear the same unsubstantiated allegations.
I very much welcome the Taoiseach's stated commitment to the Narrow Water bridge, which was restated today. Will he give some detail on the next phase of this very important and necessary piece of infrastructure? It is crucial. It has been spoken about, planned and lobbied for over the past 40 years. That region is less than an hour from Belfast and Dublin airports, and the Government might reflect on that in deciding what to do about Aer Lingus. One can go from the Boyne Valley and Neolithic history right up the east coast from Cromwellian times with the walled city of Drogheda, to the Vikings in Annagassan, nodding at Queen Medb and Cúchulainn, looking across the Cooleys and up into Slieve Gullion and the Mournes. This is an area of very important scenic and tourist potential. Will the Taoiseach give us some sense of the next step on the long journey to get the bridge built across Narrow Water?
I will concentrate on three of my questions, specifically the Ballymurphy massacre and Pat Finucane case, as well as the hooded men. The Taoiseach might know that Terry Laverty, the brother of Mr. John Laverty, who was killed in the Ballymurphy massacre, had his conviction for riotous behaviour quashed just two weeks ago. In August 1971, Terry, who was only a young guy at the time, was detained, stripped, beaten and made to run barefoot over broken glass and through a gauntlet of British Army soldiers. He was told by one soldier that he had already killed one Irish bastard and another would not matter. According to Terry, this soldier put a weapon to Terry's head and pulled the trigger. What he did not tell Terry was that the other Irish bastard was his brother. This man has lived with that for the past 40 years and the quashing of his conviction is an important development, adding weight to the demand that this case needs to be investigated properly. For the record, I extend my condolences and sympathy to Terry as his wife, Lily, died at the weekend. She also lived through this and has campaigned for justice for those people killed in Ballymurphy.
Last year the Taoiseach volunteered to bring forward an all-party Oireachtas motion in support of the Ballymurphy families. Although we did not ask for it, I welcomed it very much. This was after the Taoiseach met those families, and he told me the motion would be produced in sufficient time for the families to be present here. Some time went by and I raised the matter again as the Taoiseach had not delivered on that promise. On 1 July, the Taoiseach indicated the Government was working on a comprehensive motion "which would be discussed with Deputies Martin and Adams shortly". Ní tharla rud ar bith ó shin. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, can be blamed for failing to respond properly to this matter, but in this instance, the Taoiseach's commitment, given gratuitously and in good spirit, was to introduce this all-party Oireachtas motion. Where is it?
We should remember that the families want this to be of value. They want to focus on condemnation of the inadequate investigative process followed by the RUC and British authorities after the killings. They want to welcome the decision in November 2011 by the Attorney General to direct the coroner to reopen the inquest. We should remember that with the Stormont House Agreement, the British Government tried to close down that process and only that Sinn Féin stood firmly with the victims' families, it would have got away with that. The families also seek support for the proposal for a Hillsborough-style independent panel that would examine all the documents relating to the context, circumstances and aftermath of the deaths. Sin ceist amháin. When will the all-party motion be brought before the Dáil?
I commend the decision by the Government to support the move by the campaigners for the hooded men and to request the European Court of Human Rights to revise its judgment in this case. That was the right decision and although the Government was a bit dilatory or hesitant at the beginning, it eventually came to the right decision. This is all a matter of the record due to the diligent work done by the Pat Finucane Centre. These men were tortured over seven days and consequently the British Government lied to the Irish Government of the day and the lawyers acting for the hooded men. It also lied to the European Court of Human Rights and failed to inform that court that this torture had been cleared by the then British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. It also claimed that it had banned these five techniques and pledged in 1978 not to use these techniques in the North or anywhere else again. We know that in Iraq in 2003, the five techniques were used by every British battle group. What is the current status of that case?
Last week, the Pat Finucane Centre revealed that the interrogations were taped. The Taoiseach may not have known that but I thought it interesting. This was uncovered in research at the British National Archives. The documents categorically state that the interrogation sessions of the men at Ballykelly, County Derry, were monitored and taped. There are 400 hours of these taped interrogations at the Joint Services School of Intelligence, where British Army officers were trained in interrogation methods. Personnel from the Pat Finucane Centre have informed the Attorney General of this. Therefore, will the Government seek access to these tapes?
We also know from the US Senate report on torture that these techniques were used by the CIA, which has really serious implications for the Government, given that it allowed US rendition flights to land in Shannon. On the back of the Senate report, this State is now publicly identified as one of the 54 countries that collaborated in various ways with CIA rendition, detention and interrogation. Has the issue been raised with the US Government?
I will finally raise the case of Mr. Pat Finucane. I know I have spoken for almost as long as the Fianna Fáil leader and I do not wish to test the Ceann Comhairle's patience. This is a very important case. The de Silva review revealed that 85% of the intelligence used by the Ulster Defence Regiment to target people for murder originated from British Army and police sources and Pat Finucane's killing was cleared at the very highest level. The issue of collusion was discussed extensively at Cabinet level and Ministers were clearly aware that agents were being run in this administrative practice. The director general of MI5 had raised this with the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The de Silva report indicated that this was a wilful and abject failure by successive Governments to allow this to happen.
Will the Taoiseach provide an update on this? When I raised this with the British Prime Minister in the Taoiseach's presence, he remained silent and any inquiry was ruled out, although it is an obligation under the Weston Park Agreement to conduct such inquiries. Last week I asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if we could use our diplomatic services to raise the issue with our friends at the United Nations and the European Union or with the US Government in order that we can have the case dealt with.
I take responsibility for not having had the all-party motion debated in the House before now. As I said in the reply, there has been some re-drafting of what was being done due to the Stormont House Agreement. It is now late February, so before the end of March we will have an opportunity to let the Ballymurphy people know there will be an all-party motion, if we can get agreement on it from the leaders and the Whips. I accept responsibility for not having put the motion to the Dáil. It is my fault.
We considered the case of the hooded men because of all the new information that had come to light. We have requested that the European Court of Human Rights look at this. Obviously, when one sets out on that course one would expect that all of the information relevant to that objective would be made available to the court. Clearly, therefore, that would include the information contained on those tapes. If the court is to make a decision in respect of changing the situation in so far as the hooded men are concerned, that stands as part of the evidence.
We have been very clear about the murder of Pat Finucane, and every Member here supports the position. I have raised it with the American authorities and the British authorities, with a very different view from that of the British Government. It was part of the agreement that there would be a follow through on the recommendation of Judge Cory, that there should be an inquiry into this. We continue to stand by that. In the Stormont House Agreement there is an opportunity for all of the information to be given by an independent person to family members who seek information about the death of a family member or loved one. I wonder if that will impact on the situation where the British Government made the decision that Mr. de Silva SC should go through the million pages of paper relating to the Finucane case, and whether there is anything else there that would be applicable in the business of being able to draw down that information and see whether there is anything relevant.
We stand by the Government position. It is a difference of opinion between this Government and the British Government in respect of having a full-scale public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. At every opportunity the matter is raised with the British Government and I continue to do the same with the American authorities. I hope to have the opportunity to raise it with them when I travel there in March. One objective of the Stormont House Agreement was to put together a comprehensive framework for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. We made clear in those discussions the difference of opinion we have with the British Government in this regard. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, told the House that he had raised it with the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, at their meeting on 11 February. To be clear on this, we will work with and support the Finucane family in every way we can to follow through on their quest for a full and transparent inquiry into the truth about the murder of Pat Finucane.
If any government is serious about transparency and openness in respect of these matters, whatever information exists should be made available. The British Prime Minister was very clear on these matters. As he said himself, he was only a young lad when many of these events occurred. From his perspective, he said he would like to see an opportunity for completion and conclusion for the families who lost loved ones in all of these circumstances. We have previously discussed in the House the fact that there will not be an opportunity to hold full-scale public inquiries into the several thousand tragic cases but, hopefully, the Stormont House Agreement means what it says and that process can start. The best evidence is proof of the provision of information that is currently off-limits regarding people who have been killed or lost their lives.
In respect of Pat Finucane and Ballymurphy, I will refer back to the House before the end of March and, hopefully, we will get agreement on an all-party motion and have it discussed in the House.
Many of the questions ask the Taoiseach to do this and that. The best thing the Government could do is stay quite a distance away from Northern Ireland. It has nothing new to offer, considering that the austerity already imposed in the North by the Tory-Liberal Democrat government is causing the same social suffering, dislocation and poverty as this Government's austerity has caused here in the past four years following the austerity of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. Why would ordinary working class people in the North, on any side of the community, have confidence that this Government would bring something positive to them in the type of changes that are needed, when its record is one of slashing and burning services in the past four years?
Is it not the case that in the Stormont talks the Taoiseach did not lift a finger when the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, arrived to impose a new round of savage austerity on the people in the North, dictated by the Tory-Liberal Democrat government and to be implemented by the parties in the Executive? How can the Taoiseach talk about developing services such as education when 20,000 public sector jobs are to be axed in the immediate years ahead, as a result of more Tory austerity? Does the Taoiseach not find it sad that the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive will not just implement the failed policies of austerity but also wish to imitate the discredited policy of reducing corporation tax on big business, at the same time that a scandal a month is emerging involving major international banks and some of these big corporations fiddling billions in taxes-----
-----which would otherwise go into infrastructure to create jobs and homes and to overcome the problems bedevilling working class people in the North?
Finally, what does the Taoiseach say to the tens of thousands of public and private sector workers in the North who are due to go on strike and demonstrate across the North on 13 March in opposition to these policies? Does he stand in solidarity with their legitimate and just aspirations to defend jobs and services, or does he stand instead with the Tories?
The position is very different from what Deputy Higgins says. The route out of inequality and unfairness is decent and gainful employment, where work can be seen to pay. It is not for the British Government to intervene in the budgetary process here, and it is not our function to interfere in the work of the Northern Ireland Executive and how it decides to spend its money. That is its business. It is the decision it makes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of what funding it gets and how it decides to spend it. Clearly, there have been reductions in elements of the public service that have an implication for jobs. They have been decided by the Executive and the Assembly, in the same way as happens in every other jurisdiction.
For our part, we wish to continue to co-operate and to fund those projects to which we have committed. Some €50 million is available for the A5 - €25 million this year and €25 million next year - but because of the court cases which have taken place, it is unlikely construction will start before 2017. This is outside my control.
Deputy Adams asked a question about the Narrow Water bridge. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, met Louth County Council recently but the proposition put to him was costing in the order of €50 million. This is in excess of the original cost of the first proposal. The money which was not spent on the Narrow Water bridge was invested in the rail line from Dublin to Belfast, which is of interest to people who are travelling north and south. The promoters of the project have to bring forward their proposition but the structure and the design of the bridge need to be examined.
I do not accept, as suggested by Deputy Higgins, that we did not lift a finger down here to help our colleagues across the Border. We continue to support strongly the cross-Border co-operative agencies and organisations and we will continue to fund these for the foreseeable future. It is also fair to say, as I mentioned to Deputy Martin, that the extent of current cross-Border business is exceptional, particularly in the hospitality and business sectors. These are the routes for getting out of poverty and inequality in Northern Ireland. In fact, there have been complaints about workers from Northern Ireland doing contract or subcontract work on projects in various locations in the Republic. This has been a cause of anxiety for people who thought they should have been able to get those particular projects.
One needs to look at the expansion of credit for small and medium enterprises and the decisions made by Government, such as that on the strategic banking corporation, to make new moneys available in addition to what is available from the restructured banks. The availability of these moneys is for longer terms and at lower interest rates and gives opportunities for business both ways. Deputy Higgins has been consistent in his views on the Tories and the Tory Government, but for us it is about expanding the opportunity for the economy of the island of Ireland. This is why we had people from Northern Ireland over in Brussels during the permanent representation and those discussions we had during the Presidency. We continue to work very closely with them.
It is a matter for the Executive, the Assembly and the British Government to decide to give the authority to the Executive and the Assembly to decide on the rate of corporation tax. Depending on how far that is to be reduced by the Executive - we have not objected to it; we have welcomed it, in fact - there will be a loss to existing corporation tax levels, once a decision is taken to change or reduce it.
It makes the situation a little clearer when the two rates are closer to each other. I remember being in Japan with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The rate of corporation tax in the Republic is 12.5%. It is not moving up and not moving down. It is very consistent and is the cornerstone of our recovery. It is a different level in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we are more attractive from that perspective in terms of foreign direct investment and jobs creation. The Chancellor has given authorisation to the Executive. It will probably be 2017 or 2018 before this is actually implemented, following the decision. This is a matter for the Executive itself.
It is regrettable that there has not been a motion in this House on the Ballymurphy case and it is important that we move things on. This has been going on for many years now. I can recall, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, that we made a proposal that a UN panel would be established. I understand from Deputy Adams that a different type of panel, a Hillsborough-type panel, is now being proposed. The British have been saying all along that they do not want to do a full-scale Bloody Sunday-type inquiry. However, if agreement has been reached in terms of what the relatives would like, then we should push for the incorporation of this within the motion and have it as a position to put to the British Government to ensure it happens. With the march of time, it is probably more frustrating in terms of bringing closure to the relatives of the victims of that massacre.
Has the Taoiseach any plans to meet the parents of Paul Quinn who was murdered? I met Stephen and Breege recently. The absence of any justice for this family is also very telling. This was a barbaric murder involving perhaps up to 20 people in a barn. As a mother said to me, they broke every bone in his body. What was said in the aftermath of this by political representatives and others in Sinn Féin left much to be desired in terms of the undermining of the man's reputation. There is a lot of sourness and unease about this and I am concerned about the lack of any progress in the investigation.
In terms of the education dimension to this and the budget, we should be investing in education in the North even more than has been invested already to deal with the issues of school completion and 500 teachers being lost as a result of the Stormont talks. It is quite extraordinary given the large level of early school-leaving which is very problematic from a societal point of view. Sinn Féin talks a good story. I have not heard one that has been substantiated. Sinn Féin talks like Syriza in the Republic but acts like the Tories in Northern Ireland. This is the reality. I cannot understand why education is not protected and enhanced in terms of any agreements. We need to speak to the British Government about this because there will be long-term problems if we do not deal with this.
The Taoiseach did not outline the next steps in the Narrow Water bridge process in response to my earlier question.
I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment on an Oireachtas motion. I remind him, in a fraternal way, that this is the third time he has made such a commitment. We are almost a year on. Before he brings the motion to me or an Teachta Martin, I suggest that he ensures the Ballymurphy families are satisfied with it.
The Taoiseach, in response to my question on Pat Finucane, spoke of some device under the Stormont House talks and dealing with the past. I do not wish to read too much into what he said. However, if he is considering a departure from the Weston Park Agreement around Pat Finucane, will he please discuss it with Geraldine Finucane and her family? I have often stated in this House that my sense of what an Irish Government needs to do, first and foremost, is to deal with the British Government as a co-equal partner, sovereign Government to sovereign Government, and not in any other way, to fulfil the Irish Government's obligations under these treaties and to ensure the British Government does the same. The commitment given by the British Government was not casual or personal. It was part of an international agreement with the Irish Government.
I agree with some of what an Teachta Higgins says on austerity and so forth. However, we should have more Irish Ministers in the North and we should have more interaction with the North in dealing with all of these issues. Na Teachtaí Higgins and Martin and everyone else should be dealing, as part of our daily business, with communities and citizens up there. However, the main responsibility, while trying to make friends with our Unionist neighbours, is to have the British Government face up to its historic responsibilities and to build a future based on hope and commitments given.
I will talk to the Deputies and have the Whips discuss the range of what might be included in an all-party motion. I will, of course, take into account the wishes of the Ballymurphy people.
I am not considering changing anything arising from the Weston Park Agreement.
We have had a standard procedure for a full-scale public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, but that has not been granted by the British Government, which held the de Silva investigation or analysis, resulting in 1,000 pages of information. There would have to be legislation here, with which the Government will press ahead. The commission will be led by four members and an independent chairperson. Two individuals will be nominated by the Executive, and one each will be nominated by the UK Government and by the Irish Government. My question is: if somebody wishes to talk to the ICIR when it is set up in respect of receiving all the information completely independently of any political interference, as the agreement states, would that in any way add something to the Finucane case or any other case? That is the only point I am making. At present, the standard procedure is to continue to call for a full-scale public inquiry. I would be willing to determine whether this is what is in the agreement. In testing it, would it add anything to the dimension that we do not know about in respect of the Pat Finucane case? That is the only point I would make to the Deputy.
Deputy Martin asked about Paul Quinn, whose murder was appalling.
The Narrow Water project has obviously featured for a long time. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, met representatives of Louth County Council recently. The project, as outlined to him, would cost €50 million. He asked Louth County Council to develop a viable proposition that would meet the suitability criteria for such a project. This would require work on both sides, as the Deputy knows. Assistance would have to be received from both jurisdictions. It is the promoters of the project that must take the initiative here. The Minister has, therefore, asked Louth County Council to examine how one could develop a proposal that would meet the criteria and yet deal with the objective, which is to have a physical link either side of the lough. Obviously, we are supportive of that. I am quite sure the Executive and the community will be also.