Friday, 14 July 2017
Independent Reporting Commission Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I welcome the passing of this legislation, which arises from work done over a number of years. It shows the importance of talks at Stormont and the successful completion of talks. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, was involved in the Fresh Start talks in his then capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is unfortunate, as we meet here now and this legislation is passed, that we do not have a functioning assembly and an Executive in Northern Ireland. We sincerely hope that all the parties in both Governments will ensure that some urgency is given to the talks. We have a lacuna and an interregnum. This is at a time when many critical issues face all of this island, particularly Northern Ireland and not just our State. In terms of Brexit, we need a strong united voice from Northern Ireland regarding the particular challenges that it faces economically and socially, as well as those in the areas of health and education. They are the same problems that we face in our jurisdiction, and in some areas they are greater.
I appeal to the Minister, his Government colleagues and the British Government and the political parties represented in Stormont. There is a particular onus on Sinn Féin and the DUP, as the two major parties, to ensure that the issues that have been outstanding and left Northern Ireland without a Government or an Executive since January of this year are dealt with. I know from my interaction with neighbours of my constituency in counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh that they are disillusioned that they do not have a functioning assembly or an Executive working for them. They went out and cast their votes in the assembly elections last March. Those people want an Executive that is working on their behalf, representing them and making decisions at local level. Mr. Brokenshire is quoted in the newspapers this morning as saying that he will be making decisions regarding the budget in Northern Ireland. We want local Ministers making decisions in regard to the Six Counties. I appeal to all the parties and the two Governments to ensure that a momentum is given to the talks in order to ensure that we have a functioning Assembly and working Executive backin situ as soon as possible.
Sinn Féin welcomes the passage of the Bill, which is part of the outworkings of the Fresh Start agreement. It is a pity that many of the promises in previous agreements have not been delivered as quickly as this one as we would not be in the current lacuna in terms of setting up the Executive. It behoves all of us in the House, and outside it, to be as constructive as possible rather than squeaking from the sidelines to try to ensure that progress is made, that we have a working assembly and Executive and that we can move forward as was intended in a number of agreements going back as far as the Good Friday Agreement. In particular, we are moving towards an all-island approach in this legislation. If we did that in all of our endeavours, we would be a lot further down the road towards the stability and peace that was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement and which is intended by this Bill.
I welcome the Bill's passage and I hope that it will add to our society rather than detract.
However, it is only part of both the work we must do and the apparatus necessary to bring us to the point that was envisaged when people in this State and in the North voted for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
I acknowledge the contributions of Deputies on the various Stages of this Bill. I also acknowledge the co-operation across party lines on the passing of this important legislation and the prioritisation of this matter by the Business Committee, notwithstanding the busy Dáil schedule in recent weeks. I am pleased that this important Bill will pass all Stages in the House and I look forward to an early engagement with Seanad Éireann with a view to completing its passing. It is important that we make provision for the Independent Reporting Commission, which was established by the agreement between the Irish and British Governments known as the Fresh Start agreement. Following the enactment of this legislation, we will be able to move forward on the important issue of the eradication of the legacy of paramilitarism both North and South.
Deputy Brendan Smith commented on current developments in Northern Ireland. I agree with him and I acknowledge his role as Chairman of the committee, as his party's spokesperson and as a Deputy representing a Border area. In recent years, the Dáil has continued to operate very much by way of all-party agreement in this regard and I welcome that. It is important that this should continue. I acknowledge what has been said about the failure of the parties to agree on an institutional framework in Northern Ireland since the election of 2 March. It is disappointing. However, there are good grounds for optimism given the parties' engagement, albeit of a somewhat paused nature over the summer weeks.
I still believe that if the political will exists, the parties, with the assistance of both Governments, will be in a position to advance matters with a view to forming an Executive in the autumn. That is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. Should the Executive be restored to its full authority in Northern Ireland, one of its first engagements will be an early meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. That is essential as there has not been a meeting for some time. It is essential in the context of good relations between North and South, particularly in the context of Brexit and for communities in the Border areas.
I thank the Deputies and I look forward to the enactment of this legislation. It will play an important role in the ongoing framework of political engagement and the process of reconciliation towards the goal of having a normalised society in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland.