Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.
Brian Hayes (Fine Gael)
Fine Gael welcomes the motion under debate, which was tabled by the Progressive Democrats group. I welcome the tenor of the earlier remarks by Senator Minihan. I compliment him on his speech and the consistency of his words on this issue during his membership of this House since 2002. Much of this debate has already been stated and I often wonder what is the importance of repeating it. I suppose the importance is to remind ourselves of these things, as members of constitutional parties who operate the rules of the game and abide by the laws of the State, as a means of encouraging those who are outside the democratic system to enter it.
Ten years ago, as a means of encouraging Sinn Féin into the process, many people did not say difficult things. I had strong views about it, as did the former leader of my party, Mr. John Bruton. We did it, however, as a means of encouraging the Provisional movement into mainstream politics. The great compromise deal was that a short transition period would emerge when, essentially, a paramilitary political party would slowly become a political party and it would sign up to the norms that we all accept in ordinary democratic politics. The great disappointment for those of us who made those concessions at that time is that it has taken so long. Making and building peace is not easy; it takes a very long period. What is fundamental about this issue, however, is that the trappings of paramilitarism and control they want to have in parts of Northern Ireland and parts of this city, the trappings of the criminal world and the huge sums of money they scam off continually, have gone on for so long that most people just cannot understand it. That is why we need to be reminded of it in the very stark motion before the House.
I listened to Mr. Adams's remarks when he had finished his discussions with Mr. Blair last week. He said something that I found quite extraordinary and I want to place it on the record of the House. He said, "The primary issue here is the future of the process". I found it astonishing that he should say that. I thought the primary issue was the full implementation of the Agreement and the end of the process. The Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte, put it very well last week when he said that Sinn Féin seems to have more interest in the process than it does in the end of the process. They are the big winners in the process. They are able to marginalise moderate opinion in Northern Ireland by taking over from the SDLP as the principal Nationalist party. They are constantly in the news in this jurisdiction and they have done very well in all kinds of elections here over that period. If the mentality of the Sinn Féin president is that the important thing is the process, we have a big problem with the peace process.
Senator Minihan is correct in saying that some of the straight talking was very recent and very blunt. We should not forget that the entire process was in place from September to December. On 1 December, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said he was convinced that the IRA was on the peaceful path because he had not seen criminality. Of course he had not — they had turned it off in the run up to the talks. When the talks did not go their way they turned it on again. In the space of a week in Northern Ireland we saw three punishment beatings, to which the Taoiseach referred in the Lower House last week. We have not been fooled just once but three or four times, and we should not allow ourselves to be fooled again.
It is time to look at this process in order to consider how we can ensure that the aspirations of the people as expressed in voting for the Good Friday Agreement are implemented. I wish to put one initiative to the Government side, which is an SDLP proposal in two formats. We can either reconvene the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, dealing exclusively with the requirements for resolving this issue, or we can have another forum where all the constitutional parties on the island, all democratic opinion North and South, could agree on what is required of Sinn Féin-IRA in terms of the final path they must travel towards democratic politics.
When this suggestion was put to the Government some months ago it rejected it because Sinn Féin did not want it. Sinn Féin does not want the SDLP and the Alliance Party talking regularly on a Friday in Dublin Castle because it provides exposure for them and puts them back on the pitch. In the excellent words of Séamus Mallon, Sinn Féin wants the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland because it wants to control that great pillar of republican, Nationalist Ireland in the North. That is Sinn Féin's goal and it will leave the rest to the DUP. As someone who has always represented the middle ground in this country, I say that is wrong. The voice of the Alliance Party is just as important as that of Sinn Féin-IRA. Just as important also is the voice of the SDLP which has striven for peace over the past 35 years and has held that line throughout.
As well as talking tough, the Government can act tough by reconvening the forum purely as a means of getting agreement on the matters that have now to be agreed. That would put it up to Sinn Féin-IRA who do not want this to happen. Let us not forget that the only party that refused to accept the principle of consent document that was put to the forum was Sinn Féin. It is the problem, not us.
I ask the Government to examine another SDLP proposal on the possibility of re-establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has never met since the last elections. Members of the Assembly could take their seats and the British Government could appoint independent persons to act as ministers in various departments. This would at least get the Assembly up and running again.
One of the great dilemmas I have with the process is that unless we all move at the same time with Sinn Féin-IRA there is no movement at all. All the moderate political parties in Northern Ireland, which have been striving for full implementation of the Agreement, are thus left out in the cold. It is a conspiracy on the part of Sinn Féin-IRA. They want that to happen because the longer it continues the more they grow and the greater their control in terms of their mandate. The Government should seriously examine the SDLP's proposal to re-establish the Assembly and get representative government, albeit in a new form for the transitional period, up and running again in Northern Ireland.
The new attitude the Government has adopted with regard to Sinn Fein is important but the most important decision is now for Sinn Féin-IRA to make. The Governments in Washington, London and Dublin cannot make up the Provisional movement's mind for it — that is a matter for itself. However, there comes a time when, in the immortal words of Lloyd George, we must leave the station. That will happen sooner rather than later. If those parties want to board the train under the same ground rules as the rest of us, they are welcome. There is nothing that would give me more peace of mind and absolute excitement in terms of the future of this country than that the Provisional movement should come in from the cold. However, it has decided of its own volition that now is not the time. It may be time for those of us who want the train to leave the station to do so. That is something the Government must address at some point.