Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.
Mary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
I am very pleased to speak for my party on this motion tabled by the Progressive Democrats Party. This motion is very transparent. Every clause is clear. There is no division on the matters contained therein and, given what Senator Brian Hayes has said so far, I do not believe there will be a division on it.
Before going into the substance of the motion let me commend all who have been involved over a great many years in painstaking work, who have given their attention and worked diligently on the peace process. Senator Hayes spoke about the process as if it were a somewhat dirty word, but in a different context. I commend the inclusivity of the process to which all of the people of this island are committed and from which they wish to see democratic participation emerge.
I agree that over the years there has been delay and frustration and a constant hedging on matters, which has led us, staying with Senator Hayes's analogy, to the train station. At the same time administrations and good men and women, elected and otherwise, have worked endlessly to bring about a transformation of society in Northern Ireland and, with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to bring about what was to be a bright dawn for everybody. I say from my heart that I personally felt betrayed and I can only imagine the sense of betrayal the Taoiseach and many others must have felt having worked day and night and overcome so many hazards and having bounced back again. However, we cannot say the ten years of the peace process were wasted because so much that has been fruitful for the country as a whole has happened in that period. We must acknowledge that and not put it to one side as if it were all to no avail. Much good came out of the work of those years and it is important to recognise that and to say it.
Clearly the scales have dropped from all our eyes. There is no doubt that the recent bank heist was the work of the IRA. Both the police force in the North and the Garda Síochána in the South have expressed that opinion and have provided evidence of it. That plans were afoot for this major bank heist while talks were ongoing makes one feel very diminished. It also diminishes the peace process and the work of people who travelled to and organised and took part in talks, trying desperately to bring about a fruitful conclusion.
No matter how much betrayal is felt, no matter how abruptly the scales fell from our eyes, I am very aware that it is only by including all of the parties that we will be able achieve the hopes expressed in the Good Friday Agreement. There is no point saying we will be able to proceed without a particular party. That party must embrace full democracy. It must leave criminality behind. The Taoiseach on behalf of the Government, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, have said so quite clearly. I have been attending cumann AGMs in the past two weeks at which this was the only issue on the agenda because we took great pride in the whole process. I do not, therefore, want to go down the path of atavistic talk in which it is said that the party in question is down and out and we will hound and pound them and so on. That will not lead to anything good in respect of the journey on which we all embarked some years ago. There is still a need to keep hope alive. Above all there is a need to ensure that we hold to the strong line which the Taoiseach has always adopted.
When Fianna Fáil was in opposition from 1994 to mid 1997 we were very involved in talks and the Taoiseach always made it very clear that the negotiations in which we were all engaged had to be inclusive, that we could not leave one party out and say we would manage without it. The process cannot work like that.
We now know about the criminality and stern words have been expressed in strong and powerful language both by the Taoiseach and by Prime Minister Tony Blair. One had only to look at the faces of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness when they left here. We did not see quite where they went in Chequers. We saw only a gate and their puzzled faces. However, demonising Sinn Féin and painting them as the cause of all ills would be incorrect because they would thrive on that. They would thrive on being the people on whom we are heaping abuse on and who we consider the villains of the piece. They are, but the constant reiteration of that message will not do the cause of Ireland any good.
I am aware that my words will be interpreted in many ways. I am fully in favour of democracy. I am very upset at the way we were fooled, at the activities that were going on while the talks were taking place. I am aware that what we are embarked on for our country is hugely important. We must maintain inclusivity but we must also ensure that we do not heap the blame so much that Sinn Féin can cloak itself in the mantle of the injured party rather than be seen as the party that has done wrong, and by so doing become, albeit regretfully, heroes of another kind.
We are all aware of what has happened, but I strongly urge that we measure our tone and our language and move forward.