Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.

 

6:00 pm

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 and overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, has totally changed the political landscape of this island. The proposals for a comprehensive agreement published by the two Governments on 8 December 2004, covered the issues that must be resolved to finally and definitively assure peace and political stability in Northern Ireland and unlock the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to the benefit of everyone on this island.

The key issues which had been the subject of intensive discussions since the Assembly elections in November 2003 are ending paramilitarism, arms decommissioning, completing the policing project and ensuring sustainable political institutions.

Senators will be aware that while agreement was reached in respect of the policing and institutional aspects, it was not possible to achieve a consensus in regard to the transparency of arms decommissioning or the ending of all forms of criminal activity.

Recent developments, including the attribution by the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, of responsibility for the Northern Bank raid to the Provisional IRA and the sharing of that assessment by the Garda Síochána, have underlined the need for a definitive and demonstrable end to criminal activity if the public confidence necessary to sustain inclusive government is to be achieved.

The Independent Monitoring Commission, IMC, was set up by the Governments in 2003. It was given the task in the Joint Declaration of monitoring and reporting on compliance with commitments in respect of the ending of paramilitary activity and the programme of security normalisation in Northern Ireland. It is also empowered to consider claims that any party within the Assembly is in breach of its commitments under the Agreement.

The Government believes that the IMC can act as a confidence-building mechanism on a wide range of issues, including an end to paramilitarism. Since 2003, the IMC has issued a number of reports with regard to ongoing paramilitary activity, including by the IRA, and has highlighted that there is no evidence of activity that might presage a return to a paramilitary campaign. However, it has also indicated that the IRA was responsible for the major theft of goods in Dunmurray in May and that it was engaged in significant amounts of smuggling. Both the Irish and British Governments have signalled that they expect the IMC to issue another report, including its analysis of the Northern Bank raid, in the coming days.

The difficulties facing the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement must be acknowledged but they must not be allowed to overshadow the successes of the Agreement to date. We must continue building and strengthening the work begun under the Agreement. Many real social and economic benefits have already been delivered through the out working of the Agreement, particularly through North-South co-operation. The Government will continue to build on this work.

The new institutional framework which came out of the Good Friday Agreement provided a structured space for the development of all-island co-operation which recognised political and practical realities. In practice the work carried out in this new institutional space has worked to the benefit of all the people of Ireland.

Through the North-South Ministerial Council, strand two of the Agreement provides opportunities for the growth and development of the delivery of public services and business development on the island. The work of the NSMC has already shown that in terms of enhancing our economic potential, North-South co-operation is of particular significance.

The Government has ensured that the achievements of North-South co-operation have been protected during suspension and they wish to see the further development of practical co-operation on the island.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, six North-South bodies were established to implement co-operation across a range of areas, including trade and business development, language and inland waterways. InterTrade Ireland is an all-island body charged with facilitating and driving the development of an all-island economy. Its headquarters are located on the key Dublin-Belfast corridor in Newry. The body exercises a range of functions in close collaboration with the existing agencies in the field, North and South. InterTrade Ireland runs programmes which assist the all-island economy, such as FOCUS, an all-island sales and marketing initiative which facilitates the development of partnerships between companies, graduates and consultants. All-island trade is promoted through the identification of new market opportunities and the delivery of cross-Border sales. The success of the programme has also seen some companies opening premises in the other jurisdiction.

One example of ongoing co-operation work is Tourism Ireland, a limited company established to promote and market the island of Ireland abroad as a single tourism destination. Senators will be aware of the importance of the tourism industry to the island. The establishment of this company displays our firm commitment to and belief in the potential for North-South co-operation. This commitment has paid off. Tourism Ireland's work is encouraging growing numbers of visitors to the island.

Work is also ongoing in areas outside those designated under the Agreement. One of the most dynamic areas of current co-operation is that of energy. In August last year the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources launched a development framework for an all-island energy market with his Northern colleague, Mr. Barry Gardiner. This was developed in partnership with the regulators, North and South, and is a project with the full backing of the industry on both sides of the Border. The momentum of North-South co-operation must be carried forward. The Government will work closely with the British Government to make absolutely certain that the mutual benefit delivered by the work of co-operation is not only maintained but developed.

The Government is also working to ensure the transformation of policing as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement called for a new beginning to policing, based on the principles of effectiveness, accountability, equality, human rights and community partnership. The Agreement sets out the terms of reference and objectives, namely, a professional and effective police service which carries out its duties fairly and impartially, which is free from partisan political control, which is accountable both under the law and to the communities it serves and which acts in accordance with the highest human rights standards. This was the template set out in the Patten report published in 1999.

That there has been a complete transformation in the policing structures and arrangements in Northern Ireland is beyond doubt. The Oversight Commissioner, Mr. Al Hutchinson, whose responsibility it is to report on the progress made in implementing the Patten recommendations, has in his latest report, published in December last, described the changes in policing in Northern Ireland as unparalleled in the history of democratic policing reform. The breadth and depth of change has been extraordinary.

I will recount some examples of that achievement. There is a new community-centred police service governed by a code of ethics in line with the highest standards of human rights; a vigorous and effective police complaints ombudsman; comprehensive accountability structures, including the policing board and district policing partnerships, which make the police accountable to local communities; recruitment policies which are slowly but surely making the police service more representative of the communities it serves; and considerably enhanced co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána, including provision to allow officers from each force to serve in the other.

The continuing success of this project is a tribute to all of the people involved at all levels. The policing board has been the primary engine of change, driving forward the implementation of the Patten recommendations. From day one, the board has never avoided taking the hard decisions, no matter how sensitive or complex the issue involved. Its record of success is there for all to see, and it continues to grow. The Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, has conducted her work with fairness and impartiality throughout. Her office commands widespread cross-community support and her tireless work has done much to instil increasing confidence within both communities.

Following the Good Friday Agreement, a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland was also carried out and published in 2000. Taken in total, the 294 recommendations of the criminal justice review amounted to a call for change in almost all areas of the criminal justice system. That change is now taking place and the Government is monitoring it closely, in particular to ensure that it is leading to a greater degree of public confidence in the criminal justice institutions.

I welcome the changes of substance in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, such as increased human rights training for personnel; new strategies to promote equality in staffing and in provision of services; and the establishment of a new judicial appointments commission and a new public prosecution service for Northern Ireland. These developments have all arisen from the review's recommendations. The criminal justice review also recommended increased co-operation between the criminal justice agencies in the two parts of the island in such areas as liaison on the misuse of drugs, co-operation on forensic and pathology services and a register of sex offenders. I am pleased to be able to report that this work is moving ahead and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, hopes shortly to sign an international agreement to underpin it.

Inherent in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is recognition of the importance of reconciliation, remembering and dealing with the past. This recognition took a more concrete form in the commitments given at the Weston Park talks in 2001 to investigate allegations of collusion. Following on from these commitments, the British and Irish Governments appointed Judge Peter Cory, a retired judge of the Canadian Supreme Court, to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion in six controversial cases. Both Governments agreed to abide by the findings and recommendations of Judge Cory, including any recommendations for a public inquiry into any of the cases. In this jurisdiction, Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry into the murders of RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan. The terms of reference for this inquiry have been approved by the Government and a motion is due to be placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas soon.

On 16 November 2004 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced the chair and members of the three panels for the public inquiries into the deaths of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. The inquiries are expected to begin later this year. The Patrick Finucane case is being dealt with separately and the British Government has announced it will be held when new legislation covering inquiries is enacted. The legislation in question is being discussed on Committee Stage in the House of Lords. The Government has consistently stated that a full public and independent inquiry is necessary to address the concerns surrounding Patrick Finucane's murder. With this in mind, we will seek to ensure that the terms of reference fulfil the commitments given at Weston Park.

The concrete examples provided by North-South co-operation, policing, criminal justice and the Cory inquiries illustrate how far we have come since the Agreement was reached in 1998. However, we have not yet reached the end of the road. To complete that journey we must see a full commitment on all sides to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, as set out in the Mitchell principles and the Good Friday Agreement. At this point, it is incumbent on Sinn Féin and the IRA to remedy the crisis of confidence they have created. It is essential that they deal with the issues of paramilitary and criminal activity and capability in a convincing way. In the meantime, as the Taoiseach has stated, we do not favour exclusion.

Last week, the Taoiseach, with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, had a series of meetings with Sinn Féin, the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party. In addition, he spoke by telephone with the DUP leader, Dr. Ian Paisley. The Taoiseach's meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday provided an opportunity to discuss options for political progress. As he stated afterwards: "The reality of the situation is that until we get an end to criminality and an end to decommissioning, then we cannot win the trust and confidence of all the collective parties to be able to move forward."

In the coming weeks we will continue to keep in close contact with the British Government and the various parties. Notwithstanding current difficulties, the two Governments are determined to advance the implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. We will not allow the gains of recent years to be jeopardised. Consistent with this, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will co-chair a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference later this month in Dublin, which will seek to advance progress across a range of important areas. The Government will continue to focus on achieving the full implementation of the Agreement. Our continued close partnership with the British Government and the parties in Northern Ireland will be vital in achieving this aim.

The issues before us are clear. Given the context laid out in the Agreement and the various Government papers since then, including Weston Park, the Joint Declaration and the proposals for a comprehensive agreement published last December, there can be no possible excuse for delay in achieving a real and definitive end to criminality and paramilitarism. That is the wish of the people of Ireland endorsed in referendums, North and South.

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