Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.


7:00 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)

I commend the motion. There was certainly never any intention to have an amendment to a motion such as this. My party has always been to the fore in searching for a just and peaceful settlement to the conflict in Northern Ireland and in supporting the Good Friday Agreement. It, like all other parties, has tried to encourage opponents of the Agreement to abandon paramilitarism in favour of mainstream democratic politics.

I certainly acknowledge the significance of the major moves made by Sinn Féin over the past ten years but it must complete its journey to full democratic policies. The republican movement must provide a clear commitment that all criminal and illegal activity will end. We cannot have a democratic system in which one political movement reserves the right to engage in and benefit from crime while all others operate within the constraints of the law.

Since the robbery of the Northern Bank and the associated kidnappings, attitudes have certainly changed. It must now be made clear to Sinn Féin that the negotiating reality has changed irrevocably. The Government has addressed this point at a recent meeting with the party. It must be made to understand that when it negotiates with the Taoiseach, it is negotiating with the Head of a sovereign Government whose authority is vested in the people.

Truth and trust go hand in hand and Sinn Féin must come clean and acknowledge its links with criminality. It must, once and for all, subscribe fully to strictly democratic policies. There can be no more punishment beatings and robberies and no more fudging or evading the issues. Sinn Féin gave a public commitment in 2003 that the IRA would not engage in any activities which would undermine the peace process, as stated in the motion yet, at the recent talks in Leeds Castle, Sinn Féin refused to sign up to a clause requiring it to undertake not to endanger anyone's personal rights and safety. This is the type of double-talk and spin that must end.

All parties involved in the talks process have a right to be so involved and represent the people who voted for them. Equally, those same parties have a responsibility to act in good faith while engaged in the process. This has clearly not been the case where Sinn Féin is concerned. For the sake of the integrity of the peace process and all those who offered overwhelming support to the Good Friday Agreement, action must be taken against parties responsible for clear breaches of good faith. The Government must tell Sinn Féin that the McCabe deal is off and will never be revisited in any future negotiations. The Government must leave Sinn Féin in no doubt that it will not be cowed by threats or ignore clear breaches of faith by the party in the future. There can be no more appeasement of a party which constantly demands concessions without in turn budging and no more tacit acceptance of criminality, including that based and committed here in the Republic.

Fine Gael stands by the rule of law for all persons in all parties and places. The Government must stand up for democracy and dispel the proposition that republicanism is automatically exempt from law, order and morality. It must also make it clear that truth, the law and democracy are not for sale in this State. I joined Fine Gael because its policy in the 1960s and 1970s was the reunification of the country by peaceful means, with the consent of the majority. That remains our policy and was the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement for the Nationalist parties.

No vacuum can or should exist. All parties must live up to their responsibilities. If Sinn Féin boards the ship of state, as Senator Maurice Hayes suggested, we will be there to welcome it into the democratic process. It must, however, fully sign up to democratic means and end all forms of criminality.


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