Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

5:00 pm

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

—commends the efforts of all Irish Governments since the foundation of the State to encourage those involved in paramilitarism to desist and to move into the democratic mainstream;

—notes the efforts undertaken over the last decade by all Irish Governments to encourage the Provisionals away from paramilitarism and into exclusively democratic and peaceful means of advancing their political objectives;

—notes that all parties to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement reaffirmed their "total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues" and their "opposition to any use or threat of force for any political purpose";

—notes the public commitment given by Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, in May 2003 that the IRA would engage in "no activities" which would undermine the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement;

—notes the recent conviction of Mr. Niall Binéad for the crime of IRA membership;

—notes with regret the unwillingness of the Provisionals, in the talks leading to the publication of the Governments' proposals in December, to undertake not to "endanger anyone's personal rights and safety";

—notes with regret the resumption of so-called punishment attacks in Northern Ireland immediately following the recent breakdown in political negotiations;

—notes with regret the inability in a recent newspaper interview of the Sinn Féin President, Mr. Gerry Adams, to urge that citizens with information on serious crime should bring that information to the Garda Síochána and notes that he urged such citizens to bring that information instead to "respected members of the community";

—notes with regret recent comments by the national chairman of Sinn Féin, Mr. Mitchell McLaughlin, that the murder of Mrs. Jean McConville was not a crime;

—notes with regret the recent robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast and associated kidnappings;

—notes that the recent Northern Bank robbery has been attributed to the Provisional IRA by both the Garda Síochána and the Chief Constable of the PSNI;

—calls on the Provisional movement to end its self-imposed political isolation, to opt for exclusively peaceful and democratic means and to turn its back conclusively on paramilitarism and on all forms of criminality; and

—commends the Government for its absolute insistence that the Provisionals give up all forms of paramilitarism and criminality.

I hope this motion has given Members a chance to reflect on several of the points highlighted. I could elaborate on each one but it is no longer necessary. Recent events, interpretations and actions substantiate all the points the Progressive Democrats have identified in this motion.

Last week in Poland more than 30 Heads of State joined survivors of Auschwitz to mark 60 years since the Red Army liberated the Nazi death camps. In a ceremony of remembrance for the 1.5 million people who died there world leaders called for all to learn the lessons of the Holocaust by intensifying efforts to crush prejudice, sectarianism and intolerance. Speaking at Auschwitz and Krakow, President Putin said that just as there could be no good or bad fascists there could be no good or bad terrorists, and double standards in this respect are unacceptable and deadly for civilisation. He urged unity against the threat of terror, saying that civilisation could be saved if people united against their common enemy.

One wonders how the appalling horror of Auschwitz could happen. In the early 20th century Germany was deemed one of the most sophisticated and progressive countries in the world and in less than a lifetime that stable, modern nation of 80 million people led Europe into moral, cultural and physical ruin and precipitated murder on a titanic scale. It begs the question how or why man perpetrates such heinous crimes on his fellow man. One wonders how the Germans, an advanced and highly cultured people, gave in to the brutal force of National Socialism so quickly and easily and why there was so little serious resistance to Hitler. It is hard to understand how an insignificant radical party of the right achieved power with such dramatic suddenness. Why did so many fail to perceive the potentially disastrous consequences of ignoring the violent ideology and nature of the Nazis? Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

When evil extremism gets involved in the political process, and particularly when it is close to placing its hands on the levers of power, good people need a wake-up call. Evil works in devious and diverse ways. Soothing mantras are used and abused. The phrase Arbeit Macht Frei, work makes you free, lingers above the gates of Auschwitz, a grim reminder of a perverse deception.

Communist ideals such as social justice and equality for all are populist. Communist language such as "the struggle", "the masses", "exploiters" and "the exploited" won many friends and admirers in the West but this masked the nightmarish evils of the Soviet gulags, a system that marked or destroyed the lives of millions.

Extremism is present at both ends of the political spectrum. Nazism and Communism shared a contempt for democracy and civil rights. The scourges of Nazism and Stalinism are a disturbing legacy and thankfully Europe has not experienced evil on such an epic scale in many years. That legacy should shape our thinking for the present and the future. As humans we can learn from the experience of past victims.

I am extracting principles and lessons here, not making analogies or comparisons. The principle is that democracy must be protected from those within a democratic process who are inherently undemocratic. We need to maintain healthy scepticism when words such as "republicanism", "nationalism" and even "the peace process" are used by those whose ultimate objectives are known only to themselves.

Post-war Europe shows that peaceful democratic progress is best facilitated by fully embracing the responsibilities that go hand in hand with democracy. It is unlikely that the Celtic tiger would have reached our shores if an extremist party had been in power or held the balance of power in our jurisdiction over the past two decades. History demonstrates that extremist populist parties are like a cancer in society. They develop insidiously with their tools of duplicity and criminality and when they gain power they wreak economic, cultural and social havoc.

In business and law, there is an axiom, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. Politics is at that juncture: let the voter beware. Evil thrives when a good man or woman is apathetic. Over recent years the greater good of a Northern Ireland political settlement took precedence over decent standards and the endorsement of normal democratic procedures, in a vain effort to appease extremism. Middle Ireland felt distinctly uncomfortable with this, for it appeared that it and the centre parties were marginalised while Sinn Féin increased its vote and popularity.

Many concessions were made with little given in return. Middle Ireland is enjoying peace and prosperity and is comfortable living in a democracy that has evolved since the State achieved independence. I share its discomfort at the prospect of a diminution of democracy by the Government's dealing with entities which do not accept the responsibility and accountability democracy demands.

Parties which do not embrace the democracy in which they participate should not benefit from that participation. When they fully participate in and embrace democracy and the responsibilities that accompany it, without preconditions — which only they can determine — they will be welcome to play their full part in making Ireland a better place. Middle Ireland is prepared to wait patiently until that happens.

The turnout in this week's elections in Iraq sends a message to middle Ireland. The Iraqis showed astounding courage in standing up to terrorism. There was a 60% turnout in the face of snipers, car bombs, suicide bombers, etc. They embraced their chance of democracy and risked their lives to cast their votes. Their courage was a clear example of the will of the majority not being deterred by militants. One need only consider the recent Ukrainian elections to see another example of peaceful demonstrations bringing about the desired result.

My appeal this evening is to the silent majority to stand by and cherish their democratic principles, and not to sell them out to those who place no value on them. The Government's responsibilities are enormous as it stands firm on these values. It deserves the support of every true democrat in the interests of this country. For too long, we have bitten our lips, turning a blind eye to Sinn Féin's duplicity for fear of upsetting it, fearing that once again the armalite would take precedence over the ballot box.

The people of this island and Britain have done all they can to facilitate Sinn Féin. It was invited into the centres of power in Dublin, London and Washington in the hope that dialogue would foster greater understanding — it did not. It was guaranteed seats on the Northern Executive in the hope that political responsibility would bring about an end to intimidation — it did not. What more can we give while protecting and securing our democratic values?

The future of the peace process is clearly in the hands of Mr. Adams and the IRA. They must embrace democracy and all its responsibilities. There can be no fudge or ambiguity. Sinn Féin must respect and support the democratic institutions of the State: the police, the courts and the law of the land. There can be no other way. There can be no further tolerance of its version of policing, justice or criminality.

As a democrat, I am prepared to fight for what I believe in, and the Irish people also have the stomach for that fight. We must no longer tolerate the intimidation and criminality for which Sinn Féin-IRA stands. We owe this to Jean McConville, Jerry McCabe and all the victims of the sectarian violence that has bedevilled this island for too long. Democracy must and will prevail. The time has come for us to face down what we have tolerated in this island in recent years.

The Taoiseach in recent days has stood firm and supported our democracy, on which I congratulate him.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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As he did all the years he has been Taoiseach.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, he did.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I have not suggested he did not do so in the past.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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So why the reference to a process of appeasement?

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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We have gone so far and we shall go no further. Our democratic values are the values that have made the State what it is. We should not undermine them or lessen them to any degree to further enhance the desires and wishes of people who do not share our view of democracy. Democracy is what counts; it is what makes the State and will make it in the future.

I congratulate the Government, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on their insistence that Sinn Féin fully embrace the role of democracy. I commend the motion to the House.

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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It gives me great pleasure to second the motion on behalf of the Progressive Democrats. It is timely the motion comes before the House as we were proud to have the Taoiseach to the House shortly before Christmas for a good debate on Northern Ireland. However, it is hard to believe, ten years into the so-called peace process, that my party can list 14 points on this motion which could not be contradicted by any democrat on the island. It is hard to believe we are commending the Government for its insistence that the Provisional IRA give up all forms of paramilitarism and criminality. After ten years, we are still at home base.

I am no different from other Members who have recently debated with members of Sinn Féin. The debasement of English is the only way one could refer to the manner in which they treat that language, while they expect us to understand what they are saying. On the one hand, they expect to be brought in and they say they are democrats. On the other hand, the most basic form of democracy would be that one would respect the institutions of the State. Sinn Féin members cannot say they want to be democrats on this island while not understanding what a crime is. Murder by a bullet in the head is a crime. All decent democrats would believe that basic philosophy yet, when a crime is committed by these people they say it is not a crime because it was sanctioned at a lower level and, therefore, is okay.

In 2003 a party representative of the Progressive Democrats attended the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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He will not be attending this year.

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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He had to listen to a person being called from the floor as a fraternal delegate to speak to the Ard-Fheis on behalf of the prisoners of war in Castlerea Prison. At that time 12 IRA members and three INLA members were in detention there, all convicted by the Irish courts for crimes committed in the Republic, including five convicted in connection with the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. When I received this information several days ago, it was news to me that these men are prisoners of war in the Twenty-six Counties, tried, as they believe, for crimes they did not commit. This occurred during the peace process when Ministers were travelling back and forth to London, the US and Belfast. If there are prisoners of war on our island, are they still at war with the State?

If the leaders of Sinn Féin were being awarded travel points, they would have received gold cards due to the amount of air miles they have travelled in visiting Washington and London, where doors were opened and carpets rolled out for them, as they were in Leinster House for the past ten years. They were brought in from the cold yet my party must put down a Private Members' motion containing 14 points which one would have expected to have been dealt with ten years ago, before discussions took place.

I commend the Taoiseach and other Ministers on talking tough in the past two weeks and for stating that criminality is criminality and has no place in our democracy. Before we debase democracy further, as democrats, we are entitled to say what we stand for. We should not be always on the back foot, trying to live up to the standards Sinn Féin wants us to believe it upholds.

I read an article last week in my local newspaper, written by the local Sinn Féin councillor under the headline "Society deserves an effective police force". The article stated that society needs an effective police service and an effective police service needs the support of the community it serves. For this reason, it is essential there is total transparency and trust between the police service and the community. The article went on to state that what Sinn Féin wants from a police service is that there would be voluntary gardaí on the beat with gardaí. Will voluntary gardaí be representatives of the local kneecappers association? Is this what Sinn Féin understands by the phrase "community activists"? If they are involved in these local community policing boards, they also want the chief superintendent to put on the table all information he has gathered about the community in the last month and publish it for their benefit. Is this the type of democracy and police force we want? This is the same police force that has stood behind our democracy and whose members have been murdered at the hands of the IRA, yet Sinn Féin wants equal treatment. They want to accompany these people on the beat but I certainly do not agree with it. The gardaí must find it very hard when they read in their local newspapers that this is what Sinn Féin is setting out to do. Society deserves an effective police force.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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We have got one.

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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One must accept that if a member of that police force is shot, it is a crime. Until Sinn Féin understands what criminality is, including murder, I do not think we should have much further truck with these people. The bottom line is that murder — a bullet in head — is a crime. That is something that Gerry Adams and his associates must understand when it comes to dealing with democrats.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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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.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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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.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I do not often agree with the Progressive Democrats Party — politics would be the poorer if I did. During the past 25 years, when I have been in and around the House, I have in many cases taken a quite different view about the best way to move us away from the apparently perpetual middle level violence that had become almost endemic in this country until the beginning of the 1990s. Many Members here, and many others in Irish democratic politics had differing views on the best way forward. I have said on a few occasions I do not believe "republican" is a word we should hand over to one particular party — there is nobody in the Houses who is anything other than republican.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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I do not know of any monarchists or other groups here. Therefore, we are all republicans — an honourable term with an honourable history. I do not propose to hand it over any more than I was ever prepared to hand over a monopoly claim to socialism to those who destroyed human rights all over eastern Europe. In those days I believed that the republican movement, as it called itself, and those who supported it had managed to walk themselves up an enormously difficult cul-de-sac. Simply saying we would not talk to them was never going to get them out of that cul-de-sac. That is the reason I liked Tony Blair's phrase about a period when creative ambiguity was needed and the reason in my political career I did many things which were of absolutely no political benefit to me. Anything positive about Northern Ireland which had to do with human rights, prisoners' rights and so on never won anybody in the South a single vote. For everybody who took a position on any of those issues, other than one of virulent denunciation, there were no political gains. Ultimately in the transition period up to and including the ceasefire, virtually everybody in Irish politics did things which, if they went wrong, would be politically hazardous and potentially disastrous to them. If, in the period of transition into the ceasefire, anything had gone badly wrong, bipartisanship would have collapsed and we would have had an enormous political dogfight about Northern Ireland. However, bipartisanship did not collapse and sometimes fudge, compromise and ambiguity works.

If W.T. Cosgrave had chosen to use some of the rhetoric sometimes used in these debates he would have been able to think of 20 reasons to call in the Army and refuse to hand over power to de Valera in 1930-32. What had happened before that was a fairly unambiguous conversion by the part of Sinn Féin that became Fianna Fáil and a much more unambiguous conversion than has so far happened here to institutions of democracy. Once Éamon de Valera was in power, by God he showed where he stood on the issue of loyalty to the institutions of the State. Whatever one might say there was never a hint of ambiguity in this regard from the moment he took office. It was worth the risk then.

What is happening now is quite different. It goes back to a little acronym, that was widely used in republican and Nationalist circles, abbreviated as TUAS. Some thought it meant a "totally unarmed struggle" but it also meant the "tactical use of armed struggle". We never got from within that movement an unambiguous explanation of what that acronym meant. Was it totally unarmed or tactical use? I was prepared to tolerate that because I believed we were making progress in a direction. I was extremely impatient, and believe I was right, with the British fuss about the permanence of the ceasefire and the enormous fuss about decommissioning, because I believed we were in a transition where those events would happen. What has happened to many like me during the past two, three or four years has been the dawning realisation that it was not a question of totally unarmed struggle but of incremental use of the armed side of this so-called struggle, to ratchet up yet more political benefits for the political side of that struggle. That is where the issue has suddenly turned me from a position of being an advocate of many issues relating to creative ambiguity into a position where I am increasingly feeling betrayed.

I am quite prepared to live with the possibility that a political party, because of its appeal or its activity, might take over from my political party as a major party of the left. That is unpleasant but not unconscionable but the idea that it would be achieved by ambiguity, deliberate uncertainty, the continual keeping of a little bit more and the phrases such as "we will do nothing that will undermine the Good Friday Agreement" is unacceptable. Who defines what undermines the Good Friday Agreement but the man who said that, Mr. Adams. There has been a succession of these instances. One hears this ambiguity when they say they did not commit crimes. Even if one accepts their own peculiar view of who governs Ireland, they are still covered by international law and the Geneva Convention and the murder of Jean McConville was a crime by the standard of any international convention. It was not just a war issue.

I have restrained myself for 30 years on this issue. A fortnight ago in the Evening Echo I wrote an article about Martin Luther King and about what black people in America suffered prior to the civil rights movement — the murders, lynchings and beatings. What they suffered was spectacularly worse than the sum of all that Northern Ireland Catholics suffered. Martin Luther King said it was not worth hurting one human being to overturn all that. I invited Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to tell us how Martin Luther King was wrong and they were right or how they were wrong and Martin Luther King was right. Not long ago Mr. McGuinness was happy to take a page in the Evening Echo to talk about what I said about him. Their silence on that issue spoke volumes for the fact that they are now in an exposed position — they deserve to be exposed and the rest of us should not apologise any more. We did not upset the peace process, we did not let anybody down and it is time for us to calmly say: "You have your chance, take your chance, one side or the other, the ambiguity is over."

Photo of Noel TreacyNoel Treacy (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Tááthas orm bheith ar ais arís sa Teach seo le freastal ar an rún an-tábhachtach seo. Tréaslaím leis an Seanadóir Minihan agus na daoine eile a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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I apologise I cannot stay for the Minister of State's response. With no disrespect, I must leave now.

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)
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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.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is as well part of his speech was optimistic and pointed out positive developments. All Members are disappointed at the turn of events because considerable work has been invested in recent years by all Governments and many Members of both Houses in the effort to bring to a conclusion the problem in Northern Ireland.

During the Minister of State's speech, I recalled a meeting I attended in the Royal College of Surgeons in London 30 years ago, during which two young doctors from a hospital in Belfast — I believe it was the Royal Victoria Hospital — presented a paper on 82 cases of reconstruction of the knee joint after kneecapping. Members will imagine how I felt as everyone present looked at me, the representative of the Republic. The paper was shocking. It showed how one would reconstruct a knee after an assault using a Black and Decker drill, what one would do when a bullet had entered the knee from the back or side, the sciatic nerve had been damaged, the femoral artery destroyed or the femoral vein injured. That was 30 years ago. What would the authors write now?

Senator Brian Hayes is correct that this form of criminality is turned on and off. We have had a terrible spectacle in recent weeks of hands and ankles being favoured for mutilation in punishment attacks. We can look forward to articles on this in the various surgical journals. It is shameful that our country should be known for the reconstruction of joints which have been injured on purpose in the most brutal fashion. All the paramilitaries, not only the IRA, are involved in this criminal activity. It is extraordinary to see members of Sinn Féin, which states it is part of the political process, in a position in which they will not recognise this activity as criminal. In many cases of punishment attacks, reconstruction is not possible, the limb must be amputated and the victim must be fitted with false limbs. That is disgusting.

I was struck by one part of the motion. As president of the Irish Association, I chaired the first meeting in the South at which Mitchel McLaughlin spoke. It was held in the Mansion House at a time when one could not bring a member of Sinn Féin into the House for lunch. I took Mr. McLaughlin to lunch in a place near Dawson Street. I thought he was a person who would make good progress as he seemed like a decent sort of person. I was, therefore, bitterly disappointed to see him on television refusing to condemn the murder of a mother of ten who, I understand, committed no crime. Even if she had the most terrible crimes on her head, who had the right to murder her? Why was she not entitled to due process? At the time, the Irish Association and many Members of the Houses were making strong efforts to encourage people into the democratic process. It was sad to watch the television programme in question.

The last time I spoke about Northern Ireland was at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I thought the Sinn Féin members at the forum were enthusiastic about moving forward. We are in exactly the same position we were in ten years ago.

It is hard to understand how anyone on this island, England or elsewhere could believe that the Taoiseach would not have good reason to state his view that the bank robbery in Belfast was carried out by the IRA. Why would he make such a statement if he did not have proper evidence? It is ridiculous to ask him to produce the evidence because I presume we are hoping arrests will be made, cases will come before the courts and convictions will be secured. The Taoiseach's body language — he was deflated by the events — said more than his words because he and other members of this and other Governments have made massive efforts in the peace process. I cannot understand those who have been involved in the peace process asking to be shown the evidence. It is an impossible request.

I ask the people of the North to be a little more realistic about what is taking place there. To my horror the other day, a very well educated and intelligent young woman from Northern Ireland said to me that the Northern Bank, more or less, deserved it and that it had been very hard on people. Steam nearly came out of my ears. What sort of criminality is acceptable if one thinks that way? If it had been some other bank which had favoured people better, would it have been wrong?

I ask the people of Northern Ireland to look at the society they are saying is all right where an investigation is ongoing into a murder outside a pub the other night and where members of the police force, which is now much more representative of both communities, were stoned in the Markets area. The Markets area is hardly a remote part of Belfast. When one walks to the train station from somewhere like the City Hall, one must go past the Markets area.

The people of Northern Ireland must stand up and be counted. Senator Minihan mentioned the people of Iraq. I wonder how brave I would have been going out to vote if someone had said to me that if I was found with purple ink on my finger, I would be shot. When one considers the courage of those people, the people of Northern Ireland must look at the situation they are allowing to develop there because their loss will be even greater than ours.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as bheith anseo. I welcome the Minister of State's comments. I am particularly glad it appears there will not be a division of opinion on this motion. It is reflective of the general approach of the House to these matters for many years.

Those of us who have been here for some time have reason to remember that on an almost weekly basis in the past, we were required to denounce yet another atrocity. I recall that not much more than a week or so went by before we had to condemn another atrocity, whether committed by republican or loyalist paramilitaries. We can recall the Darkley Bible Hall, Narrow Water and the Miami Showband. The catalogue goes on and on. They were very dark days and we should be mindful not to return to them, something which requires us to be perhaps circumspect and moderate in our tone. I always recall that some of the most sensible words spoken in those darkest hours were by people like Sam McAughtry and the late Gordon Wilson. It was quite remarkable — there is a lesson in it — that Gordon Wilson could hold the hand of his daughter as she died in the square in Enniskillen and could subsequently go, unilaterally, to the people who had been the agents of her death to try to create some peace because he believed so passionately that was what was required of him as a Christian. He fulfilled that Christian obligation to the full. I am always mindful of that on these occasions.

However, I am also mindful of the fact we seem to have reached a point where language has been so devalued as to be almost meaningless. Senator Ryan spoke about the proud tradition of republicanism, to which all parties subscribe. Even the words "the peace process" seem to have been devalued to some extent by those who claim sole custody of that process. I have heard Mr. Adams on many occasions claim to be the custodian of the peace process but, of course, that is not the case. Many people throughout this and the other island are, and have been, part of that process and built the edifice painfully, slowly and well to the point where we got the Belfast Agreement and everything that flowed from it.

There has been selective quotation of the Belfast Agreement by extremists on both sides to the point that one would wonder whether the words in the Agreement are those they think are in it. It is important we proclaim very loudly in what we believe because we seem to hear a lot of what they believe. We believe in democracy and in all the consequences of subscribing to democracy. We believe in the legitimacy of the Army, in the legitimacy and authority of the Government, in the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary, in adherence to the rule of law, in respect for human rights and in loyalty to the President and the Constitution. Democracy cannot beÀ la carte. One must subscribe to the above if one claims to be a democrat but I do not see much evidence of some people wishing to subscribe to them.

It struck me as very curious that there could be such a long and difficult debate about whether Turkey fulfilled the criteria to become a member of the European Union when there were people on our island who were very far from even going part of the way Turkey had gone to try to meet its obligations. I resent deeply that some people on this island regard the national flag as being in their custody not that of the Oireachtas and the nation. That attitude needs to be challenged as does the belief that, in some way, the people who claim to represent republicanism today are the inheritors of the legacy of Griffith, Sinn Féin and the people who founded it 100 years ago because they are not. We claim that legacy and that is the reason we are here today.

The prize has been so great in terms of stability and progress — the Minister of State enunciated some of the things which have flowed from it in regard to co-operation between North and South and between the United Kingdom and Ireland — that at times we have been mesmerised. At times our judgment has failed us because we were so concerned about not going back to those days when we stood up in the House on a weekly basis to denounce the barbarity which flowed all around us. In some respects, I think that perhaps clouded our judgment. Some would describe what happened as appeasement but I reject that view. As Senator Minihan said, it came out of a genuine desire of decent people to have that decency reign supreme on the island.

However, it is not possible to negotiate a deal under the threat of paramilitarism or criminality. It has been very convenient to have that threat hanging in the atmosphere to the extent that we must go and speak to the Army Council. Those fellows should get up and look in the mirror — there is the Army Council. That threat of violence has been in the back of our minds. Rejecting violence is part of the Good Friday Agreement.

I recall going down to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and meeting the Sinn Féin representatives for the first time. We have all crossed our individual Rubicons during the period and it was distasteful but we knew we had to do that to bring people into the democratic system. I recall going to the United Nations in New York to speak on behalf of the people of East Timor and having to listen to Gerry Adams being lionised in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and on every news and talk show in America because Bill Clinton had lifted the ban and Gerry Adams had gone to America. That needed to be done. There have been all those steps along the way and Rubicons have been crossed — some have been small for people while others have been huge for governments and international relations.

We are at a point when the prize is now within our grasp. That is the test except that on this occasion, the onus is on Sinn Féin and the IRA to respond. So often in the past, the response has been from both Governments but not from the republican side. Are they prepared to make the last leap to create the type of Ireland we want to see? I do not care if there are two parliaments — one in Belfast and one in Dublin — provided the peace is stable, criminality is put behind us, people subscribe to the rule of law and the rights of individuals, and one does not put a bullet in the head of someone like Jean McConville or gun down gardaí in the street. I want to see that day gone for good.

There is a dilemma for us as constitutional politicians. We are mesmerised to see people who will sell drugs on the street and, on the other hand, kneecap those who engage in the same activity. We are transfixed by this and do not know how to deal with it. As a result of this type of activity, people get support through the ballot box. We contest elections on the basis that it must be done democratically and with the support of the police force and the agencies of the State. We are at some disadvantage in this regard.

We are subjected to another hypocrisy on a daily basis from those who talk of a ban on the sale of arms to China. These people should give us a break. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy. I agree with an observation made by Senators Ryan and O'Rourke. We were duped in that one image was presented to us while something totally different was going on in the background. Despite all this, we must go forward with good faith and trust. I commend the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and everybody else involved on their efforts.

I wish to make a final point. The Taoiseach of this sovereign State has no obligation to offer explanations to Mr. Gerry Adams, who has made several such requests. The Taoiseach does his explaining to the Houses of the Oireachtas and, ultimately, to the people of the country in an election. He does not have to explain to Mr. Adams. The Provisional movement must decide where it will go from here. Patriotism makes demands of us. If my patriotism were to demand of me that I must see my political party disappear to ensure permanent and lasting peace in this country, I would pay that price.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the debate and thank Senator Minihan for presenting it to us. I have listened to his comments on Northern Ireland on many occasions in this House and he has been consistent and fearless in the manner in which he has presented his point of view. No democratic political party can find any difficulty with this motion and it will be passed by the House. The question we must ask ourselves is where the peace process can go from here.

I congratulate Senator Dardis on his fine contribution. However, I disagree somewhat with his contention that we were all duped. Over the course of the past eight or ten years, those of us who have engaged with Northern political figures and attended the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation all recognised that much of what needed to be said could not be said. We all acknowledge that the Good Friday Agreement left some questions unanswered and that the concept of fudge had to become part of the political foundation. However, it was inevitable as the process moved towards completion that the difficult questions would have to be asked.

Those questions are now being posed at an interesting time in the political process and peace process and in the history of this country. In approximately 11 years time, at which point I hope most of us will be alive if not Members of this House, the country will commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Already some political parties are talking about their plans for that commemoration. It is an occasion which everyone is entitled to commemorate in the manner of their choosing. However, we should reflect a little before considering 1916 as some type of starting point in Irish history. One can talk about 1916, 1921, 1922, 1798 or 1801. Everyone has their own starting point.

However, in the calendar year of 1998, Irish people, North and South, voted for the Good Friday Agreement. That is the new starting point for modern Irish history. All of Ireland had a say democratically and all Irish people, Unionist, Nationalist, Catholic, republican, dissenter and whatever other tags one wishes to use, conclusively decided that the political roadmap for this island is the Good Friday Agreement. The political task before us in the Seanad and our colleagues in the Dáil, Westminster and Belfast is to implement that Agreement. This is a simple task in some respects but a complex one in another sense.

Since 1998, week by week, month by month and year by year, that is the struggle which has been under way. It is a struggle that must continue. I compliment the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, because they have been the main figures on the political stage since 1998. We cannot move away from the core objective which is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, under which we accepted compromise as did Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland.

There is no need to talk of the glorious deeds of 80 or 100 years ago. We must respect what happened in the past and those people who took various positions, be it in 1912, 1916, 1921, 1922, 1937 or whenever. We are today's generation and must write the next chapter in the history book. The first page in the chapter must start with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and it is upon that Agreement our focus must remain.

Despite the constraints of time, it is important to address the issue of language, as several Members have done. We have spoken of republicanism and how that word has been "kidnapped" by one political party. Perhaps we should blame ourselves for allowing that to happen. Republicanism is a valid creed. Senator Ryan made the point that he did not see any monarchists in this House and that, therefore, every Member is a republican. Sinn Féin is not a republican party but rather an ultra-nationalist party.

The latter is also a valid political creed. I disagree with much of what that party stands for and almost everything it attempts to do politically and the manner of those attempts. However, Sinn Féin is entitled to be considered an Irish Nationalist party, just as there is a nationalist party in the UK. It is not a republican party because to be such necessitates an absolute and endless respect and consideration for other people's point of view and democratic entitlement to differ. Sinn Féin seems to have a difficulty with this.

I wish to put on record that I do not believe for one moment there was no Sinn Féin or Sinn Féin-IRA involvement in the bank robbery before Christmas. I do not believe for one moment there is not some degree of linkage between the membership of Sinn Féin and that of the IRA. We all know that link is there. However, I believe that the vast majority of Sinn Féin members and their elected representatives want an island that is at peace. Most supporters of that party who voted for the Good Friday Agreement want to see it implemented.

However, as in case of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party and earlier versions of the Fianna Fáil Party in the 1920s and 1930s, Sinn Féin must ask itself fundamental questions. There will not be 100% unanimity on the answers because the process which led to the Good Friday Agreement and the Agreement itself will not satisfy every member of Sinn Féin. However, the Irish people have voted for it and we must insist on its implementation.

I agree with what my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, said regarding the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I was fortunate to serve on that body from 1994 to 1997. It was an excellent example of not just getting people around a table but almost forcing them around a table to listen to each other. For once we had a room in which politicians seemed to do as much listening as talking, which we sometimes find difficult to do. It was difficult on occasions to listen to political arguments from standpoints with which we felt very uncomfortable. As Senator Dardis said, while it may not have been difficult it was somewhat uneasy to meet for the first time the players, particularly from the republican field of politics, of whom we had our own mental picture. Those were the little rivers we had to cross politically to try to bring peace to Ireland. We must continue to focus on the Good Friday Agreement and what it contains and prohibits. It certainly prohibits criminality of all forms. It is not a question of definition. We all know what constitutes a crime. It is not a question of playing with words. Criminality is absolutely prohibited by the Good Friday Agreement, which was approved by the Irish people.

We must return to talks. On my previous occasion in this House and sadly also in the other House on too many occasions, we had to speak about the politics of the latest murder in Northern Ireland. We cannot go back to that phase of Irish history. We need inclusivity with every political party around the table. However, we must be absolutely firm in our dealings with those who speak for the republican parties that criminality, including kidnappings, bank robberies and so-called "punishment beatings", have no place in the modern Ireland.

The mandate was given in May 1998 in the referenda on the Good Friday Agreement. This is the starting point to which we must stick. The political discussions need to be renewed and progress needs to be made. I wish the Minister of State and his Government colleagues well in this task. It is the biggest issue not just facing the Government but also the country. Peace on this island in its limited form has allowed us to create the Celtic tiger. It played a big role in the economic and social advancement of the country. If Ireland is to progress North and South the peace process needs to be back on track as soon as possible.

Maurice Hayes (Independent)
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I suppose for a moment I could let my own wounds bleed for a bit. It is somewhat patronising for people to tell the voters in Northern Ireland that they should stand up and be counted because they have done enough of that over the years. Most people who voted for Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland have not voted for criminality or a return to paramilitarism. They voted for that party because they believed that was the way to become engaged in the process and to endorse it. Sinn Féin works very hard at it, which is a lesson for other political parties. The place to fight one's political opponents is on the doorsteps.

I was interested in what the Minister of State had to say. If he does not mind me saying so, I thought it was an excellent response to a debate we have not had and did not address the motion at all. It is a pity to take the focus away from the motion and particularly its final two paragraphs, which I very much endorse. The Minister of State referred to additional arrangements regarding policing, which were reached at Weston Park. As those have never been in the public domain, I wonder what they are and whether they go further than the implementation of the Patten report. The proposed inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane has been roundly rejected by the Finucane family and by most people concerned in that field as not being adequate to address the needs as regards transparency and otherwise.

I have always taken a view that it is an obscenity to compare anything in Northern Ireland with the fate of black people in the southern states of America, South Africans under apartheid or the people in the Holocaust. Equally it is not helpful to talk about Nazis, gulags, etc. I am deeply against the armed struggle. It has been futile and destructive. While I agree Catholics had disadvantages in Northern Ireland, I do not believe they were worth a single life. Those disadvantages have now by and large been removed and addressed. What the armed struggle has done by driving people in the North apart and driving people in the island apart is to make even more difficult an achievement that was the ostensible objective of republican policy, which was to unite people on the island.

Coming back to the point of the motion, the purpose of the whole peace process was to bring into the political process people who had been addicted to violence and military methods in pursuing their aims and also to get an inclusive engagement in the political life of Northern Ireland. When trying to resolve conflict, there is no point in confining talks to the people who are not fighting. While I can see why people have frustration and lose patience, to say we are back to where we were previously is not true by any standards. Remarkable changes have been made over that time. There have not been as many; they have not been as conclusive and they have not moved as quickly as most of us would have liked. Most of the other parties engaged in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement believed they were making an agreement with the republican movement and not just with one section of it which could claim it had no connection with people who are under a different management, regardless of whether they were. That has been the greatest disappointment and it has taken too long.

I am not a Manichean in these matters. I believe that people are capable of amendment. References have been made here to the previous history and the pre-history of some of the main political parties on the island, North and South, which strengthen me in my belief. In the anxiety to pin blame at this stage we should not underrate the contribution made by the Sinn Féin leadership over the years and the distance it has brought a very difficult constituency at a risk not only to political careers but also to lives. We should not now allow people to denigrate John Hume for doing the very thing which, as Senator Dardis has said, he was quite prepared to do — to sacrifice his party for the general good.

We are where we are. Sinn Féin has come to a fork in the road. We must say to it, as the Government has rightly done, that it has a political mandate with the support of nearly 60% of the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland and that it has a responsibility to that constituency. This and nothing else should be its calling card. It is impossible in present circumstances or in any circumstances to contemplate a political party entering Government, which has any links whatsoever with criminality at an organic level and which is not prepared to abjure those links. It is totally unreasonable to expect other political parties to do business with them on that basis. We cannot ask the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland to do what no party in this State would do.

In a sense, we are asking Sinn Féin "to do a de Valera", as Senator Ryan put it. We are asking its members to say "Yes, we have come this far, now is the time". They have been very concerned over the years not to have a split in their movement, or at least to minimise splits. One can understand that, but there comes a time when those who are going to take the political high road should take that road and rely on their support at the polls. I believe they could and should do that.

All other parties are asking Sinn Féin for a declaration that it is not in any way connected with criminality. It is being asked to break any links, real or perceived, with criminality and to support the police, North and South. It is impossible to think that people who serve in Government as legislators might say that they do not accept the laws they make, that they mean something else by them or that they do not support the police. It was chilling to hear that police in Belfast who were investigating the stabbing of a man in a pub brawl were stoned by kids of eight, nine or ten years of age last night, in a clearly orchestrated attempt to prevent the authorities from accessing evidence.

We must not throw out the baby with the bath water at this stage. We are where we are. There is no possibility of resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland without involving Sinn Féin and the people they represent. The investment in the present Sinn Féin leadership is at risk. Such people have a job to do and we should give them the opportunity to do it. If they reach out their hands, our hands should be ready to pull them aboard the ship of state.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I thank Senator Dardis for proposing this challenging motion. I do not like what is in it, but I have to say I agree with all of it. I do not oppose it in any sense. I am uneasy about it and uncomfortable with it because it marks a point in time that we have been through before. Over the past 30 years, I have often found myself in an unusual position. I was the only one of my circle of friends who was opposed to the IRA in 1969. I found myself on my own again 13 years later, when I was the only one who understood the objectives of the hunger strikers. When I met John Hume in the Members' bar between 1987 and 1989, just after I had been elected to this House, he told me that none of the party leaders would talk to him because he was engaging in discussions with Sinn Féin. It is important to recognise such matters.

Although I agree with the points made in the motion put down by the Progressive Democrats, I would rather speak about where it leads us than about the motion itself. I would like to make a balancing statement. Like Senator Bradford, I firmly and absolutely believe that the leadership of Sinn Féin is committed to the political process and to peace. I also believe the things which are said about the Sinn Féin leadership in the motion. There is a need for them to move on. Regarding the peace process, the lives which have been saved since the ceasefire are a tribute to the political courage of the leadership of Sinn Féin. I do not say that merely as a balancing statement. We have made great progress.

I have waited all my life for something that happened in Irish politics last week. I stand to be corrected, but it was something that had never happened before. I think it reflects a maturity which is a consequence of the peace process. I refer to what happened after our President made an unfortunate mistake. Any right-thinking person could see that it was only a mistake. When the President issued a full and comprehensive apology — that in itself might not be entirely unusual — it was stunning and utterly unusual that it was completely and absolutely accepted by the other side.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I had never seen that in all my time in politics.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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It was very heartening.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I had never seen it happen before. It reflects a maturity that is important. In terms of what Senator Maurice Hayes has said, perhaps it will show us the way forward.

I would like to consider where we are going for the next couple of years. Most analysts believe that not much will happen politically in that time. We need to examine the vacuum that has developed and determine where points of commonality exist. Such points mainly relate to the Good Friday Agreement, etc. I would like to think that, over the next couple of years, we will invest the same effort, time, energy and financial commitment in community and economic issues which relate to the two islands. Such investment is necessary if we are to show another aspect of what we can do together.

I would like us to deepen community links at cross-Border level. We have tended to forget that the Good Friday Agreement envisaged that such links should be developed between east and west. I would like to examine the structures available to us to do that, such as the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, which is anathema to one or two groups. It is only a talking shop, but talking shops are important. I would also like to look at other things — perhaps we should resurrect bodies like Anglo-Irish Encounter. A focussed solution should be put together so that we can see what we can base around this. I would like a centre to be established for the east-west aspect of this matter. It may be acceptable to all parties, North and South, if a body were based in Scotland along the lines of Anglo-Irish Encounter or the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. The body should not only involve politicians in the centre, but should also involve community interests so that it can focus on specific economic, social and community issues. I refer to issues that mean something to the community, such as infrastructure and economic corridors, rather than issues which cause people to yawn. I could develop this idea at length. We need to examine what the two islands have in common. I refer to both parts of this island.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Energy provision.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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Yes. The economic corridor between both islands also comes to mind. Where should it be? We are saying it should be at Belfast, Dublin and the south-east of the island. There should be full and free access on both sides. How do we do that? If we put together a body like the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body or Anglo-Irish Encounter, we should ensure that there is a regulated and processed fringe around it, where people with expertise in the relevant areas can be of assistance. It would be useful for experts in the energy area, for example, to examine the energy needs of both islands and to put in place a system for selling, buying, swapping and working together. We need to talk to experts, business interests and trade union interests. We should not allow anybody to say what has been said previously. We can present people with a problem and ask them for a solution. If people cannot make a proposal, they can stay still. We need to examine what we can invest in this process, what can work and what governments will buy into. That is necessary in the interests of the community.

I am worried that the political vacuum will bring to a head the extraordinary growth in sectarianism on this island, which has concerned me in recent years. Until recently, the media seemed to think that the fact that there were no killings somehow meant that there was no sectarianism. In fact, sectarianism has blossomed in many communities. The criminality we have discussed in other contexts has been the fruit of all that. We need to find honest brokers who are accepted by communities on all sides to work at community level. We need to invest as much in peace as we have invested in the political process for peace. That is hard work — it will not attract headlights or headlines. We need to engage in such work to improve life on both islands. A great deal of expertise could be harnessed, focussed, developed and utilised to bring solutions to the common problems of both islands. That would involve working together in a co-operative way which would grow from the political process and create a new political process when elections on both islands are out of the way. I have mentioned some of the issues we could examine.

7:00 pm

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Progressive Democrats for proposing this motion.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his speech, which states the many ways in which democracy has been enhanced, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of policing reform, North-South institutions, the reform of criminal justice, etc. It is incorrect to say democracy has been debased, that there has been a process of appeasement or that we are back to square one. We have been involved in a very important process of democratisation and getting rid of the violent elements that have been concentrated largely, but not exclusively, in the North. It is a difficult, intricate process in which there are bound to be setbacks, as there have been.

To give one a sense of perspective, let me quote an e-mail from a source in New Delhi about a conference to be held in a couple of months. It is interesting to read what it states about Northern Ireland:

Despite frequent crises and its current ailing state, the Northern Ireland peace process is one of the most successful examples of the new directions a partition-related peace process can take. Incidents of violence are so infrequent as to cause a storm of protest when they do occur. Britain and Ireland are partners in peace and the opening of all borders will eventually make the territorial sovereignty dispute redundant. How did this long deadlocked dispute get to this point?

While many of us are profoundly disappointed by our present position, we must retain a sense of perspective and direction.

I am not sure that we should be providing diversions. We need to be a little careful in this regard. There are two mistakes that we could make, one of which would be to over-victimise and exclude Sinn Féin. The history of the past ten years, if not longer, has demonstrated that Sinn Féin thrives on exclusion and victimisation and is extremely good at playing that card. Please let us not fall into that trap. Second, the drawback to adopting some of the alternative strategies or suggestions that various parties have proposed is that we would move away from the issue that concerns us towards a consideration of the merits or otherwise of these alternatives. In many ways, by attempting to go down that path one might be reducing the pressure rather than increasing it.

Napoleon once abducted, from across the frontier, a member of the Bourbon royal family, the Duc d'Enghien, and had him shot. Fouché commented: "This is more than a crime, it is a blunder." Much the same could be said about the Northern Bank raid. It represents a great slap in the face for everybody concerned. To gain an idea of the effect it had on credibility, one should read the editorial from yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, which stated: "So it would be premature, and a waste of time, for the two governments to try to revive the devolution negotiations that came to a halt well before the bank raid — and fell off a precipice afterwards." The article also states that "there may have to be a change of leadership, on both sides, and a lengthy period of quarantine, before the politicians are ready to do business". The loss of trust is of the order of, if not greater than, the loss of trust that took place at the time of the bomb at Canary Wharf. I have asked whether the bank raid was a sort of benign Canary Wharf — benign only in the sense that nobody was killed.

The people of this country have come through a long period of troubles, concentrated in 30 years but, in a sense, dating back 100 years. We want democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Practices such as punishment beatings are an abuse of human rights. I heard David Ervine say of the republican movement that many working class people were demanding this type of action. I would like to hear some working class people say on radio that they approve and support people being mutilated for life and shot. I do not know where those people are. I agree entirely that punishment beatings must end. We have shown enormous patience in this regard and there are those who would argue that we have perhaps shown far too much. We have shown patience over a ten-year period and it is time to bring this process to a conclusion. It has been made much more difficult by the bank raid but, nonetheless, we must keep working on it. I have written somewhere that although one can bring a horse to the water but cannot make it drink, horses actually need water and will eventually drink.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Senator Brennan is offering to contribute in addition to Senator Cummins. Given that the debate started a little late, will the Senators agree to their being allowed four minutes each? Agreed.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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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.

Michael Brennan (Progressive Democrats)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to support the motion. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, on his address to the House today. The constitutional parties in this House have gone the extra mile in trying to implement the Good Friday Agreement. There have been many references to recent events by which we have been fooled but those events have reinforced the reality of what we are dealing with. As the saying goes, "Once bitten, twice shy".

The actions of IRA-Sinn Féin must signal and demonstrate the end of criminal activity, North and South, before progress is possible. The President's recent apology to the Unionists was welcomed. Is it not now time for IRA-Sinn Féin to apologise for the atrocity in Adare? A positive outcome of recent events is that the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe will not be released. I wish the Government and the Minister of State every success in implementing the Good Friday Agreement.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Minister of State for his presence and his address here this evening and thank all my colleagues across the parties who spoke on this motion. Some valid points were made with maybe some slight differences in emphasis and opinion about the direction in which we should move. Democracy is about debate and sharing views and we cherish that fact. Debates such as this give people the opportunity to reflect on the views of others. The peace process brought people together to reflect on their differing views and grievances, to achieve unity of purpose and direction, as we try to achieve a complete cessation of all paramilitary activity and restore peace on this island.

I will not delay the House by responding to everything that was said. However, I will answer a few points. Lest there was any misconception about my remarks on the Taoiseach's strong stance in recent weeks, on which I congratulated him, I also congratulated him on his incredible effort and patience in leading this Government and the talks in Northern Ireland. I said that when he was in this House recently.

I wish to reassure Senator Maurice Hayes that I made no remarks about the people of Northern Ireland standing up to be counted. My reference to the elections in Iraq may have been misinterpreted. In talking about the great turnout in the face of militancy there, I emphasised the price people are willing to pay and the risks they are willing to take to embrace democracy. The people of Northern Ireland have stood up to be counted over the years.

Senator Ryan said there are no international or national conventions of war that would cover the atrocities that took place in Northern Ireland. The Geneva Convention, however, lays down for any army that one gives medical aid and assistance, and espouses Christian values in the presence of a wounded member of an enemy force. When Jean McConville showed her Christian values in coming to the assistance of a wounded British soldier no conventions of any army were observed. When referring to the Irish Republican Army one should bear in mind that armies are governed by conventions. I thank all Members who contributed to the debate and thank the Minister of State for his attendance.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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This Chamber did a very good deed this evening in giving two hours solid attention to a very sensitive and volatile issue. The views and nuances in the debate varied but so it should be. It was a very good debate. I thank the Minister of State for being here and giving us his spirited and diligent attention.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.