Wednesday, 29 November 2006
British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill 2006: Second Stage
Is cúis áthais dom a bheith ar ais arís sa Seanad chun an Bille seo a chur faoi bhráid an Tí. The British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill 2006 is a short technical amendment to the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. The amendment concerns one of the North-South bodies, namely, the Special EU Programmes Body, SEUPB. I will outline the wider background to this Bill and to the Special EU Programmes Body.
The Good Friday Agreement provided the basis for a balanced political settlement in Northern Ireland. In particular, it recognised the importance of relationships, including those between North and South on this island and between east and west. Strand two of the Agreement concerns the institutions committed to developing the relationship between North and South. The North-South Ministerial Council allows Ministers from both jurisdictions to undertake "consultation, co-operation and action" on matters of mutual interest, to the benefit of the people, North and South.
The Agreement also provided for co-operation in a number of specific sectors, to be brought forward by new North-South Implementation Bodies, commonly referred to as the North-South bodies. Under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999, six such bodies were established, namely, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission; the North-South Language Body, comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster Scots Agency; the Food Safety Promotion Board; InterTradeIreland; Waterways Ireland; and the Special EU Programmes Body.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the provisions of the Act relating to the Special EU Programmes Body. This body was set up in 1999 with a specific purpose. At the time of the Good Friday Agreement, international support was generously offered by friends of Ireland overseas, including, in particular, our European partners. The European Union was strongly committed to supporting the new arrangements. This support included a commitment to provide substantial funding to develop peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and in the Border area.
This funding was provided through two programmes — the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and the INTERREG programme. I will speak in more detail about these programmes later. Next year, under the new EU financial perspectives, there will be changes in the funding structures for the period 2007 to 2013. While the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation will continue much as before, the policy areas and objectives covered by the INTERREG programme will be transferred to a new EU territorial co-operation objective. As a result, the terms used in describing the SEUPB's remit in the 1999 Act become out of date.
It was always the Government's clear intention that the SEUPB should continue its role in managing these EU funds, and the British Government shared this intention. The two Governments confirmed this shared understanding through an exchange of letters signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, on 25 July this year. These letters make clear the joint intention of the two Governments that certain terms used in the 1999 Act, such as "community initiatives", would include "successor, substitute and equivalent programmes, building on the same substantive objectives, priorities, policy areas and activities". This exchange of letters constituted an international agreement to which this Bill gives domestic legal effect. In clarifying the references to the new EU funding structures, this legislation will put the SEUPB on a sound footing as it prepares new peace and territorial co-operation programmes.
The Government has consistently sought to bolster and protect the North-South bodies which have had to operate in an often fluid and difficult political climate. Since the suspension of the institutions in 2002, the North-South Ministerial Council has not been able to meet and the bodies were unable to operate in a manner that would allow them to reach their full potential. The constraints imposed by suspension make the SEUPB's success all the more remarkable. The SEUPB is made up of 45 staff with headquarters in Belfast and regional offices in Monaghan and Omagh. Since its establishment in 1999, it has acted as a conduit for more than €1 billion in funding to 12 counties, North and South.
In practical terms, this means that 6,500 projects have received funding from the SEUPB. It has acquired a formidable reputation throughout the European Union as a manager of Structural Funds programmes. It is widely seen as one of the most competent managing authorities in Europe. It has met the demanding financial targets set by the EU each year and is used as a model of best practice internationally. The impact of the funds it manages can be seen throughout Northern Ireland and in the six Border counties — Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.
The first of the two main funds managed by the SEUPB is the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. It is aimed at promoting reconciliation and helping to build a more peaceful and stable society. In the past six years, €868 million has been granted to 6,000 projects throughout Northern Ireland and the Border region. The impact of this funding has transformed the lives of many people of all backgrounds. Some 45,000 small businesses have received support, resulting in the creation of almost 2,000 jobs. Some 46,000 people have participated in projects aimed at facilitating reconciliation, peace building, social and urban regeneration, and providing training for children and young people who have been particularly affected by the conflict. In addition, more than 89,000 people have participated in cross-Border activities. In these ways, the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation has played a vital part in the peace process in Northern Ireland by providing assistance to support reconciliation and to help the region move towards a more peaceful and stable society.
The second EU programme, INTERREG, is especially focused on addressing the economic and social disadvantage which result from the existence of the Border. In the past six years, €182 million has been invested in 320 cross-Border projects, with impressive results. Some 250 jobs have been created or safeguarded through rural initiatives and more than 900 businesses have been helped to expand. Nearly 3,400 people have participated in training and education initiatives and more than 1,000 health care professionals have been trained in the Border region. In addition, numerous infrastructure improvements have been made, including the upgrade of the Dublin to Belfast rail line, provision of broadband services along the Border, creation of a virtual technology zone in the north west, port safety navigational improvements and road re-alignment schemes.
The INTERREG programme has helped to create genuine cross-Border partnerships and has greatly improved the economic and social landscape of the Border region. The distinctively European character of the funding brings a special added value. By highlighting aspects of our shared identity, it facilitates programmes on a cross-community and cross-Border basis which might otherwise face difficulties. While much has been achieved with EU funding to date, there is no doubt that the support of the European Union will continue to be important as we move forward.
We are at a critical juncture in the peace process in Northern Ireland. While today's legislation is important to its continued effective operation, the SEUPB, like the other North-South bodies, will only be able to reach its full potential in the context of the restoration of the power-sharing institutions, including the North-South Ministerial Council.
The agreement reached at St. Andrews in October sets out the way for all Northern Irish political parties to commit to the full operation of stable power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and the restoration of all Good Friday Agreement institutions. It provides for full support for policing and the criminal justice institutions, including the Northern Ireland Policing Board. In addition, it sets out specific commitments in areas such as human rights and equality, arrangements for a financial package and a timetable for implementation.
Consistent with the St. Andrews Agreement timetable, the British Government has introduced legislation to make the necessary provisions to allow devolved government to be restored in Northern Ireland in March 2007. This provides for the electoral endorsement of the St. Andrews Agreement, by way of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, on 7 March 2007. The British Government has made clear, however, that an election would only take place in these circumstances, if the parties are working constructively towards participation in a power-sharing Executive by 26 March 2007.
If it is considered that there is no reasonable prospect of establishing a power-sharing government, the Northern Ireland Assembly can be dissolved at any time before 25 March 2007. In these circumstances, the two Governments would move immediately to implement new British-Irish partnership arrangements. On 24 November, we had confirmation that, subject to the outcome of the election and other necessary conditions, Dr. Ian Paisley and Mr. Martin McGuinness would be First and Deputy First Ministers, on restoration in March next.
The process will of course continue to require careful management over the coming weeks and months to bring it to a successful completion. All parties will have to play their part in ensuring the timetable is met. For its part, the Government will continue to work in close partnership with the British Government, as well as with all parties, to secure our overriding priority for the restoration of power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
At the same time, recognising the benefits of working together, North and South, the British and Irish Governments are actively strengthening economic co-operation, intensifying co-operation in the planning and delivery of infrastructure on the island, as well as in the provision of public services, such as health care and education.
Last Friday's attack in Stormont was a sober reminder that there are those who would wish to bring Northern Ireland back to a darker time. Much has yet to be done to achieve lasting reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The Special EU Programmes Body has a clear role to play in this. In managing the EU's financial support over the past seven years, it has played a strong role in promoting peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the Border counties. In recognition of this key role, the Government is ensuring the body's remit is absolutely clear. The Government believes it and the other North-South implementation bodies will have an important role to play in ensuring the economic benefits of the hoped for new dispensation are widely enjoyed, not only in Northern Ireland, but across the island.
As the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for European affairs, I have worked closely with the Special EU Programmes Body, as well as participating in the difficult strand 2 talks. I commend the work of this unique body, its chief executive, Mr. Colgan, and all of its executive staff. I commend the Bill to Seanad Éireann.
I welcome the Bill. While it may be brief and not the most exciting Anglo-Irish legislation, it is vital legislation which I support. The most important development in Northern Ireland in the past decade has been increased prosperity through trade. Once trade is revived and prosperity increases, there comes a growing demand across the spectrum for political progress and the establishment of political structures. Business people, community leaders and citizens in Northern Ireland are leading the drive for political progress. If we can help in creating further economic development in Northern Ireland, it will put a greater onus on politicians to deliver the endgame of the peace process and to have the political structures up and running as quickly as possible. Delivery of the peace, prosperity and political dividends runs side by side. When trying to sell political structures and a political routemap to the people of Northern Ireland, it is important they see the economic dividend.
Sadly for the people of Northern Ireland, they never really had normality. It is not just about political structures, but having reasonable economic prospects, growth and expansion. The INTERREG and PEACE programmes are dynamic and help in the building of that normality. The Minister of State stated 6,000 projects benefitted from the €868 million spent on the PEACE programme. This represents a large number of projects and communities being touched by the programme. I understand the Minister of State referred to INTERREG of €182 million. It is another example of money making a real difference to people's lives. It will create the normality the people of Northern Ireland are crying out for.
This necessary Bill will allow the continuation and expansion of these programmes. In the Anglo-Irish debate, the North-South, strand 2 dimension is often seen as the least exciting. Excellent work has been done by bodies such as the Food Safety Promotion Board, InterTradeIreland and Waterways Ireland. All have played their part in developing the normality I referred to earlier.
It is important that the House welcomes the progress made with the St. Andrews Agreement and the further steps taken in the past week. The participants must be encouraged to see the big prize at the end of what has been a puzzle to some. I do not like to use terms such as "final settlement" or "perfect solution". In Northern Ireland, where people hold different viewpoints, the idea of one result being the endgame can be dangerous. The next step is to have the institutions up and running and the Northern parties co-operating.
I welcome the indications given by Dr. Paisley in recent days that if certain agreements in policing and justice are met by Sinn Féin, he will be willing to do political business. When we think of from where we have come in 30 years, it is extraordinary that we have reached this stage in the political process. I welcome Sinn Féin becoming involved in policing and justice. We must encourage the party to take the necessary steps in this regard because there will be difficulties for it in bringing some of its people on board. That is what political leadership is about.
The prize for the people of Northern Ireland is too great for there to be any further unnecessary delays. We hope to see progress over the next few weeks such that the political institutions will be up and running by early spring. If the institutions can be re-established and the Northern political parties take up the leadership of their own province, it is important that the programmes we are discussing, and which this legislation is designed to promote and defend are available. It is important to have economic development side by side with proper, fair and balanced, political structures, to create day-to-day normality for the people of Northern Ireland. Their experience should be no different from that of people in the Republic of Ireland or in Great Britain.
I welcome this legislation, which I am sure this House will pass this afternoon. I also welcome the St. Andrews Agreement and compliment the two Governments on achieving it. The agreement has not moved as quickly as we would have wished but in the context of Northern Ireland a short pause for further reflection, and extra effort in trying to bring all strands on side, may be more effective in the long run than rushed or forced solutions. We are beginning to see a new dawn of realism in the leadership of the DUP and Sinn Féin and a new indication of willingness to compromise and keep the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland at the forefront of their thoughts. I wish the Bill and the broader peace process well.
Of all the issues that we debate and argue in this House none is more important than Northern Ireland. The tragedy of that province not just over the past 30 years but over the past 70 or 80 years, with the loss of life, hope and families, is horrific. Just as the new generation of people and politicians here remember nothing but the Celtic tiger, there are too many people on this island who do not remember how awful life was in Northern Ireland even 15 or 20 years ago. We must ensure that there is no going back. Legislation such as we are putting in place and programmes to help the economy play a key role.
I welcome the Bill and the Minister of State. It is a technical Bill because it gives domestic legal effect to the exchange of letters but if that was all there was to be said it would be sterile. It is not, however, sterile because it allows the continuation of the Special European Union Programmes Body, SEUPB, under another name. Those programmes have made a great difference to life in the Border counties and in the North, and to North-South relations. Apart from the moneys handsomely given and gratefully received, they had a beneficial effect on small businesses, unemployment and many other matters.
I am involved in a programme to bring together women from the Border counties and the North which has received special funding under the EU programmes. Over the past four years I have gone to the North approximately 12 times because the women are receiving special training. They hope the funding and training will continue. On the first occasion I travelled by train and did so again on some subsequent occasions and was struck by the easy camaraderie which had developed between the women from the Border counties and those from the North.
I was there earlier this month and was struck again by how women can quickly transcend what are perceived as boundaries between people. Comhrá na mban works a treat, when women get together, be it in County Galway, Westmeath, Monaghan, Belfast or Derry. They can be at one in their conversation. I can vouch for how that money is being spent and is effecting a great change. People from different counties who would never have dreamt of meeting or had the opportunity to meet are suddenly great friends and make arrangements to meet again for their training.
One cannot talk about this without talking about the North in general. I agree with Senator Bradford when he says that of all the issues we discuss here whether in a minor or major way and regardless of the differing points of view expressed, the North always invokes consensus. I am satisfied that Dr. Paisley who had gone some of the way in the preceding days but faltered at the last jump, took that jump last week. It was not exactly a volte face but on the Order of Business here we praised his courage. While harsh reality may have forced him into the decision we do not mind because it happened. Suddenly "Dr. No" was able to become "Dr. Yes" which was a significant transformation. The matter must have been difficult for many of his party supporters who had spent their lives working to a certain agenda and who must now work to another agenda. If all other conditions are followed and if the election follows on 7 March the St. Andrews Agreement will have been worked through
The Latin tag, festina lente, make haste slowly, often holds true because an accelerated approach would never have worked. While on many occasions we may have felt impatient as the various agreements and meetings came and went, and various castles were purloined for the meetings, and used effectively, they did mark a short step forward. It sometimes seemed to be a case of one step forward, two steps back but that was never really so because the engagement continued between officials and the parties who often appeared to be a great distance apart.
I praise the officials from all quarters who have dealt with Northern matters, North-South matters and the British Irish Interparliamentary Body, which has worked remarkably well. Senator Mooney and I and a few others were in London last week. I understood that neither the Fine Gael nor Labour members could go. It was most worthwhile to see in operation what was being done in the name of that body. Many people and groups have made an input into the process and often the working out of such a process is like fitting all the pieces of a jigsaw together. The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body is doing that, particularly through its committees, such as committee D which considers long-term Irish emigrants to the United Kingdom, how they live and what difficulties they encounter. It is extremely fulfilling especially when one realises this has come about because of the Good Friday Agreement and other such issues.
Returning to the Bill, when we were in London last week the corresponding Bill was going through the House of Commons. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, was responsible for it. The debate on the Bill was interesting. As the Bill was going through the House of Commons we were in committee rooms in the same building discussing one of the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement.
Every agreement is a step forward. The omens look good for what will, I hope, be the resolution of the process in March. I accept we previously stated that and the dawn that broke then was replaced by a murky twilight. I will cross my fingers and place my trust in all involved in the process that on this occasion there will be a good conclusion to the St. Andrews Agreement. It is almost ten years since the Good Friday Agreement was reached. I recall the elation that swept the land on that occasion and the referenda that followed. We must not forget the horror, devastation, loss of life, cruelty, maiming and injury that went on in the dark years. We never want to see them again.
I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister of State for the briefing notes. The Bill is a positive one allowing for the funding arrangements that were in place to continue and to make the exchange of letters an international agreement in legal terms.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Bíonn an-áthas orm é a fheiceáil i gcónaí. Is fear é a bhíonn dáiríre sa Tigh seo, agus is cuimhin liom na blianta ó shin go raibh sé ar fhear de na hAirí Stáit ba luaithe a thosnaigh a ghlacadh le leasuithe do Bhillí sa Tigh seo agus é ag déileáil le Bille faoi leanaí. Bíonn argóintí eadrainn ó am go ham, ach de ghnáth bíonn se dáiríre faoin Tigh seo.
The Bill is welcome. It is a sign of the grown up nature of Irish politics with all of the mutual recriminations that there are profound issues on which there is great consensus. One of the issues on which consensus has been reached, by and large, is on the way forward for Northern Ireland. While I accept that the issue involved is simple, this is not the simplest of Bills. Its purpose is to insert an amendment to amending legislation.
I wish to make a point in the presence of the Cathaoirleach and the Leader. While the proposed legislation before us is not of a complicated nature, we are at a disadvantage compared with our Dáil colleagues who have computerised access to all legislation in Chamber on their desks. If a Member of the Dáil wants to examine the context of an amendment, he or she can push a button and do so. We, in this House, are at a disadvantage, given that we initiate 40% of legislation. As someone who is certain to remain in this Chamber rather than elsewhere in the Oireachtas, I do not consider this to be fair. It is time we sorted out this issue. However, I accept that it is a separate matter. I raise it solely because the Bill is simple and is not one with which I take issue.
I have only one query regarding the Bill. The commencement date is to be decided by the Minister for Finance. I do not understand how this can be the case, given that the Bill is sponsored by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Members of the House will be sick of hearing about my obsession with the over-reaching power of the Department of Finance and its apparent determination to control everything. I am keen to hear an explanation for why an amendment to amended legislation which is dealt with in both Houses by the Minister for Foreign Affairs would be introduced into force by the Minister for Finance. Given the importance of the legislation, surely it should come into force once it has been signed into law by Uachtarán na hÉireann? I do not see any reason other than the usual reflex of Departments to hold on, just in case
The Bill is welcome. The scale of expenditure outlined in the Minister of State's address is extensive. One of the issues on which we are all agreed is that future expenditure will need to be even greater. I previously referred to the interesting submission made to the Government by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland in the context of the forthcoming national development plan, and its creative idea that nowhere in the country should be more than two hours drive from an international airport. In terms of the north west that would necessitate the construction of an efficient road network in Northern Ireland so that the north west of the Republic, in particular County Donegal, would have access to Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport.
If, as appears to be the case, the Government will be generous in the funding provided for infrastructural investment, this will be beneficial to Northern Ireland and the north west, which is cut off in many ways. Another infrastructural deficit which has led to Donegal being marginalised is its lack of access to high voltage electricity. This has had a negative effect on the county's potential attraction for industrial investment.
The lack of provision of broadband appears to be an issue unique to Ireland. I am pleased to hear the funding has been used to facilitate broadband access in the Border counties. Northern Ireland has had 100% broadband access for at least the past six months, something which appears to elude the Government in spite of the announcements it makes.
The Bill provides an opportunity to speak about the future, about which I am extremely optimistic. For a variety of reasons I anticipated that there would be various hiccups around 24 November. There has been sufficient ambiguity for some people to be able to say they were bounced into deadlines while, at the same time, they said enough to ensure the deadlines were met without anybody else feeling they were bounced into dissolving anything. We have this peculiar interregnum where the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was due to either sort out its issues or be dissolved on 24 November, is now in a state of semi-existence with people going as far as was necessary to prevent anything decisive without doing anything decisive quite yet.
I wish Sinn Féin well and I hope its leadership succeeds in persuading its members to give full, unequivocal support to the police service. Once that is done, I hope outstanding issues such as the murder of Robert McCartney will be resolved. It would not be a proper price to pay for peace in Northern Ireland to allow the apparent quasi-paramilitary killing of Robert McCartney to go unpunished. I hope co-operation with the police will mean the case will be resolved.
I am pleased the Leader referred to the role of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, which I did not appreciate until I became a member of it. Its number one achievement is the creation of informal contacts in a way that is unimaginable to those of us who are used to them. I recall my good friend in the Labour Party, Deputy Seamus Pattison, when celebrating his 45 years as a Member of the other House, talking about trips abroad in the 1960s. The two questions he was asked when he got home were if he had raised the issue of partition and if he had stayed away from the Brits. That was the sum total of our attitudes 40 years ago. We have moved on from that and have recognised that the neighbouring island, with all its wonderful eccentricities and peculiar ways of doing things, the consequence of centuries of peculiar traditions to many of us, has become a good friend of ours and we are able to talk about the peculiarities informally and formally.
Like all parliamentary bodies, the BIIPB is an irritant to Governments, just as parliaments are generally which is why most Governments like to keep their parliaments closed for as long as possible — summer, autumn and winter and, if possible, for longer. There is a huge hiatus to separating the activities of the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and it is time they were meshed and matched together.
We were in Belfast for the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting last October. The city is transformed.
It is a delightful city, full of life and things to see. As I had a few hours to spare on the Tuesday afternoon, I did what Baroness Blood described as "the terror tour", which is quite legitimate business now. There are taxis for hire to show one what used to be and what happened where, and one is told the story on both sides of the divide in an interesting and educational way. It is delightful that all that——
No, it was a taxi tour. It is organised through the tourist office. One is taken to all the places where dreadful things happened on both sides and where positive things are happening. There are nice things to see. I recommend it to any of our colleagues whenever in Belfast with a few hours to spare.
I welcome the Bill. I wish to raise a few queries on Committee Stage but I support the Bill and we are happy to facilitate its passage through the House.
I endorse and echo the comments made by the Leader and others in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to the House in the context of the Bill. As he said, his mandate extends to the particulars of the Bill in terms of the cross-Border bodies, namely, the Special EU Programmes Body, the acronym for which we all have a difficulty in using.
I endorse everything the Leader, Senator O'Rourke, has said on the British-Irish body. I thank her for her kind acknowledgement of my presence in London last week. It was a significant occasion in the sense that we were there as parliamentarians from the sovereign Irish Parliament with our colleagues and friends from the sovereign British Parliament at the beginning of a discussion on the Bill which, it is hoped, will lead to the resumption of the institutions and a new era of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. I echo the Leader's comments that we hope a new dawn is about to emerge in that troubled part of the island of Ireland.
Like all Members I compliment the leader of the DUP, Dr. Ian Paisley, who, like all political leaders, has difficulties within his party on issues of policy from time to time. This is a basic policy issue for the DUP. I never thought I would say in the Irish Parliament that I not only respect but admire the political leadership he has shown over recent days——
——when it was called for and when, perhaps, there was some doubt that he might not discharge the responsibilities of a responsible political leader in Northern Ireland. I welcome that. On the other hand, I fully agree with what Senator Ryan said about the perpetrators of the cruel, horrific murder of Robert McCartney and hope that, like many other unsolved murders in the North, it will be resolved in this new era of hoped-for police co-operation from all sides of the community.
Another McCartney was in the news last week who did no service whatever not only to his own constituents but to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. While he may be a brilliant platform speaker, when the verbiage and hyperbole and the attacks he made on the DUP in the Assembly last week are stripped away, in effect what he is proposing is a return to that sort of darkness to which the Leader referred for all the people not only of Northern Ireland but of this island. Those are his policies which, thankfully, are dead. I hope the Unionist population of his constituency in north Down at election time next March will send a powerful message to Mr. McCartney that he is a dinosaur in political terms in Northern Ireland and that he represents nobody but himself.
I endorse the references made to the British-Irish body. If the Minister of State has any influence in this regard, there should be a merging of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and the British-Irish Council. It happened with the Nordic Council and it is working effectively. That should be the next development in the relationship at parliamentary and ministerial level, North-South and east-west.
I acknowledge the outstanding role the International Fund for Ireland has played in my county of Leitrim and across all the southern and northern Border counties. It is ironic that when this concept was first developed, that is, the peace and reconciliation fund, with the help and support of the Irish Government at European level it was the Unionist population who were the most reluctant to get involved because they saw it as yet another example of the unification of Ireland by stealth. How we have moved on. The peace and reconciliation fund has done outstanding work on both sides of the Border.
When the North-South Implementation Bodies get organised I hope there will be a push for the development of the Ulster Canal. I was disappointed at the remarks and reply of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, when I raised this issue with him at the recent plenary session of the body when he indicated that there might not be sufficient funds available in the same week our Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said the Irish Government was prepared to put the necessary resources into it. I hope there will be a continuation of the pressure on the UK Government.
On the question of the all-island economy, which the Bill is indirectly about, we are again in a new era. To quote Gerry Adams, there is a new dispensation in the land. Whether people like it or not, we are moving towards an all-island economy. Unionist businessmen might say it sotto voce and might not wish to go public on it but they know the best way forward for the business community and the development of this island in terms of prosperity for all our people is an all-island economy, and it has little to do with the constitutional issues.
So far as I am concerned the Border is an irrelevancy. I live in a Border county. It makes no difference to me whatever or to my friends or colleagues in Fermanagh. The Border is gone so any constitutional issues can be resolved into the future. In practical terms, what will put bread on the table and give clothing and jobs to people, especially in the disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland, is the all-island economy.
The Minister of State was correct to make a small but important reference to the dark forces still within Northern Ireland, as exemplified by the Michael Stone incident. On a positive note, it was reported in the media that allegedly four UDA groups went out looking for Mr. Stone, who I understand had telephoned a number of media outlets in the days prior to his attack on Stormont seeking publicity, in an attempt to stop him because he was disrupting the peace process. That is another encouraging sign within the Unionist community who, I believe, are like us and want little more than peace and prosperity for all the people in Ireland.
I too welcome the Minister of State, the Bill and the debate. If for no other reason it lets me know what goes on in the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, something which is denied to a mere Independent Senator.
The Bill need not take long. It is clear it is an administrative exercise and the House wants to give a fair wind to it. It enables us to pay tribute to the work that has been done in this field. Senator Mooney mentioned the International Fund for Ireland under successive chairmen and also the work that has been done with EU funding. The important thing is to get in on the ground. We commend the Governments and political parties for making agreements. However, these tend to be agreements made between political élites on either side and they need to engage the people on the ground and bring them with them. That has been the importance of these schemes, which need to continue through independent organisations rather than through Government organisations.
It is striking that the European programme made people work together and they built up confidence. Senator Mooney mentioned that some of these matters were viewed with a degree of suspicion by the Unionist and loyalist populations at the time. These are the people who need reassurance as they see themselves under attack and losing culturally, economically and in every other way, things that are happening anyway but are attributed to political movement. It is hugely important to reassure them and bring them along.
All we have done so far is bring the horses to water. It is important not to frighten them off before they drink. For this reason, while I wish Dr. Paisley well and he has work to do in his party, I do not want to make it harder for him to bear with the adulation of this House on his back. Both sides know what needs to be done and should help each other to do it. Sinn Féin clearly needs to clear up its position on policing, which is a sine qua non. The only possible policing service there is the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That force was produced as a result of the Patten reform, in which I declare an interest. Nevertheless, it is the new model police and there is no point in pretending that any other police service can be invented in the short term to take its place. Sinn Féin needs and has asked the British Government for the transfer of responsibility for policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly. People should not be frightened by that — it was envisaged in the Patten report. I do not believe that Sinn Féin would claim to want a Sinn Féin Minister; any Northern Ireland Minister would do.
If people want reassurance, the Patten model was designed to insulate day-to-day policing from political interference. In that sense people should not be afraid. It is important to let these matters develop in their own time. They are moving much better than any of us would have hoped some time ago. The Government has shown encouragement and the Taoiseach has been fairly faultless in his handling of the matter. People need to be reassured. We need to underline the primacy of politics. Politics must be seen to have worked. If this does not happen, we need only look over the precipice and see Michael Stones on both sides of the political agenda. It is vital that this be made to work and that the political parties step up to the mark and are seen to do so. We should give them all the help and encouragement we can. I welcome the work that has been done. I welcome the Bill, which, of course, we will support.
I also welcome the Bill. It is short and technical, and as Senator Ryan said, seems to be an amendment to an amendment to an amendment. I am not sure that an international agreement can be amended in this way without returning to the people in a referendum. However, if the legal people say it is acceptable, I suppose it is. Importantly, it will allow funding to continue for cross-Border bodies. As Senator Ryan said, I would like to see some of the money used for the roads network. It is possible to drive on a quality road from here to Cavan or Monaghan, but I will be damned if it is possible to get across to Donegal without another road. I would love to see a main road going right across. There is one such road along the coast, going up to Dundalk. However, there is none going across the Six Counties. As I use this road two or three times a week, I would like to see it improved. It would be wonderful if the Minister of State could exert his influence to have money from the fund used in this way.
This represents another step forward. The jumps Dr. Paisley and Mr. McGuinness have taken since their original standpoints have been phenomenal. The last time I met Dr. Paisley I had my photograph taken with him and he asked why I wanted to meet him. I told him that I wanted to meet the next Taoiseach. He laughed and said it would be a long time coming. At least he might end up being First Minister in the North in a short time — I hope he will and that Martin McGuinness will be Deputy First Minister. If those two people sit at a table and talk to one another it will be a long way from what was happening 20 or 30 years ago, when people were being killed and Dr. Paisley was attacking the Pope.
Rather than look back at what we have gone through, I would like to look forward to where we can go. Senator Mooney said that the Border has gone, which to all intents and purposes is true. It is possible to drive through without coming across customs posts, etc. The Border still exists of course. The North is still a separate country and is part of the United Kingdom. However, there is a way out of this through the Good Friday Agreement and it can be changed by the will of the majority. I hope to God some day that will happen and we will have a fully united country.
I do not know why another election in the North is necessary. The MLAs are in place already and we all know who will be re-elected. If they sat down and worked it, the position would be quite good at this stage. I know the way politics works and it is necessary to give a bit and take a bit, which is what this is all about.
I support the Bill. Most people do not fully appreciate how much cross-Border work is done and do not know these cross-Border bodies exist. When I spoke to people about them, they were amazed at their location. These include the language body, comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster Scots Agency, the Food Safety Promotion Board, etc. I have a slight difficulty with the Ulster Scots Agency, which implies that Ulster Scots is a language; I would say it is a dialect. I have no objection to its carrying on. It is not doing any harm and might be doing considerable good. Waterways Ireland, covering the whole country, is a marvellous body. We need to highlight the good that is done. It is a long haul to where we all hope to get. Small minnows like this come in from time to time and we do not fully realise the impact they have. The Bill will provide the funding for the Special EU Programmes Body to continue its important role. I welcome the Bill and I commend it to the House.
I support the Bill. We all recognise what the EU-supported programmes have done for the Border counties on both sides. We did not talk about the single greatest impediment to economic and social development, North and South, which was the partition of the country in 1922. Both countries developed their infrastructure back-to-back as far as the Border and ne'er the twain shall meet. Ten or 12 years ago the North's road infrastructure was far better than ours. However, it fell substantially behind ours and only now is it catching up, with the Belfast to Dundalk road matching up with our Dublin to Dundalk road.
In November 2005 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, stated the economy in the North would not be sustainable in the long term. He added: "In future decades it is going to be increasingly difficult to look at the economy of North and South except as a sort of island of Ireland economy." Last month the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and Peter Hain published a groundbreaking and comprehensive study of the development of an all-Ireland economy. Civil servants from both sides worked together to produce it. The Minister and the Secretary of State issued a fantastic joint statement which indicated that the study made clear the strong economic imperative driving North-South co-operation. In the context of the study, the Minister stated:
To be globally competitive we must exploit the opportunities of all-island co-operation. To make the knowledge economy a reality in Ireland, North and South, the opportunities of cross-border co-operation in R&D should be eagerly grasped.
I recently stated on the Order of Business that there was one issue the various political parties in the North had in common. Sammy Wilson stated in the Northern Ireland Assembly last week that he would like that jurisdiction to have the Republic's low tax base. Those in the North are looking to us because we are rich. Business leaders, led by George Quigley, and political parties in the North have been putting pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to bring the corporation tax rate in that jurisdiction, 30%, into line with that which obtains here, 12.5%.
The Taoiseach was a guest speaker at the CBI lunch in London on Monday last. He stated:
There is no reason why the Celtic Tiger cannot be an all-island phenomenon.
The people of Northern Ireland certainly have the capacity and the drive to succeed.
Last month, the British and Irish Governments published a ground-breaking report on the all-island economy.
We want to invest together in the productive capacity and competitiveness of the island — in infrastructure, in education, in skills and in science. We also want to see how we can improve services to our citizens by working better together.
This all-island dimension will be an important part of our new National Development Plan.
I look forward to seeing these plans agreed and implemented — on the basis of mutual respect and for mutual benefit — with a new First Minister, Deputy First Minister ...
The fact that Martin McGuinness and Dr. Paisley are Deputy First Minister designate and First Minister designate bestows upon them a certain prestige. Decisions will continue to be made in London until next year but the fact that these two men are now Ministers designate will make a difference when they engage in discussions with civil servants in the North.
The Bill has my 100% support. It is first class legislation and what it envisages must be done. We are aware of the benefits we have received from the European Union to date in respect of these programmes. However, I am more interested in the development of an all-Ireland economy. I want investors from abroad to be able to look at the island of Ireland and see that there is a common corporation tax rate. The Taoiseach would be supportive of such a development. We would not be obliged to worry about the competition and would be delighted to work towards the establishment of peace and social justice in Northern Ireland and the development of human rights, North and South. In that regard, I would welcome the North joining the Celtic tiger economy.
I do not wish to criticise or offend Senator Maurice Hayes, but structural changes are required in the Northern Ireland economy. Too many people there are involved in the public sector; not enough are employed in the productive private sector.
I have no wish to hurt the Senator's feelings, as I am aware he sweated blood and tears in respect of the North.
I look forward to the establishment of an all-island Celtic tiger economy and the development of social justice, North and South. I congratulate the Minister of State and wish him continued success with his portfolio.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well with the Bill which is very short. It was referred to by the distinguished Senator Maurice Hayes on the Order of Business when I think he described it as being opaque, but perhaps he was referring to the explanatory memorandum in that regard. Everyone knows what it involves. I listened to his contribution on the monitor and noted his reference to bringing horses to water. I believe he meant to say they should be allowed to drink of their own accord. His words prompted me to come to the Chamber.
Everyone knows about the divisions. Last week I attended a meeting of a sub-committee of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body in London and had the honour to be in the House of Commons for the initiation of the debate there. I heard the contributions of Mark Durkan and Dr. Paisley. I am amazed by the advances made in such a short period. I thought everything Mr. Durkan said was eminently sensible but Dr. Paisley struck me as being reticent. He made a big point of where he stood and the obstacles in his way. However, RTE aired an interview with him on the night before last in which he more than clarified that he was prepared to take up office as First Minister. We greatly welcome that development.
I hope Sinn Féin will proceed with its Ard-Fheis because it must move on policing. It is a basic tenet of any democratic society that there can be only one police force which must have the support of all democratic parties. I hope there will not be an obstacle in that regard in Northern Ireland. As Senator Maurice Hayes stated, the transfer of the policing function to the North was envisaged in the Patten report.
If I am correct, I understand the Bill provides for the further advancement of North-South and east-west bodies.
The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body has for a long period done everything to encourage the inclusion of Unionist voices from the North. It has been very consistent in this regard. As I understand it, the Acting Chairman spoke to the good reverend doctor during the visit to London.
I understand what happened. We both know that the Chair meant well and those of us who were with him gave him every encouragement.
I am only an alternate on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, but I was particularly glad to have been able to participate in its proceedings when it met in Killarney. Senator Mansergh was also present at that meeting and made a fine contribution. While the DUP would not participate in a membership capacity at the meeting to which I refer, its representatives were facilitated in making a formal presentation to the body and participating in a question and answer session. It had four representatives present — Peter Robinson, his wife, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson — and they all participated. That was a good indication — I hope it is a forerunner — of the advances that will be made.
As the Minister of State indicated, the Bill is part of a facilitation process. I welcome that and I would not like to say anything that would cause upset. I wish the Bill success together with the fruits that flow from it. I hope everything will be put in place and the timetable envisaged will not be upset.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit atá sa Teach chun an Bille um Chomhaontú na Breataine-na hÉireann (Leasú) 2006 a phlé. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil suim an-mhór ag an Aire Stáit san ábhar seo agus go mbeidh dul chun cinn á dhéanamh idir an Bhreatain agus an tír seo.
I welcome the Bill, which refers to the North-South Implementation Bodies. It was regrettable that the intended bodies were exchanged with the areas of co-operation in the latter stages of the Belfast Agreement, which meant that the more meaningful and impactive areas of policy became the areas of co-operation. Nonetheless, I welcome the thrust of the legislation because the Special European Union Programmes Body has made a significant contribution in dealing with issues that arose as a consequence of the Troubles and tackling the question of reconciliation. I had an interest in commending the body because when I was chairman of the Local Authority Members Association, in conjunction with our counterpart in Northern Ireland, the National Association of Councillors, we developed very good and deep friendships over a number of years which culminated in the establishment of the Confederation of European Councillors on a North-South basis. It comprised elected members of all the political parties on the island and it was a unique project. The parties could not have worked together without the assistance and support of the SEUPB.
While the thrust of the activities involved council exchanges, a yearbook, conferences and dealing with topics of mutual interest, which received a great deal of support, I was saddened by the ill-informed thinking of a number of our media, especially the Irish Independent and "Morning Ireland", which denigrated a number of conferences held in Europe, and that was a pity. In one instance, a photographer based in the city where the conference was hosted was sent with instructions to ensure he took photographs of councillors in a social setting. The intent was to damage the initiative rather than recognise the good being done. I recall chatting over a drink late at night at one conference with a member of Sinn Féin who had been in the IRA and an Independent Unionist who had been in the UVF. Both men had served significant terms in prison for bombing offences but their exchange of viewpoints and stories clearly illustrated what could be achieved for the future if people of different political persuasions interacted with each other. The negative publicity generated by these conferences has undermined them, which is regrettable.
I welcome the Minister of State's comment that the North-South Ministerial Council will undertake consultation, co-operation and action on all matters of mutual interest to the benefit of the people, North and South. That is positive because it will address the legacy of the conflict, but I have a strong criticism in this regard. No effective effort has been made to deal with the issue of collusion and the position of the victims of violence. Within an hour, a committee of the Houses will issue a report, which will clearly illustrate the volume of evidence it has received outlining the extent of collusion and the fact it was known at the highest level within the police force in the North, the British Army and, regrettably, the Northern Ireland Office and Whitehall. These murders could not have continued without the acquiescence, if not the direction, of those in senior positions. While many of the victims are of the opinion that nobody will be brought to justice for these heinous crimes, the least they expect is an apology and an acknowledgement of the collusion and the fact that it should not have happened. The Government needs to establish an effective mechanism such as an inquiry to get to the bottom of this issue. Otherwise, it will fester into the future, which would be detrimental to the good relations to which we aspire.
It also could be detrimental to British interests for a variety of reasons. First, it would affect the credibility of the British Government in its campaign in the war on terror if it continues to cover up atrocities of its own making in the past. Second, it would inhibit genuine and trustworthy relations between both jurisdictions and Governments in future. Third, it would provide recruiting fodder to those who seek to oppose the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The British have made this mistake in the past and they prolonged the Troubles as a result. Fourth, it would also mean the British have failed to meet the solemn commitment given in the Belfast Agreement to assist the victims of the Troubles to achieve closure on their pain and suffering. Many issues of self-interest should encourage the British to co-operate with a strong effort by the Government to bring this sad chapter in our history to a conclusion, thus allowing the victims who suffered to move on.
I welcome the Minister of State and the legislation. The peace process and the Special EU Programmes Body for peace and reconciliation have made a useful contribution over recent years. I have attended a number of conferences under its auspices dealing with specific small projects on both sides of the Border. At a more general level, one of the positive aspects of the past four or five years has been the ability of the North-South bodies to continue to operate, albeit on a care and maintenance basis. That is not satisfactory in the long term and their work needs a new political impetus. I hope that will happen.
Last week's events, taken in the round, represent positive progress and there are economic as well as political reasons for this progress. I accept that the situation is difficult for both of the main protagonists, but we should not forget the other parties, such as the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and the Alliance Party, which have soldiered on without the same traumas experienced by either end of the spectrum. It is something of a lesson in that if one becomes too extreme in one's opposition, embarrassment will inevitably be felt when one must change position. This lesson applies equally to the fierce denunciations of the Good Friday Agreement and the notion of power-sharing.
I will not detract from Senator Jim Walsh's comments, but I none the less found slogans such as "SS RUC", as seen in west Belfast, distasteful. I welcome that both ends of the spectrum are getting to grips with the problem. Despite the difficulties that some members of both groups will experience, all of the signs are that we can bring the matter to a successful conclusion.
In the past two days, I attended a conference in New Delhi on peace processes around the world, including in the Sudan. For the first time in my experience of giving a presentation on Northern Ireland, there were no questions. Compared to many others, there is no doubt that the peace process is seen as successful and hopefully nearing a conclusion.
During the return plane trip, I read an article written by Mr. Richard Haass, the US envoy in the early years of President Bush's presidency and the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations. His analysis of the Middle East situation was sobering in some ways.
The article referred to the Irish peace process and recommended that "US officials ought to sit down with Hamas officials, much as they have with the leaders of Sinn Féin, some of whom also led the Irish Republican Army". That will probably not be very digestible in Washington. Mr. Haass stated: "Such exchanges should be viewed not as rewarding terrorist tactics but as instruments with the potential to bring behaviour in line with US policy". One can smile a little at that. The same article states: "And democratisation is of little use when dealing with radicals whose platforms have no hope of receiving majority support".
Today's edition of The Irish News states, "Taxpayers' £11 million bill for RIRA firebombs". The Newry bombings cost another £20 million. As I stated during a debate on other legislation last week, there is a strong security dimension to the issue, but there is also a political dimension and we must find a way of closing down that type of destructive and counterproductive activities and a means of persuasion as well as repression.
I thank Senators for their positive, open, fair, even-handed and focused contributions to this important Bill. Northern Ireland is probably the most important issue on the island and I value the singular commitment of Senators to ensuring that we treat the matter in a fair, even-handed and sensitive manner. The Government salutes the House in its commitment to the efforts made by both Governments to bringing lasting peace to the island and equality of opportunity for economic advancement, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Various Senators raised a number of questions. Senator Ryan referred to the role of the Department of Finance. The operating costs of the Special EU Programmes Body are met by the Department and the personnel of its counterpart in Northern Ireland. While this is a financial instrument, the Department of Foreign Affairs has put it before the House. I am representing the Department of Foreign Affairs on the basis that it is responsible for activities relating to Northern Ireland and North-South bodies, but the Department of Finance has responsibility for funding. Any financial Bill or mechanism must have the signature and authorisation of the Minister for Finance.
The programme will be substantial. This excellent body, which is featured in the legislation, has outstanding staff and will have a budget of almost €1 billion. It will deliver value for money and is recognised across the European Union as one of the most important management authorities of any funding structure within the Union.
Senator Mooney raised the question of the Ulster Canal. As the Senator is probably aware, the Taoiseach announced recently that we are planning an ambitious project to restore and reopen the canal to create a major inland waterway for the Border region, which will serve as a focus for tourism and community development.
The first and largest infrastructural project managed by the North and the South was the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, a major waterways programme initiated after we entered office in 1987 and piloted by the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Those involved included the United Kingdom Government, the European Union, the International Fund for Ireland, the various Northern Ireland structures, the Office of Public Works and the ESBI.
The project cost almost £20 million, a significant amount of money at the time, but it created a considerable degree of goodwill in the North and the South. Working together with international support, we created infrastructure and new facilities. As a result of the major arterial works done, the project created an opportunity for local investment — in the public sector via local authorities and tourism bodies and in the private sector via private investors — to create a new waterways infrastructure that has made a significant economic difference to people in Northern Ireland, along the Border and throughout Ireland as far as the River Shannon. There is no reason that success cannot be replicated in the case of the Ulster Canal, a project to which we are committed.
I thank Senator Maurice Hayes for his comments and I salute him for his work and contribution as a shining beacon of positivity for Northern Ireland at every occasion. Senator Lydon referred to the constitutional position vis-À-vis the legislation. I assure the House that the Attorney General's office has been directly involved in the exchange of letters. The agreements are internationally binding and the legislation, including our management of it, is sound in the transposition of the agreements into domestic law. There is no difficulty in that regard.
Senator White raised the matter of reducing corporation tax in Northern Ireland to bring it into parity with the rate in the Republic of Ireland. Northern business people, political parties and others have argued that lowering Northern Ireland's corporation rate would help to stimulate growth in the North's economy. This is a matter for the British Government in the first instance. Any such proposals would have to be considered in the context of EU rules. The Government welcomes the fact that the Northern Ireland political parties together are actively pursuing this issue with the British Government.
Our Government warmly welcomes the level of engagement among the political parties in Northern Ireland to address the economic challenges facing the people of Northern Ireland. The Government is convinced that stronger economic growth in Northern Ireland can only be of benefit to all citizens on this island, North and South. We strongly support measures to foster such growth and are constantly working to ensure we can build an all-Ireland economy. We will need the co-operation of everybody, North and South, to achieve that.
Senator Jim Walsh referred to the fact that we have not addressed the issue of collusion and I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights is launching its report later this evening.
Today is the 31st anniversary of John Francis Hayes who was killed by the bomb at Dublin Airport on 29 November 1975. Our thoughts are with his family and the families of all the victims. The issue of collusion haunts our efforts to deal with the past. It is an issue which the Government has raised persistently with the British Government. We will, of course, raise the issues in this report with the British Government at the earliest opportunity. The Government has not yet seen the report and will need to consider its findings fully before deciding how to take its recommendations forward. However, the Government will continue to meet with victims and families and to assist them in whatever way it can. For example, the Miami Showband massacre is one of the atrocities examined in the report and the Taoiseach will meet with the families of those victims tomorrow.
It is important that the British Government considers the issues raised in this and other Oireachtas reports as a matter of urgency, and that it co-operates fully with any further investigations. In this regard the final report of the independent commission of investigation into aspects of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, the McEntee Commission of Investigation, is expected on 10 December. We understand that Mr. McEntee has had some success in his contacts with the British Government during his investigations.
I cannot comment at this stage on the recommendations of the report but it will be examined in detail and full and careful consideration will be given to the recommendations contained therein. The PSNI Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde, appeared before the joint committee earlier this month and spoke about the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which has been charged with investigating over 3,000 deaths. He emphasised that for a number of reasons, the likelihood of solving cases in a judicial sense is slight. The situation in this jurisdiction is quite different. The number of unsolved murders in this State is significantly less than the 3,268 cases which the Historical Enquiries Team will examine and can be addressed on a case-by-case basis, as is happening now with the appointment of a dedicated review team in respect of the murder of the late Séamus Ludlow.
The Government will continue to offer the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team every assistance in its work and the Garda Síochána has already co-operated with it on a number of cases. The Garda authorities note also that within the policing plans of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation there is provision for the review of unsolved crimes and there are regular look-back programmes in place in respect of unsolved crimes in other Garda divisions.
While we can never undo the hurt victims have suffered we must ensure they do not feel left behind as the political process advances. In that regard the Government recently decided to extend the term of office of the remembrance commission by a year and to allocate a further €1 million to the remembrance fund. The commission will also consider carefully how best to address the needs of victims and survivors arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, as soon as the report becomes available we will address its recommendations in detail to the best of our ability.
I thank Senators for the contribution they have made to this very important legislation. It is my wish to return to the House on its resumption this evening to complete the Committee and Remaining Stages.