Monday, 10 May 2021
Good Friday Agreement: Motion
"That Seanad Éireann:
- reaffirms its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and requests the full implementation of all aspects of this international agreement;
- requests that politicians North and South lead in a manner that is respectful and cognisant of the Good Friday Agreement which is built on respect, equality and partnership;
- is committed to ensuring the protection of the rights of all the people that live on the island;
- is committed to working towards a prosperous and peaceful shared future, where everyone has equal access to education and employment opportunities;
- underlines the need for balanced regional development across the island;
- underlines its commitment to breaking down barriers and creating a new beginning for relationships between the peoples and traditions of this island, on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement;
- recognises the birthright under the Good Friday Agreement of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose. That this right be respected and upheld by all on the island;
- welcomes the Shared Island Initiative, including the financial commitment of €500 million over five years for cross-border projects such as the Shared Island Dialogues and a research programme, which are currently underway;
- notes the priorities of the Shared Island Initiative are to: - work in partnership with the Executive, through the North-South Ministerial Council, and with the British Government to address shared challenges on the island;
- enable priority delivery of key all-island commitments and foster new investment and development opportunities on a North/South basis, supported by the Shared Island Fund;
- foster constructive and inclusive dialogue and support a comprehensive programme of research to support the building of consensus around a shared future;
- deliver a financial commitment of €500 million over five years for cross-border projects through the Shared Island Fund; - looks forward to strengthening cooperation North and South; to re-invigorating relationships on an East/West basis; and to working with all communities and traditions on the island on a shared future underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.”
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of one of Ireland's greatest republicans, Seán Lemass, the man responsible for persuading my grandfather to enter politics in 1926 when he visited my home place in Rosnakill in Donegal, it is with a great sense of pride that I take this opportunity to formally propose this joint Private Members' business motion, which I co-sponsor with my colleague, Senator Erin McGreehan, a motion which outlines the importance of the work of the shared island initiative, which An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, has championed. It is also about reaffirming the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement and the opportunities it has afforded to us within this island. My grandfather fought in the War of Independence and I have always considered myself and Fianna Fáil to be a republican party. Anyone familiar with Neil T. Blayney will also know the connection I have to Northern Ireland and the hardship and struggle that our island went through. It was a struggle that seemed endless at the time but that ended with the Good Friday Agreement. We now have political representation for all communities and governance that is shared between the communities, a difficult decision but one that is important and may have seemed impossible. However, progress cannot stop here.
The question now is how quickly we respond to these setbacks and evolve with the changing times on the basis of the agreement. I for one deplore the actions of one Deputy, Matt Carthy, in the last few weeks when he commemorated a former IRA man who inflicted death and harm on our society for no gain. This country has had its divisions caused by British occupation for many decades. The war is over. Contrary to popular belief, our day has actually come. It came to this island on the tenth day of April 1998 when this agreement was signed and peace was won. The above mentioned Deputy’s actions fly in the face of republicanism and are more akin to playing to those responsible for the murder of Paul Quinn. Actions like this need to be called out and they have no cause of gain to any community on the island of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement was a victory after long and violent conflict. This motion seeks to reaffirm our commitment to this historic document that has put an end to decades of violence. Overall, we will have had peace in Northern Ireland. We have a society, a strive for harmony and as this motion underlines, in the true spirit of the Good Friday agreement and its signatories, we too need now to strive for that very same respect, equality and partnership. Equality and partnership are crucial to any society but they are most certainly important in Northern Ireland. I fear these two aspects may be breaking down in recent years.
As a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of these Houses I am acutely aware of the damage done to trust and partnership between communities by Brexit and its effects on Northern Ireland and its people. We must continue to repair the damage done and to strive for effective and pragmatic solutions to deep and complex issues and divisions that exist. At the Good Friday Agreement committee we have had representations from members on all sides but we have also seen attempts at playing partition politics through a forum that is dedicated to partnership, respect and equality.
I am somebody who holds my republican credentials in high esteem. I want to see the creation of the space for the people of this island to learn how to get along and learn to live among each other in harmony. As someone who represents an area that has been historically and geographically cut off from the rest of the island, I implore Members of this House to keep it in mind that our communities are intertwined. There is no them versus us; there is simply us. I am hearing the rhetoric of running a border poll as, apparently, the Good Friday Agreement gives the constitutional grounds for it to happen. I hear the constant rhetoric that a citizens' assembly be put in place as soon as possible. That rhetoric needs to stop. If Irish unity was that easily won it would have formed part of the Good Friday Agreement. It was not part of it. Our problems are much more complex than that but some do not want to admit that. What the Good Friday Agreement does allow for is the opportunity to plan for unity for all the people of this island, the opportunity to bring the people of this island as one, people of many identities. The politicians and political leaders in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement had the ability and foresight to create this space. Are we really saying that we as an island nation do not have the foresight, vision and leadership to finish the job?Unionist leaders allowed that space in the Good Friday Agreement. Are we really blaming them when we try to bring about a border poll or a citizens' assembly by coercion without the minority at the table? We have been handed a great opportunity to bring an end to decades of division and mistrust. We cannot afford to muck this up. We owe it to future generations.
The parties to the Good Friday Agreement, including the two governments and the US Administration, have shown us that a path was achievable. I believe we all need to ask ourselves and all parties who our leaders are going to be. What can we do to restore that trust that has been damaged by the taking down of Stormont for three years, Brexit and the approach taken by the British Government? What can we do to restore trust so that the North-South institutions can be fully implemented. This is key. If we achieve this much and really grasp the opportunity given, we will be on a road to much more lasting peace and prosperity for all of the island.
I have every confidence in the US Administration. It would be only too willing to begin negotiations on a shared future. Using the same model that worked so well for the Good Friday Agreement, I believe that if and when we get to the space, great things can be achieved collectively for our shared future.
We have seen setbacks to cross-Border relations through the breakdown of communications through the cross-Border institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement. We saw setbacks in our communities last April when anger and frustration cumulated in unrest. We have also seen setbacks in relations between the two government parties in Northern Ireland, who at times seem to be more interested in antagonising each other than working with each other.
All these setbacks are the reason we tabled the motion. We need reminding of the opportunity afforded to us - the opportunity to decide our own destiny. The shared island dialogue is a real effort to bring trust and cohesion to communities on the island. The shared island fund is there to kick start that cross-Border inter-agency approach to tackling the lack of balanced regional development and let the people of Northern Ireland know that this Republic of Ireland Government cares by implementing infrastructural cross-Border projects that Northern Ireland and by extension the Border region have been starved of for too long.
Peace has been hard-won and is not guaranteed. We must evolve and work together to ensure that peace lasts. There is no room for divisions when it comes to peace. We either have peace or we do not. Deep divisions in countries require leadership that is willing to co-operate and we call for that here today. We need to break down barriers, not build them back up again. As members of both this House and the Northern Ireland Executive, the decisions of Sinn Féin will play a pivotal role in the future of Northern Ireland. The peace process, and it is a process, cannot continue without the support and consent of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin must be a part of the solution, not a cause of the problems. Anti-establishment views may generate clicks and headlines but they only go so far when the party is an established party in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin is part of a large majority that wishes for a united Ireland when it is feasible and realistic. It is a simply a fact that we must mind the minority on our island as well. I believe peace is within our grasp. We accept the Sinn Féin amendment. I spoke to the second amendment but in the interest of moving forward, we will not oppose it on the day.
I am very proud to second the motion, which reconfirms Seanad Éireann's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and welcomes the shared island unit. As somebody who was not old enough to vote for the agreement, I am particularly delighted to stand up in this House and say that I believe, as my family and I believed 23 years ago, that this is the way to a better Ireland. Growing up in a Border area that, unfortunately, saw its fair share of heartache and pain because of what happened over the past 100 years, I know the Good Friday Agreement changed everything. It changed my future and shaped me and many like me. We will not be able to count the lives that were saved because of the agreement but we can certainly count the benefits peace brought us all.
In the agreement, we created a plan and a vision but we have failed to implement all that was envisaged in that plan. This is down to the failure to co-operate and accept different viewpoints.Hard lines rarely do anyone any favours.
Those divisions still exist and were frighteningly obvious to us when we saw the violence on our streets over Easter. We must ask why we are still so segregated. Why are there more peace walls than ever? For far too long, the two main parties have focused on only delivering for their own community backgrounds and have failed to lead all citizens away from one-upmanship and an "us versus them" attitude that one side's problems are the result of another's gains. This is part of what is stopping this island from moving on. This lack of leadership and refusal to appreciate other's viewpoints are holding us back. We must hold our hands up and say wrong was done, answers must be given and we must own what was done by terrorist organisations and the British state. The amnesty announcement by the British Government is deplorable. If a country cannot stand up and say it was wrong and own the atrocities committed in its name, how will terrorist organisations own their acts of terror when they are supported to hide behind rhetoric just like the British Government? The legacy is still so raw, hurtful and divisive and we need to stop rubbing salt into the wounds of people's heartache and loss.
I look to the future and the next 100 years. Our children will not thank us if in decades to come, we rehash the same debate begging people to show leadership and work constructively together. We need to detoxify the symbols and our identities - republicanism, loyalism, unionism and nationalism. I am a republican. I believe in a united Ireland but I believe in a republicanism that is embodied in our Irish flag and the Proclamation. Our flag symbolises peace between green and orange while the Proclamation heralds equal rights, equal opportunities and freedom of religious expression where all of us are cherished equally regardless of who we are or where we come from. I often look to a local man, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, who was born in Carlingford in 1825. He ended up a member of the Canadian Government and is known in Canada as the father of confederation. He was an advocate for minority rights at a time when the politics of ethnic and religious identity were fraught. His core principle is one of unity in diversity. This concept is as relevant today as it ever was. We will only ever unite through respect for those diverse viewpoints and democratic principles.
The centenary commemorations North and South, Brexit and a possible nationalist majority in the North have changed things. I genuinely believe the UK as we know it is ending. Scotland is moving closer and closer to independence and there is even a conversation in Wales. Yes, a referendum on constitutional status is provided in the Good Friday Agreement but some of us disagree about how we get to that point. I would vote for unity every day of the week but because of continued mistrust and division, this conversation is leading to a rise in tensions. The continued exclusion of all voices in the conversation is the work of the same party that failed to work on implementing the Good Friday Agreement and brought down the power-sharing government six months after the Brexit vote. Surely a government to represent the people of the North at such a time would be important but no, they stayed away for three years, failed to represent people and ignored what they were being paid to do, which was to break down barriers, stop the hate, lead and govern. They just heightened the anxiety and built the walls higher. They did nothing and have continued to do nothing to actually bring about a united Ireland. This continuing failure to bring people together and create an environment that encourages trust and understanding reinforces the segregated society that prevents normal societal mixing and the realisation that we have so much in common and that it is okay to have different aspirations. We need to get on with the work of making people's lives better instead of creating more divisions. We should get on with the work of the full implementation of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement, make this entire island stronger and more inclusive with more opportunities for our young people and create one strong community with different traditions. Then and only then will we get away from this bull of "us versus them", orange versus green and Catholic versus Protestant.
The shared island unit offers us this opportunity. It is of huge historical significance and I thank An Taoiseach for establishing it. For the first time in this nation's history, there is a dedicated unit focused on improving the lives of all of us on this island and listening to all of us on this island. It is a rejection of rhetoric and instead is a real mechanism to move the agenda forward in a way that allows people from all perspectives to participate. We need to listen, recognise and accept our differences.Projects that have been talked about for 20 years or more are now being driven forward. We are creating a framework and space for an all-island civic engagement on a wide range of issues through the shared island dialogue. This is happening. It is up to all of us to make it work. Today, Senator Flynn is taking part in a debate on equality and inclusivity on this island. In creating these opportunities through dialogue and trust we can have a prosperous shared future. The establishment of this unit should not be underestimated. It highlights Fianna Fáil's commitment to peace and prosperity on the island. Fianna Fáil is committed to creating an Ireland where we can move forward the unit of our people and our lands.
The shared island unit complements the Good Friday Agreement and will be a positive force in shaping our island as we go forward into the next 100 years. Let us face it: we are stuck together whether we like it or not and we are better off working together. It is no secret that the British Government has repeatedly left down its loyal unionist people in the North and, now, unionists face a leadership difficult. We must reach out to them and let them know that their British identity is safe in a reunited island.
I say no to division and being held back by history and yes to a union of diversity and a union of our island and our people, North and South.
I welcome the motion. I agree with everything that Senators Blaney and McGreehan have said to date. Mention was made of the Decade of Centenaries in which we are engaged now. In 1923, the Irish Free State Government passed a Bill of indemnity stating that its own forces were completely exonerated from civil or criminal actions in respect of anything that had happened during our Civil War. A year later, a Farmers' Party Deputy put it up to the members of the Government that they should extend that principle to the people who had taken the republican side in the Civil War. It was rejected. Curiously, at 3.50 p.m. on 7 November 1924, someone sitting where the Cathaoirleach is now sitting said that the President of the Executive Council, W.T. Cosgrave had an announcement to make. He stood up and recited that the Executive Council, the Cabinet of the day, had passed a resolution stating that there to be no more criminal prosecutions taken against anybody on either side in the Civil War. A line was drawn across the criminal justice process prosecution of either side by that means. I mention that to point out that there are times when we should consider that, maybe, the people who were in this Chamber then understood what was needed to achieve reconciliation. They adopted that measure even though it must have been very painful for some in that House, some of whom had their houses burned and uncles, aunts and children killed by actions from the other side in the Civil War. Richard Mulcahy, who had resigned over the Army mutiny and was then a backbencher, praised Cosgrave and said that this was a very generous decision.
I want now to speak about Northern Ireland, particularly in regard to the amendment Senator Blaney said he is willing to accept. The legacy prosecutions can only go so far. People who advocate for a truth and reconciliation commission should be mindful of that there will never be full revelation of what happened in the past, no matter what is done. The South African model will not be applicable in Northern Ireland. The British security services will never reveal the truths that we fear lurk there and there are many people on the republican side who will never say exactly what happened in respect of a lot of things. Some say going back over former killings is necessary to vindicate the feelings of survivors and their families and victims' families. I query that. I query whether we are actually doing anything really significant in putting 70 year old men on trial for things that happened 40 or 50 years ago.I query whether there is any sense in that.
Like the previous two speakers, I classify myself an Irish republican. I believe strongly in the flag, as mentioned by Senator McGreehan, and in the vision of Thomas Davis and the inclusive ideal of republicanism. I agree with them that, unfortunately, in Northern Ireland, possibility due to the St. Andrews Agreement, the two largest parties are in a competitive struggle to achieve ownership of the First Minister position. In that political game, it makes sense to polarise rather than to reconcile, to maximise strength within one's own community rather than to look to the middle. As a society, we will have to look to what reconciliation actually means. For that reason, I welcome the terms of the motion as proposed. Every poll suggests that if a referendum on Irish unity was held tomorrow, it would be decisively rejected 60% or more to 40%. I have no objection to people demanding that those who favour Irish unity should articulate a version of it to be put before the people; that is fine, but constantly agitating for an early referendum in circumstances where there is not an immediate prospect of it being accepted and, therefore, the Good Friday Agreement prerequisite for it being held are not present, does not achieve anything in terms of reconciliation.
Senator Blaney mentioned Seán Lemass and his efforts for peace and reconciliation on this island and his efforts to break moulds. I refer to a photograph, which I found among family photographs recently, of Seán Lemass and two of my uncles, Niall MacNeill and Brian MacNeill on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the killing of Brian MacNeill by Free State forces on the top of Benbulben in a summary execution. There was reconciliation. I believe that in Northern Ireland we need the same spirit of reconciliation. We need to stop the funerals, marches, commemoration speeches and so on and look together to a shared future.
I, too, welcome the motion. Tomorrow, a coroner will deliver the findings of the inquests into the deaths of ten people from Ballymurphy in Belfast in August 1971. That period was a tumultuous time and the political landscape had been changing dramatically since 1968. The British Army that had arrived on the streets in August 1969 was supposed to protect Catholics. Instead, an element took over where the B-Specials and RUC left off. The policy of internment, directed at the IRA, was imposed indiscriminately on Catholics, further alienating the community. The leaders of the civil rights movement continued to work for peace and political reform instead of violence right up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Between August 1969 and 1973, 60,000 people in Belfast, more than 10% of the city’s population and inclusive of people from Ballymurphy, were forced to move. This was the biggest forced migration anywhere in Europe since the end of Second World War. People outside of Belfast, including my mother and eldest sister who was then less than a year old, moved to camps in the South because their homes were not safe anymore. The streets were terrifying. It is against this backdrop that ten people were killed in the Ballymurphy massacre in Belfast. For 50 years, the families have sought the truth about how the deceased were killed and to have their names cleared of alleged wrongdoing. There was no police investigation at the time. They had to investigate themselves. Out of respect, I would like to read the names of the deceased into the record in an acknowledgement of the suffering their families have faced over the past 50 years and again in the last week, and in the hope that tomorrow they will get the answers they need.I know we disagree on a good deal in this House but I hope we will agree on this. With your permission, a Chathoirligh, I will name the following: Fr. Hugh Mullan, 38; Francis Quinn, 19; Daniel Teggart, 44; Joan Connolly, 44; Noel Phillips, 19; Joseph Murphy, 41; John Laverty, 20; Joseph Corr, 43; Edward Doherty, 31; and John McKerr, 49. I also want to pay my respects to Pat McCarthy, who died of a heart attack and is not part of the inquest.
As others have pointed out, there have been reports that a unilateral amnesty imposed by the British Government could be announced tomorrow. This would undermine any pathways to justice not only for those I have named but for all victims. The Stormont House Agreement principles were based on consensus and it should be taken forward in that manner. If it is true, it will be utterly devastating and unjust for all of us and our hopes for reconciliation. Moreover, it casts another shadow on east-west relationships. A day that should be about truth and accountability could also be about dodging these. There can be no dodging the consensus on the Stormont House Agreement. The rule of law is part of that agreement.
There are significant gaps in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including legacy, a bill of rights, the civic forum and the north-south consultative forum. I am committed to implementing all of them. A bill of rights can set the foundation for all citizens and equality. Today I am keen to focus on the civic forum and North-South consultative forum. We should think about post the trauma of Brexit and post Covid-19. We should be all focused on rebuilding, what we have learned and what we need to change. These forums would give communities a wider platform to engage at a time when stability is needed. We can see the people and communities that politics has left behind in the North. We saw recently what has happened in the areas that did not benefit from the peace dividend and we know the reasons. It has been a factor in the unrest. These forums could address the gaps and create some momentum for change. They could look at creating better economic opportunities for communities, address cycles of poverty and help the business community to take advantage of the Great British and EU markets as well as the investment opportunities Northern Ireland desperately needs. A North-South forum could examine the all-island economy and potential for exports and tourism.
There is too much inward thinking by the British Government and the two main parties in the North. It seems stakeholders work only to their "isms" and bases at the moment. The agreement has been damaged by Brexit, a British nationalism agenda, a solely unionist agenda in Brexit negotiations and a single lens reaction to the protocol. It has also been damaged by the consistent prioritisation by Sinn Féin of its extreme version of republicanism, as played out during the pandemic. It has been damaged by disregard for public health guidelines and regular celebrations of people who have taken lives, which does retraumatise people in other communities and is divisive.
We are in a period of change because of internal and external factors. I mean it genuinely when I say that I would rather write our future together than try to rewrite the past. Instead of widening the base we should be narrowing the divide.
All of this puts more pressure on the Government to uphold and defend the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts. I believe we have to be fierce about that. There is no alternative to reconciliation within the North or in relations north-south and east-west. The Northern Ireland Assembly is necessary to address political, social and economic problems. Conversations are happening about our future in political parties, in the Chamber, in civic society and in my party. I am committed to the work of the new Ireland commission that has started. Respectful dialogue reached every part of this island and brought us to agreement 23 years ago. Consensus is a process like the peace process. I hope it brings us to a new Ireland that can be finally free of identity politics.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank Senators Blaney and McGreehan for tabling the motion along with the other Fianna Fáil Senators.
Those of us in the Labour Party agree with the opening statement of the motion. As political parties we must all reaffirm our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. We will always support the full implementation of all aspects of this international agreement. The Good Friday Agreement must continue to be used as the reference document for all discussions on the current and future direction of the northern part of our island.The motion mentions strengthening co-operation between North and South. I would like to take the opportunity once again to demonstrate how such co-operation has worked in the past, is currently working and can improve in future. I am referring to the many thousands of Irish people who avail of the health services in the North each year and those from the North who come to avail of our health system.
I want to mention the PDFORRA medical assistance scheme. It was described in a recent session at the Brexit committee involving the Department of Health and the HSE as an excellent scheme. The PDFORRA medical assistance scheme was set up by PDFORRA in 2018 due to continued lack of investment and withdrawal of medical services available to members of our Defence Forces. Since 2018 the PDFORRA company has sent almost 255 members to Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast for treatment. PDFORRA wants to extend the healthcare system to Defence Forces families such is the success of the scheme.
There is an interim scheme called the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme. Following the ending of the cross-border directive it has been put in place. I am told it is working well. Yet, if we are serious about North-South co-operation, then such a scheme should be put on a permanent footing because it would benefit those coming from Northern Ireland for treatment here as well.
As a member of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union I have listened to several discussions in recent months on the way the withdrawal has affected business and community life on both sides of the Border on this island. There is no doubt that there are continuing problems but there are unique opportunities as well.
There seems to be a new impetus to rush into a border poll. The recent Sunday IndependentKantar opinion poll should be essential reading for all those promoting this rush. The preparatory work needed for any border poll should concentrate on discussions on when one should take place. Writing in yesterday's Irish Independentour party leader, Deputy Alan Kelly, outlined our concern on the future direction of discussions on any border poll and the way any discussions on the future of Northern Ireland should go. He stated that focusing on the question of when it would take place allowed some political parties to avoid the question of what a united Ireland would look like and what we, as an island community, would be voting on. He went on to say that practical questions need to be asked and answered before any such poll takes place. What would the island's health service look like? Would our school systems work? How would we ensure an all-Ireland state that had the allegiance of all communities who live here?
In any debate on the future we must be conscious of how deeply unsettling it would be for a large number of people on our island who are deeply attached to their British identity. There are many people in the unionist community at the moment who are feeling vulnerable following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. It must be in the long-term interests of everyone on the island that the unionist community do not feel isolated and that they can engage with their neighbours in an open way with their British identify respected. While the Labour Party believes in an agreed united Ireland, we also believe a vast amount of preparatory work needs to be done in both jurisdictions in advance of any border poll. This is necessary to ensure that people across the island are clear on what they are voting for and that a new agreed and united Ireland would be a state accepted by all communities.
It is important to learn from the Brexit debacle in the UK. It is important to involve and prepare all communities on the island for the future, a process that will ultimately require generosity on the part of everyone on the island. It will require ambition and vision that goes far beyond what we have on this island today.
Those of us in the Labour Party welcome the funding proposed and announced by Senator McGreehan today in respect of the shared island unit. It is important that the details of this funding are further discussed and that everyone on the island has a chance of being part of it. We believe it is time to ramp up discussions between all communities North and South and work together for the future of this island. Most important, we believe these discussions and this work are vital and important to all our futures. Those of us in the Labour Party look forward to playing our part in that.
In many respects it is appropriate that Senator Blaney should open the debate. He comes from a generation of republican families and it is apt that he should open this Fianna Fáil republican family motion that is before the House. At college I invited Neil T Blaney, Senator Blaney's uncle, to a discussion. It was well attended. That was at a time when the voices of republicans south of the Border were few.If you remember the three elections in the early 1980s, Sinn Féin, then Provisional Sinn Féin, skipped one of them. It was a very small party at the time. Neil Blaney was a forceful voice. I also supported prominent unionists coming to the college at the time.
I draw an analogy between the Good Friday Agreement and Bunreacht na hÉireann. Although Bunreacht na hÉireann is a living document - it has often been described as such by academics and lawyers - the Good Friday Agreement has the potential to be a living document. Before it becomes a living document it ought to be an implemented document. Unfortunately, we are a long way from that happening at the moment. However, we should not lay too much emphasis on its implementation, although it is critically important in the long-term to consolidate peace.
We should know the difference and, without looking to the Good Friday Agreement as a moral compass, the retrograde step it is to glorify or celebrate incidents where people lost their lives . I especially think of recent incidents where the bereaved members of the family are still alive and well. That is not true republicanism. If unionists and loyalists are doing that, it is not the way forward.
It is with deep sadness that it took such an extended generation, a lost generation, to get from the Sunningdale Agreement to the Good Friday Agreement and we more or less got the same agreement. The late Seamus Mallon called it, if I recall correctly, "Sunningdale for slow learners".
There is a lovely quote from John Hume, which some Members may well have heard before, but it is worth placing on the record of the House in case it has not been done yet. In the famous Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech he gave in 1998, when an Irishman was treated with such exuberant and spontaneous respect in the European Parliament, he said, among other learned words:
All conflict is about difference, whether the difference is race, religion or nationality. The European visionaries decided that difference is not a threat, difference is natural. Difference is ... the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be ... [a] source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.
We have a long way to go to respect diversity and we can start by healing. I am a proud Irish republican, but essential healing must happen before we can think of a united Ireland in real terms. We have a peace but it is not an authentic peace.
I am sorry to pick on one tradition because both sides lost so many, but the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, is an inspiration. His father, an RUC officer, was killed. Drew Harris was asked in an interview how he got over it. He said he had not but he did not want his children to have that bitterness, so he worked on it very hard and, although he thought about his late father every day, it was not the way to go forward. It was very inspiring that, although Drew Harris lost his father, he now leads our police force south of the Border. That is a true republicanism of forgiveness and not allowing judgementalism to become septic and festering.
It also involves a generosity, and that involves listening. In one of Arlene Foster's last big interviews before she was recently removed as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and I send my political sympathies to her on that, she said, and I paraphrase, "You know, you guys in the Republic of Ireland, you think I'm a misguided Irish person, that all will be okay someday soon when I realise that I'm actually Irish and not British." She said there lies the fundamental misunderstanding of republicans and nationalists.Members might be surprised by that statement from someone who was, until recently, the leader of unionism. We have a job of work to do before we conduct a border poll because it is a once in a generation event and I want to ensure it is successful. We have much work to do. Can we start by asking the leader of the Northern Ireland Assembly to address the Houses of the Oireachtas? Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Michel Barnier and Tony Blair have all done so, but it gets more politically difficult and testing when it is closer to home. Can the Taoiseach address the Stormont Parliament? Then we would have normality. We have a job of work to do before that happens. I hope this is the start of many debates and much coming together where we can forget the bitter past and first heal ourselves in the South of Ireland as one voice of republicanism. We can then be a wonderful advertisement and inspiration to our Irish brothers and sisters north of the border.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete the first paragraph after “That Seanad Éireann:” and substitute the following:
“- reaffirms its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, including the legacy mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement and requests the full implementation of all aspects of these international agreements;"
I will digress slightly in my remarks because at the heart at this motion is the issue of dialogue. Let us have a dialogue because that is healthy, warranted and does no harm given the institution we are in. I listened very intently to Senator Blaney's remarks. I do not question for one second the beliefs that he holds very firm and dear, but I would never come into this institution and tell him to stop advocating for those beliefs. I would never, through him, tell the people who share his views to stop advocating for what they believe in. I certainly would not choose a motion on the Good Friday Agreement through which to do that.
There was much for me, other colleagues and people outside the House to absorb in what Senator Blaney said. As a republican and Sinn Féin representative from the Short Strand in east Belfast I have had very difficult, tetchy, stretching and trying conversations with my unionist counterparts. I never backed away from that. I have never just spoken about it in institutions like this. I have put myself forward and, indeed, my family home, which has been attacked. I have put my feet on the street to engage with unionists and loyalists when times were much more difficult. I resent any kind of suggestion that republicans and Sinn Féin have not stretched themselves and have not been part of that engagement.
That is why I take issue with some of what Senator McGreehan said. Again, it was a pity that a motion on the Good Friday Agreement was chosen to launch what I felt was a very partisan attack on my party. Senator McGreehan spoke about Sinn Féin sowing division in the North and its failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement. It made me think about the ten years Martin McGuinness spent heading up the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement through the letters from America, the "curry my yoghurt" controversy and the initiatives he took to stretch himself and Irish republicans and nationalists in the North into building reconciliation and firming up the Good Friday Agreement and peace. I reject that accusation outright and am deeply offended at the suggestion.
I commend the motion as it is timely in a range of different ways. The key component to tonight's Private Members' business is the first line calling for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In that regard, the motion most certainly chimes with the national mood, primarily among nationalists across this country who are actively and daily involved in the debate about this country's constitutional future.
The debate is not the exclusive domain of nationalists. Members of the broad unionist community are also involved in that debate. It is important to acknowledge the role of the unionist, loyalist and Protestant, the PUL community, in this and many other debates over a long number of years. In my experience, the PUL community are keen debaters and frequent participants, with other members of the Oireachtas, at forums such as the west Belfast community festival, Féile an Phobail, which is just one example of such spaces.
While most unionists are obviously advocates for the union, some no longer are given events of recent times. The important point to be made at this juncture of the debate is that all views are needed if we are to have a full and thorough debate about the future direction of our country in these fast moving and dramatically changing times.I have said on many occasions that the Seanad and the Dáil need to not only participate in the national debate on the constitutional future of this country but that they need to help to lead that debate. It was implied through the course of a number of contributions but I do not know where the notion has come from that people like me who advocate for unity, as do others around the Chamber, advocate for a border poll tomorrow. I think I must have been screaming into a vacuum as opposed to speaking in the Seanad over the last five years, when I have called for the planning, engagement, preparation, consultation and research. I was told that it was not the right time and that it should not happen. That is what needs to happen and what I am calling for. Many people want to see that preparation begun, which is absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement did not settle the constitutional question. It asked us the constitutional question. Some 23 years after that agreement, we should not be afraid of that aspect of the agreement either.
I have significantly more than I intended to say in the course of my remarks so I will try to fly through it. I note the positive and welcome interventions from people such as Deputies O'Callaghan, Richmond and Kelly, the Labour Party leader, coming in to this debate and making similar arguments for that preparation and planning to take place. I acknowledge the Cathaoirleach's role in this discussion and what he has done to reach out to others with a different perspective and to encourage his Government colleagues to prepare for this. I acknowledge Senator Black and everything that she does in trying to drive discourse forward in this House. It is a great pity that I will not get to say all that I wanted to say because I thought it was quite good, if I do say so myself.
Nevertheless, none of us derives our Irishness from the Good Friday Agreement. It runs much deeper than that. It is as natural to us as the flow of the Liffey, the Lagan or the Lee. It enshrined for us citizenship rights which I welcome the reference to in the motion.
In conclusion, I challenge the Minister of State and Government colleagues across the House. The Good Friday Agreement is not the only provision about citizenship. Article 2 of the Constitution states that it is the birthright and entitlement of everyone born on this island to be part of the Irish nation. I want to know what that means and, after knowing what it means, I want to know how the Government is going to give practical, tangible impact to that article to ensure that everyone on this island does not just have that right but has the opportunity to fulfil that right to be part of the Irish nation.
I warmly welcome the motion before the House. There is no doubt that the Good Friday Agreement was the greatest achievement on this island in the last 100 years. The importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the possibility of constitutional change is being discussed in all quarters for the first time ever and I believe that this is a conversation being led by civil society. Real change is always driven from the bottom up. We cannot treat this as an issue solely for politicians, though of course we have an important role to play. We need a broader, more meaningful public discussion about the future of our shared island, one that invites us all to reflect on the kind of society we want to live in. Despite voting by a clear majority to remain, the fact of the North being dragged out of the European Union against its will, and all the significant problems this brings, has put the question of our constitutional future front and centre.
The issue of human rights is important as Irish citizens in the North may not have rights equal to those of Irish citizens living in the South. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into domestic law in the North, as well as in the South, protecting against discrimination on a range of grounds. In 2010, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights came into force and built on this further, particularly with regard to workers' rights and social protection. It has meant that Irish citizens, North and South, enjoy these rights equally. Brexit unfortunately undermines this, as we all know. The UK Government has stated that it will enable the repealing of the Human Rights Act underpinning these protections.
The constitutional status issue is a discussion that must be rooted in respect and a recognition that there is not one, single narrative and there never is. We have a diversity of experiences and viewpoints throughout Ireland and this is something that should be welcomed.If we are to discuss Ireland’s future, then we must make clear from the beginning that it will be a discussion that includes everyone.
The Irish people have shown, most recently in the debates on repeal of the eighth amendment and marriage referendum, that we can speak about things maturely. A rational, respectful debate is not beyond us. The thoughtful, considered discussions that began in people's homes and public spaces were brought into a citizens' assembly. It relied on expert evidence, passionate testimony, and respect. It set the tone for a public debate in that same spirit and showed what we are capable of.
If Brexit has put the issue of our constitutional future front and centre, we need to talk in detail about what this means. If people could be asked to vote on reunification, we need to set out what it would change in practice, economically, politically, socially and culturally, for everyone on this island. It is not inflammatory to recognise this possibility and want to account for it in a sensitive manner. At the moment, we find ourselves in a sort of catch-22 position. We cannot consider the potential for a border poll without detailed planning but any efforts to do that detailed planning are similarly rebuffed. It is too soon, but for some reason it always will be.
If we do this planning and research and if we honestly and openly set out what a new constitutional future could mean, it can improve our capacity to address the issue respectfully. If everyone is given the opportunity to set out their views at a citizens' assembly, in whatever direction, it will make the prospect clearer and more knowable. This is especially important because history shows us that change often comes quickly. It is simply not tenable, as a political position, to say that we would like to wait until change picks up the phone, announces itself as on the way, and sets out a clear timetable for its arrival. That is fiction. We will never be given this luxury. The history of social change on this island, and indeed the world, is that life happens, and change comes unexpectedly, outside of neat, preordained schedules.
The Good Friday Agreement has been an essential vehicle for peace on this island, passed by overwhelming majorities North and South, and is rightly defended by parliamentarians and citizens alike, but we should recognise that an essential aspect of that agreement, set out directly in its first sections, is the question of our constitutional future. It contains a clear commitment that we must:
(i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish
That is the democratically agreed bedrock upon which this discussion rests. It is not a radical proposal pulled from nowhere. It is a central part of a vital peace treaty, rightly applauded and endorsed by substantial majorities, North and South. Let us treat this 23-year mark as a moment of renewal and a chance to call upon the spirit of co-operation, reconciliation and possibility that brought the Good Friday Agreement into being in the first place. We should call upon those values and recognise that conversations are happening all over the country. It is time for Government to engage with them.
As an Independent Senator and a citizen, this should not be party political. These questions do not belong to any party. They are for everyone but Government has a vital role to play. While I warmly welcome this motion and thank all the Fianna Fáil Senators who tabled it, I cannot stress enough the importance of planning and preparing for constitutional change, which should be led by a citizens' assembly.
I welcome the opportunity to represent the Government and to speak in support of the motion on the Good Friday Agreement and the shared island initiative. I will not oppose the amendments. The Good Friday Agreement, signed 23 years ago last month, was both an end and a beginning. It was an end to long years of hard work and difficult compromises on all sides. It was the beginning of a new process of peacebuilding and reconciliation.That process has not always been an easy one. It has seen many days and nights of challenging dialogue. We all know that the work of peace can be sometimes slow, uneven and frustrating. We know too that there remain real societal divisions and challenges for the peace process. However, we should not let any point in time or period of challenge obscure how much progress we have made through the Good Friday Agreement since 1998. An entire generation has grown up with the experience of peace and an ethos of equality and tolerance, which is more prevalent than ever before. This is a foundation for achieving so much more in the years immediately ahead on this island. Each of us here today, and our counterparts in London and Stormont, have an obligation to protect that once unimaginable peace and ensure we never go back to the dark days of generations past.
In January 2020, the two governments, together with the political parties, reached a deal that would restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to power after three years of absence. While the period since the New Decade, New Approach agreement has been one of exceptional challenges, the importance of working institutions in Northern Ireland has never been clearer. Those institutions have been and undoubtedly will continue to be tested, so we must continue to do all we can to work in support of them, guided by the principles and the promise of the Good Friday Agreement.
In recent months and with the worrying unrest of recent weeks, which has thankfully now calmed somewhat, the importance of channels for regular and positive North-South and east-west communication created by the Good Friday Agreement has been made clear again. Through these channels, we have engaged with the British Government on the need for a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which is now set to take place next month. These meetings are an important facet of the Good Friday Agreement, designed to allow for positive co-operation on issues within the competence of the two Governments.
It is vital that we all keep making progress toward the full realisation of New Decade, New Approach, especially on those most sensitive areas such as language, identity and the legacy of the past, where the trust of communities is so important. The lack of progress in addressing the legacy of the past is a sincere concern of many here and it is one I share. Like many others, I was surprised and disturbed by media reports last week in relation to possible unilateral UK legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
The position of the Government has been clear and consistent. The Stormont House Agreement framework is the way forward on these issues. It was agreed by both Governments and political parties after intensive negotiations, and it should be implemented. Where the UK Government proposes significant changes to that framework, the Government has made clear that these must be discussed and agreed by both Governments and the parties to the Northern Ireland Executive. Crucially, victims and survivors must be at the heart of the process. This message has been strongly reaffirmed over recent days since these proposals emerged, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will continue to engage on this important issue in the days and weeks ahead.
The motion also speaks to the rights of people on this island. During the Brexit process, the Government worked closely with the EU and the UK to ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol included a commitment to ensure no diminution of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is important to say that, far from conflicting with the Good Friday Agreement, the protocol exists to protect it and to clearly affirm that the principles of consent in the agreement will continue to apply. It reaffirmed that any change to that constitutional status can only come through the consent of a majority of people in Northern Ireland.
Everyone on the island has a right to advocate for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland, whether they aspire to a United Ireland, to remain a part of the United Kingdom or do not identify with either tradition. The Government affirms that right and all the constitutional provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in their entirety. The Government will continue to listen to and engage with the views of everyone on this island on the constitutional future that they wish to see for Northern Ireland.
The agreement also means we do not need to be defined solely by our different perspectives on constitutional issues on this island. It enables us to work together to deal with the vast array of other concerns for people, and to build for the future, North and South. In doing so, we deepen trust, understanding and connection between communities and political traditions on this island. Reconciliation is fundamental for our future, whatever that future looks like, on the island. Notwithstanding day-to-day political differences and the challenges in the peace process, we need to invest in and harness all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement with ambition, so that we continue to deepen co-operation, connection, mutual understanding and trust between communities and traditions on this island. That is the focus of the Government’s shared island initiative.
We are working intensively today and setting a higher ambition for the period ahead on what we do in partnership with the executive and the British Government to deal with shared challenges we face on this island. Such challenges include supporting societal recovery from the pandemic, tackling the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis and fostering economic opportunities across the island.
In the budget last year, the Government established the €500 million shared island fund, with ring-fenced capital resourcing, to invest to build a shared island through North-South partnerships. Two weeks ago, the Government announced a total of €12 million in funding from the shared island and rural regeneration funds to enable the delivery of phase 2 of the Ulster Canal, and start progressing phase 3. We are moving ahead with this long-standing project comprising blueways and greenways as well as marinas and other public spaces, which is a perfect example of what North-South co-operation can achieve. The Ulster Canal is an amenity that connects towns and communities. It is central to the Border region and is a sustainable tourism initiative that will create jobs and be a linchpin for economic opportunities on both sides of the Border. We will be making more such investments this year and through to 2025 through the shared island fund to build a more connected, prosperous and sustainable island.
The North-South Ministerial Council met last week and noted the all-island strategic rail review that was jointly launched by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister for Infrastructure in the executive, Nichola Mallon MLA, in April. Taking account of the outcome of this review, we will plan and invest strategically, working with the executive, the UK Government and as part of the European Union, to upgrade our cross-Border rail and other transport connections on the island.
To look at the opportunities of our shared island and how we can deepen co-operation and connection, the shared island unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, working closely with my Department and others, has commissioned a comprehensive research programme. This is being conducted in co-operation with the ESRI, the National Economic and Social Council, the Irish Research Council and other partners. This programme will produce a stream of independent, rigorous, forward-looking research and analysis on issues for the island. Such issues include how we can do more to protect biodiversity and work together on climate mitigation; how we can enhance the attractiveness of the island as a whole to high-value foreign direct investment, FDI, including in Border regions; what we can learn from experience in our health and education systems, North and South; and where are the opportunities for more mutually beneficial co-operation. The ESRI programme will be announced in more detail in the coming days. All research work will be published to inform public and political discussions on how we can deepen links at all levels, including economic, civic, social, cultural and political, on the island in the years ahead.
The Taoiseach has also launched a shared island dialogue to foster constructive, inclusive civic dialogue on an all-island basis on key issues around our shared future. Earlier today, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, participated in a shared island dialogue with more than 100 equality campaigners and activists from North and South, considering how we take up the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement in the years ahead and how to advance equality and protect rights on this island, recognising the commonality of experience and connections between people North and South. These civic discussions bring people together across communities and regions, while building engagement and even consensus on how we work together for the future. The dialogue series will continue through this year, with a focus on economy, health and education. Hundreds of people in each of the different sectors are involved and the discussions and reports are available online to contribute to wider discussions. It has been encouraging to see the readiness of people from across all communities and traditions, North and South, to engage in inclusive, practical, open and honest dialogue on how we can work together for a shared future on this island in the years ahead. Through the shared island initiative the Government has set an agenda that everybody on this island - Irish, British, both or neither - can engage with confidently. It does not diminish or compromise anybody's identity or beliefs. It is about working today and setting a level of ambition for the years ahead to realise the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement, to improve the lived experience for everybody on the island and to deepen mutual understanding between communities. It is how we are taking the next steps in the peace process, founded on the Good Friday Agreement, and the journey to a more reconciled Ireland. Recommitting to the principles in the Good Friday Agreement is more vital than ever today. The people of the island of Ireland, particularly people in Northern Ireland, were profoundly affected by the Troubles and by years of hardship and pain. They endorsed the 1998 agreement, they voted for this peace and it belongs to them.
The Irish Government, together with the UK Government, must guarantee that agreement in all its parts and in all circumstances. Its protection and implementation are a solemn duty which is not distracted or diverted by short-term political challenges or political expediency. As a co-guarantor of the agreement, we are determined to protect all it has helped to achieve, and we will not allow complacency or the complex challenges that remain to undermine our work here. It is our shared responsibility. We must strive every day to implement the agreement, its provisions and its spirit, to the fullest extent possible. As such, the Government welcomes and supports the motion that has been put forward that we should work with all communities and traditions on the island on a shared future underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, and thank him for his comprehensive contribution. I thank my colleagues, Senators McGreehan and Blaney, for their foresight in putting this motion forward on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group. The Good Friday Agreement is, perhaps, the greatest political achievement of any Irish Government since Independence. We in Fianna Fáil are immensely proud of the pivotal part played in its negotiation and realisation by so many of our former leaders and Ministers, but we also know that the agreement is owned by everybody on this island. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to Senator McDowell's contribution to the peace process as a Minister and as Tánaiste.
When we talk about the Good Friday Agreement, we often think of the historic deal reached among the Northern Ireland parties. This is the portion of the document referred to as the multi-party agreement, but the Good Friday Agreement also contains another vital element, an internationally recognised agreement between the two governments, the British-Irish Agreement. The British-Irish Agreement is the bedrock of the political settlement reached in the multi-party talks, as it commits the two governments, as a matter of international law, to implement that settlement. There are no ifs or buts. It demands that both governments work for the full implementation of what was agreed by the parties in the talks, a demand that was endorsed in referendums by overwhelming majorities across the island. The first line of Article 1 of the British-Irish Agreement could not be clearer. It says that both sovereign governments: "recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status". The article goes on to state, "It would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people". The wording is important and uncomplicated, "a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".
Consent is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. It applies equally and in parallel to both communities. It means that each and every vote matters and that each and every vote counts equally. The late Seamus Mallon, a former Member of this House, said at the 1998 British Labour Party conference that "equality, parity of esteem and parallel consent are written into the agreement. They are the core of the new dispensation which we can and will implement."Simply put, one cannot say to one community that its vote will count for less or that the bar for its aspirations is to be set higher. That approach prevailed in the North for far too long, and was ended by the Good Friday Agreement.
I am not calling for a referendum or a Border poll today or even tomorrow. We know from Brexit the chaos that can be caused by rushing headlong into polls without preparation and planning. However, the recent results of the Scottish Parliament elections show us that the United Kingdom is not looking as cohesive as it was when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. There will be a Border poll at some point, probably, as the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said, within the next seven to ten years, so we must be prepared and ready. That planning should start now. Preparing and planning for a legitimate political aspiration threatens nobody. This is why I welcome the recent papers presented by my party colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, and our former Seanad colleague, Deputy Richmond, and the one presented yesterday by the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Kelly.
Although the agreement was reached just over 23 years ago and has served several fits and starts over the years, we should never lose sight of the fact that the agreement was always about creating a brighter and better future for everybody on the island. As a country, we have benefitted greatly from the agreement with an island at peace. The Good Friday Agreement is about the future, as is the shared island unit, whose aims and work this motion also welcomes and endorses. Even though things can look bleak at times and some in the Executive and the Assembly struggle to come to terms with the consequences of Brexit, the implications of the Northern Ireland protocol and the possible constitutional change in Britain, we must keep sight of the fact that a new future is not only possible, but is increasingly viewed as the best possible outcome for more of the next generation. With the resources of the shared island unit, the strong and essential principles of consent and parity of esteem of the Good Friday Agreement and the political determination to hold this British Government to its solemn commitments, we have an opportunity to build a shared home with a place for all of us, one in which we celebrate the traditions of all our communities and where the free movement of people, goods, services and ideas across Europe is guaranteed.
Is cúis áthais dom páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht thábhachtach dhearfach seo. I welcome my friend, the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, who brings hard work and intellectual rigour to the Department and to anything he does. I salute Senators McGreehan and Blaney and their Fianna Fáil colleagues for bringing forward the motion. As a neighbour of Senator Blaney, I know he is steeped in a history of interest in the Northern Ireland issue and connection to the people of Northern Ireland. He speaks with great sincerity on the question.
Before I give my substantive remarks, I believe that, without prejudice to our view, the UK should not take unilateral action, there is much merit in, and great reason to reflect seriously on, the points made by Senator McDowell earlier on legacy issues and dealing with them. Senator McDowell's observations and citing of historical precedent in a post-Civil War situation merit consideration and should be brought into the mix of any discussion. That does not prejudice our concern that there would not be unilateralism. I also accept the point made by Senator Wilson regarding Senator McDowell's input into the peace process. That should be acknowledged.I aspire to an inclusive, diverse, peaceful and prosperous united Ireland. It is incumbent on all of us to do what is within our power to advance this objective. While a border poll is inevitable, there is a great deal of background work to do initially. Even from an optimistic nationalist perspective, a border poll would only achieve a narrow result at the moment. Were it to be narrow, there would be a destabilising factor that could conceivably result in violence and permanent civil disobedience, preventing a peaceful and harmonious State. That we do not want to hold an immediate poll by no means precludes the need, and our responsibility, to reflect and work towards creating conditions of unity and peaceful coexistence on the island, which is the kind of situation that will result in the poll creating a united Ireland.
In the meantime, we need to continue to working with the Good Friday Agreement, the merit of which is that it features power sharing within Northern Ireland, east-west structures and co-operation ad North-South structures and co-operation, and has given us two decades of peace. Securing the absence of a hard border at Brexit was a great achievement and crucial to maintaining the Good Friday Agreement and building conditions of peace. However, we should be sobered and tamed, as it were, by the violence of a few months ago. It tells us that we cannot take peace for granted. Since then, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has had a number of engagements and been in touch regularly with Northern Ireland and London. There is a pending British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
I support the idea of the shared island initiative under the Department of the Taoiseach. We should work with it. I have argued in this Chamber that we should build into our sports capital grants, town and village and renewal grants, rural regeneration grants and CLÁR grants a condition that there be North-South co-operation and interaction with corresponding villages and towns in Northern Ireland and that points be given to projects that result in such interaction. While there has been a level of interaction between health services recently and it has operated satisfactorily, it needs to be built on further. educational co-operation needs to be built on further.
We need to look to new imaginative structures when we eventually move towards a united Ireland. It may have to be a federal Ireland, one that gives expression to all of the traditions on the island. That might need a federal structure and new and diverse types of governmental arrangements in the interim. We cannot create a situation where there is a dissenting minority that is alienated and potentially violent. That would undermine the concept of unity. We should build a set of structures that will give expression to all traditions on the island. We should also bear in mind that we have a new population on the island of people who have come here in recent times and are not orange or green. The entire complex strata of the island need to be incorporated into new arrangements, which could be federal initially.
I support the motion. This has been a particularly reflective and serious discussion. That is good, and more such discussions are needed.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The majority of people in the Republic would like to see a united Ireland in their lifetime. Perhaps they feel less urgently about it compared to previous generations - I do not know, but that is my instinct - but they also have concerns about the wisdom of the recent headlong rush into calling for a border poll. That rush was sparked by the result of the Brexit referendum nearly five years ago. The immediate response by Sinn Féin, among others, was to call for a border poll. That was unwise and unhelpful in terms of where we want to go, that being, a shared island and continuing to find ways to live together and build a better future. To be frank, there has been a crassness about the sudden uptick in the demand for a border poll that shows an attitude that has damaged the chances of a united Ireland for the past 100 years and continues to do so.
It makes me wonder about the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, which states that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shall call a border poll "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland". I have been thinking about this recently because I have heard at the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and elsewhere people talking about trying to prise open what it means.People have sought through the courts and otherwise to get the Secretary of State to describe the mechanisms by which he or she could come to form a conclusion that it appeared so likely to him or her.
While the Good Friday Agreement is important now and was vital in 1998, it makes me wonder whether we should be thinking in terms of a united Ireland or continued union with Great Britain. Is it possible that the future involves rethinking what the Good Friday Agreement has to say? Is it possible the future involves letting matters settle for a long time and trying to build civic and social co-operation, overcoming prejudice and disadvantage in both communities and looking to a future where there can be a less tense, antagonistic and tribalistic negotiation among people of goodwill about what the future for our countries would look like? Does it not make more sense to see how Brexit will pan out, what it will mean and where Britain will be in ten or 20 years' time? Does it not make more sense to wonder whether, in 20 years' time, we will be talking about something like joint sovereignty again? If we fall into the trap of a crude majoritarianism - I am not the first to come up with that phrase, but it is one we all need to stay with - there is a danger of us imposing on an unwilling minority the way our own kith and kin - for many of us, our co-religious in the North - were crudely imposed on as a minority in the past.
I took the Senator's point. When I heard the rhetoric of Ms Martina Anderson's statement last week talking about the struggle, her forced retirement and how throughout her life as a republican she had always put the struggle first, it made me realise how far we had to go because I wondered what struggle she was talking about. Do people here believe that kind of language will assist in convincing any unionist to vote for unity?
There needs to be reflection on how the new secular Ireland looks at the realities of a community in Northern Ireland for which faith is important, in particular faith within the education system. There is little tolerance towards that on show in the new establishment Ireland in the South. If we want to consider a future where people like Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson feel the new Ireland could be a place where their deepest values are respected, we will need something much less intolerant than what passes for public debate on a range of issues touching on faith and otherwise. There are many people in this country who feel closer to the DUP when it comes to protecting unborn babies because they see an intolerance within the nationalist parties by and large and no room for debate or dissent.It is nearly as bad here in the South. I have great respect for Senator Black and I always listen to her carefully but she extolled the eighth amendment debate as something that brought some sort of great national unity when it remains one of the most divisive things that has happened in this country and left a third of the country deeply hurt because of the exclusion of a section of our community from the basic human right to life. We need to build a future that involves a lot more listening to the minorities in this country than is going on at present. Those are looking for a united Ireland had better be prepared to accept that there is a minority in the North that does not like a lot of aspects of the new Ireland. It is no longer Rome rule that many of them would fear but an intolerant secularism that is now on the loose in this country. We have a lot to think about and a lot to talk about as we consider what kind of future we will build so that people on the other side of the Border would feel that they really would integrate well and have a lot in common with us. We need to have a lot more thinking and talking.
I welcome the Minister of State to this very important debate. I compliment my colleagues, Senators Blaney and McGreehan, for tabling the motion on behalf of Fianna Fáil. We in Fianna Fáil, like all Members, are delighted to reaffirm our total commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, which was so hard-won back on 10 April 1998. Everyone that was involved in that agreement deserves huge credit. Senator McDowell, Minister for Justice back in the day, also played his part and I acknowledge that, and everyone else who played a part. However, one man stands head and shoulders above all others and deserves huge credit for the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and that is John Hume. No man did more for peace on this island than John Hume did. We must never forget that the Good Friday Agreement was hard won. We should owe a great deal of gratitude to everyone on all sides who helped make the agreement happen.
As President Michael D. Higgins said of John Hume, "He created a light of hope in the most difficult of times". Sadly, John Hume is no longer with us having passed away last August. I wish to take this opportunity, I am sure on behalf of us all, to pass our deepest sympathies to his wife Pat and the entire family as we did not have an opportunity in the House to do so. It is important we acknowledge that. John Hume saw the big picture. He talked about respect for difference and diversity. He said our differences were nothing more than an accident of birth. John Hume knew that bombs and bullets did nothing to bring our people together; in fact it only drove them further apart. The divisions cut deeper and the problems got bigger.
I stand here this evening among my colleagues as a proud republican. I look forward to the day when our people, all our people, will be reunited on this island, when it will be so obvious to all of them that there is no need for a border poll because people of all traditions will see this island as their true home and we will respect their diversity.
I am saddened that more peace walls are separating the two communities in certain parts of Northern Ireland than there was when the peace agreement was signed in 1998.The Good Friday Agreement has silenced the guns and the bombs and for that we are extremely grateful but now we move on to the next phase when we can get to a point where there is no longer any need to have a peace wall dividing the two communities. Perhaps then the time will be right to have a conversation about our future together on this island.
Unionism is at a very difficult crossroads at this particular time and we have to be very sensitive to the unionist community which finds itself at this time, and particularly after what happened in Brexit, with a British Prime Minister, although not the first to do so, who threw them under the bus when it came after looking after their interest during the Brexit negotiations. We have to be sensitive to how they feel at the moment - how they feel isolated and alone. Many in the nationalist community can relate to that. This problem of Northern Ireland will not just be solved in Northern Ireland. Dublin is involved and, indeed, so is London. We need to get to a point where we work all the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement for the betterment of all our citizens in this country.
I will finish with a quote from John Hume that I respectfully suggest my colleagues in Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland and, indeed, the unionist parties take on board, that politics is about finding solutions, not just about winning seats.
It is a real privilege to be able to follow that very strong contribution from a fellow Border politician. When I looked around the room earlier, it was good to see so many politicians from the Border discussing this, Senator Martin was one before he excommunicated himself to Kildare. Joking aside, this is a really good debate. It is a very respectful and important debate and one which it is good to sit back and listen to.
The reinforcement of the existing institutions and the provision of stable and productive governance in Stormont is pivotal. The Good Friday Agreement is the building block on which Northern Ireland as a post-conflict society can be built and create economic prosperity and opportunity particularly for its young people, the children of the Good Friday Agreement. The shared island unit which has come before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is a very positive initiative and one which can start the dialogue on the future of this island. I urge the next leader of the DUP and the Northern Ireland First Minister to engage with the unit and contribute to its work as we seek to build a shared island. Equally, I hope that we can work with the next leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in this initiative. The previous speaker was correct in saying that unionism is at a very sensitive crossroads which every one should recognise, but whatever the outcomes, the change in leadership in unionism in Northern Ireland is a great opportunity to re-set relations. I call on both unionist parties to engage as much as possible with the Irish Government.
On Senator Black's amendment, I agree absolutely that we have to start a process where we prepare for the possibility of constitutional change. In a new Ireland I would see a dynamic, globalised and entrepreneurial nation right at the heart of Europe. While a citizens' assembly is a welcome initiative, the obvious challenge, as Senator Black will be aware as she also sits on the Good Friday Agreement committee, is trying to engage with and get unionism to participate in it. How we can do that needs to be considered. Such a forum would have the potential to resolve some of the sensitive issues involved over identity and legacy. I am also gravely concerned at the suggestion that the British Government's plan to unilaterally grant an amnesty for crimes committed during the Troubles.All victims should have the right to seek justice for their loved ones if they wish to do so. The Stormont House Agreement, signed in 2015, outlined the commitment of the British and Irish Governments and Northern Irish leaders to investigate all killings related to the Troubles. Breaking this agreement would be a significant breach of trust. In a post-conflict society like Northern Ireland, dealing with the issues of legacy and seeking to resolve injustices is the only way to heal the societal wounds. I was wary when I saw that Boris was sending gunboats to Jersey while this was leaked to newspapers. Considering the resignation of Johnny Mercer as the junior Minister for Defence People and Veterans, and given some of the public pronouncements made by him in recent days, I really believe that is the course of the British Government will take in the next 48 hours or so.
I will also make some points on a few other issues, starting with the infrastructure. It is absolutely the case that the more cross-Border infrastructure projects we can have between our two sides of this island the better, whether it is increased blueways or increased greenways. Introducing the concept of high-speed rail as soon as possible between Dublin and Belfast is another very important idea. These are ways to bring our people closer together with connectivity and with the social fabric of border areas.
On the preparations, as long as I have known him in this House Senator Ó Donnghaile has spoken about this so much and he is quite correct that it has to be about preparation and prepare, prepare, prepare. The Senator has advocated constantly for that. My issue with this, however, is that I do not believe this is what other Sinn Féin politicians have tended to do at times. It is not a case of a rush of blood to the head but there are plenty of times when other Sinn Féin politicians have called for border polls as a matter of urgency. I was in Louth County Council after the Brexit referendum vote in 2016. Within two months motions were before Border county councils calling for border polls to be held as quickly as possible. That is why I just find it hard. I do not disagree with the Senator's sincerity and I know he has advocated for it to be prepared. I believe, however, that it is easy for Sinn Féin at times to say we need to have a border poll while safe in the knowledge that a border poll could be unlikely enough, and when a border poll does come around in a couple of years, Sinn Féin can say it has always been calling for a border poll, it has always wanted a border poll, but it is too late. It is being done from a safe space.
When we consider the Scottish elections, and Deputy Neale Richmond is quite right on this, perhaps the concept of a border poll being initiated is stronger than ever after the Scottish elections. Let us actually look into the detail of the Scottish elections. We can see that of course there was a majority for the Scottish National Party, SNP, in terms of numbers of seats. The combined votes, however, between the SNP and the Green party, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Labour parties, is a difference of some 50,000. This is 50,000 in the difference between those wanting a second referendum and those who do not.
This is not a political dig whatsoever, but I find it hard to take when we see politicians in Sinn Féin and in the unionist community advocating for and championing people who are considered terrorists by the other community. People have taken human life. How can we move forward into an agreed future when we are still harking back and celebrating atrocities from 20 years ago? It is exactly as Senator Currie has said. Let us build a future together and let us forget about the commemoration of the people who took lives on both sides over the past 20 to 30 years.
Listening to the many contributions, it has been very interesting to study them all. There is quite a consensus around the place with regard to what we are discussing. Northern Ireland is at a very delicate stage. We, as a nation, need to be careful and proceed with great caution. The Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town. We must not play around, for any political reason, with the future of our island. We have had many setbacks in recent times. The shared island unit is of huge significance. For the first time there is a dedicated unit, the primary focus of which is to work to improve the lives of all on the island. We create opportunities through trust and through dialogue. This will lead to a happy and prosperous future for us all.
I compliment the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, who has driven this idea with great enthusiasm. This party wants peace and prosperity in this land, as do most people.We must at all times reject sectarian violence. I urge all of those who want to stir things up not to do so.
The recent three-year suspension of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and the dysfunction of the years leading up to the suspension, caused the most serious damage, which must be repaired. Brexit causes further challenges. The challenge is certainly not helped by the curious actions of the British Government. The impact of Brexit risks a political instability, and the lingering threat of violence presents very fresh challenges. I refer to the Taoiseach's comments some months ago when he said:
The Agreement is the indispensable framework for our political relationships. It is the foundation stone upon which we build.
The shared island fund is €500 million and is available over the next four years. The fund will give the island of Ireland new opportunities on a North-South basis. In that regard, I welcome the recent announcement about the Ulster Canal. The programme for Government clearly commits to working towards a consensus on a shared island. The establishment of the shared island unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.
In a very strange way, the sense of despair expressed to me by many people recently about the latest events in Northern Ireland gave me confidence because people understand how sacred the Good Friday Agreement is. The fear of any return to bad times is uppermost in their minds. It must be remembered that a border poll will take place at some stage, but we must not push a border poll to the fore and certainly not now. It could have dangerous consequences and could lead to a most negative reaction, which we could live to regret.
I will conclude with words from Senator Michael McDowell who said recently that the border poll will come, but that right now we must concentrate on reconciliation.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House. I thank Senators Blaney and McGreehan, and all colleagues, for bringing this motion forward.
I strongly support the Good Friday Agreement and the full implementation of this international agreement. Respect, equality and partnership are at the heart of how we move forward. I have a clear commitment to the protection of the rights of all people who live on this island. I lived in Northern Ireland - in Portstewart and in Belfast - prior to the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement from 1998 was a miracle. It was an instrument that moved us all towards the end of the violence of the Troubles. It was the result of a dialogue. The referendum has been mentioned. In 1998, more than 70% of the people of Northern Ireland voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, more than 94% of people voted in favour of it. Those are figures we need to listen to. That was the commitment and the direction given to this Agreement by the people on both sides. Now, however, we are in anxious times. Open and honest dialogue with a shared commitment is vital. We need the Northern Ireland devolved government institutions to be fully operational, but this is not yet the case.
I welcomed hearing the Minister of State speaking on the engagement and the detail of the shared island unit. There are areas of consensus with groups, with an all-island approach to engaging communities and with ways of finding commonality. We are working to drive those areas which can most benefit our citizens. Reference was made to the Ulster Canal, to rail lines, to climate mitigation and to foreign direct investment, and how crucial these will be going forward with jobs and so on. In health we understood that the pandemic did not recognise borders. There are also ways through education.I was an Erasmus student. I was very proud to see the Government commit to funding for Erasmus+ grants for Northern Ireland students. The Erasmus programme was developed to allow us to understand what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes. Students go to another country, experience that culture, speak that language, get to understand where they come from and then build empathy. I look forward to seeing the ESRI report that the Minister of State mentioned. Up to €200,000 has been allocated this year to support the shared island initiative.
The contributions by my Seanad colleagues tonight show the significance of and the concern for this matter. We need to maintain the strong commitment to the principles of peace and consent, outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. As Senator Gallagher said, John Hume was a beacon of light in dark times. Now more than ever, we need more lights to shine. Friends of mine and their families live in the North. Children in Northern Ireland today have never lived through the violence of the Troubles. Children of the Republic of Ireland have never lived through the violence of the Troubles. As Oireachtas representatives, we have a responsibility to ensure they never do.
I have been privileged to listen to the contributions of a number of colleagues this evening. I slightly disagree with Senator McGahon. It is important that we hear Border voices, but we need to hear more voices on this island from people from a diverse range of backgrounds. We often hear the same voices in this debate again and again. The more voices we can hear on this discussion, the healthier the debate will be.
I agree strongly with my colleague, Senator Gallagher, on the need for the vision of John Hume to inform our thinking again. While there were many mothers and fathers for the Good Friday Agreement, John Hume had the vision and was the architect. We need to remember that contribution. When we talk about the vision for Ireland - I know Senator Joe O'Reilly mentioned it - we need to look to areas such as education and health, as well as considering symbols and so on.
We could just focus on the constitutional dimension and I could talk about in ten years' time when the Taoiseach and leader of my party, Colum Eastwood, leads a government with 30% unionists coming into this Chamber or indeed when President Andrew Trimble presents the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the Antrim hurlers. Maybe we need that kind of imagination to think about what things will look like. In reality it is about what difference it makes to people on the ground, North-South and east-west.
When considering identity, we need to remember the victims. I am conscious of what Senator McDowell said earlier. We need to try to provide some truth and some closure to those victims. It does not matter whether they were victims of someone wearing a uniform or a balaclava. Victims are entitled to as much truth as they can have if it will help to give them closure.
The bigger debate relates to issues of identity. If this island has 8 million or 9 million people, we would have more than 1 million who would identify as unionists, almost 1 million whose families do not come originally from this island and are neither orange nor green, some who call themselves Irish, some British, some Northern Irish, and many people on both sides of the Border who do not necessarily want to use any of those terms. We need to respect and understand that identity and those differences. We can consider practical measures because not enough dialogue is taking place. As Senator Gallagher pointed out earlier, more walls have been built, including walls of the mind.
After the Good Friday Agreement was signed, I sat on a youth exchange board, the Causeway Youth Exchange, which promoted North-South and east-west exchanges among young people in youth groups. That ceased to exist. There used to be far more support from the United States, from Boston College and others, with groups from the North and the South going to the US to engage there. That is not happening. With Britain outside the EU, the opportunities for our political leaders to meet on the fringes of EU summits have gone. All those exchanges that happened in the past are no longer happening. I ask the Minister of State to start to encourage exchanges among young people.
As Senator Dolan said, the Erasmus initiatives are important. I think we should take the lead on the Turing scheme that the UK is proposing and try to develop as many Irish-British exchanges as we can under that scheme.There are enormous possibilities in the areas of arts and sports. I have been on stage in Newry, Portadown and the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and have had wonderful experiences. I did not know those people's backgrounds, but we were able to share artistic discussion. Coming out of this, we need to rebuild the Good Friday Agreement. The more exchanges we can have among people, the better.
I commend my colleagues, Senators Blaney and McGreehan, on tabling the motion. It is a moment of reflection and renewal that has stirred our hearts and souls in the past 12 months. We all remember the mantra, peace in our time. Coming up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 23 years ago, that was something we dreamt about and whispered about. We dared to dream. The world worked with us and the world rejoiced with us when, on that historic day 20 years ago, differences were put aside and we believed we could live in a different world, a world where the people on the island of Ireland could live together, respect one another and share a positive future with a new ethos of tolerance and equality.
We are reminded that peace can never be taken for granted, as we look at what is happening in Northern Ireland now. We cannot spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord. That is why the discussion we are having today is so important. The past 23 years has been a period of building trust, developing relationships and changing attitudes. Half a million people have been born on the island of Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. They have grown up in a different world. We need to ensure we never go back.
I want to give voice to the women in the Good Friday Agreement: Monica McWilliams, Mo Mowlam, Liz O'Donnell and Bríd Rogers. Pat Hume was a tireless supporter. I heard Eileen Paisley speak about the work women did in the background and they were doing it for their children. Seamus Heaney in "The Cure at Troy" wrote:
Human beings suffer
They torture one another
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave...
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
That is what the shared unit for the island of Ireland is all about.
At the start of the debate, I omitted to welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is very welcome and I thank him for his very considered contribution. I thank all Members for what was a very good and open debate. I admit that it was particularly challenging for Senator Ó Donnghaile, but I appreciate how he takes it on the chin. I will return to his remarks in a moment.
It is great that this is one of the first debates we have had in the House on Northern Ireland and I hope we have many more. We could talk all day about it.
It was remiss of me not to say that Senator McDowell was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement as part of the Administration of Bertie Ahern. Great work was done both by him, as Taoiseach, and by Tony Blair, as British Prime Minister. Their input was enormous, as was that from the US Administration. That work is to be admired as well as the input from the Senator and the experience he brought to the table.I feel for many people. The big thing for them is the truth. Many people have spent decades waiting and hoping for the truth and it has destroyed their lives. They are hoping to see justice for their loved ones before they take their last breath. With that in mind, the truth element for me is the most important one. This is a debate which Senator McDowell has opened and might not be welcomed everywhere but it was a point well made at the start of this debate.
I welcome the constructive manner in which Senator Mullen took his amendment here today. I am someone who will call out positivity and negativity as I feel fit. That is why I do not have my speech today. When I referred to remarks on a border poll, I was speaking about some of the Senator’s earlier remarks at a meeting of the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, where there were calls for such a poll within a couple of years. I took him up then and I take him up now on the issue of a rushed border poll. As several Senators have mentioned today, it cannot be rushed. A significant amount of work needs to go on behind the scenes, including by the Government.
Covid-19 is an issue and a stumbling block. We must recognise that, but there must be face-to-face discussions. That cannot be done at the moment, which is a bit of problem. A border poll cannot be rushed or done on timelines.
The former MLA, Martin McGuinness, was also mentioned. For me, Martin McGuinness was someone that evolved in the republican status. The move he made and the works he did alongside Ian Paisley, some of which were excellent, have been rightly referred to. Many people within Sinn Féin could look at what he did during that time, how he evolved and how he stepped across the way and gave the open hand to many people of the Protestant faith, including church leaders. He was involved in taking down the administration, but for me that was at a time of ill health. My personal belief is that if he had his full wits about him, that would not have happened because it damaged his legacy. I commend the years of work he put in.
I will offer the rest of my time to my colleague. The Cathaoirleach might give her a few extra minutes because I had intended halving my speaking time.
I thank everyone for their contributions to this debate. I cannot put into words how proud I am to stand here to speak about the Good Friday Agreement. I was 16 when that agreement was voted through. We stood so tall and proud in this country when we succeeded in that. I remember thinking it would never be possible. It is an overwhelming experience to be able to stand here with people like Senator McDowell, and with all Senators, to speak about this.
Turning to Senator McDowell, my criticism of politics in the North was inclusive of all failures. I criticised the three-year gap of being in government, a criticism I believe is fair. We are planning for the future. The shared island unit is planning for the future. The Minister of State outlined the research that is ongoing. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is conducting research and must report back to our Taoiseach with a strategic policy on how we work on an all-Ireland economy through building links and how best we move forward on an all-Ireland basis. This is about how we can move forward, converge our jurisdictions and make links that would make it possible for us to work together. I do not know what preparation for united Ireland is if that is not it. This is about creating a framework for dialogue and for bringing everybody in. Tell me if there is anything there that I am missing. The future is bright for Ireland and it is down to us all to work together.We have consensus in this House today that the future is through the Good Friday Agreement, through a shared island and through talking. I thank the Cathaoirelach.
That is not a point of order. The Senators who proposed the motion are entitled to wrap up the debate, as Senator Ó Donnghaile is aware, but if he wants any guidance on points of order in the future the Senator can give me a call later.
I move amendment No. 1:
To insert the following paragraph after “That Seanad Éireann:” “- acknowledges the need for responsible planning and preparation for possible constitutional change, as anticipated in the Good Friday Agreement, and therefore supports the establishment of an all-island Citizens’ Assembly to discuss options;”