Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Good Friday Agreement and Windsor Framework: Motion


10:30 am

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the Chamber.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I move:

"That Seanad Éireann: - acknowledges the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, commends all those involved in the achievement of reaching this historic political accommodation, that has transformed our island, and calls on both the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors, to provide joint-stewardship and continue to work to ensure its full implementation;

- welcomes the conclusion of the negotiations between the European Union and the British Government, and the securing of the agreement – the Windsor Framework;

- calls for the agreement to now be implemented, and the full economic opportunities of the agreement to be maximised for the benefit of citizens, workers, businesses and our all-Ireland economy; and

- further calls for the Executive and other democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to be restored without delay in line with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people in the North, as expressed at the Assembly election of May, 2022."

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit atá linn anocht agus roimh an díospóireacht thábhachtach a bheidh againn agus muid ag plé cúrsaí a bhaineann le Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta 25 bliain i ndiaidh shíniú an chomhaontú stairiúil sin. I thank the Minister of State for being here for this important debate. In debating the motion we will, of course, be looking back and remembering, which is only right and proper. We also will be considering where we are today. Above all else, we will, I hope, be looking forward in a positive way.

In preparing the motion, we in Sinn Féin were mindful to cast the politics of it as wide as possible. We sought to mark the achievements of 25 years ago, acknowledge the political realities of today and look towards the future with hope, optimism and realism. We wanted to broaden the frame of the debate beyond the confines of party politics and the limitations of the immediate political circumstances. We want to exert ourselves intellectually and to stand metaphorically on a platform - a rampart, if you will - that elevates the vision and the mind to provide us with a panoramic view of the political landscape that has been shaped by the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement. We have tried to tap into, or at least reflect, the momentous and mould-breaking decisions made by the Irish and British Governments, by former Senator George Mitchell and his skilful team and by all the political parties that negotiated the finer details of the agreement.

We also want to acknowledge the part played by the people of Ireland who voted "Yes" in overwhelming numbers in support of the agreement right across Ireland. On 22 May 1998, the people of Ireland voted as one in two referendums at ballot boxes all over this nation - north, south, east and west - and resoundingly endorsed the agreement made on 10 April at Castle Buildings. On that day, people with different and competing political allegiances shared a common cause. It was a cause rooted in the fledgling peace process. It was a cause that transformed the peace process into a political process, with the electorate's hand set firmly on the instruments of change embodied in the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement, including an all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Executive and Assembly, and the east-west parliamentary institutions. The people of Ireland had not exercised their right to vote nationwide since the general election of 1918. It was and remains a truly momentous and memorable occasion. The all-Ireland vote on the agreement was the first of its kind since partition and, in that regard, it transcended partition in a very practical way.

The sentiment that led to the people of Ireland voting in favour of the Good Friday Agreement was the same sentiment that led the people of the North to vote against Brexit. Indeed, the underlying ethos of the agreement reconstructed, recast and repositioned the politics of this island and set them in an all-Ireland context from that point forward. It was this architecture that encapsulated the historic political accommodation within Ireland between nationalist, unionist and those outside of those beliefs. It is an accommodation that has endured for 25 years despite the vagaries of political changes and the challenges that presented. The Good Friday Agreement has proved its worth as a servant of the people of this country. It has withstood the test time has set it. Its popularity and durability are because it addressed, and still addresses, the causes of the conflict and offers solutions to those causes. It institutionalised and legitimised compromise as an essential approach when faced with what hitherto were problems without solutions. The Good Friday Agreement is a problem solver, not a problem maker.

Looking back over the years, we see the need to be alert to the occasional threats the very existence of the agreement has faced. The Ireland of today does not resemble the Ireland of 1998 and before then. That is down to the changes brought about the agreement and those who put in the hard graft to achieve it. The peace and political processes have seamlessly merged and are now firmly rooted in the mainstream of democratic political life. Of course, the full potential, promise and apparatus of the Good Friday Agreement have yet to be fully realised. The two Governments, Irish and British, as co-guarantors of the agreement, need to exercise themselves to ensure its full implementation. There is no better time to do so than in its 25th anniversary year. The Good Friday Agreement has nurtured political power sharing within the North, between North and South and between east and west. It oversees human rights and equality laws. While we still await a bill of rights and an all-Ireland charter of rights, the argument has been largely won on the necessity for both. We must, however, do more in this regard.

The Good Friday Agreement ushered in a new approach to the growth of the all-Ireland economy. This approach is reflected in IBEC's latest report entitled For Peace + Prosperity.This approach is reflected in IBEC's latest report entitled For Peace and Prosperity, which is a must-read document. It tells the economic story of the dynamic all-Ireland economy, which to date has grown spontaneously and now needs a planned approach to its future growth. IBEC rightly calls for the Irish Government and the North's Executive, once it is re-established, to set up an all-Ireland economic body to plan a single economy for our island.

The Good Friday Agreement's commitment to a referendum on this country's constitutional future and its legal provisions accepting people's right to be Irish or British or both are crucial elements in the unfolding story of peaceful and democratic change towards a new, agreed and independent Ireland. For the first time in Irish history, it gave people a peaceful and democratic pathway to a free and united Ireland and conceded that Britain's claim to a part of Ireland was conditional on the consent of a majority of the people. After 25 years of the agreement, it is my view that we are reaching the time when that consent, the will of the people, should be tested in a planned, responsible and orderly way.

The Windsor Framework agreement between the EU and the British Government is welcome. It is the latest instalment in a process of stabilising the North's political institutions. It should be accepted by all parties without any further delay. The people of the North, along with the people of the rest of Ireland, are facing many social, economic and political problems. They are entitled to have the democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning. That is what the overwhelming majority of the people of the North voted for and expressed clearly in their democratic assertion at last May's Assembly election.

Today I had the privilege to host representatives of Relatives for Justice and their GAA legacy project. Many of the Senators here this evening, including the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach, were in attendance. While in many ways separate from the Good Friday Agreement, the event emphasised the reasons this Government, the political parties and both Houses of the Oireachtas must remain absolute in our opposition to the proposed legacy Bill going through Westminster. It flies in the face of the Good Friday Agreement. It undermines the Good Friday Agreement and it is a regressive, harmful legislation. Above all, it hurts all victims. It hurts the families of the victims who were reflected in today's event and all of those other victims, no matter from what community, tradition or background they come.

That is one example of the pressure the Good Friday Agreement is under, when one sees legacy legislation such as that being proposed by the British Parliament and British Government being taken forward. That is why we have to be ever alert to the threats posed to the Good Friday Agreement, whether it is the legacy Bill or whether it is the awful scenes witnessed by children and young people in Omagh just a few weeks ago when Detective Chief Inspector Caldwellwas shot. I have no doubt that all of us in this House extend our sympathies to DCI Caldwell's family. We wish him a speedy recovery and his family all the very best.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in the Oireachtas. We have undertaken a series of hearings with the architects of the agreement. It has been a retrospective process but, nevertheless, it has been a useful one. It has been a very clear reminder of the efforts, sacrifice and hard nature of those negotiations. It is a privilege for all of us to be involved in political life. It is a privilege for us to be involved in a very changed political circumstance right across this island. The onus is on us to ensure that in this, the 25th year, the agreement is protected but, above all else, it is honoured and implemented fully. Go raibh céad míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted to second the motion brought by my colleague, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile and the rest of the Sinn Féin Senators. It is now seven years since the Brexit referendum which unleashed massive uncertainty. I was an MEP at the time and Sinn Féin vigorously campaigned against Brexit because we knew the ramifications of such a decision for the stability of this island. It is a decision that was recognised by the vast majority of people in the North when they voted against Brexit.

With the deal that has now been completed between the European Commission and the British Government, we finally have a means to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland economy, preventing a hard border and safeguarding continued access to the EU Single Market. That, of course, is very welcome. We have always said that Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement are incompatible. I remember at the time of the Brexit campaign, my colleague, Martina Anderson, left no door unknocked on in Brussels in bringing to the attention of every MEP, European Commissioner and anybody else who would listen to her, the ramifications that a vote for Brexit would have on the Good Friday Agreement. Thankfully, with the Windsor Framework, the most damaging elements of Brexit have been averted. Not only that, we now know that the North is in a unique position to attract investment. The dual access is the envy of many, including those in Scotland and Wales. Ironically, even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was a Brexiteer, has recognised the potential for the North of Ireland.

The vast majority of people, parties and businesses in the North support the protocol and want to see the economic opportunities of the competitive advantage maximised for people's benefit and the dual market access capitalised on. We have been consistent all along that a deal was possible, so long as people came to the negotiations in good faith. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case with British Prime Ministers, such as Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Now at least we seem to have a more pragmatic leadership in 10 Downing Street. Negotiations have been able to conclude with compromise and agreement in the shape of the Windsor Framework.

The deal is done, and now is the time to get back into the Executive. We need an Assembly and an Executive to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, to challenge the sweeping Tory austerity agenda that is causing so much harm, as well as to deal with issues of public health, policing, justice and community safety along with issues of fundamental importance like environmental catastrophe and biodiversity breakdown. We all know there are no borders in climate change. There are no borders in habitats; wildlife does not recognise the Border. We have to address the issues of climate change and biodiversity crisis as an island. We need our Executive up and running to do so. The Assembly passed a climate Act around the same time as we passed a climate Act in the South. We have all seen how difficult it is with sectoral targets and the importance of having Oireachtas committee meetings so we can tease out the detail of how to reach those targets. However, the Executive is not up and running and cannot make decisions on tackling climate change.

As my colleague said, we are also about to embark on a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It was an enormous achievement. It is something everyone involved in delivering should be very proud of. It is important to acknowledge the transformative impact it has had on life in Ireland, North and South.However, it is a travesty that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are not up and running. This motion is to bring attention to that and add the Seanad's voice that everybody now needs to be working to get the institutions back up and running. That means the Assembly, the Executive, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.

In April, we are going to mark 25 years of transformative peace with the potential of a presidential visit by President Joe Biden. As the First Minister designate, Michelle O'Neill, said over the weekend, the eyes of the world are again on us and we want to showcase opportunity. We do not want to showcase further instability and dysfunction. There is a massive potential to promote the success of the Good Friday Agreement to the world and it would be detrimental to what could be achieved in this period by working together if that opportunity was let go by.

The Good Friday Agreement has come of age; society, politics and demographics in the North are changing. The agreement, for the first time in Irish history, gave people a peaceful and democratic pathway to a free and united Ireland and acknowledged that Britain's claim to a part of Ireland was conditional on the consent of a majority of the people. All around us we know that people are discussing what a new and agreed Ireland might look like. They are imagining something better for their society, whether that is from Kerry or Derry.All around us, people are discussing what a new and agreed Ireland might look like and imagining something better for our society, from Kerry to Derry. The Good Friday Agreement opens this path up to us and, as we navigate towards a new Ireland, the agreement’s bedrock of equality, human rights and justice will prevail.

As I said, I am proud to second this motion. I hope the Seanad will endorse it so we send out that very powerful message we need, which is that the Windsor Framework agreement is done and we now need to get those institutions back up and running. We need to send out that very positive message on the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Photo of Niall BlaneyNiall Blaney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for joining us this evening for Sinn Féin's Private Members' motion. I will start by saying that Fianna Fáil welcomes this debate. We agree with all four aspects of the motion as stated. We compliment Senator Ó Donnghaile and his party for the considered approach that has been taken in the motion to its context and, moreover, the approach the Sinn Féin party has taken to the agreement. Those kinds of approaches will take us a long way into the future in moving the debate in Northern Ireland forward and in getting us to a shared future.

The Windsor Framework is a result of a genuine engagement by the EU and the UK, working together and listening to the concerns raised by elected representatives in Northern Ireland, as well as here in Dublin and by citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland. The EU always made the point that it was open to engagement with the British Government when it actually became open to proper, meaningful engagement. In fairness, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has brought that to the table. The EU then stepped up and the outcome has been quite favourable.

I know some people feel a certain element of frustration with some of the unionist parties in their approach to this. With this agreement, like all agreements, it is important that we have patience, that we take time to deliberate with those parties, that we tease out any issues and that we try to get everybody on board. It is that process that got us where we are today, as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It is that very process that created such great success over the many weeks and months of engagement that brought about the Good Friday Agreement. It was that sort of approach, engagement and respect that was given to those who sit across the table from us, despite their political beliefs or their religious standing. I think the past has shown that when we approach issues in that manner, we can achieve results, achieve progress for the island and help us to move forward.

The framework offers the stability and predictability that people in Northern Ireland want, need and have been lacking for quite some time, as the result of a long and difficult process to find joint solutions. I pay tribute to both teams who have worked hard and in good faith to bring it to this point. It is important to note the sustained personal commitment of the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefovi, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as well as other EU member states that have worked intensely and creatively to find solutions to these complex and challenging issues. The support of all our international partners throughout this process should also be acknowledged.

We share the hope that the announcement of last week's agreement allows for the EU and the UK to open a new chapter in their relationship. The EU and the UK are natural partners in addressing the global challenges we face. Whether in supporting Ukraine or addressing climate change, it is in Ireland's interests that the EU and the UK have a positive, forward-looking relationship. It is important that we also have good relations.

As we look forward to next month's 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is important that we recognise the significance of the milestone. We have all reaped the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement. The benefits of peace, strengthened relationships and prosperity have grown. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government in Dublin has committed to marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in an appropriate and sensitive manner. I believe it will organise a programme of events to mark the anniversary.

The vision and values of the Good Friday Agreement are fundamental to the ongoing journey of peace and reconciliation on the island. The three strands of the agreement are strand 1, which is on relationships in the North; strand 2, which is on North-South relations; and strand 3, which is on east-west relations. Each one of these is very important and mutually reinforcing. The full functioning of each of the three strands and the institutions that underpin them is an enduring priority.

Notwithstanding the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland and on this island as a whole since the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago, it is broadly acknowledged that work remains to be done to deliver on the promise and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. We stand steadfast in the wish to have those institutions up and running and to make democracy work for this island in a manner that can look after all interests of all political hues, all religious hues, and none. We should ensure that everyone on the island has a future that is bright and is in no way sectarian. We should ensure that the people who come after us do not have to live with the past that many currently still live with on this island.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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I want to thank the Sinn Féin team for tabling this motion, which is a motion I think everyone can sign up to - never say never - and should sign up to.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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I was a little concerned that this motion might go in the direction of heaping pressure on the DUP at this moment in time, but that is not what this is about. We recognise we have to give them a little bit of space, but also there is an urgency about this. I think the motion gets that across.

From the activities over the last couple of weeks, hope is now back on the table in a way that it has not been for over a year. What I welcome about this motion is that it gives us the opportunity not just to talk about the last year, but to talk about the last 25 years and to focus on the points that have been raised not just about Brexit but also about the Good Friday Agreement and what is and is not working. We have been at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA. We have listened to our colleagues from both islands and others. We have heard them speak before the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as well. That is what I reflect on this evening.

There have been seven years of uncertainty because of Brexit. Let us remember that 56% of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. There have been seven years of instability in Northern Ireland, not just because of Brexit, but also because there were three years with no Assembly between 2017 and 2020 following the "cash for ash" scandal when Sinn Féin resigned in 2017. Then there was a caretaker Government as part of New Decade, New Approach, NDNA, in January 2020. There were Covid-19 lockdowns and there was a Covid-19 government for two years. Then the DUP pulled out in February 2022. There have been seven years of instability. The overall collective feeling is that the paralysis in power sharing has led to constant crisis management. This has had an effect on confidence in politics.

I was canvassing in the election in May of last year. You can really sense the frustration that is putting people off politics. At the same time, it is not putting them off the Good Friday Agreement. We need to live up to the Good Friday Agreement and bring confidence back to power sharing and politics. The Good Friday Agreement, as we have seen in the architects' reports and in our work, is masterful, but it was miraculous at the time, and people accept that.While there is the three-strand framework from Mr. Hume, there are also all the other elements that fell into place, including the relationship between the two sovereign Governments, the international element, the years of effort that went into building up relationships and trust with everybody along the way, and the view that terrorism was going nowhere. We had the Sunningdale Agreement, the New Ireland Forum, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, the Framework Document of 1995 and the Peace and Reconciliation Forum. So much work led to the Good Friday Agreement. There was the ownership of the people, from community leaders and women's groups to church representatives and youth organisations. The Good Friday Agreement was masterful and miraculous. It took bravery on all sides and on the part of all politicians to sign up. We need to see some more of that bravery now. We still have two opposing political traditions and objectives. So much of the Good Friday Agreement is about compromise, dialogue and working the three strands. The day-to-day work has to be done, and we really do need to see bravery and risks taken by leadership to see the Good Friday Agreement upheld in the way people talk about.

It is not all about strand one; it is also about strands two and three. Strand two has not evolved in the way I would like. There are so many more opportunities for the North–South bodies. With strand three, we need the relationship between the two sovereign Governments to work harder, especially because of Brexit and the lack of meetings involving the EU.

The North is suffering. Like the rest of us, it is struggling with homelessness, the health service and day-to-day issues such as childcare. People need to get back to work. The Windsor Framework puts hope back on the table. It entails a joint set of proposals. It demonstrates the flexibility needed and that when people step away from brinkmanship and unilateralism, we can find agreement. I hope the Assembly can now get back up and running, but once that happens we will need to review some of the internal mechanisms of the strands to make them work as hard as possible. I would go back to the St. Andrews Agreement, the changes it makes and the effect it has had on creating more adversarial politics, dominated by the two bigger parties. It would be good to re-examine this.

My last point is on the European Convention on Human Rights. Senator Ó Donnghaile is absolutely right that we had so much to lose with the legacy Bill. We need to put victims first. This is a core part of the Good Friday Agreement and must be upheld.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for coming to deal with this Private Members' business. I thank Sinn Féin for what I believe is a very constructive but important motion. It gives us all in this House an opportunity to debate the issue.

I want to start by acknowledging the significance of the European Union and the President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, a great friend of Ireland. I am referring to one of the great benefits of being in the club – call it what you like – that is the European Union. Ms von der Leyen was skilful in her negotiations with the British Prime Minister. We should be fair to the Prime Minister and acknowledge his considerable work and that of the Government of the United Kingdom on brokering the very cleverly named Windsor Framework. A lot of thought went into that. These things do not just happen by accident. I am conscious that the Irish and British Governments are the co-guarantors of the agreement. I would have expected nothing less. We have not had this leadership and stewardship all the time. On this occasion, we have had a breakthrough. Much of this has to do with the personalities and the genuine acknowledgement that nothing would change unless they came up with an imaginative framework. The Windsor Framework addresses that.

The British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly is a very important group, and many Senators were at its meeting at the weekend. I was mindful that although members of the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly were sitting in the Chamber in Stormont, the people elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly could not take their seats. That was a terrible democratic deficit. This is a particularly important point and we were all very conscious of it.

In our deliberations over recent days in Stormont, I was very taken by the references to the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition. It made the very important point that while we may have peace in Northern Ireland, we do not have reconciliation. There is a hell of a lot of work to be done on reconciliation. Peace, involving the absence of violence at a public level, is one thing but there are many things happening that we do not see. We must always remain vigilant and concerned about this. The words of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition – that while we may have peace, we do not have reconciliation – are very poignant. There is a call from all sides to work on that.

I thank Sinn Féin for this very constructive motion. It calls on us to determine how we can maximise the benefits of an all-Ireland economy to citizens, workers and businesses. That is important. It is also important, with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, that we do all we can to continue to ensure its full implementation and success. The Windsor Framework will help to ensure the good work done by those of all parties and none will not be undone. I share Sinn Féin's wish that the Executive and other democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement be restored.

The Windsor Framework, especially the new system involving green lanes, is a welcome development. It is essential for all-Ireland economic co-operation. We know how important that is but I would like to highlight that the framework does not resolve certain issues, especially in the agriculture sector. As a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine I am always very conscious of the enormous potential of agriculture for the island of Ireland. The Ulster Farmers' Union stated on Tuesday that the framework will now allow seeds to be brought into Northern Ireland from Great Britain but that other issues will require technical solutions, particularly concerning livestock movement, veterinary medicine, plant-protection products and grain for livestock feed. All these areas have been identified as ones that may present problems, so we must be vigilant regarding them.

It would be remiss of me if I did not talk about the Stormont brake, which has the potential to cause issues for Irish farmers. Our membership of the European Union means we have quality assurance that enables us to partake in the European Single Market. If the Stormont brake were to result in the movement of goods and services that did not meet EU standards, it would present new problems and challenges. We must be mindful that there will be challenges, particularly in agriculture. We must be mindful of them in addition to being mindful of the need to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, which would be against the Good Friday Agreement.

I thank the proposers of this important motion. We would all benefit from prosperity and peace on the island of Ireland. I thank the European Union for standing in solidarity with us and the Irish Government. I thank the British Government for coming up with this imaginative framework, which I believe will reopen dialogue, particularly political dialogue, and hopefully result in people taking their seats in Stormont. Stormont is where they should be and where they are elected to be. The problems have not gone away, you know. The sooner that parliamentary democracy is fully restored in Stormont, the better for all of this island.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister of State.I commend Sinn Féin on tabling this motion and for the tone, tenor and language of its Members' opening contributions. As no doubt proud republicans, it demonstrated a generosity that was so needed in the past. For the future, including the current big challenge but even looking beyond that, we can take great strength from the past. Then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, are quite correctly credited for their great contribution but we hear less about former Prime Minister John Major and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who were vital precursors to the Good Friday Agreement. When Albert Reynolds was elected leader of Fianna Fáil, the republican party, he said at the press conference his number one aim was to bring peace to the island of Ireland.

Sometimes the roles of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and, wait for it, Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson are airbrushed out of history. It is churlish not to mention the fact that Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and his fellow colleagues, as the strong republican voice in the North, delivered and led republicans. Equally and ironically so, Ian Paisley, who was against the Good Friday Agreement, probably did more to copper-fasten and cement it when he worked it. He and Peter Robinson worked that agreement; it is just a pity they did not do so sooner. We have to take strength from the sacrifices and compromises of the past and look to the future. If we get stuck in the past, it will not pave the way for a bright future of reconciliation.

In the context of a motion on the Good Friday Agreement, I will also single out the leadership of the late David Ervine. His sister-in-law, Linda Ervine, addressed the House a couple of years ago. David Ervine led loyalism. He said it was his community that was suffering on the front line. Ervine called out Ian Paisley, before Paisley had his road to Damascus conversion, by telling Big Ian to cop himself on, asking him what he was talking about, and telling him they were dealing with real people and lives. That was incredible, breath-of-fresh-air leadership. We correctly mentioned Monica McWilliams. History has been and will be very kind to the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.

We should also remember Irish America. I am thinking especially of former Congressman Brian Donnelly who died in Massachusetts on 28 February. He was one of many people who sharply focused and unified the American view, which came on board, even if it was a little late, with the John Hume school of thought of respecting the consent principle. It was vital to have one unified voice. Of course, Teddy Kennedy, Brian Donnelly, Tip O'Neill and others, were so instrumental in establishing, as one of the vital precursors, the bipartisan approach of Congress. Only last year, a bipartisan congressional delegation visited the House and its leader addressed it. It was so important America could do that, when its politics are so fractured. America speaks with one voice on this. I spoke to the Republican and Democratic congressmen here; all were on the same page when it came to what is best for Ireland. They refused to turn it into a political football. It is too serious.

I am sure many will remember the statement made by Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 2012 to 2017, "Wake up, the old certainties have gone." That was a brand new vision for unionism. Those old certainties are gone. I am not saying that in a triumphalist way but unionists are no longer in a majority. The days are long gone when there was a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. We have a new beginning and a new dispensation. If we look to the past and what the Good Friday Agreement achieved, it was so much more and looked insurmountable compared with the challenge of the protocol. We can take hope from the work of the Good Friday Agreement and its complex infrastructure as the way forward now for the protocol and the next generation. The Good Friday Agreement was clearly the most important agreement in our lifetime.

We have to wake up. The old certainties have gone. The responsible leadership of unionism and republicanism is crucial to that but the catalyst for all this is in the middle ground. It is what the Alliance Party espouses regarding no veto by one of the big parties in the North. When we review and change the Good Friday Agreement, we should not allow one party to collapse the Assembly, be it Sinn Féin over cash for ash, when its members walked out for a number of years, or the DUP, which has currently collapsed it; not one party. We should remove ourselves from the sectarianism of a single party, which can be perceived as playing to a certain constituency. I know the DUP would disagree with that; it is not my opinion but that of certain people.

Although it is not about them tonight, I hope unionists take time - Senator Currie offered them words of wisdom in a very respectful way - to do what is best for unionism and this country. If they do not do so on this occasion, and I hate to say this, they give succour to the proposition and argument that they have a difficulty with a nationalist leader in the North, which the current electorate has decided, if the Stormont government reopens. All roads lead to reconciliation. Let us take inspiration, hope and strength from the Good Friday Agreement, and the role the EU, US, all those leaders I mentioned, and so many others I did not have time to mention, as the future of an authentic, long-term peace embraced by all.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I thank our Sinn Féin colleagues for bringing this motion. It is important to mark the Windsor Framework agreement and the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The Windsor Framework takes place in the context of increasing unrest, particularly among workers, in the North. It is striking that Northern Ireland Housing Executive workers have been in an industrial dispute about pay for nearly six months now. There have been striking workers in the health service and education and, all the while, there is no political leadership in the North. In that context, the Windsor Framework is a very important and welcome breakthrough and will hopefully pave the way to the institutions getting back up and running.

When we look at the past number of years and the uncertainty in the North as we reach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Windsor Framework could arguably be the last chance saloon for that agreement. Serious questions are now to be asked of particular parties. If they are not willing to make the North work as a political entity, then what? If power-sharing cannot be made to work, then we are back to the drawing board. That is not something any of us would ever like to admit but it has been the direction of travel.

As people have said repeatedly in the House, Brexit is not something the North voted for. It has caused enormous damage and provided a tool to beat both sides with. In some ways, the Windsor Framework is welcome. As has been articulated, we have concerns about the Stormont brake and whether it will, in effect, be used as a veto by one party in terms of progress but that remains to be seen.

Mar fhocal scoir, we ultimately believe there has to be reform of the institutions. If we are to have a durable, sustainable political framework in Northern Ireland, there needs to be reform of the institutions.It is rare for me to agree with Bertie Ahern but I would have to do so in respect of his remarks that the priority is getting the institutions up and running first and then it is time to turn people's minds to reform. There is an appetite to provide greater space for the non-designated parties. There is a lesson there for the two big parties. If there is to be a durable political environment in the North, there must be space for a multi-party system and the rules must be changed accordingly to make that space.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I am glad to be here to support the motion. I thank the Senators of the Sinn Féin group for using their Private Members' business slot to allow us to debate this important development.

Brexit and the resulting debates on the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol have caused a significant level of uncertainty and polarisation in the North. Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit but it has borne the brunt of the fallout from the decision of the British electorate. It is important to note that the Windsor Framework was negotiated under the withdrawal agreement and protocol. In essence, it is a more effective implementation of the existing special arrangement that was always going to be needed because of choices made at Westminster. This is about making the protocol work.

As one of the many Irish people who live a cross-Border life, I am grateful for the efforts of Irish and EU officials to protect the freedom of movement on this island. This was a crucial point of principle. Irish people should not be constrained in their movement on this island because of Britain's political decisions. I hope the framework provides relief to the Border communities who have had to contend with being a political football.

I am also hopeful that the unique position Northern Ireland has under the protocol will attract investment and economic development. The North lags behind the South on important economic and quality-of-life metrics. It has suffered from long-term neglect. I welcome the reference in the motion to everyone seeing the benefit of potential growth. As we know too well in the South, the benefits of foreign direct investment do not always trickle down to everyone.

The Windsor Framework agreement between the UK and the EU provides an important opportunity to break the disastrous impasse that has collapsed Stormont. The motion reflects the desire expressed by most people in the North for this matter to be resolved and their democratic institutions restored. Unfortunately, political life in the North and its democratic institutions have been derailed by the obstructionism of the DUP. We need to face the fact that it has refused its mandate to govern to appease the most extreme elements of its support base. We need more information on how the Stormont brake will operate. We saw how the DUP cynically exploited the petition of concern to block progress on marriage equality and abortion rights in the North. That progress had major cross-community support. I am concerned the DUP could be handed yet more veto power.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has claimed the Stormont brake exists to address the issue of Northern Irish people being subject to certain EU regulations without representation in the European Parliament. He referred to this as a democratic deficit. It is clear that the best way to resolve this issue is a process of constitutional change on the island of Ireland that brings Northern Ireland back into the EU. In the meantime, I echo the calls by Barry Andrews MEP and BXL-Irish Unity, a new campaign group, for Northern Ireland to be afforded non-voting observer MEPs who can provide oversight and give a Northern Irish perspective on the EU legislative process.

The motion is correct to reference the significance of recent developments in light of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This anniversary allows us to reflect on the importance of that agreement, how much work went into it and how carefully it was negotiated. I am glad the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, of which I am a member, has devoted so much time to examining the process and I await its upcoming report on the architects of the GFA. Great work went into the report and I await its publication with anticipation.

The GFA was premised on parity of esteem, mutual respect and equality. It required an acknowledgement that the constitutional positions of unionists and nationalists were equally legitimate. It set out a framework for how constitutional change could occur with democratic consent. That is why the suggestion of the British Government that unionism will be given further constitutional assurances should set off alarm bells. The British Government could unilaterally reopen one of the most sensitive central areas of the agreement as we are all preparing to mark the 25th anniversary of its signing. I echo Colum Eastwood and many others when they say it cannot be permitted to do this. The Government needs to be unequivocal about the sanctity of the agreement and the dangers of further unilateral British action. I hope the Windsor Framework brings clarity, progress and resolution to the Northern political stalemate. The majority of people want an end to uncertainty and dysfunction. Most Northern political parties are eager to do the work they were elected to perform.

Finally, in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, we should not be shy about our constitutional aspirations. Northern Ireland has a route back into the European Union and that is through constitutional change by democratic mandate as set out in the agreement. The Government needs to engage now in the planning and preparation necessary to facilitate that change. A further border poll cannot be a chaotic and misinformation-driven farce similar to Brexit; rather, it needs to be based on reason, debate and mutual respect. I have faith that a positive and hopeful vision of constitutional change will resonate with the people when they can have their say.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is welcome to the House. I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion and giving us an opportunity to discuss the Windsor Framework and the Good Friday Agreement. Like other Members, I am conscious that it will be the 25th anniversary of the agreement next month. That will be a key milestone to have achieved but it is not without its challenges, particularly in the context of the years since Brexit happened in 2016. It has been a long road, one that we will still be on for many years to come.

It is welcome to see what has been produced the Windsor Framework. Many of the provisions contained in that agreement and paper are provisions that back in 2016 and 2017 we said could not be done but they are now being done or offered. There has been considerable compromise on both sides to this debate and negotiation in terms of the UK and the EU. At different times, both sides have found flexibilities in their rigid ideas of what is or is not possible.

The proposal for a green lane and a red lane so that goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain that are going to stay in Northern Ireland do not need to be checked is welcome. That is a sensible proposal and the technology is available to do it. Goods that could end up on the Single Market will go into a red lane. That is a practical solution to a genuine issue that was causing concern for many stakeholders and communities in Northern Ireland, as well as hauliers and businesspeople.

As regards the European Court of Justice, ECJ, that was one of the matters the DUP consistently flagged as a big issue. The ECJ will still be the final court or arbiter of European law, as it ought to be. The suggestion or request for the situation to be otherwise was not reasonable. It was requested knowing that it could never be acceded to. It was never raised as a key issue for citizens or businesses in Northern Ireland in polling that was carried out or conversations we had with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, and that needs to be acknowledged.

There has been considerable progress in respect of medicines coming into Northern Ireland and foods being available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland just as they are in the rest of Great Britain.

I hope that all communities in the North, and the DUP in particular, will acknowledge that the concerns that have been consistently raised in the past year or so have been listened to and every effort made to try to address them in a genuine, practical and achievable way, while also acknowledging that, from the perspective of the EU, there were issues to be considered in terms of protecting the Single Market and the customs union. Those concerns on the EU side are understandable.

It would be great for the institutions in Northern Ireland to get back up and running and for people to get to work representing their constituents and constituencies. I hope that happens in advance of April.We have to acknowledge that, as Senator Martin said, things have shifted in Northern Ireland. The demographics have changed, as have people's views. Politics is more fractured there as well and there are smaller parties advocating different views. It is important that politicians in Northern Ireland fulfil the democratic mandate gifted to them and get back into Stormont and the assembly and working for the people of Northern Ireland. We have made some progress. I sincerely hope that the framework is agreed to and that we can move forward to the next stage of these negotiations because it is not all done and dusted and this is something we will continually revisit. One of the things that has always been flagged as a concern from the perspective of the European Union is that, if there is further divergence from EU rules in respect of goods and services in Northern Ireland at any point in the years to come, we will be back here again discussing how that is to be managed.

I will finish on a positive note. If this does bed in and Northern Ireland gets to have access to both Great Britain and the EU, it will be a fantastic and highly positive opportunity for Northern Ireland to be an exciting economic zone. The opportunities know no bounds. It is my hope and aspiration for Northern Ireland that it will reap the benefits of having access to both markets for years to come. I know that is the economic argument and I appreciate that there are matters of heart and emotion involved in the change that have taken place but the economic opportunities for Northern Ireland have been well articulated over the years. If this opportunity is grasped, Northern Ireland can do very well. I commend all those involved in getting the agreement to where it is, particularly those behind the scenes including the civil servants, technocrats and those working in the embassies who carried out all the work that went into getting this agreement on the table. They deserve credit as well.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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It is appropriate that Senator Wilson, a cousin of the legendary Fr. Des Wilson, is chairing this particular debate.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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That is not without its own appropriateness. I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment to the crucial role of Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs. I also welcome the Sinn Féin motion. I agree with its sentiments and I congratulate Sinn Féin on putting it on the programme.

At this juncture, I will appeal to the British Government from this Chamber to change tack on the ill-fated legacy Bill and to look at a much more considered, conciliatory and consultative approach to any amnesties that might arise. That is a call we should all echo. Perhaps the Minister of State will reference the matter at the end. Such a change of tack is required.

All the actors involved in the Good Friday Agreement on this island, in the UK and in America need congratulations. The leaderships of the Provisional IRA and the loyalist groupings of the time deserve great congratulations on bringing such a great tranche of their people with them into the agreement. My party takes great pride in the achievement of the Sunningdale and Anglo-Irish Agreements that were precursors but, to be very straight and fair, the personal courage and leadership of Albert Reynolds in putting himself at great risk, both politically and otherwise, in this exercise also has to be recognised.

The Good Friday Agreement involves the principle of consent, the principle of power-sharing and an east-west dimension. In that context and with a growing centre in Northern Ireland politics, the veto must be looked at and examined. I ask the Minister of State to respond on that. The agreement did its job and did it well but, as we evolve and with the growing centre, there will have to be a new model that does not involve the same veto on proceedings.

Brexit presented a real challenge to the agreement and the success we had in achieving the protocol and the Windsor Framework is remarkable. It is right that we leave space for the DUP but we just have to hope that the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland can get up and running again. We have to do everything possible to ensure that. It again behoves the Minister of State to respond on that matter. We need to get normal politics in operation to look after what Senator Currie has spoken about, people's bread-and-butter issues.

Northern Ireland is in a wonderful position now in that it has access to the Single Market and the UK market, presenting it with a unique socioeconomic opportunity. In the context of moving to Irish unity, to which we all aspire, the big challenge is to build relationships on this island. We have to work on having much more contact between people, institutions and groupings in the North and the South. I will propose a few practical things. The Minister of State might take them to Government.

One is that all grants such as sports capital grants, community grants and urban renewal grants should be based on a system that awards bonus points to applications showing a link to Northern Ireland. For example, extra points may be available for a sports club that visits Northern Ireland and that has Northern Ireland clubs down here. For a town, there may be points for being twinned with a town in Northern Ireland. This will result in an in-built positive discrimination towards groupings, clubs and societies that want to build unity on the island. That is something tangible that could be done in the morning.

The special unit in the Department of the Taoiseach offering grant aid to constructive North-South initiatives is also important. The point Senator Black made, that, as a county and a society, we have to build towards unity by consent, is correct. It is about building personal relationships and trust. It is painstaking and slow but it has to be at the level of the person on the street. As I often say privately to Senator Ó Donnghaile in conversations we have around certain events, it is bizarre that so many people, even in the region I come from, look to Dublin-----

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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The Senator has broken the seal of confession.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I hope the Senator takes my advice. It is bizarre that people are so Dublin-centric and that people in that part of Ireland so rarely visit Belfast or Derry or want to go North. There has to be something to change that pulling downwards. That needs looking at in imaginative ways. It cannot be right that is the case. Even on something as simple as the use of Belfast International Airport, the number of people in my area who use that airport is very small even though it takes the same time to get there as to get to Dublin Airport. Issues like that matter in the context of ordinary contact and ordinary trust. We have to look at all of those things.

I will leave it at that. It is important that we reaffirm our faith in the Good Friday Agreement. We hope that the Windsor agreement is taken on board by all parties, that we return to normal government and that we can build up relationships that will ultimately lead to the union of hearts and minds across the island.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I welcome this debate and the constructive points made on all sides of the Chamber. When I reflect on the Good Friday Agreement, I am always reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela. Although he was, of course, talking about his own country at the time, he very famously said that it is always impossible until it is done. That phrase very much sums up what was achieved through the Good Friday Agreement. Politicians of all parties deserve tremendous credit for an agreement that has transformed our country and politics across our country over the past 25 years. It is a great pity that it looks as though the institutions may not be back up and running for the anniversary. I hope they can be and that the Windsor Framework gives us a platform by which we can get everyone back in the assembly and get the executive up and running, not least because of the great challenges facing people in the North at the moment. Being a proud trade unionist and socialist, I send solidarity to all of the workers engaging in industrial action in the North against Tory austerity at the moment. Everyone from ambulance drivers to teachers, university lecturers and even the folks who are gritting the roads, members of the GMB union, are on strike at the moment and that is in a week when we are expecting heavy snowfall tomorrow. However, they have no choice because of what they are up again, this particularly virulent right-wing Tory Government and the horrendous cutbacks it is implementing.I have full confidence that if Sinn Féin were in the Assembly or Executive, it would play a constructive role in supporting those workers, reaching constructive agreements with them where possible, giving them the decent pay rises they deserve and getting those people back to work. I am proud of Sinn Féin’s record on workers’ rights. We are not just a republican party, we are a party of the left. We are a party that represents the working class, regardless of tradition. That is important to emphasise. We need to see the huge challenges in the North tackled and the best way to do that is through the re-establishment of the Assembly.

Many people have rightly mentioned the constructive and supportive role of the US and European Union, and I want to join with them in that. One other institution has played a key role in recent months and it never gets the recognition it deserves. That is the Council of Europe, which is Europe’s human rights body. Only a few months ago, it produced a fantastic report titled, The Impact of Brexit on Human Rights on the Island of Ireland. It was authored by George Katrougalos, a member of the Greek Parliament. It was debated at length last September in the Council of Europe. It was a clear call on the British Government to heed concerns on prospective policies on the protocol and, not least, the legacy Bill.

I will quote from some of the recommendations in the report. The Parliamentary Assembly calls on the British Government to “ensure that the withdrawal from the European Union does not result in any diminution of rights for the people of [the North], in line with its international commitments, nor to a misalignment of rights between north and south on the island of Ireland”. It also calls on the British Government to “make use of the ‘dedicated mechanism’ established to ensure that Brexit does not result in any diminution of rights set out in the Good Friday Agreement" and to “seek, in a constructive spirit, all practical solutions ... to ensure the smooth and efficient implementation of the protocol”, which had not been resolved at that point. Importantly, it calls on the British Government to “reconsider its current proposal to repeal the ... Human Rights Act and reaffirm its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights” and “propose a way forward to address the legacy of the Troubles that is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights”.

There are 46 member states in the Council of Europe. The power of this report was that it was endorsed overwhelmingly, by a majority of more than 2:1. It was interesting and disappointing at the time that the British delegates tried to stop the debate taking place. They tried to push to a vote to basically push it back. Thankfully, people of all countries united. They see the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, of progress in our country and getting institutions back up and running. This report makes a clear call on the British Government and politicians across the North to get the Assembly back up and running as well. It was a powerful piece of work. I recognise the work of everyone on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, delegation, including our colleagues, Senators Joe O’Reilly and Fiona O’Loughlin. The latter spoke strongly on that particular point. This sent a clear message to the British Government that people across Europe will not tolerate messing with the fundamental values of the Good Friday Agreement, with the importance of human rights and, crucially, the importance of the European Court of Human Rights, and the fact that is underpinned in the Good Friday Agreement.

I welcome that we seem to have broad support for this Sinn Féin motion. I also acknowledge Senator Black's point that we need to continue to be on guard against any further attempts to in any way undermine or diminish the Good Friday Agreement. I hope now, in the wake of the Windsor Framework, we will engage in a more positive process with the British Government that will hopefully help see these institutions set up or re-established. Hopefully, that will be the case.

This motion is important, as is the symbolism of all of us agreeing on it. I commend all colleagues. Hopefully, we will have a positive response from the Minister of State.

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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It is clear that we have a significant deal in the Windsor Framework. I say this cautiously, but I think there is cause for much optimism as a result of that. We want to be able to capitalise on that optimism. We want to try to build on the momentum we have seen from Northern Ireland, the Government here and the British Government. What I mean by capitalising on that momentum is being able to now sell the opportunities and benefits the Windsor Framework provides for Northern Ireland and, in particular, the Northern Irish economy.

It is also important to note the appointment of the US special envoy, former Congressman Joe Kennedy. He is a fairly big player in the United States. He has come into this with a serious job to do and with an emphasis on economic productivity and the economy of Northern Ireland. I think former Congressman Kennedy will be able to play an important role. I hope the institutions are re-established on the back of the Windsor Framework as well.

Regarding the economy, the reason the Windsor Framework provides such an opportunity is that it guarantees Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. It ensures that is reaffirmed and that trade from Northern Ireland into the rest of the UK is seamless, but it also ensures that trade from Northern Ireland into the EU is seamless as well. When one thinks about it, that gives Northern Ireland a unique economic advantage and puts it in a unique economic position when trying to market it to multinational investments and foreign multinational companies and as a place for job creation and a good place to do business. That will have an important spin-off effect.

This will provide a benefit for the Border economy and Border towns. There will be an enormous economic spillover along the Border areas that will benefit the economies on both sides of the Border as a result of Northern Ireland’s unique economic position on the back of the Windsor Framework. That is why there is a chance to optimistic about it. I think there will be huge opportunities from a trading perspective. We already see that cross-Border trade is worth about €10 billion a year. That can continue to grow. We see so many businesses already co-operating with each other on both sides of the Border and promoting the area as a singular economic unit. This will be useful. The area between Dublin and Belfast is the economic engine of the island of Ireland. It is where the vast majority of the population of this island lives. These are the two biggest cities on the island of Ireland. As I said, that corridor can be an economic driving point for the island of Ireland and it is aided by the Windsor Framework.

With regard to the DUP, while it feels like we have been around the merry-go-round a couple of times with this, we have to give it the space and time it needs to look at this framework as best as it possibly can to make sure it can get on board. We have to give that party the time and space to do that.

This is something to be positive about. It is nice to have good news every once in a while. This is something to be optimistic about for Northern Ireland. As I said, the Windsor Framework provides an economic opportunity for businesses in Northern Ireland and job creation. I think that economic opportunity will spill over both sides of the Border and, in particular, substantial Border towns.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to represent the Government in the debate on this Sinn Féin Private Members’ motion. I thank and acknowledge all Senators for their contributions on this important matter.

The Government will not be opposing this motion. The Good Friday Agreement, signed almost 25 years ago in Belfast, remains a remarkable achievement. The agreement brought peace and transformed this island. It is right that we celebrate it. The agreement effectively marked the end of 30 years of bloody violence, which claimed more than 3,500 lives and injured and traumatised many more. The agreement committed all parties to settling political and constitutional disputes solely through democratic and peaceful means.

There are people alive today because 25 years ago we came together for peace. With support from our international partners, particularly in the US and the EU, a whole generation has grown to adulthood outside of the shadow of widespread violence in their communities. While the peace we have achieved is not perfect, nonetheless, Northern Ireland today is a place of immense opportunity. For this, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who took risks to achieve a deal.People such as John Hume, Seamus Mallon, David Trimble and Mo Mowlam, all sadly no longer with us, together with many others, sold difficult compromises to their own supporters. We also say thanks for the support from the US, the EU, South Africa, Finland and Canada.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the Good Friday Agreement explicitly addresses constitutional issues related to Northern Ireland. The agreement commits both governments to 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. In doing so, the agreement recognised the delicate balance agreed by both governments and the parties in respect of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Crucially, it provided a peaceful means by which this could be changed if the majority of people in Northern Ireland vote for it. Part of achieving that delicate balance was changing our own Constitution, which, of course, required the people to endorse the Good Friday Agreement in a referendum on the same day that the people of Northern Ireland endorsed the agreement by referendum. Together the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly for peace.

In the negotiation and implementation of the agreement, strong partnership between the British and Irish Governments has been essential. That was also the case for the subsequent implementing agreements, such as those reached at St. Andrews and Stormont House. Any future arrangements must continue to be built through partnership.

The Good Friday Agreement recast relationships on these islands. It created interlocking institutions within Northern Ireland, as well as North-South and east-west, which underpin and implement the commitments made in 1998. The assembly and executive established under strand 1 of the agreement must return to work. The people of Northern Ireland need a functioning government. Access to healthcare, levels of educational attainment and funding for policing and justice are just some of the many real issues facing communities and families across Northern Ireland. In May of last year, the people of Northern Ireland voted for their politicians to lead. It is time they have the opportunity to play their full part in helping Northern Ireland achieve its potential. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs continues to work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly to encourage the early restoration of the assembly and executive. The arrangement in principle reached last week by the UK and the EU, the Windsor Framework, will, I hope, assist parties to return to the assembly and executive. I recognise that some time to study the Windsor Framework is required. That is to be expected. However, I urge all parties to move quickly. Indeed, we have always maintained that an executive could be formed while the EU-UK talks were ongoing. As the Taoiseach said earlier this week, the 25th anniversary of the agreement is not a deadline. The deadline is the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

While much of the current focus is on strand 1 institutions, I want to underline the importance the Government attaches to strand 2. The Tánaiste visited the North-South Ministerial Council secretariat in Armagh as part of his first visit to the North as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Government is deeply concerned that the North-South Ministerial Council has been disrupted in recent years and has not met in plenary format since July 2021. No positive agenda is served by this disruption. In the absence of regular North-South Ministerial Council meetings, the two administrations on the island are not having the important conversations we should be having to address shared challenges and opportunities.

There is no hierarchy of institutions across the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement. Strand 3 of the agreement remains of vital importance to the Government. The Tánaiste meets regularly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, including in the format of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 19 January last. I know too that Members from both Chambers met with their British and Irish counterparts at a special plenary meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Belfast earlier this week. I commend, on behalf of the Government, the vital work that the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plays in building east-west and North-South relationships.

The British-Irish Council brings together seven administrations from across these islands to deliver shared agendas in such important areas as energy and transport. Working together, we can deliver on the ideals embodied in the agreement and the commitments we gave to work together in partnership, equality and mutual respect, and who strive in every political way towards reconciliation. Working together, we can create the political stability that businesses need to invest in Northern Ireland because we know that peace is underpinned by economic development. The peace process has made Northern Ireland an attractive place for companies around the world to invest. The jobs created by these investments are the true dividend of peace, which, in turn, contributes to stability and peace. Brexit and subsequent uncertainty over the protocol has posed deep challenges to businesses across Northern Ireland. Over the past two years, the Government has engaged closely with a broad range of stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including business representatives. The clear and constant message we received was around the need for stability and certainty.

The Government welcomes the Windsor Framework. It represents the outcome of intensive engagement by the European Commission and our European partners. We now look forward to the UK Government completing its parliamentary process and to our EU partners giving the framework their full backing so it can be finalised in a forthcoming meeting of the EU-UK joint committee. Through the framework, the EU and the UK, by working constructively together and agreeing practical solutions to comprehensively deal with the real-life concerns raised, have provided the stability and certainty that people in Northern Ireland want. The framework has also been welcomed by businesses in the communities in Northern Ireland, which have expressed a genuine desire to move forward and take advantage of the opportunities it presents. We have heard first-hand that the Windsor Framework offers genuine economic benefits to communities across Northern Ireland. The Windsor Framework will allow businesses in Northern Ireland to continue to access the EU Single Market, along with the UK's internal market. It also makes Northern Ireland particularly attractive for investors that see its access to the EU and UK markets. This is a unique opportunity. We have seen signs that dual market access can lead to much-needed investment in Northern Ireland. The Government wants to see the island of Ireland prosper. Increased economic prosperity, North or South, benefits us all. Our closely integrated all-Ireland economy is one of the key dividends of the peace process and remains a priority. Building on the stability provided by the Windsor Framework, the Government will continue to work to create an enabling environment for businesses, North and South, to grow cross-Border trade and further unlock the potential of an all-Ireland economy.

We still have a long way to go to build a truly reconciled society that the people of Northern Ireland want, need and deserve. I am conscious that Northern Ireland is still without a civic forum, a North-South consultative forum and a bill of rights, 25 years after they were promised in the agreement. Too many families remain with unanswered questions about the deaths of loved ones. I restate the Government's concerns about the legacy Bill currently before Westminster. It is not fit for purpose. The establishment of the PSNI, the reform of the justice system in Northern Ireland and the subsequent devolution of policing and justice would not have been possible without the Good Friday Agreement. I condemn the threat this week against families of PSNI officers. The criminal threat is abhorrent, all the more as it comes only weeks after the murderous attack on PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell. Police on this island, North and South, and their families deserve our support. A threat to members of the police and their families is a threat to all of us. Such threats are an attack on the Good Friday Agreement and its values as overwhelmingly endorsed by all the people of Ireland in the two referendums in 1998.

The 25th anniversary of the agreement is an occasion to reflect on what has been achieve and what remains to do. I am conscious that today is International Women's Day. There were too few women around the table in Belfast 25 years ago, and those who were had to fight hard to ensure their voices were heard. We are indebted to them for this. The contribution of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, Liz O'Donnell and Mo Mowlam undoubtedly made the agreement better.The achievement of peace in Northern Ireland owes so much to the work of women who played pivotal parts in their communities in building meaningful connections across divides, diverting young people away from violence and demanding a better future. The Government will ensure that this work is heard and that we elevate the voices of women throughout Northern Ireland. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the agreement, the Government will continue to work towards its full and effective implementation.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. The Seanad is at one on this, which is welcome. I know it will send an encouraging and necessary political message tonight. When Senator Joe O'Reilly was vacating the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach, I called him a sage because he made many very worthwhile points. He also acknowledged Fr. Des Wilson. It is appropriate for us to remember the key players. However, very many people were involved in this process, too many to name here. Fr. Des Wilson and people like him did not just help initiate a process back then, but they then carried on their lives trying to embed the peace, and trying to make peace, justice and human rights a reality. That is my experience. As a Belfast city councillor, often I stood at interfaces and watched people from my community, my side - I hate that kind of terminology - cross the interface to deal with people from the other side. Those were the people who worked the Good Friday Agreement in the real sense. All those people, such as Fr. Alec Reid, need to be commended.

Senator Gavan mentioned the international context in all this. It is important for us to remember that throughout the world people look to the Good Friday Agreement as a model for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Still to this day, for all of its faults and despite all the aspects that remain unimplemented, people who were involved in those negotiations travel all over the world to try to bring peace and human rights. The Minister of State is correct that there are people alive today in Ireland because of the Good Friday Agreement. It is also fair to say that there are people alive in other parts of the world because that model has been replicated.

Regarding the unsung heroes, the Minister of State, Senator Boyhan and our BIPA plenary spoke about the important role of women. Last week's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with Ms Bronagh Hinds echoed this sentiment. There would have been no negotiations or Good Friday Agreement without women. The peace would not have been embedded and delivered without women. Many of the people I am talking about on the interface were women leaders who crossed that divide and then, in turn, gave some of the people who were carrying on a good swift kick up the backside to get them home.

In this week and in particular on this day, International Women's Day, I reflect on the iconic image of Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Gerry Adams in front of Government Buildings for their first engagement. In the video footage of that, behind John Hume's shoulder can be seen a small red-headed woman, physically small but mighty in stature, our late friend Rita O'Hare, whom we buried yesterday and who was a crucial component of the republican leadership in moving peace forward. I take the opportunity to acknowledge Rita O'Hare given the week and the day that is in it.

Jim Gibney who works with me in my office and who was there at Castle Buildings for the negotiations in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement texted me to say that tonight's debate caught a mood. It is important that we do not waste the fact that there has been such a collegial debate. Following the motion, we need to tell people that the united view of the Seanad is that we want to remember the Good Friday Agreement, but we also want to see it fully realised. We acknowledge the hard work to get to the Windsor Framework but we also understand and appreciate that it is necessary to mitigate the worst excesses of Brexit.

We need to redouble our efforts because we are by no means under the same pressure that the people 25 years ago were under. If they could do that then, despite all the disagreements we may have day-to-day, it is my firm and committed view that following tonight's motion with that mood that Jim Gibney texted me about, we can play our role in ensuring we assist the people ultimately responsible - the people elected in the North - to get the institutions back up and running.

I welcome the Minister of State's commitment to the North-South institutions. It is important that the Irish Government restates that. I do not prioritise any of these issues over any others either. However, we have suffered as a result of those institutions not being fully functioning and not fully implemented. I thank everyone for their support.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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The House stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. tomorrow in accordance with the order of the Seanad today.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 7.36 p.m. go dtí 9.30 a.m., Déardaoin, an 9 Márta 2023.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.36 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 March 2023.