Dáil Éireann - Volume 511 - 23 November, 1999

Ceisteanna – Questions. - The Good Friday Agreement.

1. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to England and Wales; the official engagements he undertook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23146/99]

4. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the review of the Good Friday Agreement undertaken by Mr. George Mitchell. [23383/99]

5. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the recent conversations he has had with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Trimble. [23384/99]

6. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the recent discussions he has had with leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland. [23385/99]

9. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the contacts, if any, he has had with the British Prime Minister since 10 November 1999. [23438/99]

12. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he has received any report on the progress of the talks in Northern Ireland in the period since his meeting on 2 November 1999 with Senator George Mitchell; the discussions, if any, he has had with any of the parties in Northern Ireland or the British Prime Minister regarding the progress of the talks since that date; the discussions, if any, planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23719/99]

13. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on discussions he has had in relation to developments in the peace process. [24282/99]

14. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the contacts, if any, he has had with the British Prime Minister since 17 November 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24291/99]

15. Mr. Flanagan asked the Taoiseach the progress on the setting up of the North-South bodies as legislated for earlier in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24480/99]

16. Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach the contact, if any, he has had with the Northern Ireland political leaders since the conclusion of the Mitchell review. [24484/99]

17. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when the Government will make the order bringing into effect the amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution approved by the people in the refer[451] endum in May 1997 in view of recent developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24546/99]

18. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the completed review of the Good Friday Agreement undertaken by Senator George Mitchell; if he has met or plans to meet Senator Mitchell since he completed the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24547/99]

19. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the developments in Northern Ireland, including the statements issued on 16 November 1999 by Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party and on 17 November 1999 by the IRA; and his assessment of the prospects for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in view of these statements. [24548/99]

20. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the contacts, if any, he has had with the British Prime Minister or the parties in Northern Ireland since the developments in the Northern Ireland talks on 16 and 17 November 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24549/99]

The Taoiseach: With the Chair's agreement, I will omit the first part of my reply, although I understand it will be automatically circulated with my reply in the Official Report.

Mr. Quinn: It will be included even if the Taoiseach does not read it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Only what the Toaiseach reads will be circulated in the Official Report.

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 together.

It is no exaggeration to say that today we stand at the threshold of a transformation in the history of this island and these islands. It is 18 months since the people, North and South, so overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. We knew then that its implementation would not be easy, but I doubt if any of us expected so prolonged and frustrating a stalemate but, finally, the path ahead has been mapped. The only outstanding question is whether we can all together, North and South, Nationalist and republican, Unionist and loyalist, summon up the resolve needed to take that path.

The successful conclusion of the Mitchell review would have been impossible without the patience, wisdom and commitment of its extraordinary chairman. Many well-deserved tributes have been paid to George Mitchell, but no words, however glowing, would be enough to convey just how much we all owe him.

The contribution of the parties was also enormous. They all worked extremely hard during the review, and each showed courage and determi[452] nation. The slow development of mutual trust and confidence did prove essential, but over and above that, the leaders of both the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Féin have taken risks and displayed leadership of the highest order in moving towards an accommodation on issues which are profoundly difficult for them and their communities. The SDLP has offered support and insight at all times and will play a central role in the new institutions. I wish David Trimble and his supporters the best of luck in their efforts to win the backing of the Ulster Unionist Council.

What we all want to see is the full implementation of the Agreement, in all its aspects. We said during the referendum campaign that it had to be accepted as a package. Understandably, perspectives on the individual elements differ, but those elements will stand, or fall, together. All must be delivered in accordance with the terms of the Agreement.

The review was about finding an agreed basis for the achievement of devolution and the establishment of the institutions and for the achievement of decommissioning. It has long been clear that both are essential if the Agreement is to work. That is why I welcome and endorse Senator Mitchell's key conclusion in which he said he believed “that a basis now exists for devolution to occur, for the institutions to be established, and for decommissioning to take place as soon as possible”.

The Senator highlighted the central role of the de Chastelain Commission in achieving decommissioning, which we had stressed for the past 12 months, and its assessment was also published on Monday week last. The report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was obviously a further welcome development in maintaining the momentum for progress.

The commission accepted that the implementation of the Agreement in full would create a new context in which the situation would be transformed. In particular, it called on the paramilitary organisations to appoint authorised representatives to discuss modalities with it. We, in Government, agreed that this would represent a significant confidence building measure. Last Wednesday, the IRA responded positively to that call.

Its statement's reiteration of the IRA's unequivocal commitment to peace, its comments on the significance on the Good Friday Agreement in terms of building a lasting peace and its acknowledgement of the leadership of Sinn Féin, taken together with the ceasefire over what is now a protracted period, carried real value. The decision of the IRA leadership, announced in the statement, to appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, following the establishment of the institutions provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, was particularly significant.

The British and Irish Governments are now moving to make the necessary arrangements to [453] proceed in accordance with the recommendation in the Senator's report. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will convene a meeting of the Assembly on Monday, 29 November, for the purpose of running the d'Hondt procedure for nominating Ministers. Subject to Ministers having been nominated, the Devolution Order will be laid before Parliament on 30 November to take effect on 2 December.

Next Thursday, 2 December, is, therefore, the date on which powers will be devolved and the British-Irish Agreement will enter into force. The North-South Ministerial Council, the implementation bodies and the British-Irish Council will all be formally established on that day. Early inaugural meetings of the new institutions will be held. With the entry into force of the new Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 will cease to exist. The Government has always looked forward to the day when a new and broadly based agreement, negotiated by and with the support of both traditions, would replace and transcend that Agreement.

Furthermore, on 2 December the Government will also meet to make the declaration necessary to bring the amended Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution into effect, as the Agreement requires us to do. Some people have asked what will happen if, over time, other elements of the Agreement do not stand. This question arose during the referendum campaign last year. In the course of the negotiations on the Agreement and its implementation, all sides have been asked to take risks. We are playing our part. I confirm that the amendments, once made, will stand. It is my firm view that the new Articles 2 and 3 are a clear and updated expression of our people's basic principles.

The Good Friday Agreement is based on the principles of inclusivity, equality and mutual respect. I welcome the Ulster Unionist Party's recognition and acceptance of these principles and of the legitimacy for nationalists to pursue their political objective of a united Ireland by consent through exclusively peaceful and democratic methods. The institutional and constitutional aspects of the Agreement are at its core. However, as I said earlier, all elements must be implemented. In particular, although decommissioning is a voluntary act and cannot be imposed, it is essential, as all parties have recognised.

The consistent position of the Irish Government has been that we want to see the earliest possible decommissioning. There is now agreement that the right and only context for the achievement of decommissioning is the implementation of the Agreement as a whole, including the establishment of the institutions. As the independent commission has said, that will “create a new context in which the situation will be transformed”. Conversely, as Senator Mitchell has said, it is certain that if the institutions are not established there is no chance of decommissioning.

[454] I agree with Senator Mitchell's belief that in the context of the full implementation of the Agreement and in the transformed situation it will bring about there will be decommissioning. It is vital that all parties continue to exercise their influence, singly and collectively, to achieve that end. I pay tribute to the leadership they are already offering in that regard.

The role of General de Chastelain and his commission will be central in taking the decommissioning process forward, as all parties agree. The commission will meet the authorised representatives of the paramilitary organisations after their appointment and will report shortly afterwards. Let us now be prepared to wait and see what the commission then says about the detailed issues involved and not involve ourselves in speculation.

We are planning for, and we expect, success. The whole Agreement is based on mutual confidence, partnership and the sense that everybody is acting in good faith in implementing all of its terms. If there is difficulty either in relation to devolution or decommissioning we are by definition in a very serious situation. In those circumstances, where the Agreement was not being implemented in significant respects, the Governments would have to step in and assume their responsibilities, including through appropriate suspension arrangements. I repeat, we are not planning for failure. Our focus is on success and on ensuring that each of the provisions of the Agreement is implemented, as the people voted for last year. That is the task that is ahead of us and which we must all press on with.

Despite the massive public support for the Good Friday Agreement, as expressed in the referendums, and despite the appalling outrage that was the Omagh bombing, a handful of dissidents continue to threaten the peace. The Government will take further vigorous pre-emptive action to frustrate the activities of any dissidents who do so. We will at the same time continue to refute a deeply flawed and outdated political analysis which misleads people into attempting futile but potentially lethal attacks that risk killing innocent people, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. We have the laws in place to deprive them not only of their liberty but of their property and those laws will be used to the full in the case of any dissident group or individuals who store arms for use, or otherwise attempt to destabilise the peace. The British authorities will, I am certain, continue to move with equal determination against dissidents on all sides there, including those responsible for continuing sectarian attacks.

With regard to the North South bodies, Deputies will be aware that the necessary legislation is in place and commencement orders require to be signed. This will be done as soon as the British-Irish Agreement enters into force. Intensive work has been under way to ensure that the bodies will be in a position to commence operation immediately on entry into force of the Agreement and that all steps necessary for their [455] full operation will be taken as soon as possible thereafter.

With regard to constitutional change, when notifications are exchanged and the British-Irish Agreement then comes into force, the Government will make the declaration provided for in Article 29.7.3º of the Constitution, thus bringing the constitutional amendment into force with immediate effect. It is envisaged that the declaration will be made at a meeting of the Government, if necessary specially convened for that purpose.

I thank the House for its patience with this long reply. I felt it would be more appropriate to make a statement in the House as part of a reply to questions. I thank the Opposition leaders.

Mr. J. Bruton: I welcome what the Taoiseach has said. Does he agree that Mr. Trimble needs not only the best of luck in getting agreement but every support that can be given to him from every quarter to ensure that the Ulster Unionist Council takes the right decision and works towards the full implementation of the Agreement?

In that context, that the Taoiseach has stated clearly that the new wording of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution will stand once the amendments are made represents an unconditional commitment which is very welcome and should be noted, particularly by members of the Ulster Unionist Council. Does the Taoiseach agree there is great significance in his saying that he believes there will be decommissioning? For a Taoiseach to make such a statement, with all the information that is available to him by nature of his office, is something of great importance. Does he agree that that should also be seen as something of great reassurance to the members of the Ulster Unionist Council in coming to their very important decision – a decision of great importance for them, for unionism and for all the people who live on this island and the neighbouring island?

The Taoiseach has stated that in the event that he proves to be wrong – and I do not believe he will – and decommissioning does not take place, the Governments would have to “step in and assume their responsibilities” and suspend the Agreement. What account would be taken of the respective positions of parties in that circumstance, some of whom had completely fulfilled all their obligations under the Agreement and others who might not have, either themselves or through their associates? Would the Governments, in implementing those suspension arrangements, take account of the respective and relative performance of their obligations of different parties or would all parties be treated alike?

The Taoiseach: I thank Deputy Bruton for his support. In reply to his first question, we have an obligation to do all we can to help all the parties. I do not underestimate the task of Mr. Trimble and I agree with what Deputy Bruton has stated.

[456] There is a number of matters in my statement which should be emphasised. I thought it best to be absolutely clear and unequivocal about Articles 2 and 3. The question has been raised and people should take note of what I said. That also applies to how the Governments must deal with their responsibilities.

As Deputy Bruton said, everyone is aware we are at a very sensitive time in this process. It is best that everyone speaks with a clear understanding of the position that has been agreed. That position was spelled out clearly last week in all the statements. I hope everyone has the same understanding of this. I am glad Gerry Adams said unequivocally in a statement last night that Sinn Féin had no hidden agenda, that its private position is the same as its public position and that it wants to see the full implementation of the Agreement.

In reply to Deputy Bruton's point, that means that decommissioning by May 2000 was part of all the dealings in the past 19 months. I said today I would like it to happen as soon as possible. It was always the case that, while it was a voluntary act, it had to happen to give confidence in the Agreement. That is strongly my position. The sooner that happens, the better, because that would remove the pressures the issue would cause if it were ongoing – even if we get an enormous vote on the right side next week, as I hope we will. It should not delay getting to this position. The statements by Gerry Adams, the IRA and Sinn Féin last week can only be interpreted that way. It has always been my understanding that it is a voluntary act but it must happen. We got agreement on 25 June last on three issues – that there would be an inclusive Executive with devolved powers, that we would deal with decommissioning by May 2000 and that it would be dealt with under General John de Chastelain's commission. Those issues must be fulfilled for the Agreement to be a success.

Deputy Bruton's last question related to the position we would take if we ran into difficulties. I wish to stress the positive, as does Deputy Bruton and, I am sure, every Member of the House. However, if the position is not positive – and we have had enough difficulties in the past 19 months and decades to require us to think about that issue – the Government will have to deal with its responsibilities and look at the institutions. The Government would then have a real dilemma, part of which would be having to see what could be established from the process. We would have to take everything into account. I do not have the answer today on what the Government would do. However, Deputy Bruton asked if we would take everything into account and, of course, we would. We have always said that is our view on devolution and, therefore, it is also our view on decommissioning that we would take every circumstance into account.

However, all our efforts in this regard have been to make it an inclusive process and not to exclude people. I hope the confidence that has [457] been generated by the parties working together in the review period of 11 or 12 weeks will allow people to understand it. Everything I have heard and read and every report I have been given indicate strongly to me that if people are given the democratic right to say “yes” or “no” we will not have these difficulties but will be able to positively move forward to set up the institutions and to work collectively to deal with the economic, social, security and other problems of Northern Ireland. That is the trust and confidence we have. Let us hope the Government will not be called upon to make difficult decisions but if it is it will have to do so.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that every act of every participant in putting together and implementing the Good Friday Agreement was voluntary? All agreements rest on the voluntary consent of those involved. The decommissioning of weapons therefore under the Good Friday Agreement is by definition and by its nature a voluntary act. There should not be consideration of the possibility of coercion being involved in the sense that all parties to the Agreement voluntarily became parties to it in all its aspects and are therefore voluntarily implementing it. In the event of any party, either itself or through its associates, being unable or unwilling to implement the Agreement in full that party will not be in the same position as parties which have implemented their part of the Agreement in full if a political assessment has to be made.

The Taoiseach: There have been a number of cycles but we are back where we started in all respects. The best way to get everyone to work together, communicate and achieve success is as per the Agreement. Decommissioning has been the main but not the only difficulty and it is only right that it be dealt with. This has to be done voluntarily within the mechanism set down in the Agreement – the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. We have now succeeded in doing this with the agreement of all the parties concerned. I am confident that everyone wants to deal with the issue and move on to deal with the many other important issues that remain to be dealt with. While I am aware of the importance and psychology of decommissioning which has been spoken about at length, General John de Chastelain and his colleagues on the independent international commission will deal with the issue. We have received the necessary commitments. We have achieved in the last week what we were not able to achieve in July when it was impossible to secure an IRA statement that the matter would be dealt with in its totality. It is unambiguous. The necessary rules and regulations are in place to achieve decommissioning if people work with General John de Chastelain. It is a fair assumption for me and others to make that it will happen. If it all goes wrong the two Governments, to use Deputy Bruton's own words, would have to take account, look at the [458] circumstances and ascertain where it all went wrong, the blame lay and difficult though it might be, construct a way forward.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Does the Taoiseach welcome, as I do, the positive developments in the peace process, including the reiteration by Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party of their commitment to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and the statement by the IRA that the Agreement will contribute to a lasting peace? On a directly related matter, does the Taoiseach recognise and has he raised with the British Prime Minister an issue that I have raised here many times, the need for urgent progress on demilitarisation, particularly in south Armagh? Is it not hugely unhelpful, at a time such as this, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has indicated in a reply to me recently, which I have already referred to in the House, that he has no intention of visiting south Armagh at the invitation of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee as he promised to do over a year ago in my presence? Has the Taoiseach raised with the British Prime Minister the recent discovery in Stonyford Orange Hall, County Antrim, of so-called confidential British army files on some 400 Nationalists in different parts of the Six Counties area? Does the Taoiseach not agree that this is yet another damning indictment of collusion between the British forces and loyalists paramilitaries? What guarantee can be given now, that information passed from the Garda Síochána to the RUC will not end up in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries in the same way? Will the Taoiseach now require the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to end the flow of such information?

The Taoiseach: I acknowledge the substantive statements that have been made to try to create peace and progress, and I welcome them. On the issue of demilitarisation, the Irish Government has continued to try to achieve the paper which has been discussed for some time now, as the Deputy is aware, which would lead to a substantial change in the current position, whether it is to do with towers or other military infrastructure in south Armagh and in other areas. Current issues will have an enormous influence on that. However, much of the military infrastructure there could be have been moved already, and we have continually emphasised that point. From my information and information from security journalists who have pointed to statistics over the years, these tower blocks, in addition to causing great difficulty for local communities, have not achieved much in terms of stopping terrorists and military operations on innocent people.

I have raised the issue of the files. It is of deep concern to the Government that so many names of Nationalist people, all of them innocent, as far as I know, were found in files in an orange hall. I note that the orange hall leadership has dis[459] sociated itself from any use of or storing of these files on its premises and has condemned the use of them by any loyalist organisations for attacks against Nationalist people. Garda and RUC activity and co-operation must continue because of the attacks that have taken place, but we would always emphasise that any information which has to be passed on should remain of a confidential nature. We are investigating where this information came from, the reason it came out, how it is being used and the contacting of people in relation to it.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: May I ask a brief supplementary—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must be very brief.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is in relation to the situation in south Armagh, which I visited over the weekend. I have made the point both in the House and in opportunities of representation both to the Taoiseach and other members of his Cabinet that the situation there is sufficiently serious, with the very overt and continuing development of the British army presence, that some serious initiative must now be taken by this Government. It is simply not acceptable that a member of the Government has refused to proceed—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should be brief in fairness to other Deputies who have indicated that they wish to ask supplementary questions.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —with a proposed visit—

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I ask the Taoiseach to have the matter in that area seriously addressed.

The Taoiseach: I have heard what the Deputy said on that matter and I will examine it. I am not aware of the circumstances but the Deputy would acknowledge in this House that on numerous occasions I have met the organisations in south Armagh which have alleged harassment and other difficulties on their farms and in their schools, and I will continue to assist them as best I can.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree with the comments made by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in the House not so long ago that we have all gone too far to consider going back? Neither I nor the leader of Fine Gael believes things will go wrong, but if they do will the Taoiseach assure the House that some things will remain untouched. For example, as and from 2 December, assuming that the timetable proceeds, [460] will Articles 2 and 3 be forever changed? Will the Taoiseach confirm the view of the Labour Party and, I suspect, other parties, that there is no desire to reinstate the original Articles? This is an important matter for some people in Northern Ireland. Will the Taoiseach confirm that, irrespective of anything else that might happen, Articles 2 and 3, as amended and voted on so overwhelmingly by the people in the South on 22 May 1998, will remain?

Will he further agree that we in this jurisdiction must be concerned for peace on the entire island, devolution within Northern Ireland and complete decommissioning according to the terms of the Agreement? Will he also reaffirm his statement that the Irish Government, in close collaboration with the British Government and the relevant security forces, will take every step to ensure no self-appointed group without a democratic mandate will have the right to attempt to frustrate the implementation of the Agreement? Will he further confirm that the full rigours of the law will be brought to bear on any such group which might attempt by physical means to disrupt this historic passage which will create a new beginning and a new set of relationships for all the people on this island and for the peoples of these two islands?

The Taoiseach: I agree with the Deputy's sentiments and we hope for success. The importance of success is greater than anything I have said in that it will give people a chance to live in peace and safety without the enormous security concerns with which they have lived for more than a generation. If this Agreement is successful people should look at all its aspects. I do not wish to add to the comments of many members of the Unionist Party over the weekend. They have stated that there are economic and social issues involved and that, important though they are, there is more to the world than constitutional and institutional issues. Ken Maginnis rightly stated that everyone on this island shares the desire for an ordinary economic life, investment, encouragement for people to work, to train and be educated and to see a better future. I would like the Agreement to succeed for these reasons, in addition to all the arguments concerning constitutional and institutional issues.

I stated in my reply that the issue of Articles 2 and 3 has arisen. I was asked this question several times last year and the situation is clear. I am not saying anything new, but I am conscious that some people in Northern Ireland think I and Members of this House have a different agenda. I wish to make it clear that on devolution day the Cabinet will meet and sign the relevant orders, and that the new Articles 2 and 3 will express the view of the people. That view could not have been better expressed in a relatively high poll, in terms of polls these days. There was a 96% vote for change and no one would argue with that view. I remind people, particularly our friends in Northern Ireland, that the people of the South [461] voted for change. The Government, on behalf of the Irish people, will implement that wish and Articles 2 and 3 will be the clear and updated expression of the people's basic principles.

There are those who believe that, in some way, they have a greater right than the democratic Government and political system and that they can continue to engage in military activity. If they believe they have a right in that regard then we have an obligation to take that right away. I know the House supports the view that the legislation we reluctantly passed in autumn 1998—

Mr. Quinn: Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: —which we would like to amend again as it is not in line with the philosophy we like in terms of legislation, is necessary as we have found people training in bunkers, moving arms, still importing explosives and involved in other activities. If those people do not desist and if it becomes evident that they will continue, the full rigours of that legislation will have to be implemented in the toughest form. Otherwise we will return to a situation where our work will be undone and the country will again be in a difficult security situation. I am sure I speak for the Government and everybody in the House when I say that the only way to counteract such activity is to enforce the legislation in the toughest possible manner. I hope this is not necessary, but if it is it will be done.

Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Taoiseach's statement and assure him of my party's full support for whatever distasteful but nevertheless rigorous measures may be necessary. Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate when the Council of the Isles and other associated institutions might be established following the order for devolution?

The Taoiseach: The intention is that the meetings will take place as soon as possible after Thursday week. The preparatory meetings will take place next Wednesday and the Devolution Order will be made this day week. Therefore, Thursday will be devolution day. The inaugural meetings will take place as soon as possible after that.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): In mentioning the role of various political leaders and parties in the peace process, will the Taoiseach acknowledge that above all it was the desire of the huge majority of ordinary people in the North for peace that constrained the parties and made them turn away from the disastrous sectarian and paramilitary strategies which were employed over the past 30 years? Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that while sectarian bigots on both sides did their best at times to plunge communities into civil war, it was the active intervention of the majority of working class people, including the ranks of trade unions who mobilised in their tens of thou[462] sands at crucial stages against sectarianism, which played a key role in moving towards peace?

Will he further agree that in the event of some small unrepresentative sectarian or paramilitary group flying in the face of the desire of the vast majority for peace, draconian laws here or in the North will not be effective, but the solution lies in mobilising the will of the vast majority of people on the island and bringing it to bear on those who fly undemocratically in the face of it? Is the Taoiseach disturbed by the trend in recent years of dividing areas in the North according to religious affiliation, which amounts almost to a cantonisation? Will the Taoiseach agree that positive action to bring Protestant and Catholic communities together again is critical and that cross-community organisations have a crucial role in this regard?

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not quite in order on Question Time to continue in this manner.

Mr. Flanagan: The last 40 minutes has been taken up by the Deputy's side of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: I take Deputies in the order in which the questions appear before me on the Order Paper.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): It seems some members of Fine Gael want to take over where the Unionists have left off.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is a long established precedent that Deputies are called in the order in which their questions appear on the Order Paper.

Mr. J. Bruton: Have the Deputy's fine words dissolved? I thought the Deputy was talking about sectarianism.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Higgins should be brief. He should conclude.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Deputy will be withdrawn from candidacy for canonisation.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Deputy Bruton is showing Carsonite tendencies. Does the Taoiseach believe that, having achieved the possibility of long-term peace, the social and economic questions, the huge economic problems of working class communities and the issue of social and economic justice for them must now take centre stage?

The Taoiseach: I acknowledged the role of the SDLP and the loyalist parties. The SDLP, the Social, Democratic and Labour Party, has for a long time tried to mobilise and work with trade union movements. Later some loyalist parties and, more recently, all parties have done that. I freely acknowledge the work done, especially that of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which has worked across the political and sectarian divide [463] down the years. It has been involved in a great deal of work, even when it was difficult to do so.

Sectarianism will not go away overnight. There are still those who thrive on it and who believe that the creation of division by forcing people out of their homes is a legitimate plan. I totally oppose that as I am sure does everyone in House. We must support all the many community groups and organisations which endeavour to stop it. There has been a huge growth in human rights groups and the legislative structure has now been put in place under the Good Friday Agreement to deal with these issues. The agenda of most of the human rights work is to try to remove sectarianism. We spoke about that in the House recently and the need for people of all parties to try to stop sectarianism. I support those initiatives and will continue to do so.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Flanagan.

Mr. Currie: Have you forgotten about me, Sir?

Mr. Gormley: And me?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am dealing with the Deputies who tabled questions, and I will not be calling any other Deputy unless time permits. Deputy Flanagan tabled a question.

Mr. Flanagan: With specific reference to the North-South bodies, I understand from the Taoiseach's initial reply that he expects these bodies to click into place as soon as the end of next week. In what specific state of readiness are we regarding the location of the headquarters of these bodies? Has it been decided how many of the six bodies will have headquarters in the Republic and how many will have headquarters in the North? Have premises been acquired? Has the question of the deployment of staff been agreed? How soon does the Taoiseach expect these questions to be answered?

The Taoiseach: It is hoped the inaugural meetings will take place soon after next week. An enormous amount of work has been done on the locations, the chairs and staffing. There will not be approval to finalise these matters until next week. It has been thought through and there have been discussions but there will not be agreement until next week. However, interim names have been submitted for the chairs and locations have been discussed, but it will take a few meetings to finalise those. That could take place quickly. There has been much talk and discussion over the past 12 months but no one was in a position or prepared to finalise it until everything progressed. We could move quickly.

Mr. Gormley: With which party leaders has the Taoiseach spoken since the review? Does he agree that, while decommissioning has varying degrees of significance for many people, for the Unionists and those voting next weekend it is the [464] issue? In that context, does he fully support the commitment given by the Secretary of State to Unionists that he will suspend the institutions if decommissioning does not take place?

The Taoiseach: I have spoken to most of the party leaders, aside from Dr. Paisley, in recent weeks. I have not had as much contact with the loyalist parties as with the others but I have held endless meetings with the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and the Secretary of State, Mr. Mandelson.

As the Secretary of State said yesterday, if we run into difficulties in regard to devolution or decommissioning, we must deal with them. The party leaders and Senator Mitchell have put an enormous degree of effort, negotiation and commitment into this issue and I thank the party leaders and Members of this House for their support. I hope the delegates and members of the UUP, who have a fine political tradition, will see that the issues which created difficulties and which could not be resolved at Hillsborough or Castle Buildings in July have been comprehensively dealt with and that as much understanding and agreement as possible has been reached. I hope the decision is made in order that the institutions can be set up next week.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Currie. The time for this question is almost up; the Deputy should put his question straight away.

Mr. Currie: From listening to news bulletins during the war, my father, God rest him, used to sum up developments by alternately saying “it was a good day for the allies” or “it was a bad day for the allies”. Does the Taoiseach agree that the allies have had a number of good days recently but that we look forward to many more of those on this coming Saturday, during next week and into the new millennium? Has it come to the Taoiseach's attention that the Secretary of State, when referring in the House of Commons, to what the two Governments would do in the event of failure – I do not accept there will be failure – used the phrase “it is understood that…” and went on to outline what he understood. Does that mean that to which he referred has been agreed with the Irish Government because I noticed that the Taoiseach used the phrase “appropriate suspension arrangements“? Will he elaborate on that?

In circumstances where there is a failure, the changes to Articles 2 and 3 will be dispensed with. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Anglo-Irish Agreement would, in those circumstances, remain in being? Will he give the House an assurance that over the next two weeks, in particular, security forces will operate on full alert given what happened on the last occasion serious progress was made, namely in the aftermath of Sunningdale?

The Taoiseach: If nothing happens and devol[465] ution does not take place, the current arrangements remain in place—

Mr. Currie: Including the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

The Taoiseach: Yes, everything stays as it is. If one were to look at the negatives all the time in these discussions and debates and continually pose the question “what will happen if..?”, one would never arrive at the positives. If we approach this matter confidently, we will achieve resolution. All of the party leaders, through being positive and confident, have managed to arrive at new resolutions. Nobody has worked out all the possible permutations of what might happen if we run into difficulties. If that happens, the parties and Governments will have to take everything into account and assess the situation at that stage. It is not an underestimation to say that people will vote and support their various parties – I am conscious that it is not merely one party which must carry its people with them – in an effort to move forward. The Ulster Unionist Council, in particular, will vote for the future and the new millennium next week. They will vote to see whether Northern Ireland can have a new future where people can work together or whether the status quo will be maintained. I hope people will realise that the future can be better than the past.

An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes Taoiseach's Question Time. We now come to questions nominated for priority to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. Howlin: For the information of the House, will the Ceann Comhairle confirm that a number of questions have been ruled out of order because of the confidence motion later today?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is correct. Unfortunately, a number of questions had to be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 34(6) which, to refresh Deputies' minds, states that questions shall not anticipate the discussion of any subject of which notice has been given and which is scheduled to be brought before the Dáil within the same week in which the question is to be answered. It is a long established precedent.

Mr. Howlin: Is it possible for a written answer to be circulated as it may be helpful to us in this evening's debate?

An Ceann Comhairle: A question falls when it is not on the Order Paper in any form. Therefore, the question does not exist in the sense of a parliamentary question. These matters can be dealt with during the course of the debate this evening and tomorrow evening.

Mrs. Owen: Not in the same way.

Mr. Howlin: In actuality, they cannot be dealt [466] with because we will not have answers to the questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a discussion on the matter. The Chair is simply following a long established procedure and precedent laid down in the Standing Order which the Chair cannot alter. The Standing Order is one to which the House agreed.

Mrs. Owen: Who makes the decision to rule the questions out of order?

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Was it the Ceann Comhairle or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform who made this decision?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Ceann Comhairle makes the decision.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Does the Ceann Comhairle think it is worth looking at this rule again, particularly-—

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not a matter for the Ceann Comhairle, it is a matter for the committee of the House to consider the rules.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): I appreciate that. I am merely asking whether the Ceann Comhairle considers it to be unfair for a question to be ruled out of order when it and other questions were submitted in advance of the motion and could not have anticipated it?

An Ceann Comhairle: The questions fall by reason of the Standing Order to which I referred and which the Deputy should read for himself.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): I am aware of it. I chair the relevant committee.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is out of order to have a discussion on the matter. I have tried to be as helpful as possible in explaining what has happened for the benefit of the House.

Mr. Howlin: Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I am sure the Minister is very happy.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the House feels that the Standing Order should be amended, there is a process through which that can be done. The Chair cannot change the rules willy-nilly from day to day.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Will the Ceann Comhairle arrange for this matter to be discussed at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the sub-committee of the Committee on Procedures [467] and Privileges. The Deputy should take up the matter there.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): We will discuss it.