Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 22 November, 2000

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

2. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in connection with the need to advance the process of demilitarisation along the Border. [21261/00]

3. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance in Galway on 9 October 2000 at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22013/00]

4. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Mallon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22015/00]

5. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 10 October 2000. [22069/00]

6. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, at Downing Street. [22083/00]

7. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with Mr. Séamus Mallon of the SDLP in Dublin. [22084/00]

8. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on all the issues he discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in London on 10 October 2000. [21618/00]

9. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting in London with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and the outcome of their discussions on Northern Ireland. [21621/00]

10. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on 10 October 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21930/00]

11. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will [823] make a statement on his meeting on 10 October 2000 with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Séamus Mallon. [21947/00]

12. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his attendance and speech at the meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body on 9 October 2000 in Galway. [21948/00]

13. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in London on 10 October 2000. [22178/00]

14. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if, in the context of his recent discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, he discussed the possibility of holding a summit meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference which last met on 17 December 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22868/00]

15. Mr. Currie asked the Taoiseach if a date has been fixed for his next meeting with the leadership of the republican movement. [23279/00]

16. Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Taoiseach his views on whether it is appropriate to examine the military style wording of our national anthem in view of the changed circumstances following the Good Friday Agreement. [21238/00]

17. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental Conference was held; when the next meeting will be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24062/00]

18. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach when he next plans to meet representatives of the republican movement; if, at the next meeting, he will raise with representatives of the republican movement the plight of the many people who have been exiled from Northern Ireland under the threat of death or serious injury; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24063/00]

19. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Séamus Mallon. [24071/00]

20. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Ulster Unionist Party Council meeting in Belfast on 28 October 2000. [24142/00]

21. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will outline his assessment of the implications for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of the decisions taken by the Ulster Union[824] ist Council at its meeting on 28 October 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24521/00]

22. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach to make a statement on his telephone discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, regarding the outcome of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting on 28 October 2000. [24522/00]

23. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his telephone conversation with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on Monday, 30 October 2000. [24525/00]

24. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach his discussions with the British Prime Minister since 28 October 2000. [24580/00]

25. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the status of the Northern Ireland peace process following the Ulster Unionist Conference. [24585/00]

26. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 3 November 2000 with the President of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25502/00]

27. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach his response following the recent meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25504/00]

28. Mr. Hayes asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in the context of the current difficulties in the peace process. [25506/00]

29. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Mr. Séamus Mallon. [25512/00]

30. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting of 3 November 2000 with the President of Sinn Féin. [25513/00]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 30, inclusive, together.

I met the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in Downing Street on Tuesday, 10 October, at Biarritz on Thursday, 12 October, on the eve of the informal European Council meeting, in Seoul on the margins of the ASEM Summit, and we have also spoken on numerous occasions by telephone. I have also had meetings with Deputy First Minister, Séamus Mallon, Mr. Ken Maginnis and Mr. Gerry Adams. These meetings are part of the intensive contacts in which the two Governments are engaged, directly and with the pro-Agreement parties and which will continue in the immediate future.

As I said in the course of exchanges at the 21st plenary meeting of the British-Irish Interparlia[825] mentary Body in Galway on 9 October last, if people stretched themselves and made one last heroic effort, the remaining problems could be sorted out. That is what we are working towards and what we are determined to achieve.

In terms of the decisions reached at the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council on 28 October, it is clear that new difficulties on the peace process have arisen. I stress again that these difficulties can be resolved. While I do not wish to understate the difficulties, it is important for us to approach the matter coolly and not to over-react. Two important sectoral meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council, on trade and business development and on tourism, took place on 27 October, the eve of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting. North-South ministerial meetings are continuing, including meetings on EU programmes and on agriculture which took place last week. Further meetings are planned.

A series of intensive contacts between all sides is already under way and will continue over the coming days and beyond in order to help ensure a speedy resolution to current problems. As has been seen many times before in this process, we will need to build and enhance confidence on all sides if we are to resolve the current difficulties. In this connection, the second inspection of IRA arms dumps was an important confidence building measure.

A summit meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held on 17 December 1999, on the same day as the first plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council. I did not discuss the matter of a further summit meeting of the conference with Mr. Blair during our recent meetings, but this is a matter which can be pursued at official level. The second plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council, which, as Deputies will be aware, was postponed due to the untimely and deeply regretted death of the First Minister of Scotland, Donald Dewar, will be rescheduled for a date to be agreed among the participants. It is hoped that it will be held before Christmas.

As I have indicated in relation to the meeting with the Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, in Dublin on Friday, 3 November, we reviewed current difficulties in considerable detail, including in relation to the North-South Ministerial Council. Due to the focus of the meeting, I did not raise on this occasion – although I have done so on several other occasions – the situation of people exiled from Northern Ireland as a result of threats from paramilitary organisations. However, the position of the Government on this deplorable situation is well known and has been made very clear to parties with influence in this area on many occasions.

Finally, the wording of our national anthem has not been raised in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, nor do I see any reason that it should be.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach's view is that the [826] current difficulty should be dealt with coolly and kept in proportion and the achievements to date set against whatever difficulties there may be at the moment, which are considerable. First, in regard to the difficulties, has he had any indication from the republican movement as to why the IRA is unwilling to engage in discussion with General de Chastelain? Second, has he had any indication from the republican movement as to whether it is its intention to decommission its weapons at any likely foreseeable stage? Has he asked it that question and, if so, has he got an answer?

Third, on a related matter, given that the Good Friday Agreement provides for cross-Border co-operation in trade, has the Taoiseach made representations to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw the proposal in his pre-budget statement which would involve a special levy being paid by Irish or non-UK trucks which use roads in Northern Ireland in view of the fact that if this were to be put in place it would artificially interfere with cross-Border trade and the carriage of goods from one part of the Republic to another if they go through Northern Ireland on their journey? Has the Taoiseach taken up this matter with the British authorities at any stage?

The Taoiseach: On the first two matters, it is my wish that the IRA would engage as early as possible with General de Chastelain to discuss real and meaningful efforts to deal with arms, arms dumps and related matters. It has not been possible to achieve this. On the Deputy's question about the response, I give the response I get rather than my view. The response continually is that matters which have been set out by the British Government in discussions, some of which I have been a party to, have not developed, for example, in areas where there was a quid pro quo or understanding on demilitarisation, the Patten report, OTRs and other related issues, confidence building measures and a determination by the British Government which would show confidence in the process. Since these have not happened, the IRA or its intermediaries have not engaged in discussions with General de Chastelain for many months.

We have to make progress on this issue as part of the outstanding issues. However, we are unlikely to see progress on this issue until some of the other issues have been moved forward as well. It is inevitable that these issues will move in tandem. There will be no understanding on the other issues until there is some indication on the success of the dialogue with General de Chastelain. We have gone beyond the stage where there will be a meeting between the IRA intermediary, or one of its members, and General de Chastelain if there is not going to be real dialogue and progress.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is not going anywhere.

The Taoiseach: For many months I have not [827] been available for a meeting unless it is one of substance. I want to be frank about this. If a meeting is the same as a previous one, it is not of much benefit and it will only lead us into further difficulties and create more difficulties on the other side.

We need to secure an understanding that the IRA will re-engage with General de Chastelain and this will lead to some process. I cannot say exactly what will happen at the end of the day, but if other things happen, the dialogue could be meaningful. It is abundantly clear to me and everyone else – there may be difficulties on other issues, but there is an acknowledgement by everyone of the reality on this issue – that in order to achieve these two points there must be progress on the completion and finalisation of the Patten report, meaningful progress on demilitarisation as per the earlier commitments and more movement by the British Government and republican movement on this issue and the OTR issues. I believe this is the fair view not only of the Government but also of the British Government, the UUP and others.

On the trade-related matter, I have discussed this with the Minister for Finance, particularly as regards the statement by many countries that questions arise as to whether this measure is compatible with EU law in the first instance.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is not.

The Taoiseach: From my reading of it, I do not think it is. I have raised the matter but will check if it has been pursued.

Mr. Hayes: Given the 6 May historic statement by the IRA that it wants to verifiably put arms beyond use, will the Taoiseach agree that the continuous inspections of an existing number of arms dumps does not equate with verifiably putting arms beyond use? Is that the position held by the Taoiseach and the Government? Will the Taoiseach agree that Article 15.6 of the Constitution is being violated while these dumps exist within the State in that it states: “No military or armed force other than a military or armed force raised and maintained by the Oireachtas shall be raised or maintained for any purpose whatsoever”? Are we not going down a very difficult road in that continuous inspection of existing sites will validate the maintenance of these arms dumps and the right of a person to hold such dumps?

The Taoiseach: The answer to the last question is “no”. The position of the Government, the Garda and the Army is that they are always on the alert to find dumps and they take whatever weapons they find. They are never validated regardless of what goes on. The Garda and the security forces are always vigilant and have been successful in the past year in finding some dumps. That position never changes.

I hope Maarti Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa [828] continue to inspect arms dumps. They have an understanding with the people with whom they keep in contact and then they report back to the two Governments. It is hoped they will make further inspections. Deputy Hayes asked whether I thought there should be more inspections. It is obvious that I do, but that is not enough to resolve the issue. That is precisely the dilemma in which Mr. Trimble and his colleagues find themselves. If there is not more engagement in arms inspections, there will not be a conclusion.

Equally, I am slow to comment on what would bring this to a conclusion, as is everybody else, because the bar may be put too high and more difficulties would be created. The view of the republican movement is that if the British Government had made more determined progress since 6 May last, over six months ago, it could have moved in more unspecified innovative and imaginative ways. I cannot make a judgment on that. For example, even if there had not been a resolution of the OTR issues, the British Government at the Labour Party conference many weeks ago laid down the circumstances in which it would deal with people who will be repatriated but who had a criminal record and it set down a mechanism to do so, yet nothing has happened on those issues as far as I, the republican movement, Sinn Féin and the SDLP are aware. That creates difficulties.

The way to deal with this is to be alert to the difficulties, to try to maintain momentum to resolve them but not to overstate them. It is a pity there are difficulties but at the same time there has been immense progress and we must find resolutions to these difficulties in as calm a way as possible.

Mr. Sargent: Following the Taoiseach's meeting with Mr. Séamus Mallon of the SDLP, has thought been given, in the interest of the common cause of peace on both parts of the island and given the leap of faith required of people in Northern Ireland to accept changes in policing, to updating or reforming police institutions on this side of the Border and to the possibility of trying to assist through common cause the acceptance of changes in the North if such was the case?

In discussions with Séamus Mallon or any other ministerial representatives in the Northern Assembly were agricultural issues, which are pressing on both sides of the Border, raised, particularly BSE and the rural environmental protection scheme which operates to two different standards, North and South, as will organic certification in future? The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, is familiar with this. Has a common approach been adopted to ensure both sides of the Border have common standards on such issues?

The Taoiseach: There have been numerous meetings on agricultural issues. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, and the Ministers of State at the [829] Department, Deputies Davern and O'Keeffe, co-operate closely with their Northern counterparts. This emanates from close co-operation between farming organisations and the Department over a long number of years in regard to EU programmes, the BSE crisis and rural development. There are many areas of co-operation. The IFA and the ICMSA have close dealings with the farming association in Northern Ireland. I am not sure about meetings in the past two weeks on the issue we discussed yesterday but at various meetings agricultural issues have been discussed. The first area of co-operation two years ago was in regard to the pig trade and the difficulties in Northern Ireland when some factories were destroyed.

On policing, the Garda has already made clear that it will give any help it can through its training programmes and facilities in Templemore and through experience and knowledge. RUC members who worked in Kosovo undertook some of their training in Templemore. There is close co-operation between both forces. The relationship between the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable and their senior officers continues to develop on a professional basis and that is to be welcomed. I am not sure whether there are any other areas of reform but the relationship between the two senior officers is closer than ever. The next stage in regard to the issues arising out of the Patten report is to wait for the implementation plan and see where we move on that.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree the greatest obstacle to advancing the entire process is the successful resolution of the arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland? Is the Government satisfied that the British Government, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has completed its proposals in respect of the operation and implementation of the recently passed legislation in Westminster to ensure that the de facto operation of the reformed police force in Northern Ireland will meet the tests of confidence of both communities to enable other areas of blockage with regard to the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement to be addressed?

Has the Taoiseach satisfied himself in recent days that an agreement and accommodation has been arrived at between the various parties to this process to ensure the operation and implementation of the new police legislation on the ground will meet the dual test it must pass to get agreement?

The Taoiseach: I wish I could say yes but I cannot. At the same time I do not want to get into damnations about how we can get through it. The legislation which was passed in the House of Commons late last night and which has been sent for royal assent has endured a long and arduous passage through all its stages. I am conscious that the Prime Minister, and particularly the Secretary of State, have endeavoured to listen to all the [830] cases which have been put and to try to reach compromises. He feels he has kept as close to Patten as he could. There are still numerous questions to be finalised not so much in the legislation, but in its operation.

We began this debate, as the House will recall, by talking about timing, which we moved on, then structures, which we moved on, and the third issue was flags and emblems. We have moved on that but not very progressively. The flags and emblems issue will be dealt with by the police authority which will be set up using the d'Hondt mechanism and an advertisement for the authority has been placed. Last night the Secretary of State put back the date for that until closer to Christmas. What he stated last night was not that different from what he stated before, but he changed the date on which the interim board will be set up in January. It is hoped it can begin to examine the flags and emblems issue in February and that it can resolve that matter.

A wiser counsel than I on flags and emblems, Séamus Mallon, said he did not see the police authority resolving that issue and that he believed it would revert to the Secretary of State. If I interpret the Secretary of State's remarks last night in a way I would like to, and they are on the record for people to interpret them, they do not seem unhelpful to the views of the SDLP, Séamus Mallon and his colleagues, who put an enormous effort into this matter. I am sure he would say that clarification would have to be sought on what was said last night in the debate. It must be removed from the context of the debate to be analysed and I am sure that will happen.

The issue of flags and emblems is enormously important and is not in line with Patten. Whatever about any emotion we would generate in the House about flags and emblems, I am sure Deputy Currie will remind me once again that it has an enormous ability to raise fury in Northern Ireland. I have not had one discussion with people from Northern Ireland, including SDLP colleagues, business people and others from a Nationalist or republican background, where they have not become enormously upset about this issue. They say the Patten report must be adhered to by the letter and deed. The emblems and flags issue must be as Chris Patten set out, it must not be related to either side. They will not buy any harp, shamrock and crown situation. That is their position from which they are not going to change and that has been made abundantly clear to me, no matter how much I talk around this issue. There are many historical and other reasons for this stance and it will not change.

The Secretary of State said he will publish the implementation plan within a month. If that happens, it will help discussion. He also said we must await proposals on the amalgamation of the CID and the Special Branch. I do not know the position on that, but it is also a very important matter. The final issue is the closing of Gough Barracks. These are the issues which must be addressed. [831] The Secretary of State, Mr. Mandelson, said yesterday he would think it unreasonable to ask the SDLP to declare its support or otherwise until those matters are finalised, and I agree with that.

Mr. Currie: The Taoiseach will not be surprised that my view has not changed that acceptable policing, meaning a police service young Nationalists and republicans can join, is absolutely necessary. If it does not happen, does the Taoiseach agree that, eventually, the Good Friday Agreement will collapse?

Does the Taoiseach also agree that, when the republican movement announced it was prepared to accept inspection of its arms dumps, it made clear that this was a confidence building measure and was not to be confused with decommissioning? In those circumstances, will the Taoiseach, when next he meets the republican movement, not ask, request or urge some movement on decommissioning but demand on behalf of the Government and everyone in the House, with the exception of one Member, some movement, not in terms of engagement with de Chastelain but in terms of decommissioning? Will the Taoiseach demand that?

In case the Taoiseach thinks I have forgotten about it, will he remind the republican movement the next time he meets it that the disappeared issue has not gone away and that there are relatives and people such as myself who believe information regarding this continuing agony of relatives exists within the republican movement that has not been disclosed?

Will the Taoiseach also point out to the people he meets their hypocrisy in demanding the release of all republican prisoners in Northern Ireland and Britain and that charges be dropped against people on the run when they continue to be in favour of the banishment from Northern Ireland of people who have not been convicted of any offence but some of whom showed considerable courage in standing up to local republican IRA führers in their midst?

The Taoiseach: I note and agree with what Deputy Currie said regarding policing. Clearly, unless the police service in Northern Ireland becomes one acceptable to all communities and representative of them in near equal measure, those difficulties will continue.

Regarding the question of decommissioning, I have put the Deputy's case repeatedly and the representatives have made that case on numerous occasions to those who have control over arms. I never confuse the inspections with decommissioning although they are helpful and have proved to be such. However, they will not resolve the entire problem and I am aware of that, regardless of what the final resolution may be and without specifying it.

On the issue of the disappeared, the commission for the location of victims' remains comprising the former Tánaiste, John Wilson, and Sir [832] Kenneth Bloomfield, submitted a report to the Irish and British Governments some time ago stating that, having reviewed the resumption of the searches and their extension at the request of the families, regrettably, no further remains were discovered and the commission, believing that the understandable distress of relatives could be compounded only by further searching with little prospect of success, agreed with the Garda Síochána to call off the searches.

The best judgment is that the unfortunately limited success in recovering the victims' remains was due to the fallibility of human memory combined with the changes in terrain at most search sites as well as the lapse of time since the victims were killed and interned in these sites. It now appears highly unlikely that any more useful information will be received about the location of the six victims who were not recovered. The commission does not envisage that any further information would be of a quality that would justify resumption of searches in these cases.

The commission is aware that there are a number of other disappeared victims to whom the Deputy referred and on whose location the commission has received no information. It is now widely held that it will not receive such information but it is willing to remain in being, albeit in abeyance, until the expiry of the 18 months since the commencement of the legislation so as to react to any further information which might appear to be authentic and reliable.

Mr. Currie: A defeatist attitude is not acceptable.

The Taoiseach: In fairness to the members of the commission, they have not been defeatist in any information they have received. They have gone to enormous—

Mr. Currie: They are not getting co-operation from those who know.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not intervene from a seated position.

The Taoiseach: In so far as any information they received from the community or those who might know, such as intermediaries and religious leaders, is concerned, they have certainly moved on.

Deputy Currie has raised the issue of banishment repeatedly. I have raised the issue that there is an inconsistency in talking about one side of the matter without talking about the other and have stated that there should be a public declaration of the lifting of the threats from these people who, for one reason or another, fell foul of individuals in control of these areas during difficult times. I understand this has been done in many cases locally but I stress that it should be done publicly.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Does the Taoiseach understand my surprise that, having [833] waited six weeks for an answer to Question No. 16, he gave no answer? Could I have an answer, please?

The Taoiseach: In my reply to the Deputy's question concerning the national anthem, I said that the wording of the anthem had not been raised in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Equally, I said that I did not seen any reason why it should be.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Some 90% of the people have voted for peace, yet the Taoiseach has spent most of today's Question Time talking about arms, dumping of arms, verification of arms and victims of arms. Is it not a contradiction if the Taoiseach sees nothing wrong with people singing about guns and bullets?

The Taoiseach: We have to put all these difficulties behind us. In all my deliberations and discussions with all sides, parties and groups, nobody has asked me to change the national anthem.

Mr. Quinn: Arising from the Taoiseach's replies today and the meeting he had with the historic first delegation from the Scottish Parliament, will he confirm that the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body will be replaced by a British-Irish parliamentary tier provided for in strand three of the Good Friday Agreement, giving equal status to the representatives from the five – indeed, six if one includes the Isle of Man – elected assemblies on these islands? When can that be formalised and put into its proper context so that part of confidence-building within the context of the agreement can be put in place? We have waited long enough for this.

The Taoiseach: I do not disagree with Deputy Quinn on this matter. He will recall that the reason we moved quickly on an interim basis was to have the meeting at that time. I raised this matter with our Scottish colleagues and I will talk to the co-chairmen of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. I was asked about this at the body's meeting in Galway last month and I said that I was in favour of doing this structurally. I understand that before the body meets again it will do so. I will talk to the co-chairmen to try to finalise it.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that there are two important issues in the matter of policing, one, obviously, being policing structures to ensure accountability, and the other, more difficult, one being the issue of respect for both communities and for the sense of oppression that some feel as a result of history? Does the Taoiseach not agree that a model for resolving these issues of respect and symbolism is to be found in the fact that the Executive was able to agree a non-contentious symbol for the Government of Northern Ireland, namely, the bunch of flax which is a symbol of an industry in Northern Ireland that transcends both communities? Does [834] the Taoiseach agree there could, therefore, be merit in all parties to the Good Friday Agreement coming together to see whether they could find a symbol or set of symbols that would engender the respect necessary from both traditions? Does the Taoiseach not agree that the success of the Executive – some might say an unsung success – in finding an agreed symbol for the Government should be able to transfer itself to finding an agreed symbol for what is essentially a subsidiary institution, namely, the police force?

The Taoiseach: It did have that success but, unfortunately, the Assembly itself discussed flags and emblems and could not resolve the issue. It was referred to the Executive which could not find a resolution to it either and, thus, referred it to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They could not resolve it and that is how it was—

Mr. Quinn: It looks like St. Peter is in for a busy Christmas.

Mr. J. Bruton: Perhaps the lesson is that they should try harder.

The Taoiseach: I had better not agree or disagree with that comment. They have had a round of it. I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State because the legislation has been moved to the police authority. Of course, as has already been stated, it will not be resolved by the police authority which is actually being formed on the basis of the d'Hondt system, so it is the political representation that will form that. He will then be back to the difficulty again. Maybe the best way is to stick as closely as possible to what Patten has stated because there is some agreement on that. We have to resolve it, however, because it is fundamentally important. It is as clear as daylight that if we do not get a resolution to this, the declaration of support – or otherwise, but let us hope it is support – for the new police authority and police service in Northern Ireland will not happen or work. The issue has to be resolved. It is probably not the only one, but it is the biggest issue that we will have to resolve before we can conclude this part of the business. Without seeming to interfere in it, from our perspective we certainly have no difficulties with what happened on the emblem for Government. We have suggestions on the flags issue. The policing issue is an extremely difficult one to resolve and in the course of all the deliberations on the Bill there was no resolution to it either.

Mr. Hayes: The Taoiseach is aware of the recent establishment of the Office of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which is an independent office staffed by 45 people dealing with complaints by the public about the new police service in Northern Ireland. Given the public disquiet on the issues of Abbeylara and Donegal and the fact that under the current system com[835] plaints against the gardaí are investigated by the Garda authorities, would the Taoiseach consider it useful to implement a similar, independent ombudsman's role for the Garda Síochána?

Mr. Sargent: My question ties in with the previous one from Deputy Hayes. The reply the Taoiseach gave to my questions on the last occasion I spoke was that there is co-operation between North and South in policing, agriculture and other areas. Is the Taoiseach saying that there will be no reform of policing south of the Border? Will there be a common standard concerning agricultural matters, North and South? I realise there is co-operation, but the question I posed was about a common standard in different areas.

The Taoiseach: There has been no discussion on an ombudsman for the Garda Síochána. Our legislation provides a mechanism for complaints against the Garda Síochána and, of course, when there are difficulties, as in Abbeylara, an outside officer investigates and the report is before a—

Mr. Hayes: The Garda Síochána does the investigating.

The Taoiseach: Yes, that is admitted.

Mr. Hayes: It is distinctly different from the Abbeylara situation.

The Taoiseach: In fairness to our gardaí, I do not think they have been subject to the same level of accusations, factual or otherwise, as their colleagues in the North, who, I know, are in entirely different circumstances. Neither has the Garda Síochána lost the number the RUC has over the years, in very difficult circumstances. I do not think it is a comparable issue.

The issues in Donegal are under intense investigation also. The Minister has powers in these matters when such powers are required. Admittedly, the investigations are conducted by the Garda Síochána. As of this stage, a case has not been made to do that in a very different way. The complaints system that I have seen in operation over the years is fair. Many officers have been disciplined and dealt with by their superiors through that mechanism.

As regards Deputy Sargent's question, in so far as possible, concerning agricultural matters within the EU, there is no reason they should not have co-operation and joint studies and implement matters jointly. It is a separate jurisdiction, but there is an attempt to co-operate fully in as many areas as possible, not only in sharing information but in working together. We will see more of this in many areas through the North-South Ministerial Bodies.

Mr. Sargent: The Border goes through farms.

The Taoiseach: The legislation is different, [836] however. They answer to legislation which is enacted in the House of Commons. The legislation we work with is enacted here so there is not, and cannot be, joint legislation. The Deputy knows the ramifications of going down that road at this stage, so that is certainly not envisaged. In so far as they can, however, they will do these things.