Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs to Dáil Eireann on Saint Andrews, 18th October 2006
Check Against Delivery
Statements on Saint Andrews
Dail Eireann, 18th October, 2006
Concluding Comments, Dermot Ahern, TD,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
A Cheann Comhairle
I thank party leaders for their support for our efforts. The Government greatly appreciates that cross-party goodwill.
Achieving a better future for all the people of Northern Ireland through full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is a goal that has always transcended party-political concerns.
The peace process is stronger for it.
I want to particularly acknowledge the efforts of our many friends in the US and, in particular, US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss. We were particularly grateful Ambassador Reiss could join us at Saint Andrews.
A Cheann Comhairle
Allow me to respond to some specific points made in this debate.
Yesterday's postponement of the Programme for Government Committee: We envisaged the Programme for Government Committee would have its initial meeting yesterday. It was disappointing that didn't happen.
But the obstacle is not insurmountable. There are some signs that a way forward will be found soon. I know this House would urge all parties to get down to work quickly and to remain steadfast in the face of those whose interests lie in frustrating progress.
We don't underestimate the challenges ahead. The path we proposed is a demanding one – for all parties.
But we need also to be careful that we don't amplify difficulties which will inevitably arise.
No issue is so difficult or intractable that it can not be resolved through discussion between the parties themselves.
Conversely, without direct contact, problems appear bigger than they are.
Referendum: We have proposed that an agreement on the St Andrews package should be endorsed by the electorate in Northern Ireland in March, before restoration. We know there are different views as to whether endorsement would be required here. That is clear from this debate.
This underlines the need for a measured approach based on the advice sought from the Attorney General. The Government will not rush to judgment on an issue of this importance.
Peace Dividend: We are committed to working with the parties to establish the most favourable possible financial climate for the Executive. There is already broad agreement between the parties on what is needed. Work is underway at official level with the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Finance will meet delegations from the First and Deputy First Minister to take this forward.
A Cheann Comhairle
If it has taken a long time to get here, that is because one crucial element had always been missing. That element is confidence.
The DUP lacked the confidence that Sinn Fein was really committed to fully and wholeheartedly support the police.
Sinn Fein was not convinced that the DUP was really prepared to share power on a basis of equality and mutual respect.
The Governments cannot create confidence where it is lacking. But we can create a process which allows confidence to grow incrementally to the point where genuine partnership government becomes a reality.
That is what we achieved at Saint Andrews.
The moment when the Taoiseach presented Dr Paisley with a bowl sculpted from a walnut tree which stood at the Boyne battle site for over 250 years was a truly remarkable moment.
Dr Paisley spoke of a new light which would shine on our children and grandchildren.
For almost twenty years I have been closely engaged – in different capacities - in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
As a young newly elected TD I was involved in some of the earliest contacts aimed at finding a way out of what was then a spiral of violence.
As Joint Chairman of the British Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, I oversaw a cementing of the British – Irish relationship which has been and remains a cornerstone of this process.
As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I worked to build the practical North/South cooperation that is at the heart of this all-island economy.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, the restoration of power-sharing Government has been my overwhelming priority.
On Friday last, for the first time in my career, I witnessed a moment when all parties – including the DUP – began to believe that we can soon see a durable power-sharing Government in Northern Ireland.
That is a very great prize. We must – and we will - keep it clearly in sight.Top