Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., Dáil Eireann, 27 May 2003 - Part 1
A Cheann Comhairle:
I propose to share my time with Deputy Séamus Kirk.
I am glad to have this opportunity to address the House on this very important subject and hope that our debate over the coming two nights will be constructive, forward looking and solution oriented.
When it reported in January, 1996, the International Body led by Senator George Mitchell stated that the people of Northern Ireland wanted “lasting peace in a just society in which paramilitary violence plays no part”. That is a simple yet powerful mission statement for the work we have all been about over recent years. While considerable progress has been made towards reaching those goals, we have not yet reached the final destination.
A significant step forward towards the achievement of a just society was taken on the 1st May when the Irish and British Governments published their Joint Declaration. This document is a comprehensive audit of the various commitments contained in the Good Friday Agreement. It is also a blueprint for the implementation of its outstanding aspects. It addresses a range of issues which derived from the Agreement and are central to the achievement of a just society in Northern Ireland – equality, human rights, criminal justice, policing and the normalisation of security arrangements on the ground.
When they met in Farmleigh on the 6th May, the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair agreed that, other than those aspects explicitly linked to acts of completion by others, the commitments contained in the Joint Declaration should now be implemented by both Governments. The meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which I co-chaired last week in London, was largely devoted to a detailed discussion on the implementation of the Joint Declaration and that work will be pro-actively advanced through the Conference.
It is a matter of great regret that some people have denounced the Joint Declaration. Since the content of the Joint Declaration is largely dictated by the terms of the Agreement itself, such a denunciation is either motivated by a partisan purpose or is a covert attack on the Agreement itself. It is doubly unfortunate that such assertions have the effect of reinforcing the perception, which I do not share, that many unionists are hostile to the notion of a just society, to the achievement of equality, or to a genuine partnership with nationalists.
I note that Jeffrey Donaldson MP is recently reported as calling for an unequivocal rejection of the Joint Declaration. Does such a statement imply a rejection of the goals of achieving a fully representative police service and a more effective and representative criminal justice system? Does it mean a summary dismissal of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, of adequately resourced and empowered Human Rights and Equality Commissions, of the elimination of the current unemployment differential between both communities, of an effective community relations strategy and of the need to regenerate deprived areas in both loyalist and nationalist communities? For we should recall that all of these practical measures of equality and renewal are at the core of the Joint Declaration.
I cannot believe that any substantial segment of the unionist community would so unequivocally turn its face away from such key objective requirements of a just society. These are requirements which protect both communities; they are emphatically not a concessionary agenda to any one side. An unequivocal rejection of the Joint Declaration may, of course, have more to do with the political fault-lines between nationalism and unionism or, indeed, within unionism itself. If so, it is a particularly dismal manifestation of the zero-sum mindset that we are trying to leave behind.