Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Seanad, 23 October 2002: Part 2
In keeping with its mandate under the Agreement, the Conference reviewed a number of confidence issues, including the process of security normalisation, and the implementation of changes to the Criminal Justice system. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the review of the operation of the Parades Commission and the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings were also discussed, and we agreed to meet again in the format of the Conference in December.
The Conference also discussed the implications of suspension for the operation of the various institutions under the Agreement. In our discussions, we reflected the determination of both Governments to protect the achievements of the Agreement in all its aspects, and considered what practical steps are needed to be taken in this regard.
One such practical issue, that our officials will now address, is the continued operation of the all-island Implementation Bodies. They now employ over 600 people throughout Ireland in locations such as Enniskillen, Cork, Scarriff, Newry and Omagh. Taken together, the total budget for these Bodies is of the order of 200 million euro. In a short space of time, they have become a vital part of the economic and social fabric of the island.
Another central element of the Agreement is the issue of policing, and over the last 12 months, substantial progress has been made in this area.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has come into being, drawing recruits on a 50:50 basis from both communities. A Policing Board has been established, which has proven to be one of the key achievements of the Agreement to date. Since its creation, the Board has shown that it is capable of dealing with controversial and sensitive issues in a positive and cohesive way. I am therefore glad that its existing members have agreed to continue serving on the Board during the period of suspension, continuing their commendable work on a new era of policing in Northern Ireland. While much has been achieved on this issue, there is undoubtedly more to be done to realise the vision of a police service that is acceptable to all sides of the community.
We will continue to drive forward the agreed agenda for change, including the introduction of the additional legislation by the British Government provided for under the revised Implementation Plan. The progress achieved on policing through the Agreement should not be materially affected by the suspension, and we will continue to move the agenda forward in the weeks and months ahead. I was pleased that, at yesterday's meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British Government confirmed its intention to introduce amending legislation as early as possible in the forthcoming Parliamentary Session, in accordance with the provisions of the revised Implementation Plan.
The Agreement signalled the prospect of a fresh start for a divided community. We must continue to move further along the road towards a full normalisation of society in Northern Ireland. There have been set-backs. In recent times, and throughout a tense summer, we have witnessed a series of violent events that we had all hoped were consigned to the past – sectarian murders, vicious sectarian attacks, pipe-bomb attacks, punishment beatings and shootings. The fact that these are still occurring is a stark warning to us all that complacency is not an option. We are continuing to make it very clear to all in Northern Ireland that such attacks simply have to stop.
At yesterday's Conference meeting, we were briefed by the Chief Constable and the Deputy Garda Commissioner on cross-border security matters. There was also a wide-ranging discussion on paramilitary activities, sectarian violence and disturbances in interface areas. The two Governments restated our message that there can be no place in Northern Ireland for the twin scourges of paramilitarism and sectarianism.
I am particularly concerned at the systematic and ongoing violence of loyalist paramilitaries. The PSNI has certified that the majority of the serious violence, including murder, has been coming from that quarter. The serious injury of two young teenagers, who were struck by a pipe-bomb in East Belfast last night, is a shocking and barbaric act. This litany of crime and thuggery has to be brought to a complete and rapid end. I have no doubt that the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, is determined to stamp down on such nakedly sectarian attacks. I particularly welcome yesterday's find of weapons in the Rathcoole area of North Belfast, and I wish to reiterate the Government's strong support for the PSNI in all of their efforts to bring an end to this violent sectarianism.
Continuing and effective policing reform is the best guarantee that the rule of law will prevail and that those responsible are made accountable for their criminal activities. Vulnerable communities are entitled to the protection of effective and consistent policing. Equally, the PSNI, who undertake that difficult task, are entitled to expect the support of all the community whom they wish to serve.
Looking forward, I think that Senators will agree with the comments made by the Chairman of the Labour Court, Finbar Flood on Questions and Answers two weeks ago when he said that when trust breaks down in industrial relations, it requires the parties to make a quantum leap to salvage the situation. This perceptive insight is also a valuable one in the current context of the peace process. There is clearly a need for such a leap on all sides to get clear of the present impasse.
While I strongly believe that this quantum leap can happen, it will require that all parties to the process undertake a rendevous with reality. If we are to make the great leap forward; to substantially advance the transition from paramilitarism to democracy; and refurbish the trust and confidence that is required for partnership government to operate, then we all need to get real. We need an end to tactical games, to polemical posturing and paramilitary muscle flexing. Civic society on this island needs to send a clear message that no one should be playing party political games in the peace process. Everyone should be getting on with it, leaving any partisan tactics and unhelpful behaviour behind.
All of the parties that subscribed to the Agreement have a contribution to make in now achieving the political context which allows its potential to be fully realized. The Agreement was the product of a huge collective endeavour across the spectrum of politics in Northern Ireland. In renewing and revitalizing the Agreement, we again need to harness the energy and talent of that collective input. In consultation with the parties, the Secretary of State and I are currently considering how that collective engagement should best be structured and deployed.
We have a come a long way since Good Friday, 1998. The two Governments are determined that the achievements of the last 4 years will not be squandered but will be maintained and developed. However, we now have a challenge and an opportunity to finish the job. That requires us to establish the political context which entrenches both peace and total equality, which are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. Peace involves an end to the practice and culture of paramilitarism and equality demands an unambiguous and permanent acceptance of partnership politics and inclusive government.
With the continued support of this House, that is the urgent and vital task the Government will be addressing in the weeks and months ahead.