Statement in the Dail on the IICD Report by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen, T.D., Part 2
The significance of yesterday's events have been generously recognised by the vast majority of people on these islands. There are, alas, a small minority of siren voices who wish to degrade yesterday's achievement and to keep the issue open as a potential brake in the further outworking of the peace process. I fully share Prime Minister Blair's views in this regard - we must not let the wreckers or the cynics win. Those who seek to destroy the Agreement by force or intimidation will be dealt with severely by the forces of law and order in both parts of the island. Moreover, those who dismiss the significance of the IICD verification will confirm suspicions that their ultimate agenda is resistance to change rather than resolution of the arms issue.
October 23, is the day on which we collectively drew a line under the difficulties in implementing the Good Friday Agreement and resolved to get on with finishing the job. There is now no substantive reason why we should not press on with delivering all of the commitments contained in the Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement was a profound important charter for change, democratically endorsed in both parts of the island. Through its outworking, it has already achieved a great deal. However, a great deal more needs to be done if the promise and full dividend of the Agreement is to be made real in the lives of the people in North Belfast, the Falls Road, the Shankill, Portadown, South Armagh, the Waterside in Derry and places in between.
For instance, the people of South Armagh need in real time to see visible evidence of change. Its hard to believe that the war is over if you live under a military watch tower and have to endure daily intrusions by the British Army. I understand that the Secretary of State intends to make some announcements in this regard in the House of Commons this afternoon. This important work has begun from today.
The Government ,and indeed all parties in this House, attach particular importance to the stable and inclusive operation of the institutions of the Agreement and, in particular, to its North/South architecture. The reason for that is very simple. If we are to build a future on this island that is different from the past then a cornerstone of that has to be a new partnership between North and South and between all traditions on the island.
The North/South Ministerial Council and the North/South Bodies have made an impressive start to their work since they were brought about in December 1999. Without exception all meetings of the Council have taken place in a positive, constructive atmosphere and an extensive programme of work is underway across the various sectors involved. The North/South Bodies and the new Tourism Company, Tourism Ireland, are well up and running and getting on with their important mandates.
We all know of course that, despite the progress, some difficulties in the wider political process spilled over into the workings of the North/South institutions. But thanks to the ground-breaking developments of this week these difficulties can now be put behind us and we will be free to press on with the many tasks that require to be done in North/South terms.
This breaking of the log-jam at last releases the full possibilities of the North/South institutions. Despite the wider political difficulties which I have mentioned, they have already demonstrated their tremendous potential, with 37 successful meetings of the Council held to date and up to a thousand staff, drawn from North and South working effectively in the new Bodies and in Tourism Ireland.
But this is not just a paper exercise or a symbolic gesture. These are living, breathing institutions and structures dealing with critical issues that matter to all the people on this island, issues such as special education, emergency healthcare, cross-border trade, road safety, and tourism promotion.
It is my belief that, in this new climate, the North/South provisions of the Agreement can yield some of the most positive, practical benefits for the people of this island. These structures give us the opportunity to tackle our common concerns and objectives in a new, strategic way, opening up the possibility of a genuine all-island approach to issues where it makes the most obvious sense. Everyone has something to gain from this approach.
It should now be possible for us to take our planning forward in a genuine spirit of partnership in key areas such as the environment, tourism, spatial strategy, transport and energy. Even where some of these issues are outside the current remit of the North/South Council, such as energy, the dynamic of North/South cooperation has progressed to such a degree and the level of Ministerial inter-action is now so advanced, that I firmly believe that these key policy areas will never again be examined or taken forward in a purely 26 or 6 county mind-set.
This is the transformation that is possible if these structures are developed and utilised to the full. No one can claim that they are being mis-used as some sort of cloaking device for a political agenda. The agenda is open and clear. Against the constitutional background set out in the Agreement, we need to overcome the fact that the political border on this island has been economically disruptive, socially and culturally divisive to the hindrance and detriment of all for far too long. Everyone must recognise by now that working together is to our mutual benefit and advantage. And under the terms of the Agreement, all of these actions are taken forward in cooperation with our Northern Ministerial partners, so there can be nothing to suspect or fear.
There is now a dynamic agenda for action. We hope to hold an early Plenary meeting of the NMSC to take forward important work on practical issues such as the tackling of Obstacles to Mobility between both parts of the island, developing common approaches to economic competitiveness and re-energising the programmes of work in the individual sectors of the Council. On the part of the North/South Bodies, InterTradeIreland has a major programme of activity ahead in terms of promoting greater trade and business links and interaction between North and South. Tourism Ireland is getting on with tackling the huge challenges that have arisen in seeking to market the island overseas in the wake of the horrific events of 11 September, a task that can only be made easier by this new strategic partnership.
And this is but a flavour of what lies ahead. The common theme through all of this is mutuality of interest. Across a whole range of areas there is a deep mutuality of interest between North and South. We must now set about, through the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and through other linkages, turning this potential into reality. In doing so, we must harness the new energy and maturity that has been released by this week's developments and begin a new dynamic era on this island at all levels, based on partnership, equality and mutual respect.
For too long we have lived back to back on this small island, cut off from one another. It is time for us to start working side by side on the basis of respect for the diversity of our traditions and for the constitutional architecture set down in the Good Friday Agreement, in the common interest of all our people. And that is a challenge for everybody on this island, which we must now take on and meet.
Last week, Archbishop Eames spoke - perhaps prophetically - about the response to decommissioning being as important as decommissioning itself. He said what was needed was a change in attitude; a movement of minds. Yesterday's developments enables that change and movement; it allows us to recapture the spirit of Good Friday 1998; to rededicate ourselves to the task of implementing its provisions in full; to be generous to erstwhile opponents; to believe again in the transforming power of democratic politics; to recognise that a context now exists on the island which allows us all to freely pursue our legitimate goals and aspirations; and to forswear the use of violence and intimidation for the achievement of any political purpose.