Part 2. Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen,TD, Seanad Éireann.
"Also, I would mention the North-South work being done in regard to the EU Structural Funds. Under the direction of the two Ministers for Finance and their respective officials, the Special European Programmes Body has done outstanding work in preparing the next round of draft Programmes which have a direct cross-border impact. These include INTERREG III and PEACE II, the successor programme to the very successful EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. The Special European Programmes Body has been very involved in the preparation of these draft programmes and will have an even stronger role in their implementation and delivery when they come on stream early next year.
Of course, North-South co-operation cannot, and should not, be the sole preserve of Government. Its transcending importance requires that we broaden its ownership across as wide a spectrum of society as possible. I am very supportive of the proposal in the Good Friday Agreement that a joint parliamentary forum be established. Similarly, given the clear benefits of structured engagement with the social partners in this jurisdiction and given the success of Partnership Boards in the North, this Government sees considerable merit in the establishment of an appropriate North-South Consultative Forum. The Agreement proposed that the matter be given consideration, and a working group of officials is currently examining the question and will report back to the next Plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in March 2001.
Given the scale and substance of this progress, the decision taken by the Ulster Unionist Council, and David Trimble's subsequent refusal to nominate Sinn Féin Ministers to attend meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council is disappointing and, in my view, misconceived.
Misconceived, because it is clear that the institutional and constitutional aspects of the Agreement are interlocking and interdependent. We have all pledged ourselves to working in good faith to ensure their success. Throughout this difficult process, if we have learned anything it is that progress will only be achieved through consensus and through a shared willingness to address each other's difficulties. It will not be achieved through the advancement of one party's interpretation of the Agreement and through the satisfaction of one party's demands. The Agreement belongs to all of the people of Ireland who voted for it. No one party is entitled to compromise the successful operation of the institutions and to put a block on progress to resolve difficulties that lie elsewhere.
Let there be no doubt, I fully share the UUP's desire - which is the desire not just of one community, but of the people of the island as a whole - to see arms put fully and verifiably beyond use, but equally I fear that the tactics that have been adopted will not secure that outcome.
That is not to ignore unionist difficulties. It is simply to state that they can best be addressed in the context of fully working institutions -and that means Sinn Féin Ministers participating in meetings on exactly the same basis as their ministerial colleagues.
We will work to overcome the present problems, but in doing so it must be absolutely clear that such tactics cannot and will not be deployed again further down the road.
The UUP sitting in Government and working the institutions with Sinn Féin and the SDLP is no more than was promised in the Agreement and than was endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South. The Agreement is a document of realistic compromise and balance, arising out of a particular set of circumstances and out of three tragic decades of violence. One of the most hard-won lessons of this process has been the need for inclusivity if we are to move forward on an agreed basis. The Agreement gives parties their seats on the Executive as of right, not as the outcome of subsequent discussion and negotiation. All Ministers come to the table and operate as equals.
While recognising current UUP difficulties, it is also worth recalling that others - including this Government - have had to take a sensitive and careful approach to the effective operation of the institutions. Parties in the North have had to deal with the DUP's refusal to take their seats around the table. And, as a result of that party's position, it has not yet been possible for a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council on transport to take place. Throughout, we have sought to reach a resolution of these difficulties in a manner which respects the integrity of the institutions under the Agreement and which can contribute to their successful operation.
It also has to be said that Republicans need to acknowledge that there is a deficit in unionist confidence that must be addressed if they, too, are to achieve all that the Agreement offers them.
The IRA statement of May was a vital part of securing the restoration of the institutions. It was a bold step forward. The subsequent inspections and reports from the two international inspectors have, likewise, been enormously helpful and reassuring. It is worth recalling that the inspectors reported that the IRA has fully honoured their commitments with respect to the inspections and that the inspectors are convinced that they will receive the same cooperation in future re-inspections.
If the positive momentum created by the May statement is to be sustained, we need to see movement on all of the commitments the IRA made taking place alongside the progress in the broader political context on which those commitments were based. The IRA promised re engagement with de Chastelain, and that did take place, albeit in a limited way. But it also promised that the IRA would enter into discussions with the Commission on the basis of the IRA leadership's commitment to resolving the issue of arms. We now need to see that level of truly meaningful engagement taking place.
I readily acknowledge the positive aspects of the IRA statement of 25 October - and in particular its reiteration of the IRA's commitment to a just and equitable peace settlement. The IRA said that they will resume discussions with the Commission only when they are satisfied that the peace process will be advanced by those discussions. However, it is clear to me that the process will always be advanced by such discussions.
In our statement in May, the two Governments asked the Independent Commission to consider, in consultation with representatives of the paramilitary organisations, whether there are any further proposals for decommissioning schemes which offer the Commission greater scope to proceed in more effective and satisfactory ways with the discharge of its basic mandate. This is clearly an area where substantial progress on resolving the question of arms can be made through dialogue.
The two Governments also have a vital role to play in creating the context in which progress can be made.
Policing is a matter that goes to the very heart of the new dispensation envisaged in the Agreement. Success on policing is, not to overstate it, essential to the success of the Agreement as a whole. For Nationalists, it is a touchstone issue - a willingness to accept transformative change on this issue is a vital signal that the new beginning for society can be achieved.
Policing was too difficult and too emotive an issue for the parties to the Agreement to be able to resolve themselves. Therefore, they rightly left it to an independent commission to come forward with proposals that could embody the vision of the Agreement. A vision of a new transformed society, with which Nationalists can identify and in which they can play a full, involved and active part. A vision where the differing identities and aspirations of the two communities are given equal respect and weight.
Through its work, the Patten Commission sought to make that vision a reality. And, if I might, I would like once again to pay tribute to the distinguished role played by the Commission - including, of course, your colleague Senator Maurice Hayes who made an immense contribution to the work of the Commission and who continues to bring his formidable talents to bear in this House - in bringing forward a comprehensive, balanced and achievable set of recommendations.
The approach of the Commission was right from the outset. As its Report stated, the Commission “did not try to balance what may be politically acceptable to this group against what is reckoned to be acceptable to that”. Rather, it brought forward proposals for a policing service which, in the words of the Agreement “can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen as an integral part of, the community as a whole”.
The Bill to give effect to the Patten recommendations brought forward by the British Government in May was, as I said at the time, deficient in many respects. Now that it has completed its passage through Westminster, it is only fair to acknowledge that efforts have been made to assuage Nationalist concerns in key areas and that the Bill has been improved in several important and significant respects.
However, perhaps in part due to the adversarial nature of the legislative process, there is a fear among many Nationalists that the big picture, the vision in the Agreement and in Patten has been lost sight of. A fear that seeking to weigh what is sought by one side against what is perceived to be unacceptable to the other could affect the transformative capacity of the project.
I believe that the Nationalist parties continue to want to see the project as a whole succeed. At his party's Conference, Séamus Mallon, for whom the question of policing has been a vital issue throughout his long and distinguished career, said that his party is willing to work the new arrangements if they are workable, but that the British Government must demonstrate this - not just in the Bill, but also in the Implementation Plan and in its wider attitudes. Sinn Féin, too, has stated that it is prepared to withhold its definitive decision until the final version of all of the various components are in place.
The time has now come to study and to reflect, to objectively assess how far we have come and to see what remains to be done. We need to work to build on the improvements that have been achieved, so that there is certainty and clarity as to what is going to happen and when. Most of all, perhaps, we need to work to build confidence and to provide reassurance that the vision and values of the Agreement and of the Patten Commission continue to lie at the heart of the policing project.
Bringing a satisfactory conclusion to a number of well-known cases that have undermined nationalist confidence in the administration of justice would also greatly help in creating a new context.
We will continue to work constructively with the parties and with the British Government in the days ahead. In doing so our priority should be clear. The policing project is too important, too central to the Agreement, to run the risk of it failing.
Without that Nationalist support, it simply cannot succeed. We must continue to work to ensure that it does.
Throughout the peace process we have learned that it takes cooperation to move forward. That the greatest progress is made when the two Governments work closely and cooperatively together. We have come to realise that neither community - nationalist or unionist - can succeed in having its needs met without the cooperation of the other. Like the institutions, the futures of the two traditions on this island are interlocking and interdependent. The parties need to be conscious of each other's immediate needs and to be willing to help one another out, so that full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects can be eventually secured.
Equally, the pace of our progress cannot be dictated by the forces of reaction on both sides. We need courageous leadership to ensure that respective political constituencies on both sides are led forward, not dragged backwards. We need to move on from the stop-start approach that impedes our progress and that threatens to undermine all that we have achieved.
We must avail of every opportunity to promote the benefits the Agreement offers us all. Economic opportunity and social inclusion measures are, after all, as important on the Shankill as they are on the Falls.
The people need to reassert their sense of ownership of the Agreement and to make their voices heard. Being part of a political leadership team can be a lonely and somewhat isolating experience. Civic society needs to be vocal and active in its support for the Agreement, to which the people of Ireland, North and South, gave their overwhelming endorsement. They need to stand four-square behind those who are struggling to see it implemented in full, so that their public representatives get on with their real day-to-day business. That will create the necessary trust and confidence. That will also resolve the more difficult issues in an active and politically dynamic context.
The Agreement provided us all with the opportunity for closure. To put an end to division and conflict and zero-sum gain. It offers us the chance to close the book on the tragedies of our past and to create a new and better future together.
There are those, republican dissidents included, who continue to advocate the violent methods of the past. They are doomed to fail. We will continue to be tireless in our efforts to bring those who resort to violence to justice. But, equally, we will defeat them by demonstrating that the Agreement does have the potential to create a truly new beginning and that politics works for everyone's benefit.
They are out of step with the people of Ireland, North and South who have chosen another, better, way. The people recognise that there is no credible or workable alternative to the Agreement. It is our future - there can be no turning back. We will continue to work with all of those who want to see the Agreement implemented in full. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts and we will succeed.