We now come to the Statements from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). I propose to take the statements now and then suspend the sitting for lunch. The statement should be available to Members in the Printed Paper Office immediately after it has been made to the House. After lunch Members will be free to respond, ask questions and make comments on its content in line with the time limits which were imposed when the Initial Standing Orders were debated.
Members who have experience in other places will know that, following a statement there is usually a question-and-answer session. However, given the important issues that are involved here, I am grateful to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) for agreeing to a somewhat unusual extension of time so that the Assembly can have its say. At the end of the Assembly’s consideration of the statement, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will have an opportunity to respond, if they wish.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) and I are grateful for this opportunity to make a statement to the Assembly on a number of matters, namely: the Industrial Development Board’s North American Investment Roadshow; the departmental structures; the North/South Ministerial Council; the British/Irish Council; the Civic Forum; and the forthcoming Brussels conference for Assembly Members.
In the first part of the statement I shall report on the North American investment roadshow, departmental structures and the British/Irish Council. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) will then deal with the North/South Ministerial Council, the Civic Forum and the Brussels conference.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) and I formally launched the North American Investment Roadshow in New York on 7 October 1998. The baton was subsequently taken up by Mark Durkan and Jeffrey Donaldson, who unfortunately had to cut short his involvement due to a family bereavement. He was replaced by Danny Kennedy. I want to thank all of them for the work that they have put in to this important initiative.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced this initiative in May of this year as part of his £315 million package of special assistance to Northern Ireland. The express aim of the Chancellor’s initiative is to underpin the economic aspects of the Belfast Agreement.
The North American Roadshow is the culmination of months of meticulous planning on the part of the Industrial Development Board. I acknowledge the personal involvement of the Chancellor — who was with us in New York —, the Secretary of State, Economy Minister, Mr Adam Ingram MP, Dr Alan Gillespie, the Chairman of the Industrial Development Board and the Industrial Development Board’s Chief Executive, Mr Bruce Robinson.
The programme also included our attendance at the launch of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s overseas market initiative in New York on 8 October 1998, also attended by Roy Bailie, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
By the end of this programme it is estimated that 1,100 key decision-makers in North America will have been directly briefed on the investment opportunity represented by Northern Ireland.
Three major investments have already been secured during the programme. Firstly, Boston-based Segue Software have announced a world-wide technical support centre in Belfast which will create 45 jobs over the next three years. Secondly, the major American insurance company Allstate Corporation, which has more than 20 million customers, has decided to establish a subsidiary in Northern Ireland which will create 250 new jobs. This will be the first offshore IT operation for the Allstate group. Thirdly — and this will not be in the printed statement because it only came to hand a short time ago — Nortel Networks, the Canadian-owned telecommunications company, has just announced that it is going to recruit 150 hardware and software design engineers at its Northern Ireland telecommunications engineering centre at Monkstown — a £4.7 million expansion which will see employment at the centre rise to 525 by 2001.
One of the really good features of the roadshow was the way in which North American businessmen, such as Ian Craig of Nortel, came to each presentation and spoke very strongly in support of the opportunities and of their very positive experiences in Northern Ireland. That was a very significant part of it.
The Industrial Development Board has also announced the opening of its fourth representative office in the United States which will be located in Boston.
The real success of programmes of this nature can only be measured over a period of years, just as each of the announcements made in the course of it have had a gestation period running back several months — in other words, before the roadshow began.
Turning to political developments, in our 14 September interim report to the Assembly, we presented a summary of the initial views on departmental structures expressed to us by the parties during the course of a series of meetings in early September. In addition to comments made by parties at the 14 September debate, we subsequently received written submissions from several parties. We have been taking advice from officials in the Northern Ireland Civil Service on the suggestions on departmental structures which have been made by the parties to date.
We have also been giving consideration to the functions of government which should be handled by the First and Deputy First Ministers. It is likely that the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers will have responsibility for providing the Secretariat to the Executive Committee and, possibly, also for the North/South Ministerial Council and the British/Irish Council.
Other functions could be added. For example, in most systems of government it is also normally the responsibility of a central Department to co-ordinate the activities of Government across the span of Departments, and to have responsibility for the management of the legislative programme. These are matters on which we would welcome the comments of the parties.
A further matter of importance is the question of whether junior ministerial posts should be established. The Northern Ireland Bill will provide for that, and will make it the responsibility of the First and Deputy First Ministers to determine a procedure for the appointment of such junior Ministers, subject to the approval of the Assembly. It will be important to have the views of parties, on the desirability of creating junior ministerial posts.
The Deputy First Minister and I have taken time to reflect on the views that have already been expressed to us by the parties in the course of our earlier consultations with them and in the written submissions which we have subsequently received. In doing so, I think it would be right to say that we are conscious of the fact that there is still some distance to travel before a definitive set of proposals on departmental structures and other issues can be arrived at. At the same time, we are both very conscious of the fact that we have been tasked by this Assembly to bring forward proposals on these and other matters. That is a responsibility in which we invest considerable significance.
I should like to take this opportunity to once again emphasise my commitment and that of the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to the implementation of the Belfast Agreement in all its aspects. We are committed to moving forward as quickly as possible to ensure that we discharge our responsibilities — not only to this Assembly but to the community at large in Northern Ireland.
Consequently, we have decided to initiate a further round of intensive consultations with all the parties in the Assembly. The purpose of those consultations is to enable us to complete our work on the possible shape of the new Northern Ireland administration and on the other institutions and areas of activity which the Agreement requires to be put in place. It is our intention to issue an invitation this evening to each of the parties in the Assembly to participate in those consultations.
I would now like to speak about the British/Irish Council. Work is proceeding on that issue also, and it is the responsibility of the constitution unit of the Cabinet Office in London. That is because of the international aspects of the subject matter. I understand that two documents are in preparation. The first of those is a formal memorandum of understanding between the British and Irish Governments. That will be necessary under the Belfast Agreement to bring the Council into operation.
The second document will contain draft procedural guidance dealing with the administrative arrangements for the Council. In addition, preparatory meetings have been held with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man to explain the nature of the British/Irish Council. The islands have indicated their willingness to participate in the Council. Since the new devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales will not come into existence until the summer of 1999, as a temporary arrangement the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales will represent the Scottish and Welsh interests.
We would welcome contributions from the parties on how the work of this important new Council is to be taken forward. Our current assumption is that the first meeting of the Council in shadow form will take place in London at approximately the same time as the first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. Again, these and other practical matters can be discussed at the consultations which are to begin later this week.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the First Minister about the Industrial Development Board Roadshow. I thank all the officials and Ministers who were involved in it and express satisfaction at the news today that Nortel is to expand its investment here. It was a very intensive visit. One of the benefits is that we got an insight into not just what was done but also what might be done and into ways in which the enormous potential could be fully realised. We could learn from that.
We had the satisfaction in Denver, Colorado, of hearing remarkably good news, not about inward investment but about the Nobel Peace Prize for the people of the North of Ireland through John Hume and David Trimble.
We recognise that despite the best efforts of everyone — I say everyone because I believe that people have worked in good faith on this issue, and I was in a position to see it at first hand — the deadline of 31 October will pass without the formation of the Executive or the inaugural meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council and the British/Irish Council.
That is the price we are paying for the deadlock on decommissioning, and it is a very high price. On the day of the referendum the Agreement ceased to belong to any Prime Minister, any political party or any section of the people in the North of Ireland. The people of the North of Ireland took ownership of that Agreement and mandated us to implement it. The will of the people has been denied. We, the representatives of those people, have been denied our proper role and responsibility to form an Executive and to scrutinise its work.
The date on which the machinery of government will come under the control of locally elected politicians remains uncertain. When I consider the many serious problems facing Northern Ireland — problems in agriculture, the uncertainty over hospitals, the decline in business confidence — I feel a deep sense of frustration, which, I believe, is shared by all Members of the Assembly, especially as people realise the enormous opportunity and potential that exist at this time. We can hold debates and pass motions, but if we are serious and want to be taken seriously we must face up to and resolve with urgency the immediate issues blocking the way to the formation of the Executive — not just decommissioning but also the structures of government and the areas for North/South implementation and co-operation. The First Minister (Designate) has already covered what needs to be done as regards departmental structures.
Sixthly, let me now outline what has been happening in respect of North/South matters and propose a way forward.
Following a series of bilaterals with the parties in early September we received a written submission from one party only: Sinn Fein. It is vital that other parties now make their views known to us. I readily accept that in those bilaterals much of the discussion was taken up with the determination of Departments. I ask that all parties now submit in writing their proposals for the implementation bodies.
In addition, the SDLP and the UUP have established a small working group. As Members will recall, we placed in the Library a summary of the technical assessments made by officials, under the authority of Mr Paul Murphy, the Minister for Political Development, of the 12 areas for co-operation and implementation listed in the Agreement.
We subsequently requested copies of the detailed assessments themselves, together with detailed assessments of 11 further areas. We have arranged today for copies of those technical assessments that have been completed to be placed in the Library and shall arrange for the other assessments to be added as they become available.
Officials have had a series of meetings with Irish Government officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and of Foreign Affairs. These have covered the preliminary steps to be taken in advance of the inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, including the preparation of a draft memorandum of understanding setting out an agreed approach to the proceedings and operation of the Council, along with the possible venue and outline agenda for the inaugural meeting.
Meetings have also taken place between officials from Northern Ireland Departments and Irish Departments in order to try to clarify issues arising from the technical assessments undertaken, referred to above, and to allow the Irish Departments to present their views on technical matters associated with possible implementation bodies.
It is therefore clear that most of the necessary technical preparatory work is well advanced. We must now generate the momentum of inter-party discussion on these matters, in particular the choice of areas for co-operation and implementation — and I know that this view is shared by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach.
We are proposing, as with departmental structures, a further round of intensive consultations involving round-table discussions and shall this evening be issuing the appropriate invitations to each of the parties in the Assembly. This will allow us to speedily finalise the proposals that we will ultimately put to the Assembly. The Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and their officials have assured us that they stand ready to help with this task.
If we can get this right and find the best way to associate ourselves with the most successful economy in Europe, then we will have performed a real service to our people — one that is of mutual benefit to the people North and South.
I also wish to deal with the work that is underway with regard to the Civic Forum. We are grateful to all of the parties, almost all of which made written submissions on this matter. We also received a wide range of submissions from outside organisations. Some common themes are emerging, and I wish to give Members a flavour of them.
First, the Forum should complement the work of the Assembly and should not subscribe to the perception that it is in competition with it. Neither should it be aspiring to second-Chamber status. Second, it should have no legislative, executive or administrative powers. Third, it should have a close working relationship with Assembly Committees in particular. Fourth, its members should achieve a broad socio-economic, geographic, community and be age-spread and gender-balanced. Fifth, its core should be about 50 members. Sixth, it should focus on a small number of key social, economic and cultural themes rather than seek to comment on all matters. Seventh, in addition to its regular meetings, it should meet periodically in different venues throughout Northern Ireland. Eighth, it should receive formal responses from Ministers concerning its recommendations.
Our officials are finalising a working document which will take account of this input and will outline the steps to be taken to ensure that that body can be established. On this basis we now see merit in intensifying consultations with the parties to expedite the establishment of the Civic Forum. In particular, advice is needed from the parties on the selection of members, the draft constitution and standing orders, the possible work programme and administrative issues such as its venue and secretariat.
My last point concerns the Brussels conference on European affairs. As part of the transitional programme, most Assembly Members will travel to Brussels next week as guests of the European Commission. This is yet another example of the enormous goodwill and interest being shown in the new politics in Northern Ireland and is continued evidence of the commitment of the European institutions to help us resolve our problems.
During the visit we shall be meeting the President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, together with the Secretary General, Carlo Trojan, both of whom have done so much for us in recent years. We shall also be meeting with Commissioner Wulf-Mathies, who has played a crucial role as regards regional support and the special peace and reconciliation package.
Other key meetings will involve Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, Social Affairs Commissioner Padraig Flynn and Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock. At these meetings we must convey, as the First Minister and I sought to do in the United States, that we are serious about building a new competitive, innovative, vibrant region in Northern Ireland, that we are putting the stagnation and the division of the past behind us and that we can and will be worthy partners in the construction of the new expanding Europe. Each of us on that trip will be an ambassador of hope for future prosperity.
We will, in particular, be working closely with and drawing inspiration from, the sustained efforts of our MEPs, Mr Hume, Mr Nicholson and Dr Paisley, with whom we shall be meeting the key members of the European Parliament, including its president, President Gill Robles. In our meetings the First Minister (Designate), and I will be seeking in particular to initiate a positive discussion on the nature and scope of Structural Fund support post 1999 and on the prospect of building on the success of the Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.
Last Thursday I took the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister for his support in these discussions and for any special arrangements which might result. He assured me that he would stay in close contact with us, and I am confident of his good will in this matter.
In conclusion, may I offer a reflection on where we find ourselves today, and notably with regard to decommissioning. Last week the First Minister (Designate) and I had the privilege of meeting with President Havel. Before that meeting I took the opportunity to read his essay on ‘The Phenomenon of Waiting’. This is an essay which suits the politics of the North of Ireland, and I recommend it, not just for its content but for the beautiful style in which it is written.
In it he talks about how our political impatience sometimes tempts us to coercive manipulation, like the child who tugs at a flower in order to make it grow more quickly. We have learned over months, if not years, that we must have interminable patience and accept that there are issues — like the child tugging at a flower to get it to grow — that cannot be successfully forced. Instead, as President Havel says,
"We must patiently plant the seeds of trust and water the ground well. Just as we cannot fool a plant, we cannot fool history. We must water history as well, patiently and everyday, not just with understanding but with humility and respect for each other."
Let us make a fresh start today to resolve the differences between us. Let us redouble our efforts to put momentum into the implementation process.
We are all politicians. It is our responsibility to solve problems. Failure is not an option, and if failure is not an option, success is our only destination. The road map is clear. We drew it up ourselves and called it the Good Friday Agreement. If there are roadblocks, let us find ways around them. If there are cul-de-sacs, let us reverse out of them and get back on the road. Most of all, let us keep at it with that type of patience that President Havel recommended because the potential for the future that we have within our grasp is something that we, the political leaders of the North of Ireland, cannot, should not and must not ever let go.
The sitting was suspended at 12.39 pm and resumed at 2.00 pm.
I want to talk about the North American Roadshow in which the Industrial Development Board and the Government were involved. It was of particular significance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer saw fit to launch this personally.
We have come a considerable distance in recent years in respect of these matters. Not that long ago, when local authorities in Northern Ireland were beginning to get powers in respect of local economic development, we in Belfast undertook an initial journey to North America, and there was a whole hullabaloo in the press about junkets. What people did not understand was that, particularly in North America, people expect to see politicians leading delegations; they do not expect to be interfacing exclusively with civil servants. Consequently, over recent years, we have been able to break down a lot of barriers and make a lot of contacts.
As the First Minister (Designate) indicated, there is a considerable gestation period between initial contacts and any fruitful outcome. The announcements that were made during the trip, and again today, are evidence of that, and some take longer than others. One deal in particular that was announced during the trip had a comparatively short gestation period. But there is no substitute for an individual making contact over there.
I know that in the next month or so a number of other activities will take place in the North American area. My own council is launching a major trip with 42 companies drawn mostly from the Local Enterprise Development Unit client-list, along with others. I know that Coleraine Borough Council is taking a delegation, and there may well be others. This is all necessary activity.
There is a most important opportunity here, and not simply for inward investment: we must remember that the key to solving a lot of our unemployment problems lies with our own indigenous small and medium-sized enterprises. We hope, therefore, that politicians can create situations where local companies can meet with their counterparts in North America, or wherever else, and conduct business themselves.
Neither the Government nor the Assembly nor other politicians can intervene by trying to act as a substitute for business men. Business people have to do their own things together. Our function is to open doors for local business. Local authorities, along with organisations like the Local Enterprise Development Unit, can share some of the costs with business people and provide them with matchmaking sessions. This is better than having them arrive in a particular city and do what is called "cold calling".
This is an enormous task and one that is very daunting. I welcome the report, and I hope and pray that there will be further success to report in coming months.
With regard to some of the structural matters that both the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) referred to, work has been continuing on the structures of government. But what is very often forgotten by both commentators and even some Members, is the enormity of the task. We are being asked to do in the space of a few months what others in Scotland and Wales have been taking years to do. It is very difficult without any experience of being in government suddenly to be confronted with an organisation that has 39,000 employees, 140 quangos and all other sorts of structures and come up with an instant answer. Indeed it is impossible.
We realise that we need to seek advice and that there are certain things that we will have to learn as we go along, which is not to say that we will not ultimately put our own thumbprint on whatever structures emerge. I suspect that what will evolve over a period of time will not be the same as that with which we started.
The question of internal structures is difficult enough but the issues relating to the North/South Ministerial Council and to the British-Irish Council are also fraught with difficulty. It is not that there is not a willingness to get on with them. Some of us are working very hard to get on with them — others, regrettably, are not; some are not doing anything at all.
The fact remains that we are being slowed down, to some extent, by the absence of Assemblies in Scotland and Wales. The Ulster Unionist Party would have been quite content for meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council and of the British/Irish Council to take place. However, that was prevented by others who interpreted the Agreement differently.
Can the Member confirm that the Ulster Unionist Party would have been prepared to continue the development of all-Ireland mechanisms under this Agreement, without having reached agreement on either the machinery of government for Northern Ireland or on the democratic credibility of that government?
The Member would be better occupied sorting out his own problems, such as the creation of the "Royal Irish Sióchána", as suggested by one of his colleagues!
I am saying that the Agreement stated that consultation would take place between the Irish Government and representatives of the Assembly in order to identify areas for co-operation by 31 October. That seems to have escaped many people’s attention.
I believe that we are not far from identifying these areas, and that there will be a proper debate in the Chamber on the extent of those contacts and the matters that are to be raised.
The issue which hangs over the whole process is the commitment of people who are eligible, or may become eligible, to participate in the Executive to exclusively non-violent and peaceful means. In my view that is the core of the Agreement. We will hear later, just as we heard this morning, Sinn Fein representatives trying to throw sand in the air, and saying that the UUP is holding the whole thing up.
Any sensible interpretation of the Agreement will show that it refers on a number of occasions, including in the pledge of office and its opening paragraphs, to the need for commitment to exclusively peaceful and non-violent means. There is an incompatibility between that commitment and the operation and control of a fully armed and active paramilitary organisation.
The UUP, like the whole community, is expecting to see that we have moved from the position we have been in for three decades to a new situation where people rely exclusively on peaceful and democratic means to try to persuade people to acknowledge their point of view. That should be based on nothing other than their arguments and their votes. Sadly, that is not the case.
What we want now is activity, and the sooner that happens the better. That is the only remaining obstacle to full implementation of the Agreement. It would be naive to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that it does not have to be addressed, or that it is not included in the core of the Agreement. I look forward to seeing that matter resolved. I look forward to seeing actions as well as words for nothing less will satisfy the demands of the community.
That said, we now have a wonderful opportunity because, returning to the matter which we referred to earlier, namely the promotion of Northern Ireland abroad, on the back of the Agreement and on the back of the award to the First Minister (Designate) and the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Mr Hume, there is a welcome for us in the wider international community. People are looking towards Northern Ireland for an example. The members of the European Union are sympathetic — as we shall discover next week. Taking all of this into account, there is a wonderful opportunity to promote Northern Ireland and, as I said at the weekend, I hope that a handful of warlords do not allow their vanity and arrogance to stand in the way.
The hopes for economic development that arose, among others, from the Good Friday Agreement could be dashed if our current political logjam remains unbroken. When the tens of thousands of people from both communities voted for that Agreement, they were saying yes to all that it contained, and that included a more secure, prosperous and dynamic economic future.
It is evident from the report that we had this morning from the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) about their recent trip to the United States that in the wake of the Agreement investors are looking more positively at opportunities available in Northern Ireland. Already, significant new investments have been announced with the prospect of several thousand jobs, many of which require high-tech skills — the very kind of new investment that we want to attract.
Over the course of last year, as the prospects for an agreement were emerging, investment was also rising. The Industrial Development Board’s recent annual report indicates that a record level of investment was announced in that period. There was news of many world-class companies coming to Northern Ireland, such as Nortel, and new investment promised by companies like the Abbey National, British Telecom and the Prudential. This is evidence of the confidence that investors now have that Northern Ireland is a very attractive location.
It is not only overseas investors who are looking more positively at the opportunities provided in Northern Ireland; local investors and local companies are also planning to expand. In the period running up to the Agreement, 80 companies agreed projects with the Industrial Development Board involving investment of over £700 million, promising more than 7,000 jobs and safe-guarding a further 4,000 jobs. This is the kind of progress that the people who elected us want to see enhanced as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. We must work together to ensure that Northern Ireland becomes an even more attractive location for investment.
As I have been urging recently, we need to examine all aspects of our investment packages to see how that can become a reality, and we must include an examination of the advantages which fiscal discretion might provide, especially with respect to narrowing the huge advantage which the Republic of Ireland enjoys with its low rate of corporation tax - an issue frequently raised with our two Ministers during their visit to the United States of America.
While much important work has been undertaken, what people see is delay. They see the re-emergence of some of the old rhetoric of blame, counter-blame and recrimination.
There is evidence of delay in agreeing departmental portfolios, despite the fact that much work and discussion on the issue has been undertaken by several of the parties. Delay in establishing the North/South Ministerial Council is also evident. Progress can also be recorded on identifying the areas for enhanced co-operation and for the establishment of implementation bodies. However, if prolonged, these delays will almost inevitably begin to raise question marks over all the prospects and hopes in the Good Friday Agreement, not the least of which are prospects for economic progress. We cannot allow such questions to be raised and must ensure, therefore, that the impasse is broken.
There is a clear responsibility on all who signed the Good Friday Agreement to live up to the commitments that are contained in it, not just in the letter but also in the spirit. Progress has been made on many aspects of the Agreement, and I would single out the progress on prisoner releases. Painful memories are stirred by the highly publicised releases of people, many of whom were convicted of heinous crimes. Despite the painful memories that are evoked by those releases, there has been a general acceptance that they are an essential part of our peace process and of the process of binding the wounds that were inflicted on both our communities over the past 30 years.
The decommissioning of paramilitary weapons must be seen as part of the same process of peace. That process, which is as much a part of the Good Friday Agreement as the commitments on prisoners, on policing, on security and on equality and justice, must be implemented. The requirements include agreement that the resolution of a decommissioning process is an indispensable part of the process of negotiation. By that statement, the signatories accepted that decommissioning had to be resolved.
Secondly, the signatories accept that the schemes that are to be developed by the independent International Commission on Decommissioning together with the two Governments, represent the basis for achieving decommissioning.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the signatories all confirmed their intention to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission and to use any influence that they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following the endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement.
This third commitment requires demonstrable action to show that parties are working constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission and are using whatever influence they have to advance decommissioning. Such action must be evident to us all. It is not sufficient merely to indicate that nothing can be done when there is no evidence of what is being tried.
Clear evidence that parties are doing all that they can to bring about decommissioning in the period laid down would, together with an early start to the process itself, provide the needed reassurance of a total and absolute commitment to an exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues.
It would also show our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose to which the Agreement has committed us all. An absolute and total commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means allows for no equivocation on the question of decommissioning.
I recognise that taking the gun out of Irish politics is a daunting task but if, as the paramilitaries own pronouncements suggest, there is a genuine desire among them for peace and for the establishment of a lasting democratic society in Ireland — one that will evolve by agreement — they will have to accept that decommissioning their weaponry is essential and is, from their perspective, an honourable part of creating that democracy. The Good Friday Agreement is the best chance that has ever been provided for the achievement of that democracy. It has received an overwhelming endorsement from the people of Ireland, and it must be allowed to progress in all its facets if we are to realise that democracy.
As the Deputy First Minister (Designate) put it so eloquently this morning, "We have no option but to succeed." We in the SDLP look forward to participating in the initiatives that were announced this morning and that are to be taken later this week towards hastening that success.
At its first meeting on 1 July 1998, the Assembly charged the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to present to the Assembly proposals on a range of matters. They were required to bring that report to the Assembly by 14 September. On 14 September they delivered a report that was distinguished by the absence of the smallest grain of a proposition within it.
Their failure then and now to do the job we set them has nothing to do with lack of advice. On their staff there are 31 party hacks and civil servants paid for from the public purse, and another half dozen are winging their way to join them within the next 10 days. So 117 days later we are no further on than when we first sent them off to do a simple job. For the task they were asked to perform was simple — almost perfunctory.
The failure of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to execute the Assembly’s charge is not due to the difficulty of determining how many posts there should be for the distribution of ministerial responsibility. Rather it is due to the fear of what would happen should they do so. This problem has its roots in the deviousness of certain leaders during the referendum campaign. They found out that the Unionist people would not buy the Agreement they had cobbled together, so they determined to disguise the terms they had negotiated.
They told the Unionist community that terrorists would not be released from prison until decommissioning had occurred. They lied. They told the Unionist community that the RUC would not be endangered by the Agreement’s provisions. They lied. They said that all-Ireland bodies would be consultative and not executive. They lied. They said that all North/South bodies would be completely accountable to this Assembly. They lied. They said that the Agreement barred Sinn Fein from taking up Executive posts until decommissioning had taken place. Again they lied.
The Assembly is facing the dilemma over the formation of an Executive precisely because the Agreement did not resolve the question of decommissioning in the way the First Minister (Designate) has claimed. The delay in his producing for the Assembly a report containing substantive proposal is a testament to his ineptitude during the negotiations. If he wanted the Agreement to exclude Sinn Fein — [Interruption]
I thought I might have to dangle a little more bait before somebody would bite.
If he wanted the Agreement to exclude Sinn Fein from an Executive unless the IRA decommissioned its illegal weapons he should not have signed up until it did. He should have had it in the Agreement in clear and unequivocal terms that without guns being handed in the formation of an Executive would proceed automatically without Sinn Fein. He did not do that. That is one reason why I and a majority of Unionists voted "No" in the referendum. The dilemma faced by the First Minister (Designate) is therefore of his own making.
What are his options? The first option is that Sinn Fein could come to his rescue to save the united Ireland process that the First Minister (Designate) is fronting. If it does, it would be a token decommissioning, a fig leaf to loosen the wheels. It would not engage in substantial decommissioning or in a scheme for total decommissioning because its only power comes from the barrels of those guns. Without them, Sinn Fein would not be courted by Presidents and Prime Ministers as being important to the process, and it would not have the electoral clout to extract the concessions that it wants. This route would bring only temporary relief to the First Minister (Designate), and those around him know that.
The second option for the First Minister (Designate) is to seek to exclude Sinn Fein from the Executive through the provisions of the Bill that allows the Assembly to exclude those who are not committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods. However, under the undemocratic system that has been established, he needs SDLP approval for such a move, and he has no chance of getting that.
The third option is that of an honest man, who would admit that he had made a mistake and accept that he had entered unwisely into an agreement that could operate only to the disadvantage of those he represents. He might, while cursing his bad judgement, seek to make amends and extricate himself from the self-created mess he was in. A lesser man, however, rather than admit that those who warned him throughout the process were right all the time, would carry on with the farce. That only leaves one option — fudge and plenty of it. No matter how much he protests to the contrary, that is the route he will take. His past leads me to that conclusion. His present stiff opposition to entering an Executive with Sinn Fein compares with his equally stiff opposition to entering talks with Sinn Fein. History records how he crumbled then.
Already, the minions of the First Minister (Designate) are preparing the way for his retreat. His close and trusted Chief Whip was setting course for a climb-down when last Saturday he said
"it is never, in my opinion, a good tactic to nail yourself too firmly to the post. It just may be that on decommissioning a mistake has been made in regard to being so firm. There must be room for manoeuvre."
The ‘Belfast Telegraph’, in reporting those remarks, concluded
"Mr Wilson is a staunch supporter of Mr Trimble and it is unlikely he would have made his view public without consulting him."
I would go further. It is inconceivable that Mr Wilson would have made such comments if he felt that they were at odds with the views of the First Minister (Designate). We have had no substantial report today because the fudge is still cooking.
Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Chomhairle, Members will note that there were separate statements this morning. We should record not only general frustration and disappointment at the lack of progress, but the bad practice that is emerging of submitting statements at the last possible moment. That is unprofessional, and from the outset we must set our faces against such practices.
Next, we will be expected to accept that deadlines can be ignored. The statement contains clear evidence of continuing work, but attempts to camouflage the lack of real and inclusive engagement by, particularly, the First Minister (Designate) with all the Assembly parties.
I turn to the statement on the Industrial Development Board roadshow. The report to the Assembly raises a number of questions. First, there is the matter of the composition of the roadshow. Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon were there representing the Assembly in their capacities as First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate). Neither the Assembly nor the other parties, to our knowledge, were consulted about who should take their places. The roadshow was not, nor should it have been, a party political junket. Who decided that members of the UUP and the SDLP should replace Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon?
Many people have commented on the presence at the roadshow of Mr Jeffrey Donaldson, who is not a Member of the Assembly. Who chose him? Who cleared it? Was it agreed by any party in the Assembly, other than the UUP? Does the Assembly agree that this was a matter for consultation with its Members, notwithstanding the interests of Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
Although it will be necessary to study in detail today’s statement by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), Sinn Fein notes the comments in section 3.2 on the responsibilities of the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers. We have concerns about delegating too much of the decision-making authority of the Assembly, and we will comment on that in writing as we return to this matter.
We welcome the commitment in section 3.6 to intensive consultations with all of the parties in the Assembly. Of course, this should now be established practice, and it is clear that this is one of the failures of the process, thus far, which must be rectified. This section on intensive consultation is silent on when it is intended to conclude the consultation process and submit a detailed report for decision to the Assembly. It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that today’s meeting of the Assembly should have been considering this report in order to meet Saturday’s deadline. Will either the First Minister (Designate) or the Deputy First Minister (Designate) indicate to the Assembly when we can expect a finalised report?
Sinn Fein has honoured and continues to honour the commitments it made in the Good Friday Agreement. It has acted in good faith throughout, both inside and outside this Chamber. In recent weeks its members have held meetings with the British and Irish Governments, Mr Trimble, Mr Mallon, Mr Hume, Gen de Chastelain and other parties in the Assembly. All of these meetings — some of which had to be arranged on our own initiative — are evidence of Sinn Fein’s desire to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full.
We are making a contribution to the workings of the Assembly and have put forward a number of proposals that reflect this fact. We have proposed in a detailed submission that the Executive should administer 10 Departments, which we have identified, and that there should be all-Ireland bodies for job creation. We have also proposed a merger of the Industrial Development Agency and the Industrial Development Board, and we have made proposals for the Irish language, for tourism, for training young people for work and for implementing Europe’s programme of financial aid for this island.
We have also identified a number of other areas for discussion and development. We have given our views on the role of the Civic Forum, and we note the reference in today’s statement on it. The proposal for this body, contained in the first draft report submitted by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), was totally unacceptable, but the section in today’s statement on the Civic Forum is still far too narrow.
The Forum must have a meaningful and dynamic role. It is an essential part of the new political dispensation for building a new society, and we believe it could assist us in entrenching equality, inclusiveness, openness and community accessibility in this new era. It should be complementary to the workings of the Assembly.
All the work that that has been done is being put in jeopardy by the stance being taken, particularly, by Mr Trimble. His comments at the weekend show clearly that he is in breach of the commitments he made on Good Friday, and while I want to address my remarks specifically to Mr Trimble I also wish to address those others who have signed the Pledge of Office.
Perhaps the difficulty is caused because Mr Trimble is confused about his separate responsibilities as First Minister (Designate) and Leader of the UUP. When he pronounces as the Leader of the UUP that he will continue to behave in an obdurate and discriminatory manner on the civil rights of a significant section of the Nationalist electorate, he must be aware that such behaviour is incompatible with the Pledge of Office.
We all know that Mr Trimble faces opposition from within his own party as well as from some of the other parties within Unionism. During the past week Mr David Brewster, a senior member of the UUP, has made it clear at a number of media interviews that he and many others in his party are fundamentally opposed to the concept of inclusive power-sharing, even if we could find a solution to the problem of decommissioning.
Mr Willie Thompson, in a debate last Wednesday evening in Dublin, went on record when he stated that he believes that decommissioning has the capacity to destroy the Agreement — and if the Agreement falls, Mr Trimble falls.
It is in this context that we must also welcome the remarks of the UUP’s Chief Whip, Jim Wilson. There is a dichotomy in mainstream Unionism, and I hope that others too will address that issue.
It is clearly stated in the Good Friday Agreement that Sinn Fein has an automatic right to places on the Executive and on the all-Ireland Council. That right stems from our electoral mandate and from the demonstration that we are delivering our commitments to the Agreement. Neither Mr Trimble nor anyone else can deprive Sinn Fein and its electorate of that to which they are entitled.
Furthermore, Mr Trimble cannot decide — he does not have the right — to exclude Sinn Fein, or any other party for that matter, from the Executive. So flying kites and trying to find some kind of centre-ground agreement simply will not work. There are no preconditions in the Good Friday Agreement — none. All the institutions outlined in that Agreement are interlinked and interdependent. If there is no Executive, there is no Assembly. It is as simple and as straightforward as that.
Mr Trimble is operating under a delusion if he thinks that he can keep Sinn Fein out or delay the implementation of the Agreement. His position as First Minister (Designate) is dependent on his fulfilling the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and that is dependent on his adopting an inclusive approach to the sharing of political power — a novel experience, I understand, for Unionism. But he cannot be First Minister proper unless there is an Executive, and there cannot be an Executive unless Sinn Fein’s rights are accepted.
The overwhelming number of people on this island voted in May for that Agreement. Their wishes cannot be set aside because of internal difficulties in Mr Trimble’s party. These are difficulties that he has to overcome.
If the parties fail to agree, it will ultimately be the two Governments’ responsibility to implement the Agreement. We do not accept for one moment that the 31 October deadline — some five days away — should be allowed to slip by. We are six months on from the signing of the Agreement. There can be no excuse for further delay. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
First of all, I should like to congratulate those who visited the United States in an effort to encourage inward investment. I hope that it will bring further success. I myself am going to the west coast later this week at my own expense to promote Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is crucial for attracting the investment necessary in Northern Ireland.
Having said that, the schools are on mid-term break, and I must confess that if we were to get a mid-term report, it would say "Failed. Must try harder next term."
The discussions about the Executive and the various Assembly structures should have been dealt with some time ago. Indeed, the whole process should have started some time ago, and I will be very concerned if the 31 October deadline is missed. Were that to happen, I would consider it a breach of the Agreement. It states
"During the transitional period between the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the transfer of power to it, representatives of the Northern Ireland transitional Administration and the Irish Government operating in the North/South Ministerial Council will undertake a work programme, in consultation with the British Government, covering at least 12 subject areas, with a view to identifying and agreeing by 31 October 1998 areas where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place."
The Agreement is quite clear on this.
Decommissioning is a very important issue and those who attended the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin — the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party — will remember well the question put to F W de Klerk. He was asked whether he had any regrets about the negotiations that took place in South Africa and he said "I regret that we did not concentrate more on decommissioning."
Following the Agreement, responsibility for dealing with the very important issue of decommissioning was placed in the hands of General de Chastelain. During the talks preceding the Agreement we dealt with confidence-building measures also, and we are now seeing those being put into practice as large numbers of prisoners from most paramilitary groups are being released. It is time that corresponding gestures were made by those who hold the guns and weapons.
I want to make particular mention of the disappeared. The whereabouts of the graves of Charles Armstrong, Gerald Anthony Evans, Jean McConville, Kevin McKee, Seamus Wright, John McClory, Brian McKinney, John McIlroy, Columba McVeigh, Brendan McGraw, Sean Murphy, Capt Robert Nairac and Seamus Roddy should be made known.
We have had promises that something would be done about this very important issue, but if Sinn Fein are genuine about building up trust and confidence, I call on them to make a public announcement about this today.
We talk about the silence of the guns and I welcome that silence. Most people in Northern Ireland recognise the contribution this is making to the process. But is this enough? This is a difficult issue, and one that must be dealt with by compromise with those who are directly involved in the conflict.
The report from the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy promises — by means of bilaterals — intensive discussions on various issues that, I believe, should have been dealt with before now — the question of the structure of the Departments and the North/South issues.
When an Assemblyman is making observations — which he is entitled to do — should he not accurately reflect what was said by either the First Minister (Designate) or myself?
The phrase "intensive discussions" appears in the report that was presented to the Assembly today. The point I am making is that in my view, this should have happened a considerable time ago; in my view, this will now be a lengthy process; and in my view, a much better way of dealing with the issue would have been to form an all-party Assembly Committee similar to the one which deals with procedures and issues related to the running of the Assembly. We must intensify the operation so that we can get agreement on the structures which must be in place and move forward quickly.
Something else which concerns me is the hypocrisy of the political parasites within this Assembly — those who want to see the transfer of powers taking place, those who want to remain within the ambience of Parliament Buildings and continue to receive their cheques at the end of the month. These are the people who are attacking and stabbing in the back those of us who are trying to make progress in the process. That is hypocritical.
They want power but are not prepared, now or in the future, to take risks as others have done. They must show that they are for real about making this Assembly work and providing the democracy in which the people in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement and by the elections to the Assembly have now placed their confidence. If we do not move forward there is a serious danger of the Assembly declining into the Forum "mark II". That cannot be allowed to happen.
Let me move to the main issue. I once prosecuted a dishonest car dealer on the basis that he flogged a car which had a worn out gearbox that was making dreadful noises by filling it with porridge oats. That kept it quiet for a little while but ultimately could not drown out the grinding of the opposing wheels. It is quite clear that the statements made by the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy are full of porridge, but even that cannot drown out the grinding noise of their differences.
In paragraph 3.5 of his statement, the First Minister encodes his view of the Belfast Agreement by insisting on its "implementation" — and I noted the inflection of his voice — "in all its aspects". He was clearly referring to his party’s requirements that the physical surrender and handing over of a substantial quantity of IRA weaponry and explosives be the beginning of an ongoing process leading to complete disarmament.
On the other hand, at paragraph 5.2 the Deputy First Minister (Designate) decries the failure to form the Executive and to hold inaugural meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council and the British/Irish Council as the price paid for the deadlock on decommissioning. And who, according to Sinn Fein, is creating that deadlock? None other than the First Minister (Designate).
So even in this Assembly, with its aspirations to be ecumenical and consensual, we have the First and Second Ministers (Designate) unable to bring a report ‘even at this stage’ of any substance, because they insist on ignoring, at least in public, the fundamental difference between them. One cannot build a democratic institution upon an arrangement which permits parties inextricably entwined with violent terrorist gunmen into government. One cannot have a Government encompassing members of a party which is supported by a private army that retains the weaponry and explosives to destabilise the state, if their way is not achieved. One cannot have a democratic institution of any worth where one of the parties is exerting the leverage of that military capacity in order to get its own way and unambiguously expresses the view that this process and the Assembly is nothing more than a transitional phase en route to its ultimate destiny of a united Ireland.
Neither the First Minister (Designate) nor his Deputy will face up to that.
It is absolutely essential that no party in Government should in any way be connected with any organisation bearing arms that are not within the compass of the State. That is the position upon which I and the UKUP left the talks. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) quoted a very moving excerpt from a piece written by the Czech president; let me quote another even more famous Czech, the dissident and writer Milan Kundera, who said
"The struggle of the people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
Now let us look at some of the "forgetting"on the subject of decommissioning.
The day after the joint declaration was signed — including paragraph 10, which excluded from the democratic process all those who had not put beyond them any contact with or any sympathy with the use of arms — Dick Spring, then the Republic’s Foreign Minister, said in the Dáil
"This means that Sinn Fein cannot come into the democratic process and look around to see what it has to offer and then, if it does not offer what it thinks necessary, go back to doing what it does best".
The then Leader of the Opposition, later Taoiseach, Mr John Bruton said
"The arms must be handed in now. Now is a short word but its meaning is clear — without delay, at once, immediately, forthwith."
Those were major figures in the Republic. The British Government said that there had to be a permanent cease-fire, but after a while they forgot what permanent meant. They said that after three months there would be an assumption of permanence — an assumption that was shown to be absolute rubbish by the huge bomb that went off in February 1996 at Canary Wharf. Why did it go off? It went off because the process needed to be moved forward and the way to move it forward was through murder and mayhem in the City of London.
There was a further period of forgetting. We forgot, and the First Minister (Designate) forgets, that when he decided to stay on in the talks after it had become apparent that Sinn Fein was going to be` let in after a six-week ceasefire and with no decommissioning he stayed on, on the promise — and Members will remember the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, jabbering on about a parallel process — that when agreement was reached, decommissioning would be accomplished. There was a period of forgetting about that too.
Then we had the Agreement. As a lawyer I share the view of Sinn Fein that there is no term expressed in that Agreement that requires Sinn Fein, forgetting moral considerations, to decommission. All Sinn Fein has to do is to use such influence as it may have to persuade those with whom it is inextricably entwined to decommission within two years — that is all. That is the legal obligation; it may well be that the First Minister (Designate) and the UUP would like it to be something more, but that is all it is.
There is, nevertheless, a powerful obligation. It is an obligation which is the very foundation of democracy and, therefore, I am at one with the First Minister (Designate) in believing that decommissioning is an essential pre-requisite to this Assembly’s moving forward or to an Executive being formed. However, it is not in the Agreement.
And why is it not in the Agreement? It is not in the Agreement because had it been spelt out as it could have been spelt out, in the most expressed and simple terms, Sinn Fein would never have assented to it.
In a sense, Sinn Fein is right in saying that the requirement is not there; it would not have signed the Agreement if it had been there and, therefore, it cannot be held accountable. But what does that do? It throws into bold relief the weakness, the vacillation and the failure to ensure that honourable agreements were expressed in honourable, clear and unambiguous terms, and now the Assembly and the forward movement of the process are hung up on that weakness of those who negotiated the Agreement on behalf of the pro-Union people.
The frequent interjections by Mr Empey show that he took his Viagra pills today.
One cannot fail to admire the skills of the Sinn Fein negotiators. They ran rings around the First Minister (Designate) and his party, whom I described within two days of the commencement of the talks as putty in the hands of experienced negotiators. They have certainly demonstrated the wisdom and foresight of that remark. There is no doubt whatever that Sinn Fein has achieved its objectives, which were: to have its prisoners released; to have a review of the criminal justice system; to dismantle security surveillance; to reform the RUC; and to have serial murderers running about the streets again. So far, not an ounce of Semtex or a single bullet have been decommissioned, and that will not happen until the ultimate objective of Irish unity has been achieved.
I thank the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) for the report, and particularly for the indication that all party consultations will be stepped up from this evening. It is important to get to grips with the vastly important work that needs to be done in many areas to get the Assembly up and running, and to carry out the work which we have been mandated to do by the Good Friday Agreement and by the people of Northern Ireland.
It would have assisted us in responding fully to the Ministers if we could have seen their statements in advance. However, we will attempt to respond point by point.
We welcome the interest that was shown by American investors on the United States trip, and have two points to make on that. First, we underline the need to ensure that inward investment is sustainable, and secondly, that it is encouraged to develop hand-in-hand with the development of local industry. A parallel approach is important.
The Women’s Coalition has already presented a paper to the First Minister (Designate) on departmental structures. In that paper we underlined the importance of an integrated approach to governance. The idea of a central co-ordinating department, which was mentioned this morning, might provide that integration, and would be an important modernisation of our procedures. Secondly, the departmental structures must take account of the move from conflict to political stability.
We welcome the progress so far on the areas of the British/Irish Council and the North/South Council and look forward to speedier progress through consultation. Our paper on the North/South Council is nearing completion. We have consulted businesses, environmental bodies, health, education and other bodies which have interests on both sides of the border. We see that as a valuable component of the Agreement that should work to the benefit of communities on both sides of the border.
The important issue of the Civic Forum was mentioned. We are pleased that the proposal has generated so much interest inside and outside the Chamber, although probably not enough inside. The themes that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) flagged up reflect our own soundings. In particular, we are pleased to see the gender balance, and the geographic mobility of the Civic Forum have been mentioned. Those are important issues.
We are concerned about some issues. For example, we noted the reference by the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to the definition of key social and economic and cultural themes that will be addressed by the Civic Forum. Members will want clarification on those and on other areas.
As the Assembly did not have advance notice of the statements, Members have had to sketch over these areas, but we have to address the issues on which the debate has focused. In the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the NI Women’s Coalition, like other parties, is disappointed that the 31 October deadline does not appear to be realisable.
Part of our problem, which has been recognised in the statements, is that we have been operating without the inclusive negotiating framework that served us so well in the past. The NI Women’s Coalition maintains that parties should not seek to reopen negotiations on any point, but should assist in moving forward at a faster rate.
We acknowledge the fears of those who say it is difficult to do business with people whom they perceive to have some responsibility for weapons and their use. Equally, we think that decommissioning will and must be based on trust, and that we have a responsibility to build that trust together. At this time we need to create the building blocks of political accommodation. The bottom line is that if we want people to adhere to the democratic process, we must assert the primacy of the ballot box and the mandate that it delivers. It is only by strengthening the political process that we can reduce the rationale for the use of force. In that way, we can create an environment in which weapons become redundant.
The people of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for the Agreement that we so painstakingly pieced together to be fully implemented. They are crying out for political stability and normalisation. We have it within our gift to signal a significant shift to that stability by forming an Executive as soon as possible. Our community wants to see the fruits of the Agreement in which they have invested much faith. We must not let them down. Our shared goal should be to construct and deliver good governance for the people of Northern Ireland. They deserve no less.
There was mention earlier of the taking of certain tablets. As this is my first speech to this august body, I feel like taking a tranquilliser.
It is becoming a habit in political speeches to quote poets. In a 1914 poem called ‘Mending Wall’ Robert Frost wrote
"Good fences make good neighbours."
That is apposite to the UUP’s position on strand two. The UUP are taking a positive and realistic view of its moral obligations under the Belfast Agreement. We have three key principles. We are working according to the best precedents of international law; our approach is soundly based on economic theory and practice; and we take cognisance of principles of public administration.
Let us turn now to specifics. We have had mention this afternoon of fudge and porridge — I hope that the following will be eminently more digestible than that. In terms of international law, there are technical problems in establishing joint bodies. The UUP feels that the most appropriate model would probably be what is termed "the International Organisation Model", roughly speaking the legal form currently adopted by the International Fund for Ireland. There are, for example, problems with the Foyle Fisheries Commission, a cross-border body which has existed since 1952. In a sense there is not one but two commissions, established separately in Irish and British law, and that is the cause of difficulties which are increasingly recognised in both Dublin and London.
Whilst this point has often been exaggerated, there are occasions when there are genuine economies of scale through joint work between the two Irish economies, and it is in those areas that North/South co-operation can be fruitful. We wish to avoid any damage to the efficiency and efficacy of our public administration by creating messy and inappropriate links with the Republic of Ireland.
The implementation bodies are precisely that. They are not the place of executive decision-making. That power rests with the Ministers, who are accountable to the Assembly. The UUP view is that the implementation bodies are most likely to work well, to be feasible, where natural conditions create so-called spill-over effects between the two neighbouring states. We see possibilities in areas such as canals, some aspects of agricultural research and the environment. We will consider all cases on their merits. There will be extensive Civil Service technical-paper evaluation lodged in the Library and all Members should look at those and consider these issues carefully.
As to the broader work of the North/South Ministerial Council, we recommend that amongst its first acts should be the creation of an inventory of the existing areas of co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In 1996, in a paper in the House of Commons’ Library, 117 existing areas of co-operation were listed — no doubt more have been added over the last two and a half years. We would recommend, as an urgent task, a listing of what is currently in place. There should, furthermore, be the commissioning of reputable consultancy studies to consider the cost and the benefits of such existing co-operation.
We will seek to push the Dublin Government so that, either through agreement or arbitration, the frontier in the two areas of territorial sea, Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough, can be established. As the World Bank and other international experts have recognised in cases as diverse as Russia or Brazil and South Korea, the establishment of sound property rights is a fundamental precondition for economic growth. The same is true with respect to shellfish production, an apparently lowly thing, but an important economic activity in the two estuaries.
We are anxious also that the British/Irish Council should start its work at roughly the same time. Paragraph 10 of strand three of the Belfast Agreement suggests that the constituent parts of the British Isles Council can establish bilateral and, indeed, multilateral agreements amongst themselves. The implication of that is that the North/South strand can be nested within East/West relations as well.
I will finish by noting the words of another Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, in his acceptance speech three years ago. When he received his award he suggested the establishment of "a net on the tennis court" by which he was referring to relations on this island. What we are working towards, despite the scorn which has been poured on us by some other parties, is a recognition of the ending of the Cold War, as it were, that there has been on this island over the last 75 or so years. We want the two states to exist in harmony, with the good neighbourly relations that exist everywhere else where there is good practice throughout the European Union. The institutions which we create to that end may indeed help some to feel more at ease about their cultural identity, and that is fine from our point of view as well. We are also aiming to maximise the economic potential of the two Irish economies.
I support the statement.
I have listened very carefully to this afternoon’s contributions. We had fig leaves from the DUP, and from the UK Unionists we had Viagra tablets. What sort of image is that to send out? How do the 71% of the people who voted for change feel when they hear such contributions in this Assembly?
I want to pay tribute to Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon for the opportunity they have created for me to do something for the borough council that I have represented for 21 years along with Mr McClarty, who is on the opposite Bench. On 9 November we will go to the United States to re-visit five of the cities visited by Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon. That is the first opportunity we will have had for years to do something about the abominable unemployment in Coleraine, which stands at 9.6%.
The Assembly can create opportunities not just for those in local councils, but for anyone involved in community groups or regeneration programmes to do something for the first time. But we can only do that if we get on with the business of the Agreement and sit down and work together in harmony. One of the oldest of the many quotes here today is
"She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness."
I suggest that we light a million penny candles right across the North and give people the confidence and the hope which was afforded to them in the referendum last June.
I do not want to be negative, but I refer back to the scenes in the Chamber this morning. Let us never have those again, because we cannot quantify how many jobs were lost by the negative and appalling behaviour of some Assembly Members. Let us give hope to the 10,000 young people who leave these shores every year, and have been leaving for the last 30 years. Rather than drive people away, let us invite them back. Let us send the message right around the world that we are in business and are creating jobs by following in the footsteps of the political parties which have gone to the United States and opened the doors.
As Mr Empey said, Coleraine is not alone: Belfast City Council is going; Newry and Mourne is already away. Many others will follow, and the impact must be positive for everyone. That is the message that must go out from the Assembly, and I hope our friends in those political parties who feel the need to deride the hard work done by others will change their attitude.
I am pleased to report that Mr McClarty from the Ulster Unionist Party and I will be accompanied by members from the DUP and the Alliance Party when we go to the United States next month. We will be united. So perhaps, despite the wishes of certain people, everything is not as bad as it might appear. We are going forward — not as quickly as we should — but we will get there.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) told us this morning to "plant the seeds of trust and water the ground". That is precisely what every Member should be doing, and every word that we utter can help to do that.
On 14 September, we received a report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). That report contained no detail. Six weeks later, we have a report which includes a little detail. Certainly, there does not appear to be six weeks’ work in it.
In this report, in place of detail there is much about consultation, which is referred to in paragraphs 3.1, 3.4 and 3.6. What consultation has taken place thus far with the parties? There have been four plenary sessions of the Assembly. The DUP has had one consultation with the First Minister (Designate), while Mr Adams has had three private consultations.
The public do not know what is going on in the Assembly; nor do the Members. I read the detail of what happens in the Assembly in the newspapers, and hear about it from the media. A few days ago, we were told about the appointment of junior Ministers. I have never received any communication about that. Clearly, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) want to create a greater role for themselves, as they set out in paragraph 3.2, a greater role than that already set out. That should cause some concern.
The Assembly is supposed to bring democracy to the people, and to create a democratic institution that is accountable to the people. The Assembly was supposed to take us away from the situation where Ministers fly in for a week, conduct their business, and fly out again. Yet, the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) are suggesting a system whereby there will be less consultation with the Assembly, making it less accessible to the public.
The Member mentions consultation, or the lack of it. Is the DUP yet able to make available its detailed proposals on the departmental structures for Northern Ireland, the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council or the Civic Forum? We have been waiting some time for anything in writing from his party.
First, we are waiting for the decommissioning that was promised some time ago by the First Minister (Designate). The DUP is willing and able to provide all the necessary information, but we will do that in the proper way, not by writing letters to the First Minister (Designate) or the Deputy First Minister (Designate). We will do it on a proper consultation basis.
All that the document contains is talk about consultation, but the consultation has not taken place. We need to know how the Assembly is run, and what is being done in this building, but Members are not being consulted on those matters.
The First Minister (Designate) asserts his commitment to all aspects of the Belfast Agreement, and Mr Birnie quoted from a poem by Robert Frost about good fences making good neighbours. That poem also states
"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall".
It seems that the First Minister (Designate) does not "love a wall", because by the end of the week, more than half the terrorist prisoners will come out from "behind the wall", and will be back on our streets although not one ounce of Semtex or one bullet has been handed over.
Decommissioning was supposed to be tied into the Agreement and the Prime Minister’s pledges. People talk about how 71% of the community backed the Agreement but either the community or the Ulster Unionist Party leadership was misled, because it was said that Sinn Fein would not get into the Executive without decommissioning. It was said that IRA prisoners would not be released without decommissioning. Many gullible people who put their faith in the First Minister (Designate) were misled. It was not the First Minister (Designate) who was misled, it was the community at large.
There is also little or no detail about the British/Irish Council.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) spoke about the Nobel Peace Prize and congratulated Mr Hume and Mr Trimble on receiving it. In a football match they do not give the cup out at half time; when a person is running the mile in the Olympic Games, he does not get a medal when he has done three laps. Since the Agreement was signed almost 40 people have been killed in the province and over 400 people injured. More and more terrorists are roaming our streets and there is no reduction in the number of bullets and the amount of semtex and other explosives that are available to them. It is premature for both Mr Trimble and Mr Hume to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In paragraph 5.2 the Deputy First Minister (Designate) attacks Mr Trimble and his party over the disagreement on the structures of government and the North/South implementation bodies — we hear that Mr Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party would like seven departments while the SDLP and Sinn Fein would like 10. Is there any need for 10 departments? How much will they cost? Is it simply a matter of creating more jobs for more people? With 10 departments, plus Junior Ministers, how many jobs are we going to create and who is going to pay for it all — the taxpayers?
In paragraph 6.1 we discover that the SDLP and UUP have set up a small and exclusive working group to discuss the North/South Ministerial Council. In doing so they have not consulted with the other parties.
Then there is mention of the Civic Forum. The Democratic Unionist Party believes that there should be no such forum. It would just be another quango, another unnecessary tier of Government. If it is to be set up, it should not just be to give jobs to the boys and girls who could not get elected to the Assembly. It should have as widespread a representation as possible; it should be composed of groups who are not normally associated with such quangos and not composed of the goodie-two-shoes groups that are always in the Government’s back pocket.
Mr Mallon also referred to the Brussels trip and to building on the success of the Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (SSPR). I do not agree that the SSPR has been a success. Many of the jobs and projects that have been created are not sustainable. The leadership of the Assembly, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) would be better concentrating on trying to achieve Objective 1 status again. I recognise that our economy represents 83% of the Gross Domestic Product and that we are only supposed to have 75%, but the circumstances in Northern Ireland could be used to argue for Objective 1 status. It would be better to do that than argue for an extension of the SSPR.
A Cheann Comhairle, the First Minister (Designate), as the Leader of Unionism has spoken ad nauseam over the past number of weeks about his interpretation of what other parties’ obligations are. He has, on the other hand, said or done precious little to discharge his obligation under the Agreement.
Caithfidh an Chéad-Aire labhairt agus obair ar son an phobail uilig agus ní amháin dóibh siúd a thugann tacaíocht d’Aontachtóirí Uladh.
The only institution established to date, as a result of the Good Friday Agreement is this Assembly — an Assembly which Republicans did not particularly want. But we went along with it, because it was a part of the overall Agreement and the mechanism for entering in to an all-Ireland Ministerial Council.
One reason Republicans did not particularly want an Assembly was the track record of past Unionist Administrations and their obsession with retaining all power for themselves. True to form, the Ulster Unionists have proved that "the leopard does not change its spots".
The Ulster Unionists’ reluctance to implement the Agreement is about preventing change. It is specifically about preventing the changes contained in the Agreement which they see as benefiting Nationalists. In effect, Mr Trimble is denying access to the Nationalist elements of the Agreement. It is simply a different angle on the Unionist veto, a continuation of the idea that a Unionist voter is more valuable than a Nationalist one.
He does not want Sinn Fein in the Executive because he knows that he cannot bully or intimidate us. He hopes that if he succeeds in excluding Sinn Fein from the Executive, that it will conform to a Unionist agenda. He confirmed this at his party conference on Saturday when he assured delegates that although they would have to share power with others, it would be administered predominantly by Unionists.
Mr Trimble should read the Agreement and then discharge his obligation under that Agreement instead of quoting non-existent obligations of other political parties. We are told that there will be intensive consultations. We will attend any consultations, but they appear, at best, to be window-dressing. When will they be finished? What is certain is that Sinn Fein will not be engaged in any charade.
It is Mr Trimble and the Ulster Unionists who are in breach of the Agreement which they signed up to. In his Pledge of Office Mr Trimble promised to discharge in good faith all the duties of the office, to serve all the people equally and to act in accordance with the general obligations on Government to promote equality and prevent discrimination and to participate with colleagues in the preparation of a programme of government.
He has completely failed to act in good faith and by refusing to establish the Executive as set down in the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he is certainly not serving all the people equally, nor is he participating in the preparation of a programme for government. He has dishonoured his Pledge of Office and no political cover should be given to him in this regard. If he will not implement the Agreement, then the two Governments must forge ahead and implement the Agreement.
Under the section on Executive Authority, paragraph 16 states
"Following the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the posts of Ministers will be allocated to parties on the basis of the d’Hondt system by reference to the number of seats each party has in the Assembly."
That has not happened and is four months overdue.
Paragraph 8 of the section of strand two states
"During the transitional period between the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the transfer of power to it, representatives of the Northern Ireland transitional Administration and the Irish Government operating in the North/South Ministerial Council will undertake a work programme, in consultation with the British Government, covering at least 12 subject areas, with a view to identifying and agreeing by 31 October 1998 areas where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place."
The Ulster Unionists have prevented any work being undertaken in this area to prepare for that date. This is a glaring breach of the Agreement that Mr Trimble signed up to on behalf of his party. Is this discharging his duty in good faith? I do not think so.
Mr Trimble’s obstinacy is not just denying Sinn Fein and our electorate what is ours as of right, he is denying all the people of this island the benefits that they are due under this Agreement. Changes and benefits which the vast majority of people of the island, North and South, voted for in the referenda. The two Governments have an onerous responsibility to insist that Mr Trimble and the Ulster Unionists deliver on the implementation of the commitments that they gave when they accepted the Good Friday Agreement.
If the Ulster Unionists are unwilling to discharge their obligations under the Agreement, then Mr Trimble may be the leader they desire, but a judgement should surely be made as to his suitability as First Minister.
My party Leader must be doing something right. He seems to be the topic of every conversation and every comment in the Chamber today. I am sure he is feeling very pleased.
May I make a point which Assemblyman Dallat from North Antrim came very close to making. The public perception of the work in this Chamber after this morning’s performance must be near nil, and that is very unfair. As we all know, many Members have worked extremely hard behind the scenes and have taken many risks on the road that has brought us all here.
This is not a perfect vehicle, and none of us would try to pretend otherwise, but it provides an opportunity to achieve some of the things that people wish us to achieve on their behalf.
Mr Dallat told us that he spent a long time in local government, as have many Members. Those who worked in local government, with its three powers of emptying bins, giving people a swim — in the Valley Leisure Centre in my case — and burials — in Carnmoney Cemetery in my area — wished for further powers. One of the powers that we wished for was economic development. We got our wish, and local councils are carrying out much good work in that area.
I congratulate the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) and those who accompanied them to the United States, on this mission. I hesitate to use the word "bandwagon" because it does not seem right, but that is the word that is being used. I am particularly pleased by an announcement that affects my constituency, and especially the Training and Employment Agency on Newtownabbey Council in the Monkstown area.
We have achieved 150 high-tech jobs. Northern Ireland needs such jobs for a variety of reasons. They will allow our under-graduates to work through our excellent education system with the prospect of real and meaningful employment in Northern Ireland. Such jobs will attract more industries to Northern Ireland and, hopefully, will attract back the people whom we have lost over the generations. While I welcome those jobs to my area, I wish to see more of them throughout the province.
I came here with three aims in mind. I want to achieve proper education provision for all, from nursery, through primary, secondary and grammar schools, to tertiary education. We all need to work towards that end. Without that firm foundation, Northern Ireland PLC cannot exist and cannot provide the type of jobs that were announced today.
We all wish to see proper health provision, but this morning we wasted more than an hour and a half in a sterile debate. It is interesting to note that almost all of that debate was in one language, but that is an issue for another day.
We all want proper, sustainable employment, and to achieve that, we must work together, whether we talk about Northern Ireland or the North of Ireland. I do not care what terms people use as long as they present a united front in America, Europe or elsewhere to help to secure the jobs that will provide a sound and stable base for society. Without that, we are whistling in the wind.
I am sorry that I have no poetry to offer. I do not have much time these days to read. All sorts of clichés, including the one about confidence building, have been bandied about. The greatest confidence-building exercise in which we can all engage is to make sure that we achieve the jobs that will keep the best brains here. If we do that, the people who watched this morning’s performance will congratulate us and say we have caught ourselves on.
I welcome the report and its possibilities and challenges.
Paragraph 8.2 refers to the Brussels Conference. I mention that paragraph because of its connection with farming, which is our most important industry.
I would remind Members of the crisis that exists there.
I spoke with the director of the Farmers’ Mart in Enniskillen — one of the largest marts in the North — and he told me that two years ago the average price of store cattle was £460 per head. Last week the average price of such cattle was £270 per head. Furthermore, suckled calves were realising £350 per head two years ago while their equivalents last week were barely making £200.
Members will agree that prices have tumbled and farmers are in a very sorry state. I was speaking to a couple of farmers over the weekend — they had been out in their fields, knee deep in water, bringing in their livestock — and they estimated that their fodder will probably last until Christmas. They are watching their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland. At the risk of disappointing the Member for East Belfast, there is no frontier in my constituency — you are more likely to find a gate or a fence. Indeed, in some cases, there is nothing at all to distinguish the terrain. Animals in the Republic of Ireland are making £150 per head more than animals in Northern Ireland.
The Agriculture Minister recently went to Brussels and received a higher allocation of intervention, which brought much relief to farmers. However, the speediest way of alleviating the problems here would be to lift of the export ban. That would quickly open up ready outlets. Paragraph 8.2 says that there will be a meeting between representatives of the Assembly and the Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler. Would it be appropriate to raise specific matters at that meeting? I refer particularly to the lifting of the live export ban.
On being informed this morning that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) would be making a progress report to the Assembly on the way forward, I took my seat with baited breath. Alas, that anticipation was short-lived, because upon receiving a copy of the report I began to wonder what this was all about. When the people of Northern Ireland see the report I am not sure that they will jump up and down with joy and say "We are going places." A report on the trip to the United States is a poor substitute for telling the people of Northern Ireland about the way forward. A much more comprehensive report was expected, but we are left with just this.
Economic progress will only come when terrorism, or the threat of it, is permanently removed from Northern Ireland. With terrorists being released ad infinitum before a single bullet or an ounce of Semtex has been handed over, the people of Northern Ireland could be forgiven for feeling that this process is entirely one-way. It is painfully obvious that the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy are quite divided on the best way forward. They have failed on a second occasion to tackle the hard issues — they are backing away from them yet again.
Speaking at the weekend to his party faithful and addressing Sinn Fein, Mr Trimble said
"You can take your time; we have all the time in the world to wait for you."
If past experience has taught me anything, it is that Sinn Fein will keep him waiting. He will wait so long for Sinn Fein to decommission that he will become a statue. Sinn Fein/IRA can wait as long as it likes because Mr Trimble intends to wait, no matter how long it takes. Of course Sinn Fein/IRA was always aware of that, and it has a private army at its back, ready to deliver the necessary message at the appropriate time.
Just before Mr Trimble addressed his party faithful, his colleague and Chief Whip, Mr Wilson, was paving the way for yet another U-turn. In the glare of the television cameras he stated
"We should not nail ourselves too tightly to any position."
He was saying "decommissioning could destroy us, and it would be better to get off that hook". Mr Wilson is no fool, and he would not have made such utterances without the prior agreement of his party Leader. If he made those utterances without that agreement, he would no longer be the party’s Chief Whip — he would be removed from that position.
Mr Wilson was preparing the Unionist electorate for another U-turn or, as my party colleague Mr Robinson put it, another concoction of fudge is about to be administered. It is better that the message is delivered by someone other than Mr Trimble and Mr Wilson, with no disrespect to him, might just be expendable. However, the First Minister (Designate) is not. Within Mr Trimble’s party ranks another splinter group has staggered to its feet. It calls itself Union First. It has to be sorted out and kept at bay. Some of its members are on the UUP Back Benches today.
So Mr Trimble has many problems, not the least of which is that his Deputy First Minister (Designate) is breathing down his neck and saying "David, you had better get a move on because my Back Benchers are getting a little bit impatient too." Meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland are waiting for the great delivery which was to be made today. Alas, we shall leave the House not a bit wiser than when we first met.
Mr McLaughlin laid it fairly and squarely on the line. His remarks will not go unnoticed by the Unionist community. The Sinn Fein/IRA message as to why there will be no decommissioning is loud and clear. Those arms may be required for another occasion to push the business a little further. Let us not forget Canary Wharf: it had a tremendous effect in centring the Prime Minister’s attention on Northern Ireland, and the Agreement was delivered post-haste.
An Agreement that works simply at the behest of those with guns is sure to fail, because even within the ranks of the UUP, there are still those who will say that enough is enough. The First Minister (Designate) is not prepared to face up to that — but he will have to face it in the not too distant future.
Of course, some will say that decommissioning is not that important. What is important is that the guns are silent. We on this side and the people of Northern Ireland say, "If only that were true".
One of the big failures of this Agreement has been the inability to grab the illegal guns. In 1972, when Stormont was prorogued, we were told that a better system of government would be introduced. It was called direct rule. Thousands of people have lost their lives as a result of that better system of government.
On 15 November 1985 we reached another historic landmark — the diktat was signed. This was to have moved us forward, yet hundreds of people lost their lives.
Then we were told that another agreement had been signed. They called it the Good Friday Agreement. They must all have been speaking Irish that day. What has happened since its signing? Over 30 people have lost their lives. So we stumble from one agreement to another, and all the time we are told that this is a better way forward.
What has been happening? The First Minister and his deputy fumble along, go on a junket to America and talk about economic expansion and development. Now, nobody would decry the fact that jobs may come to Northern Ireland — and they would be welcomed — but the saving of people’s lives is much more important than any report that may be produced as a result of this visit to the United States or anywhere else. If Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon cannot face up to it, they should tell the Assembly that they are divided. The world at large knows it, to be so.
Was it not the Leader of the SDLP who coined the famous phrase "Guns should not be on the table, under the table, or outside the door". Everybody applauded that statement. It seemed to be something that people could identify with, but alas it is seldom referred to now by those whom I would call my political opposition. Why? Because it is patently obvious that decommissioning is not going to take place unless and until everything else is in place. So we cannot look forward to decommissionings taking place in the not-too-distant future.
It ill behoves the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy to present a report such as this. We know that they have not chartered the way forward as was their brief, and look forward with bated breath to the day when they can produce a report which they will be justified in presenting to the Assembly.
A Chathaoirligh, is ábhar imní domh nach bhfuil tuairisc iomlán fhiúntach ar fáil ón Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus ón LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) , rud a bhí le bheith againn fada ó shin de réir an Chomhaontaithe. Ní thig leis an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) feidhmniú mar Cheannaire Aontachtóirí Uladh amháin. Ba chóir go mbeadh na Rannóga agus na hAirí in áit ag an phointe seo, le go mbeadh an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe), an LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus na hAirí iomchuí in ann clár oibre a chur le chéile agus a chur i gcrích roimh dheireadh na míosa seo. Tá ábhar imní eile agam maidir leis an ráiteas a fuaireamar ón Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus ón LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) ar maidin. In alt 6.1 deirtear go bhfuil grúpa oibre curtha ar bun ag Aontachtóirí Uladh agus ag an SDLP.
Níl rud ar bith ag Sinn Féin in aghaidh a leithéidí sin — a mhalairt ar fad; fáiltimid roimh theacht le chéile idir páirtithe ar bith. Ní thuigim féin, áfach, cad chuige an bhfuil sé sin luaite sa tuairisc seo. Cuid d’obair an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus an LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) atá san obair seo. Ach an bhfuil siad beirt ag obair ar ár son uilig nó ag obair ar son a bpáirtithe? Má tá siad ag obair ar ár son uilig cad chuige nach bhfuil comhchomhairle fhiúntach leanúnach ag dul ar aghaidh ó thaobh na Rannóg agus ó thaobh na Comhairle uileÉireann? Nuair a bhíonn státseirbhísigh an Tuaiscirt agus an Deiscirt ag teacht le chéile an mbíonn siad ag plé moltaí a tháinig ón dá pháirtí sin nó moltaí a tháinig uainne uilig? Cé atá ag stiúradh obair na státseirbhíseach sin gan an chomhchomairle dhomhain leanúnach a ba chóir a bheith ann agus atá in easnamh go dtí seo?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas agus roimh an mholadh atá sa ráiteas ón bheirt ar maidin go mbeidh comhchomhairle curtha ar bun. In alt 3.6 agus 6.6 deirtear go mbeidh comhchomhairle ann agus go dtig leis an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus an LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) ina dhiaidh sin socruithe na tuairisce a chríochnú. Ní shonraíonn sé cá huair, áfach, níl dáta ar bith againn cén uair a thiocfas an ráiteas sin. Mar sin iarraim orthu beirt a rá linn inniu cén uair a bheas an tuairisc iomlán againn. Chomh maith leis sin, mar a luaigh mé níos luaithe, fáiltimid roimh an mholadh go mbeidh comhchomhairle ann agus feicimid ón mhéid a dúradh sa ráiteas sin go mbeidh sé sin curtha ar bun go práinneach. Feicimid go bhfuil práinn le teacht le chéile an Tionóil agus iarraimid ar an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus ar an LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) inniu a rá linn go mbeidh an Tionól ag teacht le chéile go práinneach leis na hábhair sin uilig a phlé.
We are very concerned that there is not a complete final report from the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) today. We should have had long ago as the agreement envisaged. It is clear that the First Minister (Designate) cannot act merely as Leader of the UUP. The Departments and the Ministers should have been named by now so that we would have been able to come together through the relevant Minister as stated in the Agreement. The First Minister (Designate), the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and the relevant Ministers could come together in the North/South Ministerial Council to complete the work programme by the end of this month.
We have another concern about the report. It states that the SDLP and the UUP have established a small working group — that is not a problem; Sinn Fein has no difficulty with any parties coming together and establishing a working group.
However, I am unclear as to why this is mentioned in the report. Is the work of this group part and parcel of the work of the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate)? When the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) are seeking detailed assessments, are they seeking those assessments on behalf of this working group or in relation to proposals coming from all of us? How is the work of the civil servants, North and South, currently being directed in the absence of the proper consultation that should have been taking place amongst all the parties to date but has not been? The report states that there will be intensive consultations now — and I welcome that — but this should have been taking place, and is worrying that it was not.
Paragraphs 3.6 and 6.6 state that this consultation is going to take place so that the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) can complete their report, but there is no indication of when they intend to have that report completed. I am therefore asking the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to let us know when we can expect to receive it.
I welcome the fact that intensive consultations are foreshadowed, but, given the urgency and the approaching deadline, Members should be told today that the Assembly will be recalled to complete these discussions so that we are assured that the proper steps are being taken to have this report completed and presented at an early date.
It is regrettable that this debate is taking place only today. The target date of 31 October 1998 was realistic for the establishment of all the bodies which would depend on this Assembly for their functioning. It is now exactly four months since the Assembly election, and that time should have been adequate to complete that work. However, the discussions that were necessary to set up those bodies have failed to materialise.
We had good economic news today from the First Minister (Designate) in his references to the US trip. Mr Ken Robinson of East Antrim highlighted the good news for an area within his constituency and on the boundaries of mine. I welcome that news but, although I regard economic development as a major issue for the Assembly, the first priority has to be to get the new institutions of government into operation and control, democratically and locally, matters such as agriculture, hospitals and business confidence. Those issues were highlighted by the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
I agree that there should be more intense inter-party discussions on departmental structures, North/South structures and the British/Irish Council. British and Irish civil servants have had many discussions on those structures. Papers have been prepared and the technical assessments on the North/South bodies have been lodged in the Library. There have been meetings with officials in Edinburgh and Cardiff —even with officials in Douglas, St Helier and St Peter Port.
In all that activity, the one huge blank area is in the Assembly. We have the democratic mandate, and the principal responsibility of moving the process forward, but we are not doing that. We are failing those who elected us, and that is a criticism not only of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) but of every one of us, because we have not encouraged them as much as we should have done.
Frequently, during the two years before the Good Friday Agreement, we, the local politicians, relied heavily on outsiders such as George Mitchell, Harri Holkeri and John de Chastelain. It is time we learned to stand on our own feet and accept the responsibility that we claimed to want when we stamped the streets at election time.
If the First Ministers (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are starting a serious process of consultation, Alliance will certainly play its part. It is important to pick up the momentum. We must not lose it. That should have happened a long time ago.
Their statement promised us a period of "intensive consultations" on departmental structures; consultations on the British/Irish Council; "intensive consultations" on North/South Bodies; and an intensifying of consultations on the Civic Forum. The first function of the Assembly is to ensure that those other structures are set in place.
Part of the problem is that we speak different languages here — and I am not referring to Ulster-Scots, Ullans or Irish. I heard that analysis a while ago. Nationalists have a wonderful habit of putting the broad brush picture about. They will slap up a few general principles and all will be right on the night. Unionists tend to speak in the detailed examination mode, and we had some perfect examples.
Mr McLaughlin and Mr G Kelly alleged that the First Minister (Designate) is unwilling to share power. I do not believe that, but the UUP — and not just the Leader — have to show their good will towards bringing the process on board. Their response was shown to some extent by Dr Birnie who gave a detailed analysis of business and technical issues concerning North/South Bodies.
That may be valid, but I suggest to him, though he is not here to hear it, that the approach that parses every sentence, dots every ‘i’, crosses every ‘t’ and demands a consultant’s report before anything is done, gives the impression of foot-dragging.
Unionists must recognise the symbolic importance of cross-border bodies being set up. Decommissioning is symbolically important to them. It is clear that we have missed the 31 October deadline for the setting up of institutions. We also missed the deadline for the Good Friday Agreement — as I recall, by about 17 hours. I had hoped that it would be possible to be within 17 hours of the 31 October deadline, but that seems impossible. We do not seem to do any work until we are up against the wire, and we are certainly against the wire now.
I urge the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), now that they have established the kind of momentum that is reflected in the report, to keep it moving and to ensure that all parties work together to get the structures in place.
When the Deputy First Minister (Designate) was congratulating Mr Trimble and Mr Hume on the Nobel Peace Prize, I could not help thinking of the description given by Bruce Anderson in his obituary on the IRA leader Sean MacBride. Anderson’s comments on MacBride receiving that award were that it was the most disgraceful episode in the history of a dubious award, and this award is certainly dubious. It is dubious for two fundamental reasons.
First, it is entirely premature. We do not have what any normal, decent citizen would call a ceasefire, and we do not have any possibility or prospect of peace. For example, at the beginning of August, Mr Adams told the world at large, via the Internet, the conditions that would be required to bring about peace. Not one of those conditions exists at the moment. When he said that we did not have peace, he was really threatening that if those conditions — which ultimately involve what he calls the reunification of Ireland — are not met we will go back to war.
What we have is a corruption of what used to be called constitutional Nationalism. In a ‘Belfast Telegraph’ article a few nights ago, Mr Joe Byrne had the audacity to state categorically that no one has the right to demand decommissioning. In other words, it seems that no one has a right to demand the surrender — I prefer to avoid the word decommissioning — of a terrorist arsenal to lawful authority. If that is the case, it means that the holding and the use of an arsenal, are entirely legitimate.
That is an issue, Mr Byrne, that your party leader and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will have to address, because when you wrote that article you were not writing it in a personal capacity. You were writing it, if my memory serves me right — and I am not sure of your exact position within the party, but it is well within its upper reaches — on behalf of your party. You were speaking, therefore, on behalf of Mr Hume, who has just received the Nobel Peace Prize, and on behalf of Mr Mallon, who is Deputy First Minister (Designate) of what we hope will be an Assembly and a form of government for Northern Ireland based on authentic and genuine democratic practice. I would like them to address that question in due course.
I would draw your attention — and I have waited so as not to interrupt the flow — to the fact that the proper procedure is not to address a Member directly, but to address him through the Chair; and there are good reasons for that. You are not the only offender.
I take your point.
Not only do we not have peace, but one thing which is becoming increasingly clear — and the Leader of my party reminded us today about the use of porridge to quieten a grinding gearbox — is that we have developed a language associated with the peace process which has been designed to obscure the reality of what that process is about. We have reached the absurd stage — and this shows an inexperience of a democratic Assembly — where we had, this morning, a series of complaints about what was really a form of robust debate and entirely typical of the sort of thing that takes place in almost any democratic body.
The day we look for consensus and conformity of view-point in Northern Ireland to the extent that we cannot robustly exchange and disagree with each other, is the day when we will have imprisoned ourselves in some entirely unacceptable form of politically correct language. We are now going down that road.
There is a discourse associated with this Agreement, a form of language which is designed to obscure its reality. The Agreement is simply about the appeasement of terrorism. That is all there is to it. One dimension of that is the decommissioning issue. It is entirely right that we focus on the decommissioning issue and on the release of terrorist prisoners. As a result of this Agreement, the good decent citizens of Northern Ireland are going to be governed by people who have been the architects of terror for the last 30 years, people who bombed, mutilated and maimed the people of Northern Ireland throughout that time.
At our last meeting a Sinn Fein Member expressed his sorrow and regret for what happened at Omagh. I take this opportunity to remind that Sinn Fein Member that the people who were trained in the making and planting of bombs, and the material that was used, came straight from the IRA. I have recently been scanning a number of standard histories of the IRA and books by a number of informers, and I know that we have within this Assembly people who are named, in those books, and people whose function and activities within the IRA are specified, and it does not seem to me that anyone reading those books could possibly take seriously any expression of remorse or regret that those people make for something like the atrocity of Omagh. We have got to get to grips with this. This Agreement is about the appeasement of terrorism.
Contrary to what he would have us believe, Mr Trimble signed up to an Agreement which specified how the issue of decommissioning and the surrender of these weapons was to be dealt with. The first paragraph in the decommissioning section says
"Participants recall their agreement in the Procedural Motion, adopted on 25 September 1997, ‘that the resolution of the decommissioning issue is an indispensable part of the process of negotiation’. "
So how was it resolved? It was resolved by
"All participants ... [reaffirming] their commitment to the total disarmament ... [and confirming] their intention to ... work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years ... in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement."
There were a number of points about how decommissioning was to be handled. However, the key one is that any requirement to resolve the issue of decommissioning is, it is categorically stated, only a requirement. If there is any obligation in that section at all, it is only an obligation within the context of the implementation of the overall settlement. If something slows down or stops that implementation then the obligation to resolve the issue of decommissioning, as laid out in the Agreement, stops.
So how is it to be resolved? It is simply to be resolved by using whatever influence parties may have, the key point being that there is no specific reference in the Agreement to parties with associations to paramilitary organisations. All parties are treated as being on a par. That establishes the fiction which is central to the Sinn Fein/IRA position within the whole process that Sinn Fein is entirely separate from the IRA. What the First Minister (Designate) has conceded in this document is the substance of the Sinn Fein/IRA position that Sinn Fein is entirely separate from the IRA. He has also conceded that the decommissioning issue could be resolved by people, in some entirely ambiguous and unspecified way, using whatever influence they may have to bring about decommissioning within two years. Of course it is not a requirement that decommissioning should occur within two years.
I will wind up now but wish to come back to this subject. The focus on decommissioning has diverted attention away from the fundamental concessions to the very foundational principles of Irish Nationalism which are contained in the first part of the Agreement. I look forward to dealing with that at another opportunity.
I was delayed this morning. I was dealing with matters concerning the recent fishing tragedy in my constituency. The body of the captain has not yet been recovered.
If I may I would like to add my congratulations to the leader of the SDLP, Mr Hume, and to the leader of the UUP, the First Minister (Designate) Mr Trimble on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. This was very well deserved in both cases. I have worked with both of them over many years in many different democratic institutions here, at Westminster and in Europe. It is not only a tribute to the time and energy that they have given to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland, but it is also international recognition for what we are all trying to achieve in this part of the United Kingdom and in this part of the island of Ireland.
I notice that one of the leading participants in the Assembly, Mr Martin McGuinness, is not present today. I read this morning that he had been playing football, which seems somewhat courageous at his age. I noted with further interest that it was his left foot which was damaged. This did not come as a surprise to me. Nonetheless, the Ulster Unionist Party wishes him a quick recovery and hopes that we can once again, have his participation in the Assembly.
Members have received the report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and I want to commend it to the House. It covers a wide range of subjects, many of which have already been commented upon in this debate. One of the most interesting for us all, irrespective of party, is economic progress and the provision of jobs. I commend what they, together with those who went out to support them, have been trying to achieve in the United States of America. It is good to hear, almost on a daily basis, that further American investment is taking place in Northern Ireland. We want to see this extended to other areas of the world such as South-East Asia and also Europe where there is, as I know from my past work in the European Parliament and now in Strasbourg on the Council of Europe, tremendous interest in what we are trying to achieve in Northern Ireland. They have great sympathy and support for what we are doing in the province.
It was good to hear about the work that we are doing behind the scenes here — we have been meeting once or twice a week with the SDLP — and Dr Birnie mentioned the North/South co-operation. I am glad that Mr Mallon and Mr Trimble have invited other parties to give their ideas now on the type of co-operation that we want to see between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I heard some people complaining about and condemning the lack of progress on the North/South issue. Strangely enough, the criticism was mainly coming from people who have contributed nothing to the discussion on this matter. You cannot complain if you do not participate. I do welcome the invitation that has been extended to all parties to contribute to this ongoing discussion which we have been involved in on an almost daily basis here at Stormont.
I also welcome progress on the agreement over the number of different Departments to be created, the departmental structures, the Ministers, Junior Ministers and whatever. There again, other parties have to contribute to this debate, and there is plenty left for them to do. We want to see everyone contributing to this so that we reach decisions which most people can accept.
There is, of course, the issue of decommissioning. I did not understand the language that some people used at times. Those who spoke in Irish confused most Members on the Opposition — if there is an Opposition, in this House. I am not sure yet where the Opposition is, whether it is to my right or opposite me. I come back to the census that we had in 1991. It confirmed — and I look at the people opposite — that only 10 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland understand of the Irish language. That means 10 people out of 108. No more than 10 people here understand Irish, and I saw people looking at the ceiling. The census also showed that only two or three per cent are actually fluent in the Irish language. Three per cent of 108 is three and I can see that Mrs de Brún is one of the three. I am not sure who the second and third ones are, but I come back to my thesis that tonight there will be more people talking Chinese to each other than speaking Gaelic in Northern Ireland.
On the issue of the language on decommissioning we have to be consistent. It has been, and is, an important issue for Ulster Unionists. You cannot run away from the Belfast Agreement. The Belfast Agreement — and I know this having been the chief negotiator for the Ulster Unionist Party at those talks — concentrated in detail on the decommissioning issue.
It was an issue that went on and on and on. People who were involved in the talks know that. Sinn Fein Members know it because they participated in the talks and put their names to the Agreement. That Agreement makes it quite clear that there can only be a shadow Executive once they affirm their commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and their opposition to any use or threat of force by others — page 9, paragraph 35.
Those in Sinn Fein who are inextricably linked with the IRA, if we accept the word of Mr Ahern, Mr Bruton, Mr Major, Mr Blair and others, have got to say that they are totally opposed to the use or threat of force.
The answer to that is that Sinn Fein is inextricably linked to the IRA, and the Member should not try to get it off the hook. It is inextricably linked to the IRA. There are some people, in the DUP in particular, who, like Sinn Fein, do not want decommissioning, and why not? Because they know that if there were decommissioning — [Interruption].
I am making a distinction between Mr McCartney and the DUP — increasingly so, indeed, in recent days. The DUP do not want decommissioning, and Sinn Fein should take that on board. The one way to wreck the process is to ensure that there is no decommissioning, that there is no shadow Executive, no Executive and no solution to Northern Ireland’s problems.
Mr Foster is absolutely right because he underlines my point: that should there be decommissioning the DUP would disappear for ever from Northern Ireland.
We want Sinn Fein to publicly reaffirm what they agreed to as participants in the Belfast Agreement: that they are totally opposed to the use of force or the threat of force. Once that is said openly, we are making progress. We could then move to the timing of the decommissioning, because paragraph 3 on page 20 states that — and I want every Sinn Fein supporter in Northern Ireland to re-read the decommissioning chapter which Mr Gerry Adams, Mr Martin McGuinness, who is now in Altnagelvin Hospital, and others signed their names to —
"All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations."
Not, Mr Hume, general disarmament in Northern Ireland, but simply and solely the disarmament of all paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. Paragraph 2, of the decommissioning section states that there must be
"a workable basis for achieving the decommissioning of illegally-held firearms in the possession of paramilitary groups."
We have a great opportunity in Northern Ireland for co-operation between Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists, in building a new society, a new system of government within the United Kingdom and in the island of Ireland. Such co-operation will benefit us all, and I hope that no one will cherry-pick from the Agreement, but will read every chapter, including that relating to equality and language, and also that on decommissioning.
I welcome the report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). The first joint delegation to the United States by Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon was very welcome, and its symbolism is very powerful at this time. American investors want to come here, but they want to know that there is stability here — political stability in particular.
It is imperative that all these new political structures be put into place. Many Assembly Members have said that they are waiting for other things to happen. The public wants to see the shadow Executive set up. They want to see the North/South Ministerial Council at work. They want progress on all parts of the Agreement.
It is very interesting that Mr Roche accuses me of being against progress on the decommissioning issue. Last week in a local paper, another Assembly Member, Mr Pat Doherty, accused me of pandering to Unionists. My article was fairly balanced, and I was looking for progress on the current impasse.
The people of the North of Ireland, the rest of Ireland and beyond want to see this new Agreement work. We have the endorsement of the people in the referendums North and South. We have international good will for what we are doing, as epitomised in the Nobel Peace Award to my party Leader, Mr Hume, and to Mr Trimble. That international goodwill surely should be a positive force for us to get on with making the new structures work.
A good thing about the joint trip to America, which also included representatives of the Industrial Development Board, was that it addressed the economic issues. Our constituents know about unemployment, and every district council in the North of Ireland is looking for inward investment and economic progress. That will only come if we have the necessary political stability.
The people of Northern Ireland have endorsed change; they want change; and they want us to reflect that change. They want us to get on with making the new structures work. Much time and effort was put into reaching the Good Friday Agreement and having the referendum and the Assembly election. We have all been elected as a result of the Agreement; the public want us to get on with it.
Change is never easy, but we should not be afraid of it, and the Leaders of the parties deserve our support in getting on with that process. I want to see progress made in breaking this logjam, and so do the people. The decommissioning issue should not stop everything. There is an onus on everybody to get over this impasse. I am convinced we can get around it, and the public wants us to get around it. Therefore, we must support those political Leaders who are signatories to the Agreement.
We have also had abundant goodwill from the European Union. I do not accept the idea that the Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation was a token gesture. We are very thankful, in this part of the world, for the funds that we have got from Europe in the past. And we will all be looking for Structural Funds in the future.
What sort of signal do we want to send to our European partners — that we are ungrateful for what they have done for us? But more importantly, our fellow members of the European Union are positive and constructive about what we have achieved and about what they want us to achieve in the future. They know the pain of conflict; they have had it in abundance in the past. There have been two world wars, but they have made progress since then.
With respect, no. The public wants us to make progress on all these fronts. I have referred to it as incremental progress. Every one of us in every party has a duty to contribute to that incremental progress.
I noted with interest that Mr Taylor wished Mr McGuinness "all the best" in his recovery. The next thing we will be seeing is Mr Taylor passing around a "Get Well" card! All I have to say about Mr Martin McGuiness’s leg is
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
I listened very attentively to both these statements. It is quite clear that the North American Investment Roadshow is just a roadshow — a roadshow to a united Ireland. We are talking about departmental structures, the British/Irish Council, the North/South Ministerial Council, the Civic Forum and the Brussels conference, but there is no sign of any statement about decommissioning. At the time of the referendum, Mr Trimble and his cohorts were going around telling us that nothing could move forward until decommissioning took place. We saw, quite clearly, at the UUP conference in Londonderry, exactly what is going on.
Speaker after speaker from the pro- and anti-agreement camps of the Ulster Unionist Party repeated that Sinn Fein Ministers must not be allowed into the Northern Ireland Government until the Irish Republican Army had begun to hand in its stocks of Semtex and weapons.
Mr Reg Empey, the Ulster Unionist negotiator, said "We have done our bit; we are doing no more." It is quite clear that Mr Trimble has fudged this whole issue. Who is Mr Trimble helping? Mr Trimble is helping to bail out the British Government. We were told time and time again that this so-called Good Friday Agreement — the Belfast Agreement to my mind — would bring peace, but it will not deliver peace. All we have to do is to think of the recent shootings, the recent punishment beatings, and so on. These men have the cheek to tell the people of Northern Ireland that there would be peace when this Agreement was signed.
There is no sign of peace, and there will be no peace until we deal with the real problem — Sinn Fein/IRA. This whole process was set up for them. That is clear from what a Sinn Fein representative said today "David, if you do not implement the Agreement, then the two Governments will". Not a bit of wonder Gerry Adams, the Leader of Sinn Fein/IRA said "Well done, David". It is clear that David has been caught in the net by Sinn Fein/IRA, and he is letting the British Government off the hook.
If there were to be another referendum tomorrow it would clearly show that most of the people in Northern Ireland are against what is going on today. This agreement was set up to appease Sinn Fein/IRA. What did they get out of it? They got a Christmas box – prisoner releases, the scaling-down of security, a British/Irish Council, and the North/South Ministerial Council, and all of this was provided without decommissioning. And what did they give? They gave nothing.
What about the ordinary, decent people out in the streets of Northern Ireland who believed these men — these so-called educated men who told them that they would deliver peace, that decommissioning would start right away and that nothing would move on until decommissioning started? They have been deceived. Sinn Fein/IRA are quite clearly calling the tune, and they are calling the tune here in the Assembly.
It is disgraceful that we have such dead-head Unionists who are prepared to sell this province out to Sinn Fein/IRA and to the Nationalist community. I think especially of the statement Mr Trimble made at the Londonderry conference when he said that he would give the IRA time to start decommissioning arms beyond next Saturday’s deadline. I am also reminded of what Mr Sam Foster, the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said earlier, that the UUP was the only one that was trying for decommissioning. The UUP is doing U-turns; they are appeasing Sinn Fein/IRA, and they are surrendering time and time again. What are the headlines? "Trimble will extend the weapons deadline". What did he tell us at the time of the referendum? He said that nothing could move and no progress could be made until decommissioning took place.
I do not know where Mr Sam Foster has been, but it is clear that he must have been sleeping. But when you get to a certain age things do happen — your hearing goes, and you start nodding off.
Mr Trimble along with his co-called dead-head Unionists have surrendered to the republican movement and Sinn Fein/IRA, and there will never be any decommissioning. The DUP wants decommissioning. I consider it an insult for John Taylor, the Deputy Leader of the UUP, to say that it does not. I want decommissioning; I want peace, but I do not want peace at any price. The only way there will be peace in Northern Ireland is for there to be no surrender to Sinn Fein/IRA.
The only way to have peace in Northern Ireland is for the Government to deal firmly with terrorism, and the only way to deal firmly with terrorism is the way you deal firmly with a weed — you take it out. I am calling for our Government especially to deal firmly with terrorism because the people of Northern Ireland are sick to the teeth of being deceived time and time again by so-called leaders, so-called Unionists and so-called Assembly Members.
The only way that we are going to have peace is if the Government move in and decommission Sinn Fein/IRA — that is the only way we are going to have peace. It is quite clear to those living in the Newry and Armagh area Sinn Fein clearly does not want peace. Intimidation after intimidation after intimidation is going on in my area — that is no sign of peace. Tell the people on the border areas, tell the people that are being beaten up, tell the people who are suffering punishment beatings that there is peace — that is an insult!
As for Drumcree, yes, we want peace and we want to get down the Garvaghy Road in a peaceful and dignified manner. I am not responding to Sinn Fein/IRA. It is cheap for Sinn Fein Members to talk about blast bombs when they have been blowing the ordinary, decent people out of their homes and out of their properties for years. I have said it before and I will say it again that we condemn what happened at Drumcree and at Corcrain with the murder of Const O’Reilly. We totally condemn that. Nothing can justify what happened, but it is cheap for Sinn Fein/IRA Members to shout about blast bombs when year after year they sent men to attack Mr McCrea’s home with an AK47. It is cheap for them to shout about that.
The only way that we can decommission the arms is for the Government to deal firmly with Sinn Fein/IRA. Let us have another Loughgall where the SAS moved in and wiped out a full terrorist organisation in the Tyrone area. The only way that we are going to have peace is for the Government to move in and decommission these men. The DUP wants decommissioning to take place and if Mr Trimble [Interruption]
I did not say anything out of hand. Year after year and day after day the news has told us what Sinn Fein/IRA has actually done, and I make no apologies for saying what I have said. It is time for the Government to deal firmly with Sinn Fein/IRA, to give us a few more Loughgalls and wipe these men off the board. That is the only way.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. One of the victims of the Loughgall ambush was not involved in any element of the troubles. He would be described by people like Mr Berry himself as an innocent victim. Mr Berry is calling for Loughgalls regardless of whether people view the SAS ambush as legitimate or otherwise. One person who was not involved on either side of the conflict was shot dead on that night. So does he still welcome that same attack?
I assume that in calling for that point of order you were underlining my own caution in respect of what we say. I would advise considerable caution so that Members do not get over-excited in their speech, and find their words running ahead of what it is advisable to claim or call for.
I need to draw your attention to the fact that there were things which you called for — not which you referred to, but which you called for — which I consider should be handled with caution.
I would like to join Mr Taylor in extending best wishes on a speedy recovery to Martin McGuinness.
Earlier, when we were debating other issues, and when my colleague, Mr Molloy, was speaking, the First Minister (Designate) got rather annoyed. He got heated and flustered. He pointed his pen and said "Obligations, obligations". He did not elaborate — but I intend to.
Later, Mr Beggs spoke about the likely outcome of a survey of those who spoke English. If such a survey, with a slight amendment, were carried out within the UUP to find out who understands the English language, and particularly the language used in the Good Friday Agreement, the First Minister (Designate) would understand his obligations.
I see that he has left the Chamber. He is afraid that I may point out his obligations. They are to implement the Good Friday Agreement. He has to do that not only to satisfy the will of the people of the Six Counties, but also the will of the people of the whole of Ireland who voted in a referendum to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented. It is the will of the people that that be done, and if members of the UUP read the Agreement they will see that decommissioning is not tied to the Executive or to the setting up of North/South Ministerial Council. There is no precondition.
We entered negotiations in September 1997 on issues that concerned all the parties. Some parties opted out, as is their democratic right. Some parties, the UUP in particular, stayed in and negotiated. They fought their corner, and strung it out for six months, but they eventually agreed to the Good Friday document, which contains sections on the setting up of an Executive, and the establishment of the North/South Ministerial Council by 31 October. There is also a section on decommissioning — but that is not a precondition. All participants were to use any influence that they might have for the implementation of the overall settlement.
Page 20 covers decommissioning, and Page 12 covers the Executive. There is no precondition in the decommissioning section. The date of 31 October is under the section on the North/South Ministerial Council.
Although Mr Taylor may read English, he may not understand it. Mr Taylor and the First Minister (Designate) do not understand their obligations. There is an obligation on the First Minister (Designate), which he has a few days left to fulfil. He may yet fulfil that commitment by finding the courage to do what he is obliged to do by the Good Friday document. He has been entirely selective in his approach to decommissioning. He has never mentioned any weapons, other that the weapons of the IRA, in any of the interviews that I have seen. He has never mentioned those of the British Army, the RUC or the so-called licensed weapons. He even opposed the Dunblane legislation being applied to the six counties. Could he explain that?
I draw the Member’s attention to Mr Taylor’s contribution, which showed that the decommissioning section is quite clear. It involves a commitment to the disarmament of paramilitary organisations, and refers to illegally held weapons. The comments about the army and police are wholly inappropriate. The Member should read what he signed up to.
I can read, and I can have my own interpretation of what is paramilitary and what is not. I understand the context in which the First Minister (Designate) views the RUC and the British Army, but he did not answer the question I posed about the Dunblane legislation. Why did he oppose that legislation being brought into the Six Counties? It was because he is focused, selectively, on one section of the community.
There is a clear obligation on the First Minister (Designate) to implement the Good Friday Agreement. Mr Mallon’s report states that decommissioning cannot be forced yet Mr Trimble seems to be trying to do that very thing — and he is doing it out of context because he is not implementing the rest of the Agreement and is pursuing a narrow Unionist agenda.
In replying to the debate, I shall try to touch on some of the points that have been made. I apologise to any Member who is omitted from my comments, but I propose to choose some particular ones.
Mr Berry made a rather amusing speech in which he referred to my colleague, Mr Foster, who heard the speech in question. Mr Berry did not read it and did not hear it and his comments on it were wholly inaccurate. I recommend that he read it, after which perhaps he will realise that he has made a fool of himself.
Some Members spoke of their desire to see the statement earlier. We were conscious of precedents, and by making the statement available the moment we sat down, we were keeping substantially within established practice in other places. The break for lunch gave everyone the opportunity to study it. Therefore, there is no substance in those comments.
Mr Farren spoke about the Industrial Development Board, and referred to differentials on corporation tax. It is true that some people in the United States referred to that, but when we badgered the Industrial Development Board about it, we discovered an excellent answer which the Industrial Development Board has not bothered to use. At first sight, 10% corporation tax seems attractive, but people do not realise that pre-set-up expenditure is tax deductible for companies in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom generally, but not tax deductible for companies in the Republic of Ireland. The grants that are available in Northern Ireland are tax-free whereas the Republic of Ireland’s grants are taxable.
Furthermore, capital expenditure is also deductible. The consequence of those deductions is that companies setting-up, depending on the amount that they invest and the expenditure that they incur, do not pay any corporation tax for several years. A nil rate of tax over the first few years of company operation is a significant advantage, and the Republic of Ireland’s 10% rate applies only to profits that are retained and reinvested. That shows that the alleged benefits are not as great as they seem. The Industrial Development Board should have been making the position clearer on a matter that people have been referring to year after year.
I think that Ms Morrice spoke about consultation starting tonight. Perhaps I should make matters a little clearer.
Tonight a letter will be issued to the other parties inviting them to send representatives to a meeting on Thursday when the consultations will take place. Mr Neeson referred to bilaterals, but the invitation will be to a round-table meeting which all parties will attend. There may well be some matters which would be better pursued in bilateral and some collectively — we will judge that as best we can in the circumstances — but we are starting with a general meeting, rather than proceeding by way of bilaterals.
Having picked Mr Neeson up on that point, at least I should credit him for quoting the Agreement accurately — quite the opposite to the comments we have just had from Mr Doherty. The 31 October date in the Agreement refers only to identifying and agreeing areas where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place. This identification and agreement happens within the transitional period, and nowhere in the Agreement are the transitional arrangements precisely described.
The transitional arrangements are somewhat flexible. I notice that Mr Kelly also made that mistake. He quoted at some length from paragraph 16 and the succeeding paragraphs on Strand 1 which relate to the operation of the Assembly after the transfer of functions, but they are not relevant to the transitional arrangements. A number of Members have been making the mistake of reading paragraphs as applying to a transitional period which, in fact, they do not. That has been the cause of some of the confusion among Sinn Fein Members.
I found Mr Kelly’s comments interesting. While he and other Sinn Fein Members were criticising us for allegedly not doing things, Mrs de Brún criticised us for doing things. She complained about the fact that the SDLP and the UUP had set up a working group and had sought assessments and other things. She asked who was directing this.
The answer is quite simple — I am, along with the Deputy First Minister (Designate). We are carrying out the task charged to us by the Assembly of putting ourselves in the position where we can bring forward proposals — we are working on this. It is quite unrealistic to expect us to do all the work ourselves, and that is why we have asked some colleagues to assist. And that is why we have sent matters off for technical assessments to other Government Departments.
We are not, and that is something that we will turn our mind to as soon as is practicable. It is unrealistic to expect everything to begin and to happen immediately and simultaneously. People should bear that in mind. During the transitional period we will be engaged in quite a complex process, and we will be trying to do in six to eight months what Wales and Scotland are taking several years to do. Mr Ford’s comments on this point were quite inappropriate. He said that four months was enough time to do all these things. That is an unrealistic comment. We are engaged in this matter and are studying it; we have not yet got to a programme of government, but I think we have done very well to have got as far as we have on the matters to which we have given priority. I would also like to draw attention to what the Deputy First Minister (Designate) said: that, following the bilaterals that we had in September, only one other party gave a written submission with regard to North/South matters.
With regard to departmental structures it was several weeks before written submissions came in from other parties, and most of the people we met in those consultations said that they would follow up their oral comments with detailed papers. We waited weeks for those papers. After receiving and looking at them, we sent them off for technical assessment to Government Departments. As those assessments are returned we can and will advance the matter. Anyone who doubts the amount of work involved in this can go to the Library and look at the paper on North/South matters that has been lodged there.
The working party has been looking at those matters. A number of areas were identified and proposals were put forward by ourselves and the SDLP. These were all then sent for technical assessments, which have just been received and are in the library. I hope that those coming to Thursday’s meetings will consider them because we would like to see the discussions focussing on some issues.
I mentioned two of them in my opening remarks, namely the matters which should be within a department of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. There is also the question of Junior Ministers, and I know that this was a matter of some controversy during the last consultation period. But there is now a provision in the Bill requiring us to consider whether we implement this, and, if so, how. So I would like to see some focus put on that.
I would also like to see Members focusing on the proposed areas for co-operation on the North/South axis, and the technical paper in the Library will be of help in this.
I hope that we will also soon be able to have a meeting collectively with representatives of the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Office. They have been consulted and there has been contact at official level.
Furthermore, I would not abandon hope that we will meet the target set out in Strand 2, paragraph 8 of the Agreement; that of identifying and agreeing areas for co-operation by the 31 October. It is possible for us to meet this target because we are not far away from it in some areas. If we could meet it in substance, then whether or not there has been an inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council would be another matter.
Does the First Minister agree, as I believe many of his Back-Benchers and his party’s rank and file do, that any party inextricably linked to a paramilitary organisation which is retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to an exclusively democratic means of resolving political differences, nor could it oppose the use or threat of force by others for such purpose?
There should be Unionist unity on this matter. This is surely a position that the First Minister (Designate) can endorse. It is mentioned on the first page of the Belfast Agreement at paragraph 4 under "Declaration of Support". Would Mr Trimble confirm that it is his understanding that Sinn Fein/IRA and those others representing and fronting paramilitary organisations cannot meet that criteria and that they cannot give that commitment without formally winding up their operations?
It is rather ironic that Mr Cedric Wilson has clearly not read what I said on Saturday. Had he done so he would have known that I quoted from exactly the same passage as he has just done and to the same effect as himself.
When the Member looks at what I said on Saturday, he will find that I had already said it then. Consequently would the Member agree that it is a desperate shame for his Leader to say "I share the view of Sinn Fein", which is what he did with regard to this specific matter?.
No, but technically it would be correct to say that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have to make the proposals which then have to be ratified by the Assembly. I would assume from that that both the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) would have to be content with their own proposals.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, I was near the end of my comments, but perhaps it was appropriate that it was Mr McLaughlin who rose on that point of order. I was as confused as you as to what on earth he was getting at. Earlier he said that after six months there is no excuse for further delay. Nor is there any excuse for his organisation’s delay in fulfilling its obligations. Under the Agreement it is committed to achieving the total disarmament of paramilitary organisations. It has accepted an obligation to disarm the Republican movement. That is his obligation. He may smile, but that is his obligation which he has failed to deliver so far. There is no excuse for the delay. That should have started some time ago.
We will continue to carry out our obligations, as we have done. However, I have to repeat what I said on Saturday. While Mr McLaughlin fails to discharge his obligations then, in accordance with paragraph 25 of Strand 1 of the Agreement, he is not entitled to office. He should read that paragraph of the Agreement too. That is important. We want to encourage him to carry out his obligations, but he cannot complain if, on failing to carry out his obligations, the consequences prescribed in the Agreement should follow.
This is a digression. We look forward to consultation on Thursday and hope that we make further progress particularly on North/South matters. We further hope that the constitution unit in the Cabinet Office makes progress with regards to the British/Irish Council. The meetings of the two will have to be the same, and we do not want one to hold back the other. They will be in position, I am sure, as the Agreement states in paragraph 7 of strand two,
"as soon as practicably possible".
We will be able to have meetings of both bodies so that two more elements of the Agreement will be in place.
I hope that there will be progress towards the transfer of functions as soon as possible and that we shall be able to do what we had all hoped to do, namely to implement the Agreement by seeing power transferred to the Assembly.
I will refer to some of the points that have been made. I will not be able to cover all of them.
Mr Empey made a very valid point about the role of politicians with regard to inward investment. One of the benefits of the roadshow was that it gave us an opportunity to look at that and to make some assessment of it. It is a very potent role, and one that could be of great use in the future.
Mr Farren emphasised the danger of delay. I agree totally. Inertia is the most fundamental threat to any political process. Thus I believe it is absolutely essential that, this week, we proceed in a serious way with consultations and that we do not allow inertia to happen.
May I have Mr Mallon’s interpretation on the section that deals with reaching agreement by 31 October? The First Minister (Designate) is correct in indicating that the purpose of that deadline is to identify and agree areas of co-operation for implementation. However, it also says that these will be agreed by the representatives of the transitional administration. Therefore, I assume that the representatives of the transitional administration must be in place before 31 October.
Therefore, does the Deputy First Minister (Designate) see himself and the First Minister (Designate) as being the representatives of the transitional administration under the terms of the Agreement?
Mr Robinson knows full well what my answer to that question is. He knew the answer to that question before he asked it. I have very strong views on the issue and I expressed them in a very firm way two or three weeks ago.
One of the most interesting aspects of this debate is that we are seeing the beginning of the playing out of the fact that just because we are trying to co-operate as different political parties, it does not mean that we are any less Unionist or any less Nationalist, nor does it mean that we do not have our own firm views about things. It would be impossible for us to cease to be political so that we could work the political process. That, to me, is the most interesting part of it.
We are trying to come to terms with that reality but we will never do that if we take a legal, quasi-legal or technical interpretation of the Agreement or the legislation. Each of us could argue, very validly and logically, from many points of view, about that question and many other questions in the Agreement, and that has already happened in relation to decommissioning.
The other interesting theme is that it is almost as if the problem of decommissioning is an inter-Unionist problem, given the way in which it has been played out in the Assembly today, but, of course, it is not. It is not a Unionist versus Nationalist argument; it is not a Unionist versus Republican argument — the vast majority of Nationalists on the island of Ireland want decommissioning. That view has been stated by Fianna Fail, through the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, by Fine Gael, by the Irish Labour Party, by the Progressive Democrats, by the SDLP, and all through their Leaders.
It is worth posing one question to avoid the inter-party element on this. I can see how difficult it would be to make a response in terms of decommissioning because it is demanded by Unionism. Set Unionism aside for a moment — and I do not mean that in a disparaging way. Do it for the Irish people, in the name of the Irish people who have asked for it and who want it as dearly as anyone sitting on the Unionist Benches.
Mr McLaughlin asked when we can expect a full report. In my view, very quickly. It is possible to come to a conclusion about the number of Departments and their functions after one day of solid work. There may not be the number or the functions that every party would like, but a call has to be made on it sometime. One day could clear that up. We could make decisions, very quickly, about the implementation bodies and the bodies for enhanced co-operation. That could be done by the end of this week as well. It might not bring about what everybody would like, but decisions could be taken.
While the First Minister (Designate) and I took some criticism, some of it valid, some perhaps not — we are not always perfect — we have not allowed ourselves to make decisions under the Agreement that we could have made, to the detriment of other parties.
Part of the reason that we do not have as full a report as, perhaps, Members would have liked, and that it was not presented as quickly as it might have been, is that we have been assiduous — between ourselves and with ourselves — in ensuring that this be done in the most democratic way. The irony is that in trying to be as democratic as possible, it looks as if an undemocratic issue, decommissioning, is preventing the speed and authority that there might otherwise have been.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) is correct in saying that Sinn Fein has acknowledged that some work has been done, but does he not agree that a lie is given to that when it has taken up to two days before the deadline of 31 October for us to have the second all-party meeting of the Assembly? I do not think that this is being taken seriously.
I could turn the question if I wanted to be a smart alec. I could say to Mr Maskey "You tell us when the final report will come out. You tell us when it will be done". I have stated, on behalf of the First Minister (Designate) and myself, that we could draw up the departmental structures and the implementation bodies in the areas for enhanced co-operation very quickly — that could be done. The question is this: how soon can that report be implemented? I know those in the Chamber who are not preventing it from being implemented and I know what issues are preventing it. I could well, with some validity, say "You tell me when it might be implemented."
I will proceed to a point already made by the First Minister (Designate) in relation to the questions asked by Mr Neeson. It is not confined to bilaterals — but that point has been well made.
I regret that Mr McCartney is not present. I would like to have had some further information on the struggle of memory, on the matter of forgetting, by Milan Kundera. I would have thought that in a divided society to try to retain memory as the primary source of inspiration was not the most productive way of proceeding. Yes, there are things which we never forget, but to base our political philosophies, our political way of life, and our political drive on that which we want to retain in memory, rather than look to the future, is not something that is a very inspiring type of philosophy. That is, apart from being full of porridge oats, a nice piece of imagery. But how full of porridge oats was the verbal submission made by the United Kingdom Unionist Party, or its paper on the Government Departments, the North/South Council of Ministers, the British/Irish Council or the Civic Forum? Could I recommend some porridge oats. Get them on the paper. At least then we would be able to assess them.
The points raised by Ms Morrice are valid — rightly she would have preferred to have had the statements in advance. As far as possible we will try to ensure a little more time in future. There was a logistical problem, and we accept responsibility for that. I hope that we will have the full report next time and that we will be able to issue it as quickly as possible. Ms Morrice is correct in terms of the development of local industries.
For the umpteenth time I will say it; there is no such stipulation in the Agreement. I cannot find any and if you find it, let me know and I will put a big signpost out. That is my public position and I do not have any problems stating it here as I do elsewhere. I have discussed this fully with the First Minister (Designate) and he knows my position on it.
If the claque at the back is finished we might get back now to the matter in hand.
I note the comment about local industries and I absolutely agree that in searching for inward investment we should not lose sight of the fact that our economy will actually rest on the strength of our indigenous, local industries, and we should encourage them.
I am tempted to finish on a poetic note. Dr Birnie made reference to Robert Frost and said
"Good fences make good neighbours."
I have to take him to task on that because in reality Robert Frost was challenging the thesis that good fences make good neighbours. Assemblyman Poots confirmed that when he quoted the subsequent line:
"Something there is, that does not love a wall".
I believe that this is crucial to what we are doing here, not just in North/South terms, though it is important there too, but among ourselves, and in the sense that if we do not break down the walls mentally in terms of our political positions, our ideologies and our intolerance — and we are all intolerant — we are not going to be able to work together successfully.
I was very taken with the point made by Mr K Robinson that working together involves the accommodation of difference. That does not mean the subsuming of differences in somebody else’s political philosophy. It is the working together despite the differences that is crucial, and that is the only approach which can sustain us as we go through what is going to be a very difficult period. This is a difficult period now, but it will be overcome, and I hope we do it ourselves, without the help of others. Then there will be the next crisis and then there will be the one after that.
What we can do is to carry out our mandate: decide on Departments, decide on the implementation bodies, decide on the areas for enhanced co-operation, decide on our forum, and decide on the British/Irish Council. If we bring forward our proposals, we can say at any given time that we have done what we were charged to do so that when we are in a position to go ahead, we can do so immediately. That surely is the benefit of our discussion today.
I commend the report from the First Minister (Designate) and myself to the House, and I make the very substantial pledge that if we all sit down and use our collective talents, we can get that body of work together very quickly, effectively, and efficiently and have it ready. Then we can move to the next crisis and solve it and then into the crisis after that and solve it. I have always predicted that the first five years of the Assembly will be a matter of rolling negotiations and rolling crisis management. That is what we have to do, and the sooner we start to do it, the sooner we finish it.
Twenty-two Members have submitted applications to speak on the Adjournment. As agreed by the Committee to advise the Initial Presiding Officer, and as indicated to Members in All-Party Notices, Ministers and party Leaders are excluded from the selection process, as are all Members who have already made a substantive contribution to debate in the Assembly Chamber. On this agreed basis 11 exclusions were made. Eleven Members therefore remained, six being chosen to contribute today with the widest possible range of parties being represented after the exclusions to which I have referred were made.
That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]