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Minister Flanagan updates Dáil on Political Talks in Stormont

Minister Charles Flanagan, Northern Ireland Peace Process, Press Releases, Speech, Ireland, Northern Ireland, 2015

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, has addressed the Dáil on the current situation in Northern Ireland.

He informed members that progress had been made in the Talks but negotiations remained ongoing.

He stated:

“Progress has been made and there has been an intensification in engagement over recent days. The Government strongly believes that the best agreement is one that all five Northern Ireland parties can support and commit to implement and we are working to that objective.

“Specifically we are aiming to reach collective agreement on: the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement; and a shared approach to end the impact and legacy of paramilitarism.”

Minister Flanagan highlighted the importance of achieving progress on the establishment of the institutions dealing with the past in the Stormont House Agreement. He stated:

“Over 3,500 lives were lost in the course of the Troubles. That is an appalling legacy and one which has left wounds of memory which will never fully heal. But we need to continue to do everything we possibly can to ease the hurt and comfort the survivors.

“That is why I am determined that the work begun by the Stormont House Agreement on establishing institutions to deal with the legacy of the past is completed so that justice and truth can bring what healing is possible to victims and survivors of the troubles and their families.

“I am working intensively with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland political parties to ensure the timely establishment of these institutions, including the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, the Historical Investigations Unit, the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and the Oral History Archive. The December Agreement set out the political framework for these institutions but we are now working through in more operational detail how they will be established and function.”

Minister Flanagan highlighted the need to address the impact and legacy of paramilitarism, stating:

“The Garda Síochána’s review and the British assessment have acted as a catalyst, injecting fresh momentum into the efforts to collectively address the impact and legacy of paramilitarism. Addressing this issue will require a multi-faceted approach across many sectors and two jurisdictions.

“However, any prospective outcome is likely to include an agreed vision for a Northern Ireland beyond the shadow of paramilitarism, a commitment by all parties to work collectively to achieve it and some form of monitoring arrangements to measure progress on achieving these key objectives.

“The effective tackling of criminality and organised crime associated with the legacy of paramilitarism by the forces of law and order will also be a key component of any agreed outcome. Involvement in violence and intimidation, large-scale smuggling operations, fuel-laundering, drug-dealing and extortion are destroying lives on both sides of the Border. This cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.

“Building on the already very successful cooperation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, any agreed outcome to the talks should seek to further deepen North/South cooperation to tackle the scourge of this criminality. The Government’s objective is to secure agreement on new arrangements for enhanced cooperation, involving all of the key agencies, that will more comprehensively crack down on cross-border organised crime.”

ENDS

PRESS OFFICE

3 NOVEMBER 2015

 

Statements on Northern Ireland

Dáil Éireann

3 November 2015

Statement by Minister Flanagan

Ceann Comhairle,

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on the current situation in Northern Ireland.

The Taoiseach outlined in his statement the absolute priority which this Government attaches to peace and stability in Northern Ireland. The work to deliver a reconciled and peaceful Northern Ireland as part of a prosperous and inclusive island of Ireland is something which continues every day across Government, regardless of the news cycle.

Currently our focus is of course on the current political talks in Belfast which I am co-chairing together with the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Progress has been made and there has been an intensification in engagement over recent days. The Government strongly believes that the best agreement is one that all five Northern Ireland parties can support and commit to implement and we are working to that objective.

Specifically we are aiming to reach collective agreement on: the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement; and a shared approach to end the impact and legacy of paramilitarism.

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on progress on both of these issues but would emphasise that negotiations are still ongoing so I am not yet in a position to speak in definitive terms about the likely final outcome.

The implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which was concluded under the auspices of both Governments in December 2014, is a central element of the talks. The Agreement offers a template for overcoming serious difficulties in the Executive, especially around financing, welfare reform and dealing with the legacy of the past.

While financing and welfare reform is primarily an issue for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, I have continually encouraged the parties to resolve their differences for the sake of Northern Ireland’s economic stability and the sustainability of public services. The British Government has a key role to play in this area and their engagement will, I hope, continue to recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland as a society dealing with the legacy of conflict.

Dealing with the Past

The Good Friday Agreement in its opening words speak about the fact that ‘the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering’.

Over 3500 lives were lost in the course of the Troubles. That is an appalling legacy and one which has left wounds of memory which will never fully heal. But we need to continue to do everything we possibly can to ease the hurt and comfort the survivors.

That is why I am determined that the work begun by the Stormont House Agreement on establishing institutions to deal with the legacy of the past is completed so that justice and truth can bring what healing is possible to victims and survivors of the troubles and their families.

I am working intensively with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland political parties to ensure the timely establishment of these institutions, including the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, the Historical Investigations Unit, the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and the Oral History Archive.

The December Agreement set out the political framework for these institutions but we are now working through in more operational detail how they will be established and function. Given the sensitivity of the issues concerned, this is not without contention and I do not propose to comment on the detail of proposed drafts or solutions currently on the table. Instead, I will offer some observations on what this Government wishes to see reflected in any final outcome on legacy issues.

There will in any event be a need for legislation in this jurisdiction on a number of elements so we will have ample opportunity to discuss the detail in this House when the relevant Bill is introduced by my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will be a new independent body, with full investigatory policing powers. It will take forward investigations in Northern Ireland into outstanding Troubles-related deaths, including cases from the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team process and the legacy work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

For our part, we want to see an HIU which faithfully reflects what is envisaged in the Stormont House Agreement and is therefore victims centred, independent and transparent, and provides every opportunity to ensure effective investigations which are human rights compliant.

Building on the excellent experience of the existing North/South police cooperation, the Government is committed to ensuring full co-operation by the relevant authorities in this jurisdiction with the HIU and, if necessary, to bring forward legislation to give effect to this commitment.

The Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) will enable people from both jurisdictions to seek and receive information about the death of their loved ones during the Troubles. The work of establishing the ICIR includes the conclusion of a bilateral agreement between the Irish and British Governments, as well as legislation in both jurisdictions. The overriding priority for the Government is to establish a Commission which is fully independent and therefore has the trust and confidence of the victims and survivors and their families.

A key element of the suite of legacy mechanism is the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG). It will receive any potential evidence base for patterns and themes from the other mechanisms dealing with the past and commission work in this area from independent academic experts. The IRG will also encourage and support other related initiatives that contribute to reconciliation, better understanding of the past and reducing sectarianism.

The framework also includes an oral history archive to provide a central place for people from all backgrounds and from throughout Britain and Ireland to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles. The Archive will be independent and free from political interference.

Ending the Impact and Legacy of Paramilitarism

As two high-profile murders in East Belfast in the summer and assessments from An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and MI5 made clear, the pernicious impact and legacy of paramilitarism continue to haunt many communities on both sides of the Border.

The Taoiseach has made the Government’s view clear and I reiterate it. 21 years from the first paramilitary ceasefires and 17 years since the Good Friday Agreement, it is long past time that such groups should carry any capacity for threat.

The transition to a fully normalised society in Northern Ireland must be taken forward definitively.

The Garda Síochána’s review and the British assessment have acted as a catalyst, injecting fresh momentum into the efforts to collectively address the impact and legacy of paramilitarism. Addressing this issue will require a multifaceted approach across many sectors and two jurisdictions.

However, any prospective outcome is likely to include an agreed vision for a Northern Ireland beyond the shadow of paramilitarism, a commitment by all parties to work collectively to achieve it and some form of monitoring arrangements to measure progress on achieving these key objectives.

The effective tackling of criminality and organised crime associated with the legacy of paramilitarism by the forces of law and order will also be a key component of any agreed outcome. Involvement in violence and intimidation, large-scale smuggling operations, fuel-laundering, drug-dealing and extortion are destroying lives on both sides of the Border. This cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.

Building on the already very successful cooperation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, any agreed outcome to the talks should seek to further deepen North/South cooperation to tackle the scourge of this criminality. The Government’s objective is to secure agreement on new arrangements for enhanced cooperation, involving all of the key agencies, that will more comprehensively crack down on cross-border organised crime.

In considering what needs to be done to remove the culture of paramilitarism, we must not forget that dissident republicans, who completely reject the peace process, pose the biggest threat to security right across the island of Ireland. An Garda Síochána and the PSNI have been very successful in their efforts to thwart the murderous efforts of these terrorist groups and we must all commend and support that vital work of cross-border cooperation.

Conclusion

As ever, the Irish Government, mindful of its role as co-guarantor of the Belfast Agreement and conscious of its duty to the people of the island, is providing support and encouragement for these talks to succeed. This Government is determined to ensure that the full promise of the Good Friday Agreement is realised and will spare no effort to achieve this.

I believe that there remains a willingness on all sides to solve the issues around the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement and dealing with the legacy and impact of paramilitarism. I have no doubt that, with the necessary will and determination, agreement is possible. I urge all parties to engage fully and meaningfully in the coming days, so that devolved institutions can get back to the business of delivering good government and effective services for the people of Northern Ireland.

ENDS