Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 14 September 1998 (continued)

Ms de Brún:

Aontaím go hiomlán leis an Uasal Seán Neeson nár chóir go mbeadh páirtí ar bith ag moladh méid áirithe roinn nó méid áirithe airí le bob a bhualadh in aghaidh páirtithe eile. Ní shin an modh oibre a ba chóir a bheith againn ag an phointe seo. Tá mé féin ag dúil, mar atá an tUasal Paisley, le tuairisc nó le moltaí cuimsitheach a théann isteach chuig na mionphointí faoin mhéid ranna agus faoin saghas rannóga a bheas ann. Tá mé ag dúil leis an mholadh sin roimh i bhfad.

Paragraph 4.12 of the interim report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) states that the inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council will take place in the near future, when

"we hope there will be a substantive exchange across a range of matters with Irish Ministers."

I agree with the First Minister (Designate) when he says that, given the approaching deadline, Members should approach this work programme with a sense of urgency. Therefore we need a meeting. The agreement makes it very clear that the North/South Ministerial Council should meet regularly in the time between the election of the Assembly and the transfer of power to the Assembly. Ten weeks have passed since the election to the Assembly and there has yet to be a meeting. I, therefore, agree that we need a meeting very soon.

The agreement also makes it clear that the representation from the Assembly to the North/South Ministerial Council consists of the First Minister (Designate), the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and any relevant Ministers. It is therefore clear that the North/South Ministerial Council cannot have the type of substantive exchange across the range of matters that is envisaged and we cannot put together a work programme which will bring into being the implementation bodies and complete that programme by 31 October without the appointment of the relevant Ministers for those areas covered by the implementation bodies.

I therefore concur with Members from the other parties who have expressed concern about or questioned how that meeting should proceed. In particular, I agree with Ms McWilliams that we need to get clarification very soon on how the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) see that meeting. I acknowledge that Mr Taylor said that we have had such an answer, but I do not believe that we had such an answer today.

With regard to the number of Departments or Ministers we need, I totally agree with Mr Neeson that that proposal should not and cannot be put forward on the basis of scoring points against other parties. That is not the way in which we should proceed or the kind of example that we wish to set to others at this time. On the contrary, Members should consider the work of a Department and whether it best meets the needs of the people.

Dr Paisley said that Members should now be seeing detailed proposals rather than the vague information contained in the interim report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy Minister (Designate). Like Dr Paisley, I too hope to see such detailed proposals very soon.

Mr Close:

Mr Taylor expressed his thanks and those of his party to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) for the wonderful way in which they represented the community over the traumatic month following the happenings in Omagh. I agree. The vast majority of people in the area which I represent were struck by the manner in which their togetherness represented the new beginning for Northern Ireland, the coming together of its people, and it gave hope for the future. The way in which they performed their duties on our behalf must be commended by all Members.

Northern Ireland is entering a very exciting time. We are setting out on a path to provide a new form of government. In many respects its skeleton is represented by the Good Friday Agreement, a term which means a lot to me, for like Good Friday, this agreement offers hope to the people of Northern Ireland. The important thing about the agreement is that it has been accepted and democratically endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the people. The task that now confronts every Member is to set about putting some flesh on the skeleton of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a task which we should set about together. The importance of us striving together cannot be over-estimated because it is vital for the agreement's success.

Many issues divide us, but the one thing we have in common is our democratic mandate. That mandate is equally important to each of us, and we operate from that basis. The people of Northern Ireland are demanding a new start. They have made their voices absolutely clear. Our responsibility is to translate that demand into action.

It is essential that we take the opportunity provided by the agreement to have 10 Departments. I do not see that as a way of providing 'jobs for the boys' because no one from the Alliance party will have any of those potential jobs. The Alliance Party believes in equality, not quantity, of representation. Although we will not qualify under the d'Hondt procedure for these jobs for the boys, it will not prevent me from arguing the case as to why there should be the maximum of 10 Departments.

Anyone who has dealt with Government institutions in Northern Ireland over the years will recognise that the existing Departments are cumbersome, in many respects meaningless, and in all respects unaccountable to the people of Northern Ireland. We must make accountability our key priority, and this can be best achieved by removing the weighty bureaucracy that has held down the potential dynamism in Northern Ireland. Free the people from bureaucracy. Hand control back to democratically elected representatives, and let them get on with running up to 10 Departments.

I could give a few examples. I once heard the Department of the Environment referred to as the Department of eejits, but I will not comment on that. It is a Department which is bureaucratic in the extreme. A massive job needs to be done to break it down and bring it closer to the people. Let us start peeling away the layers of the onion and get to the core of Government, represented through meaningful Departments.

I have spent the last quarter of a century of my life in local government in Northern Ireland. Our hands are tied at every turn. We cannot even change a light bulb without the say-so of a bureaucrat. Is that democracy? Do we not all want to join together in changing that? I believe the answer is yes. Is there not a strong case for allowing the dynamic that exists in local government to act on behalf of the people? Is there not the necessary dynamism there to create and operate a Department of local government, planning and housing?

One of the greatest potential growth areas in Northern Ireland is tourism. The way that tourism has been operated in Northern Ireland leaves a lot to be desired. Is this not another opportunity to develop that potential, to give that potential to the people and to make it a meaningful potential Department.

Sport has been referred to. There are numerous areas where we can have more effective and efficient Government. I take Mr Empey's point about cost. The answer is to remove the unnecessary burden of costs that are currently imposed through quangos, unnecessary boards and trusts and the layer upon layer of administration all of which are costing money. We have the opportunity to strip those away and to get back to meaningful democratic and accountable Government.

As stated in the report, there are complex and challenging issues confronting us in shaping the future. A small step has been taken in this interim report. Let us build on it. My plea is that we build on it together. It is only by working together through this House that we will bring about the necessary improvements to the lives of all the people.

Mr Roche:

It is not entirely unkind to say to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) that they got off to less than an impressive start. We were given this report, on which we were to give our views about five minutes before we came into this debate.

The reason for that delay is not suggested in the report but it is quite evident to the Members of my party. Last week we met the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), and they told us that there were two fundamental areas on which they could not agree. They could not agree on the substance of the remit that was given to them to determine the number of Ministries and the portfolio of each of the Ministries.

4.30 pm

Secondly, they could not agree on a matter that is even more fundamental than the core administrative structures for Northern Ireland. That is, they could not agree on how to establish the democratic credentials of whatever form of government was to suit Northern Ireland within the Union. In other words, they could not agree on the issue of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. It is absolutely crucial to be clear about this issue and to keep the focus on it, yet many speeches today have tried to shift our focus away from what is absolutely crucial to establishing the structures of proper government in Northern Ireland.

The reason the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) could not agree on what would establish the democratic credibility of the structures of Government in Northern Ireland is that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) has an absolutely correct interpretation of the Belfast Agreement: it does not require anyone to decommission anything at any time. But the problem with the First Minister (Designate) is that he sold the agreement to the Unionist electorate on the basis of pledges given by the Prime Minister which are entirely outside its remit.

We have now reached the position where, in order to set up an Executive, a decision has to be made on the requirements that are to be made on the issue of the surrender of terrorist arsenals to a lawful authority. That is the fundamental divide between the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Having got caught in that position, Mr Trimble has, in effect, agreed to a substantive thrust in this document.

There are no substantive proposals in the document, but there is a substantive thrust, which is, of concern to parties on both sides of the House. It is that before there is an agreed Executive and, therefore, before there are any coherent policy proposals or any programmes of government for Northern Ireland, because of the requirement in the Belfast Agreement to meet the deadline of 31 October 1998, they are proposing to proceed to meet those requirements, not with a fully-formed Executive but simply by way of representation by the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy.

That is both contrary to the letter and to the spirit of the agreement and I find myself agreeing entirely, if I understood his position correctly, with the Sinn Fein Member's interpretation of the agreement. I hasten to say that I find myself in agreement only with Sinn Fein's perfectly correct interpretation of the agreement and not with its content, which was precisely the reason that our party rejected it.

Mr Trimble now finds himself in a position of deadlock on the formation of the Executive and the core structures of government for Northern Ireland, and he is trying to obscure that deadlock by moving to put into effect the all-Ireland dimension of the agreement. Therefore, he is acting contrary to the interest of his own constituency, both in terms of establishing the democratic credentials of the agreement and also in terms of securing the position of Northern Ireland within the Union. He is doing that because of the position that he adopted in relation to what was a primary matter in the referendum: whether the agreement actually required decommissioning.

The problem is how to move away from the thrust of these proposals, and we must do so by insisting that there can be no development of any all-Ireland dimension prior to establishing the proper basis of democratic and accountable Government in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGrady:

As it is now probably inevitable that the Omagh bombing debate will be deferred to tomorrow morning, may I suggest that this debate be extended to 7.00 pm because it is important and one to which many Members may want to contribute?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is my view, having canvassed the parties, that it would be improper to divide the Omagh debate. It would be discourteous and inappropriate. That being the case, we should not start that debate this evening if we are to give it its full three hours, as I believe we ought.

In that case we shall suspend the sitting rather than adjourn it and resume at 10.30 am tomorrow for a three hour time-limited debate. A number of speakers have indicated a wish to speak. If it is the wish of the Assembly we can simply continue and give those Members an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Mr Nesbitt:

I reiterate what Mr Taylor said in his opening remarks by commending both the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) on how they spoke and acted over the summer. Their conduct was a beacon to those in Northern Ireland who wished to see a positive way forward being shown by the elected politicians working for their good.

We meet today with an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the right Government for Northern Ireland. A once-only opportunity is certainly not to be rushed. One must not take an inordinate length of time, but we must take some time. I have not seen anyone in business or in any organisation determining structure before policy. To simply say we must have a particular number of Departments from which we determine policy is to approach the matter the wrong way. We need to consider the policy we wish to implement; after that will come the Departments. That is why the Ulster Unionist Party during the first stage, wants to keep to six or seven Departments. We are working through paragraph 35 of the agreement, which covers transitional arrangements.

Many Members have spoken about a lack of speed and about what we could be doing more quickly. Devolution is coming to all regions of the United Kingdom. The previous Conservative Government wanted devolution in Northern Ireland but not for Scotland or Wales. At least this Labour Government seems to be more principled in their application of policy throughout the United Kingdom. But compare Northern Ireland with Scotland; whose referendum was last September. There was a constitutional convention comprising all opinion in Scotland as to how devolution should take place.

We had our referendum in May. Already we have had our election to the Assembly; we have our First Minister and Deputy First Minister in place, and we are beginning the process of formulating how this part of the United Kingdom is to be governed. All that was done against a backcloth of 30 years of violence, which makes it difficult to progress quickly on certain matters. The speed with which we have been acting, through the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) is to be commended.

Mention has been made of an island economy and the need, when working through all these arrangements, to work within one island. It is devoid of logic to say that one island must be one unit and one economy. Borders transcend land and water. The island of Borneo comprises three states; the island of Hawaii is part of the United States of America even though it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This agreement builds upon reality, the reality of the British/Irish isles and North/South and East/West working in co-operation to the mutual benefit of all.

Mr Roche said it was

"crucial to focus on this point".

He was talking about the democratic credentials. Then he told us

"We could not agree" -

that is the First and Deputy First Ministers -

"on the issue of decommissioning."

I agree that it is crucial to focus on this point. I have said this before, and I will say it again. We have been quite explicit about decommissioning. But the Leader of the United Kingdom Unionist Party, writing in the 'Belfast Telegraph' on 1 May 1998 stated at point five of his eight-point plan, which he had announced the previous night on a television programme, that there were two criteria for political parties to be treated as equals - especially those parties linked to paramilitary organisations. We know what "equal" means. One was a permanent renunciation of violence and the other was a public dissociation from all forms of violence. Neither of those criteria mentions decommissioning as a prerequisite for being treated equally.

I stand by my interpretation of what he said. Before the United Kingdom Unionist Party questions the credentials of the Ulster Unionist Party on decommissioning, it should put its own house in order.

Money will be an important element in the workings of this Government. Until now money has been allocated to the rest of the United Kingdom as a transfer within Government, within the block grant. We will now have what is known as a territorial transfer.

4.45 pm

Money will be allocated to Scotland and Wales, and it will now be seen how good, whether we like it or not, per capita, funding has been for Northern Ireland. Some will question why we receive so much and why we have facilities that they do not possess.

The Lord Mayor of London, speaking on behalf of the people of London, will be quick to point out that they are net contributors - they give more in revenue than they gain in spending. These questions will be asked, and therefore it is all the more incumbent on us to be prudent in our spending and not to rush a decision on structures. We must get our policy right and be sure where the money will be spent.

I conclude on a point of optimism. A young man who lives near me never spoke to me about politics until last week when he asked me how things were going. I told him I was hopeful. He said

"You must, all of you, make that work."

That young man's father was a member of the security forces and he was murdered by the IRA. I took his words to heart. We must make this work and, therefore, I commend what the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have initiated through this document.

Mr Durkan:

It is important in dealing with the issues in the report and the various suggestions that have been made during the debate, to bear in mind some realities. There are the realities of the agreement as well as financial realities and the structural requirements that we will need as an Assembly and, more broadly, as a community for the new dispensation.

Mr Nesbitt referred to paragraph 35 of the agreement. As he said, it refers to the transitional arrangements. It was envisaged that in the transitional period Members serving as shadow Ministers would affirm a "shadow" pledge of office. The whole concept of the "shadow" pledge emerged in the negotiations because there was a requirement for people, on taking office, to make some pledge to the Assembly about the sort of commitments that they were prepared to undertake.

Various parties had suspicions about how shadow office might be exploited in the absence of a pledge, and that is why it came about. It was envisaged that Departments and shadow Ministers in those Departments would be identified during the transitional period. It is important that slips of memory about this are not allowed to upset the thrust of the agreement itself.

A case has been made for delaying the submission of proposals on the number and on the specific remits of Departments. I accept that there is a need to take care in how we constitute particular Departments. My colleague Mr McGrady said earlier that we have to be radical and, at the same time, practical. We have no wish to be reckless about finance when considering the constitution of new Departments. The Assembly will operate within fixed limits anyway, notwithstanding the Chancellor's so-called "new money".

We put forward proposals during our meeting with the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) for 10 Departments, which would be assigned to 10 Ministers other than the First Minister and his deputy. We did so not in terms of "noses in troughs", or anything else that has been suggested, but on the basis of what we saw as public-service requirements. We believe that a strong case can be made for these 10 Departments, and that is why we have suggested them.

The departmental structure should be looked at on its own merits, divorced from the speculation about parties and personalities, because in designing departmental structures we are asking public servants to work in those Departments on the basis of their public-service roles and not on the basis of which Minister may or may not be assigned to them.

In designing departmental structures we are designing structures that are meant to serve the community in its entirety, to meet its diverse social, economic, cultural and environmental needs and therefore, we should take care not to allow the difficulties and differences that exist about the precise formation of an Executive to get in the way.

We should get on with the task of looking at those Departments now. This is our chance to offer people the first democratic dividend from the agreement. Let us do that. Let us not reduce it to a bunfight or trivialise it as some sort of party political cargo. In that context our plan for 10 Departments would stand scrutiny. These Departments would be worthwhile for any Minister and worthwhile for Members in terms of our opportunity to serve on departmental Committees.

One of the points that came up again and again in the talks about how the Assembly might conduct its business was whether we needed Ministers as such, or whether things might be done more generally by Committees. Those who favoured the Committee model wanted to make sure that Members of the Assembly other than Ministers would have a real and meaningful role. That means real and meaningful Departments. If some Ministers were in charge of Departments and some were not, that would create a premier league of Ministers, which would cause difficulties for the Civil Service at administrative level. It would also lead to problems in the Assembly in terms of opportunities for Committee participation by Members.

Obviously we will still need a Department of Finance, but our proposals envisage the personnel side of the current Department of Finance and Personnel being hived off into an office of public service, or office of public administration, resting with the First and Deputy First Ministers. The Department of Agriculture, as it stands, obviously covers important areas which can hardly be broken up. Our proposal is for a Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources taking in fisheries and forestry as before, and probably also minerals from the Department of the Environment as well.

We suggest a Department for Infrastructure, taking the Roads and Water Services from the Department of the Environment; ports and airports would go into the Department for Infrastructure as well. The energy grid would come from the Department of Economic Development into the Department for Infrastructure along with public transport and communications. That Department would be coherent in terms of the infrastructural demands that we face, and in terms of the important, albeit diminishing, role that the European structural funds can play. This Department would have strong economic significance.

We would then envisage an element of the Department of Economic Development as currently constituted being a Department covering enterprise, trade and investment, industry and commerce, commercial regulation, consumer affairs, et cetera.

We also suggest a Department which would be styled something like "Employment and Applied Learning" or "Employment and Human Resources Development", and we see that as taking in not just employment law, employment practice and labour relations, which currently come under the Department of Economic Development, but also the Training and Employment Agency and further and higher education from the Department of Education.

This Department would be responsible, essentially, for everybody over school-leaving age. If anyone queried the performance of the Assembly in employment, training, or education opportunity terms, we would have one clear reference base from which to see how well we are performing.

The Social, Democratic and Labour Party envisaged a Department of Social Support and Development, taking housing from the Department of the Environment and the Social Security Agency from the Department of Health and Social Services and combining them along with those community development and regeneration arms that have developed within the Department of the Environment. That Department can play not the sole role in terms of targeting social need, but an important role in helping to achieve that.

Over two decades, there has been talk about estate-based strategies being the way to deal with areas in need. The absence of coherent structures is one of the things that has frustrated this actually taking place. We have an opportunity to bear these sorts of requirements in mind when designing Departments.

A Department of Health and Community Care obviously would remain. We envisage a Department of Education which would concentrate essentially on pre-school, primary and secondary education as well as on services and broader, child-development issues. Perhaps that Department of Education could crack some of the outstanding difficult issues that so far we have not been able to crack such as our very deficient performance in the pre-school area and the question of selection, which many people at the negotiations will remember was the subject of a very animated discussion one particular day.

I welcome what other people have said about sport. We would propose to take that out of the Department of Education, along with culture, the arts and languages, and we put them, as Mr Neeson hinted earlier, with tourism. We think those areas complement each other in promotional and performance terms and not just in terms of bringing tourists in but also in terms of encouraging good services for visitors and interesting activities among the local population.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I wonder if you could draw your remarks to a close.

Mr Durkan:

Yes, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

The final one we envisage - these are not absolutes or demands but simply proposals to show that a good case can be made for 10 Departments - is in the area of the environment, a Department to take in planning, waste management, environmental protection and public safety. We see the Department of the Environment and Public Safety taking in the Fire Service and the other rescue services as well, because there is a watch-dog role in both of those areas to see how the different Departments are performing in environmental and safety terms.

We are quite open to different proposals and arguments, and have put forward certain proposals for functions that do have to rest with the First Minister (Designate) the Deputy First Minister (Designate), if they are to perform their overall responsibility for co-ordination to ensure good Government.

If we can set about creating such Departments and have Committees working along these lines, we can streamline all the litany of quangos which form the intermediary structures and sub-structures. This can best be done when we actually know what the Departments and the structures are.

I refute any suggestion that we have to create policy first and then structures. We negotiated an agreement that said that we were to appoint an Executive Committee which would, as its first task, produce a programme for government. It is clear from the agreement that the structures were to be in place before the policy.

Mr Dodds:

Mr Nesbitt has said that the speed at which the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have proceeded was to be commended. Many of us here were astounded at that comment.

This report is devoid of any real substance. It refers to meetings that began only last week - some months after the Assembly was elected. How he can make such a statement staggers me. But then nothing that Mr Nesbitt says surprises me - he manages to make an argument out of virtually no building blocks.

5.00 pm

I listened with interest to Mr Durkan outlining in some detail the arguments for various Departments and what functions they should have - indeed some cases may have great merit. Others have said why there should be 10 Departments. As my colleague Mr P Robinson has said, that may well be the correct position in due course. However, at this time, none of us can argue definitively on that.

I was interested to compare the views of the Deputy First Minister (Designate) which were published in yesterday's 'Sunday Tribune'. I presume that he was talking about the Social Democratic and Labour Party and not for Mr Trimble. He said

"We argue for the creation of a larger rather than a smaller number of departments, because this will facilitate the inclusion of parties in government."

There is nothing there about what is in the best interest of the government of Northern Ireland or about having Departments cater to the needs of Northern Ireland in delivering services. It is purely designed to ensure that it will facilitate the inclusion of parties in Government. He went on to deal with what each Department should deal with in terms of "real significance and substance".

When Members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and other parties speak, they should be aware that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) is taking a line which is based upon ensuring that the number of Departments is decided for political reasons and that parties are represented. The primary reason is not, it seems, what is in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will respond to that. I regret the fact that both the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy spoke at the start of this debate rather than having one of them deliver a winding-up speech to respond to some of these comments, as is normal practice in most debating Chambers of this nature.

The First Minister (Designate) spoke with enthusiasm of the real steps that were to be taken to ensure the North/South Council of Ministers would be up and running by the end of September so that real substantive decisions would be taken. There was a degree of urgency, he said, about all of this, yet when it comes to setting out the basics for the government of Northern Ireland, the report says absolutely nothing about Departments or about how we should administer Northern Ireland. The priorities are completely wrong.

The First Minister (Designate) said that the agreement could not work unless all of it is made to work. The problem for many Unionists, and for many people in Northern Ireland, is that they see certain parts of this agreement working overtime and other parts not working at all. People see prisoners being released despite the pledges by Mr Blair and Mr Trimble that people would not be released from prison unless violence was shown to be over permanently and forever. That clearly has not been the case. On the celebrated day on which the media made much of a statement issued by IRA/Sinn Fein, Mr Adams said

"Sinn Fein is committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means to achieve a way forward.

Sinn Fein believe the violence we have seen must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone."

On the day that that statement was issued a report in the 'Belfast Telegraph' in relation to the Real IRA and the attitude of the Provisional IRA towards that organisation stated

"In the space of 90 minutes, in an operation that hinted at the degree of organisation that the Provisional IRA is still capable of, each of the key dissidents heard the same rap at the door.

On doorsteps across Ireland they found pairs of men they would have once called comrades clutching the same piece of paper. They carried the same message: the Provisional IRA's Army Council declared the Real IRA had no right to exist and had misappropriated weapons - a hanging offence for republicans.

They were told that "action will be taken" if they did not make amends. Some of the messengers felt the need to spell this out: if they did not do the needful, the Real IRA's leadership would be shot."

The same day these weasel words were being issued for the benefit of the world's press in Belfast for the Clinton visit. Of course, it was carefully worded, once again expressing an aspiration, a hope - not a commitment - on the part of the Sinn Fein that the violence was over, a thing of the past. Such a commitment could easily have been given, but different words were used to ensure that they did not say that the war was over once and for all.

While this agreement is delivering concessions to IRA/Sinn Fein in terms of the release of prisoners and the increasing demands and pressure for Sinn Fein to be admitted into the Government of Northern Ireland, we have yet to see any deliverance by them, in real terms, of what is expected of them in terms of decommissioning.

Of course, as has been pointed out absolutely correctly by my Colleague, Mr Robinson (the Member for East Belfast), Mr McCartney (the Member for North Down) and others, there is no requirement in this agreement for any actual handing over of weaponry by the IRA before Sinn Fein can take up seats in the Government.

Mr Foster:

In light of what has been said, why are the Democratic Unionist Party and the United Kingdom Unionist Party giving incorrect justification for no decommissioning of weapons, giving support to the IRA today?

Mr Dodds:

Mr Foster should join Mr Nesbitt in the realms of fantasy land. The reality is that the DUP has been absolutely clear and consistent on decommissioning. Mr Foster's party said that there would have to be decommissioning before talks could begin. Then it said that there would have to be decommissioning by the IRA in parallel with the talks. Then it said it would have to be over by the time the talks finished. We were later told that there would be decommissioning before IRA/Sinn Fein went into the Government or before they would sit down one-to-one with Mr Adams.

All those conditions have disappeared, and the preparations have been laid for them to sit in the Government with IRA without decommissioning. That is the real issue. Many Members have talked around it, talked about other issues, all of them important in their own right, but the most important issue is that of decommissioning and whether IRA/Sinn Fein are to be admitted into the Government of Northern Ireland while still armed to the teeth.

Mr Flanagan, the Chief Constable of the RUC, has made it very clear that while troop levels have been reduced and military patrols have been withdrawn in Belfast, such paramilitary organisations are still intact and have access to arms and ammunition. They continue to pose a grave threat to peace, and they are still capable of carrying out atrocities such as the Omagh bombing. Yet we are contemplating allowing these people soon to sit in the Government of Northern Ireland while we have the sort of activity being carried out by the military wing of Sinn Fein, as outlined earlier, on the same day as they were issuing their statements about a commitment to peace and exclusively democratic means.

There are many important issues to do with democracy and accountability, and we in this party have always been to the forefront in championing all of our people and advocating proper democratic and accountable government in Northern Ireland.

But it is not in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland to be faced with the prospect of having Ministers in charge of Departments while they are sitting on 100 tonnes of Semtex, with ammunition and a paramilitary machine behind them. That is the sort of issue that we need to face. The First Minister (Designate) needs to come clean on that issue and not continue to waffle on it and try to play for time. He needs to spell out the position very clearly. At least the Deputy First Minister had the decency to make it very clear that he took a different position from the First Minister.

Let us have clarity from the First Minister. Let him state very clearly that in no circumstances will IRA/Sinn Fein get into Government unless substantial and meaningful decommissioning has taken place, and their paramilitary organisations have been dismantled.

Mr M McGuinness:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh.

I begin by offering my condolences and those of Sinn Fein to the relatives of the five people who were killed today in a road accident in the south-east of our country, I think it was County Wexford. I am told that a lorry with a northern registration was also involved. I am sure everybody will share that sentiment.

I support the comments by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) in relation to the events of this summer, and the very great tragedies which occurred in Ballymoney and in Omagh. It was a very traumatic summer for all of us.

Of all the Members of the House, the one affected most directly was Mr Gibson. We should show him special consideration today. We all have very different political views, but everyone in Ireland who has been involved in this process of conflict resolution over the last four or five years was very struck and very hurt by what happened in Omagh, and aware of the implications that that undoubtedly had for all of us involved in this process.

Mr Nesbitt's comments about the young person from his area who implored him to press on with the implementation of the agreement were similar to the response of the people of Omagh. I have been in Omagh on a number of occasions, and everyone I met - and they were not all Nationalists or Republicans; there were Unionists also - implored us to do our level best to ensure that the people who were out to destroy the search for peace, justice and equality in this country would not succeed.

I had my own first-hand experience of how hurt people are. Republicans have acknowledged that we have inflicted hurt; but hurt has also been inflicted on us. We are not just talking about the decommissioning of guns, we are talking about the decommissioning of all the injustice, inequality, discrimination and domination of the past.

I was in a building in Omagh on the day of the last funerals. I think it was Mrs Rushe who was being buried. As I left the building, a number of people wanted to shake hands with me. I offered my hand to one young woman who could not bring herself to shake hands with me and turned away. I accepted that and left the building. As I walked down the street, I heard a voice behind me calling my name. I turned round and it was the young woman. I went back to her and she said "I am sorry for turning away. I am a Unionist and I am hurting.", and she started to cry. I said that we were all hurting but that we were doing our best, and she said "I know you are doing your best."

Last week the First Minister (Designate) did not turn away. Considering his background, it was very courageous for him to meet the Leader of Sinn Fein, Mr Adams. In that meeting, they held out hope and expectation for all of those people who have been watching this process over the last four or five years. In fact, in the aftermath of the terrible summer, and following the meeting between Mr Trimble and Mr Adams, there is more support for the peace process now than there has ever been. People are urging us to do the right thing, to talk to one another, to engage in dialogue and to implement the agreement.

5.15 pm

The agreement is about much more than this Assembly. It is about how we end division on this island; it is about the establishment of an Executive Committee; it is about the establishment of a North/South Ministerial Council; it is about the establishment of the implementation bodies; and it is about how we deal with the very important issues of justice and equality on this island. Sinn Fein represents a community which believes - and I know many people here within the most extreme elements of Unionism find this hard to accept - that since Ireland was partitioned they have been persecuted, dominated and treated unfairly in this state. That is the reality that Members have to deal with and that has given rise to conflict on this island over the past 70 years or so.

Members must work to bring about the implementation of the agreement and show, as we build that agreement in all its different stages, that we can get to grips with all that has been wrong in this state since Ireland was partitioned. I accept absolutely what Mr Hutchinson has said, that a great wrong was also inflicted on the Protestant working class, many of whom were also treated as second-class citizens.

There is a commonality of interest because there are still working-class people in the Shankill Road, in Mid-Ulster, in the Bogside and in West Belfast. The working-class are the strongest supporters of the peace process and these people are telling the Members to cut out the nonsense.

We know what is in the Good Friday Agreement. It is very clear. Sinn Fein discussed the issue of decommissioning with the British and Irish Governments in the run-in to the agreement and they took a very sensible view as to how the Assembly should deal with this particular issue. The Governments recognised, as de Klerk recognised in South Africa, that the issue of decommissioning should not be allowed to hold up the peace process. This is the approach that is catered for in the agreement document.

It does not say anywhere in the agreement that Sinn Fein cannot enter the Executive Committee unless there is decommissioning. But the object of the exercise, as far as Sinn Fein is concerned, is to decommission the injustices and inequalities of the past and to decommission all the British and Irish guns.

Mr Birnie:

Mr McGuinness speaks about decommissioning and the South African precedent. Does he agree that South Africa now has the highest statistical murder rate in the world? Does that not demonstrate that leaving substantial stockpiles of weaponry in a divided society is a recipe for disaster?

Mr M McGuinness:

I accept that there are very great problems and difficulties in South Africa. I have not said that both situations are exactly the same. There is a lot of crime in South Africa, many guns and much criminality - there is no question or doubt about that. But de Klerk, who was acknowledged along with Nelson Mandela as one of the main architects of the peace process in South Africa, said that if he had insisted on decommissioning of weapons by the African National Congress, they would not have had the peace process. This process has now provided South Africa with the launching pad for dealing with political, social and economic issues and issues of criminality.

The Ulster Unionist Party is dealing with this issue in a very sensible way. Some parties do not want to face the process of conflict resolution; they do not want to face the reality that the best way to take British and Irish guns out of Irish politics is to remove all of the causes of injustice. This is what peace processes are all about. The question then becomes whether the Assembly believes that Sinn Fein is genuine. The Democratic Unionist Party will never accept Sinn Fein as being for real - I wish they would. I want to be friends with them. Some people within Ulster Unionism are dealing with this particular issue in a very sensible way.

We must press on with the implementation of the agreement. We have been informed that there will be a North/South Ministerial Council meeting before the end of this month, or possibly at the beginning of October. The big question for us has to be who will represent the Assembly on that Council. If the Assembly is represented by Mr David Trimble and Mr Seamus Mallon, it will not be properly represented. The agreement states, under the heading "Executive Authority", that that is to be discharged on behalf of the Assembly by a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and up to 10 Ministers with departmental responsibilities. That is what we have to implement; we have to show people that we intend to deal with all the different aspects of life on this island that directly affect them.

The people of Mid Ulster are waiting with trepidation to hear an announcement from the Northern Health and Social Services Board on Thursday 17 September 1998 about whether the Mid Ulster Hospital is to be run down or closed. I recently attended meetings with the Department of Education about the prospect of the closure of schools in Mid Ulster, and I am sure that every constituency represented here shares these problems and difficulties. That is the argument for appointing Ministers as quickly as possible - and Mr Durkan is absolutely correct. The structures and Ministers should be put in place, and those Ministers should rise to the occasion and fulfil their responsibilities under the agreement by moving forward decisively and giving the type of leadership that all of our people crave for.

Mr Farren:

In complimenting the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) on their report, I would like to express to them the appreciation of the people of the North Antrim constituency for their concern and compassion following the terrible tragedy when the young Quinn brothers were so cruelly murdered. Their support and concern, particularly for the people of Ballymoney where the Quinn family lived, has been deeply appreciated.

I want to focus on one aspect of the report, the North/South Council. I look forward to the establishment of that council, not least because I have my origins in the South. I look forward to a council which will work to ensure stronger links between both parts of the island in particular, of course, for people of the Nationalist tradition. The council will represent, in a particularly symbolic way, their relationships and their affiliation with the rest of the people on the island. It will also represent and embody relationships which stretch right across our communities here in the North with all of the people in the South.

Those of us who participated in the transition programme last week will recall the very open acknowledgement made by some of the Southern contributors. For too long the South had all but ignored relationships and forms of co-operation with the North, apart from particular initiatives like the Erne Hydro Electric Scheme, the Foyle Fisheries, and the management of the Belfast/Dublin Railway. But since the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 a very significant transformation has taken place with respect to co-operation between both parts of the island.

Since then, many initiatives have taken place over the years, some with European Union and International Fund for Ireland support, and these initiatives have ranged across virtually all social, economic and cultural domains. As we prepare for a new era of co-operation, it is appropriate to pay tribute to those behind these initiatives, those who have funded them and who have put the structures in place to help them operate. As a result, communities and enterprises in the public and private sectors, from both parts of the island, have benefited from the co-operation and pioneering work that has been taking place.

The establishment of the council will mean that future co-operation will be directed and enhanced, and much of it will be implemented within a political framework. This will bring a new openness, transparency and accountability to these initiatives and that will ensure the maximum benefit from resources and the potential of people in both parts of the island.

In identifying the areas of council responsibility, the Social Democratic and Labour Party believes that there are two fundamental requirements to be recognised: first, the overall social, economic and cultural context; secondly, the potential for ongoing development. Simply selecting areas at random, or because of minimal cost and ease of operation, without regard to the wider context or to existing forms of co-operation or to the possibilities for growth would be mere window dressing. Identifying key areas for the council's initial remit must begin with existing forms of co-operation. In agriculture, these range across matters such as food safety, animal and plant health, stock breeding and wildlife management and protection to close contacts and joint initiatives under European Union programmes.

Dr Hendron:

With regard to implementation bodies, and in particular on the subject of health, some Members may be aware that Northern Ireland's top cancer surgeon, Mr Roy Spence, and the professor of oncology at Queen's University, Prof Patrick Johnston, made a joint proposal some weeks before the Good Friday Agreement. The proposal was on co-operation on cancer between the authorities in the North of Ireland and those in the Republic. Next to cardiovascular disease, there are more people dying from cancer on this island than from any other condition. From their viewpoint there is no reason, when millions of pounds are spent on cancer research, why there could not be co-operation in that field under an implementation body operating North and South.

Mr Farren:

With respect to all other areas for potential co-operation listed in the Good Friday Agreement, we have to look beyond the simple words that set them out and identify the existing forms of co-operation and the potential for development that lies therein. There are many possibilities, with respect to overall strategic planning, in connection with each of the 12. We have a requirement, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, to identify those that would have particular implementation bodies associated with them. We believe that it is only by looking at what is currently taking place, and recognising the potential for development contained within those existing forms of co-operation, that the most effective implementation bodies to be established will be identified.

5.30 pm

Ultimately, while all the initiatives and forms of co-operation promoted by the council will be intended to bring practical benefits to people and communities in both parts of Ireland, the real test of their efficacy will be the extent to which they promote closer bonds between our people and their communities. Those bonds will reflect deeper levels of mutual understanding, respect and reconciliation between Irish men and Irish women of all traditions.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party recognises and has taken note of the concern that has been expressed about progress towards the establishment of the North/South Council. We want to see all of the steps which must be taken in the Assembly taken without delay, particularly the establishment of its Executive.

In the agreement itself there is provision for the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to advance and to co-ordinate responses from this Assembly with external bodies such as the North/South Council. We welcome the steps that they are already taking, as outlined in the report, and I hope that the Assembly will soon be in a position to ensure that an inaugural meeting of the Executive can go ahead. In this way we can initiate all the forms of co-operation and implementation bodies as foreseen in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

When we come to this time of the year we are reminded of a new term; a fresh start; a new beginning. Some of us are parents who may have left our children to school, possibly for the first time. This year there is an expectation that there will be progress, that there will be a report. Certainly this Assembly has had an expectation over the last 12 weeks that there would be a report. We are told that we have got a report, but it is a very skimpy one. Indeed, if the report was to describe the progress of one of our offspring we would probably say "Could do better." In fact, we could say it was a failed report.

There has been much progress over the summer in other areas. For instance, progress was made on this Chamber and many Members have referred to our beautiful and elaborate surroundings. They have commended the workmen, people who were once the targets of individuals in this Assembly because they worked on Her Majesty's buildings. We congratulate those workmen on their efforts.

There has also been progress outside the Assembly, in the degenerative sense, in terms of terrorism. Since Good Friday, since the agreement and the so-called new dawn, the "New Beginning", there has been the progress of Tony Blair's agreement, Bertie Ahern's agreement, David Trimble's agreement, Seamus Mallon's agreement, Gerry Adams's agreement. But what has that progress been? Some 691 people have been put in hospital because of paramilitary violence; more than 37 people have been butchered and murdered by terrorism; 48 people have been shot and brutalised by paramilitary organisations; and there have been six car bombs.

Of course, there has been much more. In my constituency little children have been burnt to death because of violence and terrorism. Oh yes, the terrorists have been very busy over the last 12 weeks. I am glad to see that in the case of the Quinn murders, the police seem to have made some progress. Sub judice prevents me from saying anything further on that.

It is sad that the security forces do not appear to have made the same progress in capturing the people who were involved in the other violence that I mentioned. I think that we will see a very familiar pattern just as we did after the Enniskillen bomb. All the flurry, the excitement dies away. It is buried and forgotten, and nobody is caught, convicted and put into jail. Even if they were put into jail, would they stay there for very long? The people who support this agreement believe in a principle that politics means there can be expediency when it comes to convictions that people can get out of jail early, no matter what the heinous crime.

In terms of the interim report, the Assembly tasked the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) to construct basic structures and to prepare for the establishment of the British/Irish Council and so on, but they have failed to produce anything of substance.

There has been some progress in other areas. There have been jobs for the boys and promises that certain people can expect certain posts. There is the expectation that certain schools in certain areas might get some more money because certain individuals are now well-placed in this Assembly. Certain hospitals might gain because they happen to be in certain individuals' constituencies.

We have heard all the promises, and we can read between the lines. The general public can see for themselves that the new faces, the new functionaries, the new policies will probably create a Northern Ireland which, far from being at ease with itself, will continue to have that tension, concern and unease that has been generated by terrorism for the past 30 years.

I listened with some interest to Mr Nesbitt's comments. In a Jimmy Carter-style address he said that he had spoken to a young person who had told him many things, and that he, Mr Nesbitt, now intends to use that talk as empirical evidence to move forward his policies. Mr Nesbitt said that he commends the report. This skimpy report, which Mr Nesbitt commends to this House, is incomplete. It does not contain proposals, so Mr Nesbitt is commending nothing.

When my party's delegation met the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) we spent some time talking about the detailed outline proposal which had been placed before all the parties. As we went through that proposal, the two Ministers decided to move away from the contents of that document. They told us their ideas for a form of local government, for the reform of the Civil Service and even for tax-raising powers. It seems that these people have been given a task, and they are not prepared to get on and do it. They are looking at a whole lot of other tasks instead, but they should concentrate on the matter at hand. They have been given power and they do not know what to do with it.

I do not believe that what is in this skimpy report nor that the agreement that is the basis for it will lead to good government for Northern Ireland. It will lead to bad government. The Sinn Fein/IRA Member Mr McGuinness said that because of the stance taken by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, there is more support than ever for the agreement. There may be more support within the Republican movement, within Nationalism, but there is declining support for the agreement within the Unionist community. That is not just my view, it is the view of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The minutes of a meeting held in this building on 6 August show that Mr Nesbitt said to Mr Ingram

"I am livid with Her Majesty's Government - Sinn Fein must be told that the process will move on without them - we have nothing left to give."

He did not say that to Sinn Fein today. There will be another broken promise because in a matter of weeks Mr Trimble will give Sinn Fein places in the Government of Northern Ireland.

A Member from my constituency has claimed that the Unionist vote is wavering and that there is a real risk of civil war. He said that the Unionists need something to keep some faith with the electorate. We also have Mr Empey's earlier quotation.

The First Minister and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) ought to confirm that there are great divisions between them. They are partners in government who cannot agree on the fundamentals of decommissioning, on when and how it should take place, or on who should have executive powers in the proposed Government of Northern Ireland.

Things are not good for the Union or for this country because of the agreement and the political landscape ahead of us. Many people are talking about peace. No one craves that more than my generation. Peace, however, is not solely about the absence of conflict, which we do not yet have. It is about the presence of justice, honesty, integrity and democracy.

The process that is now being established, that is rolling forward and being given a fair wind by Ulster Unionists, who ought to know better, is leading us not towards greater peace, but towards an acceptable level of peace. We had acceptable levels of violence in the past, but they were unacceptable. Now we are to have an acceptable level of peace, but that will not be real peace.

Mrs Nelis:

The cover of the agreement states

"This agreement is about your future. Please read it carefully."

When I listened to some of the comments today I wondered whether some Members had read it at all. On the cover it also states

"It's Your Decision".

Of course it is our decision. The decision is about our future and it is our awesome responsibility to decide the future of the people of this entire island. The Assembly is the outworking of the agreement.

Someone earlier referred to "solid democracy". We have never had democracy in this country, let alone solid democracy. But now we may be able to achieve the democracy that the people who voted for this agreement want. We are charged, by the agreement, to create a society that is inclusive, consultative and democratic.

I want to address that part of the interim report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) which deals with the Civic Forum. Paragraph 4.15 states

"Substantive discussion on the consultative Civic Forum was also limited."

I thought that the Civic Forum would be given the same priority as all the other issues in the report, and I am disappointed that it has not been, but then the report is not substantive.

5.45 pm

A consultative Civic Forum will be of great value in assisting the Assembly discharge its responsibilities under the agreement. If properly constituted, it will be the opposite of the undemocratic quangos which we have already heard so much about, and which were the brainchild of the former Tory Government. Their members were appointed by Tory Ministers and, on the whole, represented the well-heeled tradition. The Civic Forum has the capacity, for the first time, to include civic society in a truly transparent manner and to influence the Assembly's deliberations for the benefit of all the people of this island.

Those in the Chamber who are arrogant enough to think that, because they have been elected, they do not need to listen continually to the people or to be open to the suggestions of such a Forum, are not fit for governance, and they certainly are not, and should not be, part of any democracy. I suggest that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) consider in a very proactive manner how to put in place a Civic Forum that will include the voluntary community, the business sector, the trade union sector and the young people that Mr Nesbitt spoke of. That is vital.

I support Prof McWilliams and my colleague Mrs de Brún on the issue of the North/South Council. It has not been dealt with in this report; it has been fudged. We need to know how it will be constituted and when it will meet.

I say to Mr Taylor that it is not surprising that the North of Ireland did well in the Commonwealth Games in the shooting events when there are 133,000 legally held guns here, most of which are at the disposal of his community. When we speak of decommissioning in terms of the agreement, we should have the objective of creating a society where all guns are removed, a society that reflects inclusion, equality and democracy.

Ms Rodgers:

I have very little time, so I will speak very briefly about the Civic Forum. It will add a very important dimension to the fledgling democracy and new dispensation that we are about to enter.

The Forum is a welcome development which will establish a truly inclusive democracy and will provide an interface between the public and the decision makers. The expertise which the various sectoral interests can offer - [Interruption]

When women begin to speak some gentlemen in the Chamber feel free to begin a free-for-all.

As decision-makers, we face difficult challenges and choices, and will have to face conflicting interests. The insights that the various sectoral interests can give us will be very important and helpful to us in reaching informed decisions.

The point that I want to make very clearly - and Mr Taylor referred to this earlier - is that the Confederation of British Industry is not necessarily representative of all business interests. Other organisations have traditionally represented the various interests in Northern Ireland. They are not any longer necessarily truly or totally representative of those interests, and we should be aware of that when we look at the areas that have been mentioned in the agreement, such as business, the trade unions and the voluntary sector.

We should recognise that when these organisations come together in the various fora, there is often a great imbalance and the sectors that are often left out most particularly consist of women, who represent more than 50% of this society but are under-represented in most of these fora. We need to address that.

There is also a need to address the lack of representation of the most vulnerable sectors of our society - the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed and, of course, as Mrs Nelis mentioned, young people. It is important for all those people to be involved in the Civic Forum, and mechanisms must be found to involve them.

The challenge before us is daunting, but in an accountable democracy a fully inclusive and representative Civic Forum will ensure that we come to our difficult decisions in an informed manner and with an awareness of the needs and the views of all sections of this society, because none of us has a monopoly of knowledge and all of us can do with a little extra help.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

May I express my appreciation to Members. In this very long debate there were many who wished to speak. Not all could, but I have tried to keep a degree of proportionality and at the same time give all parties an opportunity to put forward their views. We are all learning in this process, and I am grateful to those who have been helpful and accommodating.

The First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) have waived their right to reply at this stage.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly takes note of the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and grants leave for the preparation and presentation of such further reports by the two Ministers as are considered necessary.

The sitting was suspended at 5.55 pm.

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