Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 18 January 1999


Presiding Officer’s Business

Report of First Minister (Designate) and Deputy

Planning: AONBs and Green-Belt Areas

Northern Ireland Sport

Drugs Task Force

Mid Ulster Infrastructure


The Assembly met at 10.30 am (The Initial Presiding Officer (The Lord Alderdice of Knock) in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.


Presiding Officer’s Business


The Initial Presiding Officer:

By virtue of paragraph 1 of the schedule to the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 it falls to the Secretary of State to determine where meetings of the Assembly shall be held and when. I have received from the Secretary of State a letter directing that the Assembly shall meet at Parliament Buildings, Stormont at 10.30 am on Monday 18 January until 6.00 pm on Tuesday 26 January.

The Secretary of State has also indicated that she will consider a further direction in respect of this period, in particular in the light of any indications she receives as to the wishes of the Assembly after it has begun.

There are two matters on which I need to rule. The first concerns Mr Ford’s request at the last sitting for a ruling as to whether language used by Mr Sammy Wilson about Prof Monica McWilliams was unparliamentary. I have considered the matter in some detail and have taken advice. The insinuation was undoubtedly discourteous and was regarded as such, and I again appeal to Members to observe courtesy. However, I cannot rule that the remark amounted to unparliamentary language, and therefore parliamentary discipline is not appropriate.

The second matter is that, having received an indication from four members of the United Kingdom Unionist Party that they had resigned from the UKUP and wished to form a new party, to be known as the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, I had to consider a number of issues.

The first is whether their resignation from the United Kingdom Unionist Party affects their right to retain their seats in the Assembly. I have taken advice, and I am unaware of any legal impediment to their so doing.

I have considered a letter from the four Members and have obtained advice from my legal counsel and others. Since refusal to recognise the new party might well be contrary to article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and would probably be legally perverse in a situation where the party appears eligible and is likely to be registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, I have decided to recognise it with effect from last Friday, which was seven days after receipt of the information that I had requested to satisfy me on some important aspects.

What are the effects of such recognition? Will it affect the appointment of Ministers, Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen, using the d’Hondt formula? On this I am unable to make a ruling because I have not received from the Secretary of State all the relevant additional Initial Standing Orders. In addition, there are a number of practical matters which will need to be considered subsequent to recognition of the new party: accommodation, party funding, Committees, seating in the Chamber, speaking order, and so on. These matters are being addressed and will continue to be addressed over the next few weeks.

I wish to draw Members’ attention to the new clocks that I have had installed in the Chamber. Normally they will display the time not only in hours and minutes but also in seconds. Members may wonder why I have taken this action. When a Member commences speaking, the clocks will become stop-clocks, and the Member — indeed, the Assembly as a whole — will be able to monitor the passing of time. I trust that this will help us all to adhere to the times stipulated in the Standing Orders.

Report of First Minister (Designate) and Deputy


The following motion stood on the Order Paper in the names of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate):

This Assembly approves the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate).

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. The Assembly is about to debate a report which purports to be based on an agreement between the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Is the Assembly entitled to know if some of the elements in that report relate to conditions which are not contained in the report? The First Minister (Designate) sent a letter to a number of his party colleagues. This letter contained a number of indicators (some more express than others) that he had entered into certain aspects of the agreement on conditions — for example,

"Our agreement to 10 Departments is conditional on it being cost-neutral over the lifetime of the Assembly. This will be achieved by a thorough review of government and the elimination of undemocratic boards and quangos."

Has the Deputy First Minister (Designate) agreed that there will be no cost in setting up 10 Departments, as opposed to six or seven, and what changes will be made to boards and quangos?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

While there are some issues which have yet to be clarified — such as the presentation of legislation and the responsibilities of the Presiding Officer — I do not think that there is any matter in the substance of what the Member has said on which I am required to make a ruling as a point of order. There may be political aspects, and those can be debated.

Mr McCartney:

The Assembly is being asked to approve what is described in this motion as a report. The Assembly — and the public — are being told that this report will become a determination on 15 February 1999 and that this has been agreed by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Will this report not necessitate the ruling of the Initial Presiding Officer that it requires a cross-community vote and not a simple vote? If a cabbage is described as a rose, it remains a cabbage. If this determination is described as a report, it remains a determination.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

May I try to clarify these matters as I understand them? The report fulfils the mandate that was given by the Assembly to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to bring forward a report by today. I have studied the report since I received it at the end of last week, and it seems clear to me that it is not a determination. If it is not a determination, it is required to be approved not by a cross-community vote but simply by a majority vote. This is the procedure unless, of course, a petition of concern is placed with me.

As far as the report’s becoming a determination is concerned, the Assembly should first study it in detail. Differences of view and problems may become apparent during this debate, and I assume that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will wish to take such matters into account when they consider the matter further.

This report, in itself, makes it clear that it is not a determination. The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are required to submit a determination to the Assembly for approval — that is very clear from the Standing Orders. The determination, if and when it comes, will have to be submitted to the Assembly for approval, and a vote on this today could not possibly be regarded as an approval of the determination since the report makes it clear that it is not, in itself, a determination.

Mr McCartney:

I accept your ruling, but may I humbly say that you seem to have overlooked the fact that people were told, by both the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), that the agreement which is embodied in what is today called a report will be in essence the determination which the said Ministers will put forward for the approval of the Assembly on 15 February. It would be a public scandal if today Members were to treat this as a report and not a determination and then the citizens of Northern Ireland were to discover that what had been treated as a report was exactly the same in essence as a determination approved by the Assembly by a cross-community vote on 15 February.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I cannot rule on the view expressed by Mr McCartney. It is quite clear — but I repeat lest there be any misunderstanding — that this report cannot be regarded as a determination and therefore cannot be approved as a determination. If a determination is submitted on 15 February it will have to be discussed by the Assembly and voted upon.

Mr P Robinson:

Further to your ruling, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Apart from its being formally described as a determination, is there absent from the report any legal element whose inclusion would make it a determination?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Members should not assume that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are presenting this report without wishing to hear the Assembly’s views on it. However, it would be wrong for me to rule on that matter at this time.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Further to that point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. At the top of page five, in a special reference to the proposals on the departmental structures, the report says

"The set of proposals on Departmental structures which we commend to the Assembly signal our clear determination to provide leadership and momentum."

On page six the photocopied version outlines seven proposals for departmental structures. Therefore a determination has been placed on departmental structures. On page five there is a reference to

"our clear determination to provide leadership and momentum."

10.45 am

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I repeat that this is not a determination. Members should study the report and listen carefully to what is being said today. The question whether there will be any legal impediments or difficulties in proceeding with the views outlined in this report, and our moving towards a determination, will become clearer over the next few days as we take advice and proceed with the debate.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Further to that point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Should the Secretary of State decide that this is a determination, would she be entitled to proceed with the Standing Orders applying to that part of the report which deals with departmental structures?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It would be unwise for me to tangle with the Secretary of State on where her authority lies and where the authority of the Assembly might lie.

A determination can only be made by the First and Deputy First Ministers; not by a vote of the Assembly. When a determination is made it must be approved by the Assembly, otherwise it is not complete. Therefore, if we do not have a determination, it follows that whatever comes after this debate will have to be brought back to the Assembly for its consideration.

Mr McCartney:

If I understand your penultimate words you are suggesting that, as the debate develops, it may become clear that this is more than a report — that it is a determination. As the debate develops, it may become apparent that all the requirements for a determination are set out in the report, in the sense that all the constituent parts required by law — the infrastructure and architecture for the 10 departments and the six cross-border implementation bodies and their functions — are present.

Is it your ruling, despite it being an insult to the intelligence, that it can be anything else, that the First and Deputy First Ministers, by calling an elephant a snail, can make it a snail?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I am not sure about the analogies being drawn by the Member, but it is for the First and Deputy First Ministers to make determinations; not for me or the Assembly. However, it is important for voting purposes that I clarify whether a matter is a determination, since a cross-community vote is required for a determination.

The First and Deputy First Ministers have made clear in their report that this is a not a determination. If, having taken soundings and heard the advice of the Assembly, they later determine that this report is the way forward, then they can make clear that this is their determination. But the report would have to come back to the Assembly for its approval before it could proceed further.

The position must be clear by now, and it can only become clearer if Members listen to the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) and debate the matter.

Motion made:

This Assembly approves the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). — [The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate)]

The First Minister (Designate) (Mr Trimble):

It is my pleasure to present this report to the Assembly, and I apologise that it was not available until late last week. I was surprised that it took so long to finalise, and to get all of the details right, as its substance was in the public domain from 18 December. I am also sorry that we did not quite get all the details right, as a typographical error at the foot of page 10 has remained undetected until a few minutes ago. The final consultations were on 2 December; not 2 November, as recorded.

This is not a final report, because important matters regarding the British/Irish Council and the Civic Forum are outstanding. It is hoped to bring forward proposals on these by the target date which we have set. It is also not a final report because it does not meet the requirement of Standing Order 21 that

"In making a determination …. the First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall ensure that each of the functions exercisable by the heads of the different Northern Ireland departments existing at the date of the determination are assigned to a Ministerial office (designate) or to a proposed central department or office under their joint control."

Some time after 18 December we were informed by permanent secretaries that there were some functions which we had failed to allocate. I have a memorandum dated 13 January from the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It contains 26 functions that we had failed to allocate. Some are straightforward, but others are more substantial. Consequently, there is no possibility of anyone construing this as a final report or as a determination.

We hope by 15 February — and that is a clear target — to sort out the detail on this, the British/Irish Council and the Civic Forum, and to bring forward a final report, with all the necessary determinations, which will then have to be approved on a cross-community basis. We have chosen 15 February because we want to be in a position on or before 10 March to have taken all the steps required to provide for devolution. We want to be in a position to say that we (by that I mean the Ulster Unionist Party, our colleagues in the SDLP — indeed, the Assembly as a whole) have done everything procedurally to ensure that devolution can take place on or after 10 March.

I will now clarify the choice of 10 March, which some members of the press are misinterpreting. The Secretary of State, in her schedule, identified it as a possible date for devolution because that is the date currently scheduled for the March meeting of the Privy Council. At the time of the Agreement we hoped to have devolution by February, since the date of the February meeting of the Privy Council is 10 February. Because of the time lost in October, with the delay in discussing North/South matters, we are not now in a position to hit 10 February.

However, even 10 March is not absolutely settled as it is not entirely certain that the Privy Council will meet on that day, although it will be around that time. It is therefore important to be in a position to have all the necessary arrangements in place before 10 March so that the possibility will then exist for actual devolution thereafter.

A determination in the terms that have been used, whether today or on 15 February, does not itself trigger the d’Hondt formula. Other things will have to be done in order for that to happen, in terms not just of what the Secretary of State does but also of what we are doing. This is not to say that there cannot be or will not be a shadow phase before the Assembly goes live. It is legally necessary for there to be a shadow period immediately before the transfer of functions because there has to be something to which functions can be transferred. Obviously we could not contemplate a shadow phase until everything is sorted out and we are ready to run.

When I talk about having everything ready I do not mean just the things that we have to do, such as these reports, the shepherding through of the legislation which will create the new Departments so that we can transfer functions to them, or our ensuring that the provisions of the treaties that will be entered into by the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland on areas of cross-border co-operation, along with the necessary legislation giving effect to those treaties, are drafted properly. Indeed, there are also approximately eight Orders in Council which we will have to ensure are done precisely and accurately. All this will involve much work by Members over the next month or so.

But, in addition to the procedural requirements, there is that which might be described as a political requirement, although it is not. It is the fundamental requirement of the agreement itself — namely, that all those parties proposing to be involved in the Administration demonstrate clearly and unambiguously their commitment to the democratic process and to peaceable means. We all know what that involves and what has to be done in respect of that.

I have heard some Members state that there is no precondition for entry to the Executive. They may be right, but only in a very narrow, technical sense. A precondition is something that has to be satisfied before something else is done. It is a once-and-for-all act, and, having satisfied the precondition, one moves on to whatever it was a precondition for.

However, with regard to the holding of office, there is something in the agreement that goes much further than a mere precondition. There is a fundamental requirement and a fundamental obligation. It is stated time and time again in the agreement — for instance, in the declaration of support on page one; on page seven where it refers to the formation of an Executive; on page nine with regard to transitional arrangements; and on page 10 with regard to the pledge of office — and there can be no doubt about it. It is a fundamental requirement that is being broken by paramilitary-related parties which refuse to carry out their obligation to deal with their weaponry.

It is also being broken by paramilitary-related parties when they continue to engage in so-called punishment beatings and attacks. And let there be no doubt about the responsibility of people in this regard. The ‘Irish News’ editorial of 7 January, referring to the attacks of preceding days, said

"In Nationalist districts there is little doubt that the attacks were the work of the IRA."

It also said

"All the attacks were plainly in breach of both the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement."

The attacks are also in breach of the requirements of the Mitchell principles whereby people accept responsibility for taking effective steps to prevent such actions. Furthermore, they undertake to renounce the use of force or threat of force and to oppose any effort by others to use force or to threaten force. But threats have been made in the last fortnight. Threats were made in a statement issued by the IRA, and exactly the same threat was made last Friday by Mr Martin McGuinness in an interview with ‘The Times’. I do not see him here today to explain to the Assembly why he is breaking the Mitchell principles and the agreement by uttering threats of violence.

11.00 am

I then heard that same person trying to avoid his responsibility on decommissioning by saying that it was a matter for John de Chastelain and not for others. It is a matter for him, and he, along with other people sitting opposite, has the power to do it. He undertook an obligation to do it, and he is now seven or eight months in default of that obligation. Let there be no doubt that there is a political requirement for that to be done. I regret to say that Sinn Fein is being assisted in dodging its obligations by people who call themselves Unionists. They need to reconsider their position.

Several Members:


The First Minister (Designate):

The cries of "Rubbish" come from the people whose consciences are pricked because of their support for Sinn Fein in this matter — and so they should be.

There are many other things I could say with reference to this report. I believe that it carries us forward significantly. It lays out the basic structure which we hope to see operating on or after 10 March. There are more things that it requires us to do, and we will do our utmost to ensure that they are done by the 15 February, so that actual devolution can take place early in March, and I hope that all the other parties here will do what they have to do in that regard.

Mr Adams:

On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. I am sure that the First Minister (Designate) will be pleased to know that Mr McGuinness is currently having the plaster removed from his broken leg and that he can welcome him here this afternoon.

The Deputy First Minister (Designate) (Mr Mallon): I seek the Assembly’s approval for the report that is before the Assembly today and for a final report on 15 February. With the final report the First Minister (Designate) and I will have discharged the responsibilities placed on us by the Assembly’s resolution of 1 July 1998. We will have completed the work necessary to enable devolution to take place. The Assembly’s approval will put us on a flight path for devolution on 10 March. The details of that flight path are contained in the Secretary of State’s schedule for the legislation and the other formal steps that have to be taken. There may be heavy clouds, there may be storms, there may be flak — there may even be hijackers on-board — but we can see the lights of the runway ahead. We know there is no going back and no alternative to landing the plane.

Mr Campbell:

Can I get off?

The Deputy First Minister (Designate):

I am convinced that we can do it — more convinced that we must do it. Anyone who watched the two BBC programmes on the last two Saturday nights and got an insight into the pain and suffering of the two communities in Northern Ireland has got to be gauche and unfeeling not to realise the extent of the pain and suffering that we have gone through in the past 30 years. All of us, no matter how gauche, have a responsibility to ensure that that never happens again.

I am certain that this agreement will not fail because of the anti-agreement parties. Yes, they have a point of view, and I, at least, do them the courtesy of trying to understand their point of view. We will hear it today in all of its manifestations, and it will be listened to with courtesy so that we can see what validity it has. If the agreement is not to succeed, it will be because of the collective failure of the pro-agreement parties — the SDLP, the UUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, the PUP and the Women’s Coalition.

Let me recall what we all pledged ourselves to do on Good Friday in the Declaration of Support. We declared that the agreement offered a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning. Will history say that we took this opportunity, broke with the past and made a new start? We dedicated ourselves to reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust. Have we shown those qualities? Have we promoted that reconciliation? Have we done it at all times and in all the ways that we should have done?

We reaffirmed our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences and our opposition to the use of the threat of force by others for political reasons. Have we left this issue hanging in the air, or has it become a tool of party politics?

We pledged to work to ensure the success of each of the institutions that have to be established. Have we shown the commitment and the necessary urgency in building the new arrangements and institutions? We should all ponder on those questions and look into our hearts and minds to see where the answers lie. These are the criteria by which we must evaluate ourselves because those are the criteria that will determine the ultimate success or failure of the agreement.

Together today, irrespective of our differences, we can all renew the spirit of hope that was embodied in the Good Friday Agreement. That almost impossible faith in the triumph of truth, tolerance and peaceful coexistence over hatred, suspicion and communal division provides the opportunity to restructure our society and the way in which we live, something that was denied so many generations. Today we should cast our minds back to that commitment.

On becoming Deputy First Minister (Designate), I took a solemn pledge of office. In particular, I pledged to discharge the duties of the office by serving all of the people of Northern Ireland equally. I accepted that the essence of the agreement is a partnership in which no side can expect to obtain its ultimate position. We left those positions behind when we signed the agreement. I accepted that partnership government will not work if every decision has to be resolved through brinkmanship. We have a choice: either we can be committed to the agreement or we can be condemned to failure.

With these principles and commitments in mind, I commend the report for Members’ approval as an instrument designed to bring the process safely through to the concluding date of 10 March 1999. I would like briefly to explain some of its different elements and the reasoning that underlies it.

With regard to the North-South bodies, I sought to obtain the greatest possible practical benefits for the people of Ireland, North and South. Yes, it was ambitious, but I believe in the benefits of a common approach to all of the major economic areas. But, like all Members, I must take account of others’ points of view and their reservations. Equally, I accept that the Assembly requires cross-community support on major issues. That is not something that can be invented or pulled out of a hat; that is one of the ultimate challenges, and that applies to both the North/South areas and the proposed Departments. What we have agreed about those Departments — and many people have expressed views on that — will be presented for the Assembly’s approval on 15 February 1999. In the meantime, work is now underway to agree the remits, budgets, staffing and programmes of work for the new institutions.

I hope that the Assembly will agree the 10 Departments when it meets on 15 February 1999. One of the issues underlying the number that was agreed was the need to cater for maximum inclusion. We had to ensure that each party got a fair crack of the whip so that no one would be disadvantaged by any decision on their number.

I ask those who make utterances from a sedentary position to bear that in mind, for often it is those utterers who would not have Departments if fewer than 10 had been decided upon.

With regard to primary responsibility for equality, it is self-evident that the office best placed to ensure the necessary cross-departmental monitoring is the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. There is, however, another very important fact.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is clear that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) needs more time to complete his presentation of this important report than is available under Initial Standing Order 8(5)(a). The time can be extended only by leave of the Assembly. Does Mr Mallon have the leave of the Assembly for an extension of five minutes?

Mr P Robinson:

At the CAPO meeting there was a proposal that 30 minutes be available to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), but that proposal was vetoed by the Ulster Unionist Party.

The First Minister (Designate):

On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. You will no doubt recall that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) lost some time because of interruptions.

Mr C Wilson:

Will this facility be available to others?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

The facility to give leave for extensions of time is always available to the Assembly. There are matters upon which the leave of the Assembly cannot be given. For instance, Members cannot be given leave to speak more than once except in reply and so on. An extension is possible should it be requested.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Surely, when the Assembly has said that it is not giving the time, the matter is over. If one person says "No", the matter is closed.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Quite right, and to ensure that the matter is put beyond peradventure, I wish to call for the view of the Assembly.

All those in favour of the proposition say "Aye".

Several Members:


The Initial Presiding Officer:

All those to the contrary say "No".

Several Members:


The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is clear that leave of the Assembly is not given. I therefore have no option but to proceed to the amendment in the name of Dr Paisley.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all the words after Assembly and add

"rejects the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and contends it is detrimental to the Union with Great Britain, does not provide for efficient structures of government, nor does it address the essential issue of decommissioning."

Two papers were published last week — the report of the two Ministers and the timetable by the Secretary of State. But one thing was strangely missing from both: there was absolutely no mention of decommissioning. It is interesting that the First Minister (Designate) took much of his 10 minutes today to argue the case on decommissioning that he says his party adheres to. Yet there is not a line about decommissioning in this report — not one line.

On 18 December there was quite a furore that a wonderful agreement had been reached, and, of course, there were going to be implementation committees in the South of Ireland. Now, according to the agreement, the two Ministers had no right to take any decisions on those committees.

11.15 am

A decision on that could only have been taken by a North/South Ministerial Council. The First Minister (Designate) wrote to his party and said that he had defeated John Hume and Seamus Mallon and achieved agreement without forming the Executive. He added that he remains committed to the manifesto pledge not to sit in an Executive with unreconstructed terrorists despite attempts at browbeating by the SDLP.

The Deputy First Minister (Designate):

At least they listened.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

The Deputy First Minister (Designate) may be prepared to travel in a plane with hijackers, but he cannot expect us to join him. Only a fool would travel in such a plane.

The paper written by the First Minister (Designate) reveals what was really happening. They thought that they could get this through, but they discovered that they were completely outside the law. The report recommends that the North/South Ministerial Council consider what has been said. That is not what was said originally. The North/South bodies are free-standing bodies. That is not what the Ulster Unionist Party said in its manifesto. A Minister will only have to make a statement about any decision he has taken. The Assembly will only have a say in matters concerning money.

This report is an attempt to weaken the Union. It does not provide efficient structures of government.

I listened with interest to the Deputy First Minister (Designate). He said that they wanted to widen it and hence they wanted 10 seats. He did not want to widen it for those Members who are not in a majority. It was nothing to do with Unionists in small groups — he wanted to bring in IRA/Sinn Fein.

I hear Mr McGrady saying that it was to get the Democratic Unionist Party in, but if there had been a seven-seat Executive, we would have been entitled to a seat — indeed, if there had been a three-seat Executive, under d’Hondt the DUP would have had a seat. Let not Mr McGrady pretend that he was thinking of the DUP, for we know perfectly well that there were no such generous thoughts in his heart. His thoughts were for IRA/Sinn Fein, his fellow travellers in the Nationalist camp. He was eager to get them in. The reason for having 10 seats is simply to get the IRA its place on the central committee.

With regard to decommissioning, if it is so important, then why did the First Minister (Designate) not get something written in? Even if there were a disagreement between himself and Mr Mallon, each could have put his case and his arguments — this is only a report. Why are we not dealing with that issue in this report? The reason is that after the decision is made today it is only a matter of form as to when we return.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

No, I will not give way. I have only 10 minutes and I am not wasting my precious time on the Member. I have more respect for the scriptural injunction that tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil.

I heard somebody talking about injury time.

We are moving forward. Although the Ulster Unionists have said that we are only marking time, the First Minister (Designate) has told me that he is making progress. Progress on what road? He is not on the Union road; he is not on a road that will give us a Government that will maintain the Union.

In this most interesting report, the First Minister (Designate) has nothing to say about the members of the Unionist family who do not agree with him, except that we are hypocritical and dishonest. I am glad to know what he thinks of us. He seems to think that the SDLP is very honest and that he will be able to do a deal with Sinn Fein eventually. But he thinks that the rest of the Unionist family are dishonest hypocrites.

The vote today will show how thin his grip on the Unionist community is. He is clearly in great difficulty if he has to threaten to withdraw the Whip from his own Members to secure their votes. On a television programme last week called ‘The Cutting Edge’, I heard that he had a wafer-thin majority. That majority will go like snow off a ditch if he pursues the policy of a united Ireland, which is written into this report.

Those who endorse this post-dated cheque today will pay, but there are people in Northern Ireland who are not prepared to pay for this sell-out, and they will resist it. I say to the Deputy First Minister (Designate) that we are not riding on his plane.

Several Members:


Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I am in injury time.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Order. There is no injury time.

Sir Reg Empey:

We came here this morning anticipating a fusillade of attacks on this report, and that began with a series of points of order. They were blunted, and those who made them fell upon the barbed wire of your decisions, Mr Presiding Officer. Now an amendment has been moved. There are few people who can make a rousing speech like Dr Paisley, but the one he made this morning was not among his top ten, largely because he does not have a case.

Everybody knows that in spite of all their roaring and shouting, Dr Paisley and his Colleagues are stuck in this place, and they love it. They are taking every benefit from it and occupying every square inch of space that they can. The Democratic Unionist Party is the only Unionist party that has said that it will sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein without decommissioning.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

That is a lie.

Sir Reg Empey:

If I have to go and get the transcripts, I will. I am telling the House that he said that.

The other interesting thing he said was that the First Minister (Designate) had threatened our Members with disciplinary action. Can Dr Paisley confirm that all DUP candidates signed a letter for him confirming that they were signing up to certain positions? He did not trust their word; he had to get them to sign letters.

The issues are simple. I vividly recall that in September the Democratic Unionist Party said that the Ministers had presented a weak report without determination. Now it says that our final report is a post-dated cheque and it is terrible.

Some of us have worked hard for months to try to resolve these problems while others have done nothing. However, they have been taking their cheques at the end of each month. [Interruption].

Mr David Ervine:

I have been elected to listen and to take part in debate. I cannot hear the Member.

Sir Reg Empey:

I shall endeavour to shout louder.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Members should observe the proprieties and listen to speeches.

Sir Reg Empey:

Some of those who dish out criticism and abuse do not like listening to people criticising them. That is the problem that confronts us. We are in danger of losing the main plot which is about whether people are genuinely committed to the democratic process. Are people committed, as they are required to be by the agreement, to opposing the use of and the threat of force? Judging by current happenings in the community, there is little evidence of that.

There has been a huge upsurge in punishment beatings since the beginning of the year. Such beatings have reached record levels, and people are trying to make an issue of the acceptability of the police because of the operation of the Patten Commission. People perceive a vacuum, and all these factors show that some people are not genuinely committed to exclusively peaceful means.

If we do nothing else in this Assembly, we should ensure that those in government are demonstrably committed to such means. That is the key issue. While the different strands of Unionism can argue the toss, at the end of the day that is the issue that will determine whether this process succeeds or fails. It is designed to provide a path for those who have followed a paramilitary route in the past so that they may enter a political process that is exclusively committed to peaceful means. If people are not prepared to do that, it means that they are not committed and cannot therefore be required or permitted to enter government. It is as simple as that.

The community has been generous in its tolerance of what has gone on here for many years. It tolerates the release of prisoners and action on other issues over which local parties do not have direct control. Such matters are under the control of the Secretary of State. We must look at the opportunities because we all want power to be devolved to Northern Ireland. We want the opportunity that we have not had for more than a generation. We want to work effectively for our constituents in the delivery of social services, jobs and housing.

Until now we have been spectators in our own country, watching from the sidelines as somebody flies in to determine policy. In other forums and councils we have said, "Isn’t it terrible what the Government are doing?" We have complained about decisions on hospitals, schools, houses and jobs. We have the opportunity in two months’ time to decide for ourselves, and we must establish the firm foundations for that to continue.

11.30 am

The firm foundation is that those who aspire to exercise power must be committed totally and exclusively to peaceful means. That has to be demonstrated and maintained; it is not a one-off. If we are in government with a gun to our heads, metaphorically speaking, the trust that is needed successfully to govern the people of Northern Ireland cannot be created. We would look like hypocrites, and would lurch from one crisis to another.

Let us settle it now while we have the opportunity — the only one that this generation will have. People want that, although some argue that there will be a surrender. The issue is not about surrender. It is about genuine change which we must make and which this Assembly represents. Despite all the noise, everybody here has changed and will continue to change because not long ago we came through various processes to bring us to this point. Some fought their way here through the polls while others abused the system by using a ballot box and Armalite strategy, but we are all here because we cannot afford not to be.

Mr McCartney:

We do not have to be here.

Mr Empey:

Oh dear, poor Little Orphan Annie has to make a comment. We have to show compassion because anyone who has been deprived for over a month of the attentions of Cedric Wilson and Paddy Roche would make such comments.

The opportunity should not be lost. People who feel that the destruction of weapons by one means or another weakens their position or makes them any less Loyalist or Republican have not fully embraced the democratic process. If they have, they do not need those weapons for any reason other than to threaten. The agreement has produced every conceivable mechanism to protect rights and equality. What more evidence of inequality could there be than somebody barging into a person’s house and smashing his limbs with iron bars and baseball bats? That is inequality in its most virulent form.

The law has never been stronger. We are setting up all sorts of mechanisms, such as commissions and bodies for the proofing of legislation. Never in the history of any community in western Europe has more been done to ensure that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip. Everybody will have an opportunity to have a say and will have access to the law if an authority fails to do its job properly.

People must be confident that there is change and a determination to implement the new arrangements fairly. If there are failures, there must be adequate mechanisms to ensure that individuals, Ministers and authorities are corrected and prevented from doing anything which is to the disadvantage of any citizen. This array of apparatus presents the opportunity to take the step that is needed and to bring about genuine confidence. I hope that the House will take that step.

Mr McGrady:

I expected the Assembly to give the people of Northern Ireland a better hope for the immediate resolution of our problems. The purpose of the Assembly, to which we have all subscribed and which is contained in our general rules, is to prepare to give effect to the agreement that was reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland as set out in Command Paper 388.

Mr P Robinson:

It is not.

Mr McGrady:

That is what the Standing Orders say, and that is the condition upon which membership of the Assembly was accepted.

When the resolutions were passed on previous occasions from 1 July 1988 onwards, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) were criticised for not presenting a report of the type that is now before the Assembly. As party members, we know the toil and sweat which has gone into this report, and it should not be dismissed lightly or allowed to fall between the stools of inter-party rivalry. That would serve no purpose, and certainly not the purpose of the people who sent us here. We often forget that we are here on behalf of the people. They have asked us to come to the Assembly to reach agreement on that which they have endorsed.

Mr McCartney:

No, they did not.

Mr McGrady:

The learned gentleman may be good at law but he is pathetic at mathematics. Seventy-one per cent of the people endorsed the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McCartney:

Those who voted for me did not.

Mr McGrady:

It is the learned gentleman’s misfortune that he is not in the majority. I accept that there are other opinions.

Rev William McCrea:

Is the Member saying that the minority have no rights?

Mr McGrady:

Once again the reverend gentleman does not seem to be able to understand what is being said. I have experienced that in many places and on many occasions. To me, the concepts of majority and minority are viable and acceptable. The purpose of our debates is to ensure the fullest possible diversity so as to create the fullest possible partnership. Partnership in any field can be nurtured only if there is the mutual trust and confidence that will enable it to prosper. The report designates the broad concepts on which the governance of Northern Ireland could be achieved in a much better way than hitherto.

People may jibe about numbers. The SDLP was not the only party to recommend 10 Departments. Almost every party in the Chamber, on a cross-community basis, recommended that number. The Democratic Unionist Party has often said that it did not see any great disadvantage in having 10 Departments. That party is on record as saying that several years would be required to determine whether it was right to have 10 Departments. I hope that the DUP will not now advance some altruistic argument for having fewer than 10 Departments.

The arrangement of the disciplines within the 10 Departments should ensure the most effective delivery of services and must address the economic and social concerns of our people. Ten is not magic or immutable, but it is the best number for delivering that which has to be delivered.

I ask Members to look at the disciplines that are listed under each Department. While there may be disagreements over individual aspects, we trust that there is broad agreement that such an arrangement is the best vehicle for delivering the economic, social and cultural aspirations of everyone in Northern Ireland. I urge the House to support the motion.

The vote on departmental structures is an important milestone in the move towards establishing new regimes of government in which as many as possible of the elected representatives will participate not just at executive level but also in the Committees, the Chairmanships, the Vice-Chairmanships and as Members of the Assembly. Under these proposals, Northern Ireland will have the most democratic and most accountable form of government that any country has ever had.

Given time, these novel, unique and most democratic structures, could well become a blueprint for other communities and other countries to follow, especially where there is racial, cultural or religious conflict. This would be a great blueprint for the resolution of difference and for the acceptance of diversity and would work for the good of the community that we are all trying to serve.

On the pre-Easter Friday we had an agreement. On the pre-Christmas Friday we had an agreement. I hope that before the next Easter Day arrives we will have in place a new Government that will serve all the people of Northern Ireland. We are capable of achieving this. There is inter-party antagonism, which is understandable and quite legitimate, but I appeal to Members not to use this process for party point-scoring.

It is easy to score party points or to be negative but there is nothing positive in such behaviour. While some Members were involved in bilaterals, trilaterals and multilaterals, those Members who oppose the Good Friday Agreement and who reject the will of the people of Northern Ireland did not make one constructive proposal.

I have not heard one constructive proposal from parties opposed to the agreement. Presumably they will oppose this report. Not one constructive alternative proposal has been put on the Table because these Members are concentrating on petty political point-scoring. They are sacrificing the good governance of this community to their own selfish party-political interest. Mr Paisley said that the people will pay. The people who are going to pay for failing to deliver the agreement are the people who are opposed to it.

Mr Adams:

Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh. Ar dtús, mo bhuíochas daoibhse agus mo bhuíochas don Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus don Leas Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) as an tuarascáil seo.

This report is not the report which was promised and it is not the report which this Assembly is entitled to. The First Minister (Designate) has refused to follow through on the logic of what he agreed to on Friday 18 December, and he refused to recommend that agreement for determination to the Assembly today.

11.45 am

The Sinn Fein leadership, reluctantly and after considerable discussion, has had to accept that the UUP has been able, once again, to buy time. In many ways, this has become the character of this process, and it is disappointing, not least because the report on the matters referred to the Assembly by the British Secretary of State was first dealt with on 1 July 1998.

I do not have the time or the inclination to take us through every turn of the road in the frustratingly slow effort to produce this report. There is absurdity in the Ulster Unionist Party's proclamation of a deal on 18 December and in its refusal to recommend that deal for determination today.

It is clear that it was Seamus Mallon's intention to have a proper report for determination today. It is equally clear that that is what Mr Trimble, the First Minister, refused to do. Sinn Fein is not convinced that this hesitancy is a result of the barracking and bluster of the DUP or the UK Unionist Party, or whatever it now calls itself. Our view is that, despite all the noise, the differences among the main Unionist parties are tactical.

That should not be the case; there should be clear strategic and tactical differences among pro- and anti-agreement Unionists. But because of the way the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party has managed the process, there has yet to emerge, even today, a clear Unionist political formation which is prepared to bring in, voluntarily and with good grace, the type of changes that are involved in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Trimble had some interesting things to say in the debate, and I am glad that he has at last recognised that Sinn Fein was correct in its analysis of the Good Friday Agreement, and particularly on the lack of preconditions on the issue of decommissioning.

Therefore, Mr Trimble delays once again, perhaps in the futile hope that he can get the two Governments to acquiesce in his game-plan on the pretext of a spurious notion of preconditions.

The agreement has clear timetables and a clear chronology for the establishment of the various institutions, without preconditions. Therefore, the report may delay the inevitable, but it cannot prevent the inevitable. I welcome the section which promises a final report, with associated procedural motions, to be submitted here on 15 February to facilitate the transfer of power by London and Dublin by 10 March.

I want to deal with the substance of the deal of 18 December. Sinn Fein has, for some time, made it clear that it believes that the UUP would have to agree to 10 Ministries. That was the case, and it is a good development. For the first time - and we can hear the protestation from the unreconstructed wing of Unionism - there is numerical equality in the exercise of political power between Nationalist and Unionist in the North. That is a good development.

However, the rejection of a powerful Ministry, not just by the Ulster Unionist Party, but also by the SDLP, to tackle the core issue of equality is a major sop to Unionism. I have asked some of my colleagues to deal separately with the issue of Departments, but I take this opportunity to reiterate our support for a Ministry to deal with children, a matter that could be addressed by the appointment of a junior Minister.

The recent negotiations were also to establish dynamic and powerful all-Ireland structures as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. We now have six all-Ireland structures - some of which are significant - but Sinn Fein retains considerable reservations about the outcome of these negotiations, especially the exclusion of inward investment from the all-Ireland business and trade body, and the debacle on tourism.

We entered these negotiations in good faith. For us the priority was strategic and political. We wanted to ensure that the legislative timetable required by the two Governments was kept and that the UUP did not succeed in its short-term aim of limiting the potential of the all-Ireland aspects of the agreement. We wanted to clear away the undergrowth and move towards the formation of an Executive that would include Unionist, SDLP and Sinn Fein membership.

With this in mind, Sinn Fein held a series of bilaterals with the Irish Government in the summer followed by trilaterals involving the Irish Government, ourselves and the SDLP. Sinn Fein also held meetings with the British Government and with the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate).

It has been my party's consistent view that the British Government have a special responsibility to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented. We called, therefore, on a number of occasions for the British Prime Minister to be directly involved. Members will recall that he presided over a series of meetings on the evening of 2 December, that a deal was done, and that that deal was then reneged on by the Ulster Unionist Party with John Taylor memorably advising everyone to take a holiday.

I also have considerable reservations on aspects of how the negotiations were conducted, and I have put these firmly on the record with everyone involved. In the 36 hours or so of the negotiations leading to the 18 December deal, the UUP refused to engage in trilaterals with Sinn Fein and the SDLP even though, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, these three parties and the DUP were entitled to be involved in such discussions. The negotiations became convoluted, but because of Sinn Fein's priorities, as outlined earlier, we remained engaged in spite of the difficulties.

However, in the early hours of Friday, 18 December, Sinn Fein was cut out of the engagement. Martin McGuinness, our team of senior negotiators and I were left sitting in the office while Eddie McGrady and David Trimble clinched their deal and announced it to the media.

I am not bringing this to the attention of the Assembly with personal or political rancour. I am drawing attention to it to highlight the pitfalls of tolerating, or acquiescing in, the politics of exclusion. The parties entitled to Ministerial positions by virtue of their electoral mandates should have been fully involved in the negotiations and the final agreement; this did not happen.

I wrote to the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) before Christmas expressing this view and how, in particular, the negotiations had excluded many parties, not just Sinn Fein. I was most critical of the fact that those parties entitled to Ministerial office were not fully involved. I requested that this view be reflected in today's report; I note that they have failed to do that.

In summary, Sinn Fein would have preferred that the report set up the Executive and other institutions in shadow form. Sinn Fein welcomes the commitment to do this in the final report, so, while underpinning our reservations on some of the issues, we welcome the progress that has been made.

Táimid mí-shásta, mar a dúirt mé, lena lán rudaí sa tuarascáil seo, ach dá ainneoin sin, támid ag dul a vótáil ar a son: nó tá dáta cinnte inti nuair a bhéas David Trimble ag déanamh moltaí, agus tá Sinn Féin sásta leis sin.

A Chathaoirligh, one thing is certain. Unless the Unionist parties, and in particular the Ulster Unionist Party, can get the two Governments to abandon the Good Friday Agreement - which I think is most unlikely - the next steps towards implementing the agreement, steps which should already have been taken, are clearly visible. The Executive must be established; the all-Ireland Ministerial Council must be set up; and the other institutions must be put in place. There is talk of minorities and majorities; 85% of the people of this island gave voice to their dream of a new future with peace and justice. The Good Friday Agreement is a critical part of the process of bringing that about.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I must ask you to bring your remarks to a close.

Mr Adams:

Sinn Fein has reservations which we want dealt with, but we will be voting in support of the motion.

The First Minister (Designate):

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. At the outset the arrangement was that if someone used a language other than English then a translation would be offered. Towards the end of Mr Adams's speech there were some words which I presume were in Irish, in the course of which I clearly heard my name mentioned. I might have wanted to comment on what was being said about me, but a translation was not offered. Consequently, I and other Members who do not speak Irish are at a disadvantage when referred to personally when we cannot understand what is being said. It is, at the very least, extremely discourteous.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

From the beginning I have appealed to Members, if using a language other than English, to offer a translation. I cannot require that as a Standing Order at this point. It is, however, a matter of courtesy, especially if, in the course of using a language other than English, a Member's name is mentioned. There is a convention that in certain circumstances the Member may have an opportunity to reply. Therefore I appeal to all Members to please live by that courtesy.

Mr Adams:

I intended no discourtesy, and I apologise to Mr Trimble if he feels that in some way I have been discourteous towards him. There is, of course, a huge argument for having simultaneous translation, which would get over this problem. It is difficult in the time allowed for people like myself to condense what we have said into English. I would have preferred to make more of my speech in Irish.

I said -

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I cannot allow you to repeat it in English. That would be out of order. I cannot permit a Member on a point of order to then subsequently give a translation. That could be regarded as a way of creating extra time. Mr Adams has said that he did not intend any discourtesy, and that is welcome. With regard to the matter of simultaneous translation, that is not a question for me. I can only work through the Standing Orders that are provided. For the information of Members, the Committee on Standing Orders has already indicated that it wishes to address the issue.


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