Statement by Minister Sherlock on NI and the Stormont House Agreement20 January 2015
Statements on Northern Ireland and the Stormont House Agreement
Dáil Eireann, 20 January 2015
Concluding statement by Mr. Seán Sherlock, T.D., Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North-South Co-operation
A Cheann Comhairle;
At the outset, I wish to express appreciation on behalf of the Government for the support expressed by Members of this House today for the Stormont House Agreement and for the Government’s role in negotiating the Agreement.
The Stormont House Agreement was a necessity. The months before the political talks began were characterised by political deadlock and a public increasingly disheartened by the inability of the political system to deliver reconciliation and economic renewal for Northern Ireland. I believe the talks embodied the collective desire, in Stormont, Westminster and here in Leinster House, to show that politics can deliver - by addressing a range of contentious issues, including how to best deal with the legacy of the past, and charting a way forward that will deliver for all of the people of Northern Ireland. The Stormont House Agreement has created the conditions necessary to allow a fresh start in 2015 and beyond – the potential for a new beginning which Northern Ireland’s leaders now need to embrace fully.
I would like to address some of the points raised by previous speakers, in particular regarding outstanding commitments of previous Agreements. As Minister Flanagan has already underlined, the Government remains strongly committed to ensuring that outstanding commitments are fulfilled. Notwithstanding that commitment, the agenda for these most recent talks was essentially focused on outstanding commitments from the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements – the two foundational agreements of the peace process. While the case of the late Pat Finucane did not come within the scope of the Stormont House Agreement, the position of the Irish Government on this important issue has not changed. We believe that a commitment to have a public inquiry on the murder of Pat Finucane, as provided for in the Weston Park Agreement of 2001, should be honoured and we continue to raise the case with the British Government.
In terms of what was explicitly on the agenda, the Government’s mandate going into these talks was to facilitate agreement between parties who held very different and indeed differing views – this meant making a realistic assessment of what was possible within a very tight timeframe and locking down the best possible outcomes. I believe we have achieved this.
With regard to an Irish Language Act, it is a matter of regret that the Executive parties [and indeed the British Government] were unable to agree on its inclusion in the Stormont House Agreement. Nevertheless, we did succeed in ensuring that the Agreement contained an important and formal recognition by both Governments of the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
The Government will continue to advocate for the enactment of an Irish Language Act and to encourage those Northern Ireland parties which currently support an Act to continue to build the necessary enabling consensus among their Executive colleagues. In this regard, I am encouraged by the recent announcement by the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ni Chuilín, of her intention to proceed with the publication of Irish and Ulster-Scots language strategies for public consultation.
As regards a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, we advanced the view during the talks that such a Bill could set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared society for Northern Ireland could be based. Regrettably, sufficient consensus between the Northern Ireland Executive Parties did not exist to take this forward within the context of the Stormont House Agreement. But we did succeed in ensuring that the Agreement contained a commitment by the parties to serving the people of Northern Ireland equally and to the application of a broad range of associated rights.
In relation to a Civic Forum for Northern Ireland, the Government strongly advanced our position during the talks that greater civic engagement would stimulate informed public debate in relation to key societal challenges. We welcome the fact that the Stormont House Agreement provides for the establishment of a civic advisory panel to meet regularly on key social, cultural and economic issues and to advise the Northern Ireland Executive.
As Minister with responsibility for North-South Cooperation, I was particularly pleased that the Agreement provides for a number of concrete all-island measures. The North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), meeting in Institutional format, will agree by end February 2015 a report on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation, identified during Ministerial discussions since November 2013. Moreover, a report on new sectoral priorities will be a standing item for future meetings of the NSMC meeting in Institutional format.
In addition, in early 2015, a meeting of relevant Ministers from North and South will take place in the North West to consider strategic approaches to the development of the region as envisaged in the North West Gateway Initiative.
A Cheann Comhairle:
As many Members of the House have observed, the key to realising the full potential of this Agreement lies in effective and timely implementation. In the months ahead, the Government will continue to sustain the commitment shown throughout the talks and play our part in ensuring the full implementation of the Agreement. Dáil Eireann will also maintain its important role in guaranteeing peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland, not least through the consideration of the legislation that this Agreement requires for the new institutions on dealing with the legacy of the past. I look forward to the cooperation and support of the Members of this House as we progress this important work.