Government will support NI Parties in implementing Stormont House Agreement20 January 2015
Government will support NI Parties in implementing challenging Stormont House Agreement – Flanagan
Irish Government to provide €5m to IFI to support reconciliation projects
Today in Dáil Éireann, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, addressed the Dáil on the Stormont House Agreement which was agreed on 23 December, following 11 weeks of talks co-chaired by the Minister and N.I. Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers.
Minister Flanagan stated:
“A crucial aspect of the Stormont House Agreement is that it proposes a number of mechanisms to deal with some of the most difficult, previously intractable legacy issues facing the people of Northern Ireland. The Agreement proposes a comprehensive framework to address the legacy of the more than 3,000 deaths that occurred during the Troubles.
“This is groundbreaking work but it is also highly sensitive. The new framework on the past is part of a broad, complex range of issues addressed in the Agreement. It is not surprising, therefore, that the implementation of the Agreement is as likely to be as difficult as its negotiation. It will require a steady focus over the coming months from all of the Party leaders and their colleagues in the Executive and Assembly. The painful legacy of the past has negatively impacted day-to-day civic and political life in Northern Ireland for too long and full implementation of the mechanisms proposed in this Agreement will be required to turn a new, more positive page, in Northern Ireland.
“I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, and I can now confirm that the first Stormont House Agreement Implementation Meeting involving the Northern Ireland Executive party leaders, will take place in Belfast on 30 January.’
Minister Flanagan also announced an allocation of €5 million from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the International Fund for Ireland to support its work on reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border counties.
Minister Flanagan stated:
“Without reconciliation on the ground between communities, the Peace Process cannot deliver on its promise. This is why the Irish Government helps to fund a large range of reconciliation initiatives. Last week, I visited the International Fund for Ireland’s Black Mountain Peace Wall project in Belfast. The International Fund for Ireland are working to build confidence and trust in communities that have become very marginalised and divided as a direct result of the Troubles. I commend the International Fund for Ireland for their work and am pleased that the Government can today confirm an allocation of €5 million to the International Fund to enable them to continue their reconciliation work across the North and in the border counties.
20 January 2015
Note to Editors:
The International Fund for Ireland is an independent international organisation established by the British and Irish Governments in 1986, whose aim is to build peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. IFI has been funded since 1986 by the USA, the EU, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and has disbursed some €900 million on economic and social development projects in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties.
IFI’s Peace Walls Programme aims to develop and deliver a range of confidence and relationship building interventions within and between interface communities to help residents reach a position where they feel it is safe and appropriate to proceed with the removal of Peace Walls in their area.
Check Against Delivery
Statements on Northern Ireland and the Stormont House Agreement
Dáil Éireann, 20 January 2015
Statement by Mr. Charles Flanagan, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
A Cheann Comhairle:
I welcome the opportunity to brief the House on the outcome of the political talks in Northern Ireland which concluded on 23rd December last with the Stormont House Agreement.
As Deputies will be aware, the British and Irish Governments convened the talks last October. It was the joint assessment of the two governments at that time that the political impasse in the North was such that the immediate involvement of the Governments was required to break the political logjam. Our objective in the cross-party talks was to conclude a broad agreement that provided for economic renewal and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Together with Minister Sherlock, I represented the Government at the weekly sessions of the talks over a period of eleven weeks. I co-chaired all-party roundtable talks with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, as well as having hundreds of hours of meetings and engagement with the parties in other formats as necessary.
I believe that the Agreement we reached on 23rd December following lengthy and, at times, very challenging negotiations, represents a great opportunity to restore effective partnership government in Northern Ireland, advance genuine reconciliation between divided communities and progress economic prosperity for all.
The Agreement covers a broad range of political, economic and social issues. In particular, the Agreement:
- sets out a plan for financial and budgetary reform;
- proposes a way forward on flags, identity, culture and tradition through the establishment of a commission;
- envisages the devolution of responsibility for parades to the Northern Ireland Assembly, with proposals on parading to be brought to the Executive by June 2015;
- establishes a programme of institutional reform at Stormont;
- progresses a number of outstanding aspects from the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, including the establishment of a civic advisory panel by June 2015, a commitment to reporting on new sectoral priorities for North/South cooperation by the end of February 2015, and further development of the North West Gateway Initiative;
- and, very significantly, the Agreement establishes a new comprehensive framework for dealing with the legacy of the Past.
I wish to speak in some detail about the terms of the Agreement on dealing with the past.
When I first visited Belfast immediately following my appointment last July, it was clear to me that, in addition to the need to address the political impasse, it was also vital to find a mechanism for dealing with the continuing corrosive effect of the past on the politics of the present. Several previous attempts had tried valiantly to address this issue, including the Eames/Bradley proposals of 2008 and the Haass talks process of 2013. Building on this valuable work, the Stormont House Agreement sets out a framework which I believe will enable us to tackle the long-standing issues around the legacy of the past in a comprehensive way.
In particular, the framework provides for:
- an oral history archive which will provide a central place for people from throughout the UK and Ireland to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles;
- a dedicated independent Historical Investigations Unit which will have full policing powers to take forward investigations into Troubles-related deaths;
- and an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval to enable victims and survivors, North and South, to seek and receive information about the death of their loved ones.
The comprehensive framework reflects the overwhelming consensus amongst all parties to the talks on the need to place victims and survivors at the heart of our efforts to deal with the legacy of the past.
As regards the financial aspects of the Stormont House Agreement, the estimated total value of the overall financial package agreed between the British Government and the parties to underpin the Agreement represents additional spending power of almost £2 billion for the Northern Ireland Executive.
As part of the Agreement, the Irish Government also reaffirmed its commitment to part-funding the development of the A5 motorway to improve access to the northwest. In addition, we have allocated €5 million to the International Fund for Ireland to support its work on reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the South. I had the opportunity of seeing the ongoing importance of the Fund’s work in promoting reconciliation when I was in Belfast last week and visited the Blackmountain Shared Space Project’s Peace Walls Programme there.
A Cheann Comhairle:
As is the case with all participants in the talks, there were a number of additional issues which the Government would have wished to see progressed further but there was not sufficient consensus to do so.
Notwithstanding that it was included in a paper tabled by the Government at the outset of the talks, we were disappointed that a commitment to an Irish Language Act, either enacted in Westminster or the Northern Ireland Assembly, did not form part of the final Agreement. We welcome, however, the explicit endorsement in the Agreement by the British Government of the principle of respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
Similarly, while the Government would have wished to see the establishment of a North South Consultative Forum and a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, the necessary enabling consensus was not forthcoming during the Stormont talks. The Government will nevertheless avail of other opportunities to secure progress on these outstanding issues.
Overall, the agreement represents the articulation of the next essential steps towards reconciliation and economic renewal. Our approach to the talks was ambitious and constructive. The two Governments sought to maximise what was achievable having regard to the core and sometimes conflicting negotiating positions of the parties and the finite time available for negotiation. By tabling papers and drafts of heads of agreement proposals, the Governments helped to broker agreement on issues which had not been amenable to resolution during the Haass talks in 2013.
A Cheann Comhairle:
I wish to assure the House of the Government’s commitment to the effective and expeditious implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which is likely to be as challenging as was its negotiation.
In this context, under the terms of the Agreement, both Governments will convene quarterly review meetings, with the first meeting due to take place before the end of this month at which an implementation timetable will be agreed. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is conscious of our responsibilities to all of the people of this island. In the months ahead, we will continue to advance political progress and to play our part in the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
I wish to express my appreciation to all those who contributed to bringing the Stormont talks to a successful conclusion. In particular, I wish to pay tribute to Secretary of State Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, with whom I worked very closely throughout the talks process. The ongoing support and direct engagement of the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron in the talks also played a crucial part in converting dialogue into agreement. I also wish to acknowledge the constructive roles played by the Northern Ireland Executive Parties in reaching agreement and, in particular, the leadership shown by the First and deputy First Ministers in bridging a number of negotiating chasms. I want to pay special thanks to US Senator Gary Hart for the very valuable role he played, and for the ongoing support and commitment of the US Administration.
I was in Belfast last week and will be there again next week to represent the Government at the first implementation and review meeting of the Stormont House Agreement. As I noted earlier, I sincerely believe that the Agreement provides the means for us to address the challenges facing Northern Ireland which I identified on my first visit to the North as Minister last July. I and my colleagues will continue to apply the same level of determination and commitment in the implementation phase to ensure that our investment in negotiating the agreement bears fruit and delivers on the promise of brighter days ahead for all of the people of Northern Ireland.