Third Annual Report



BRITISH-IRISH INTER-PARLIAMENTARY BODY
Third Annual Report

COMHLACHT IDIR-PHARLAIMINTEACH NA BREATAINE

AGUS NA hÉIREANN

THIRD ANNUAL REPORT

THE WORK OF THE BRITISH-IRISH INTER-PARLIAMENTARY BODY

Introduction

1.  This is the third Annual Report of the Body since it was decided at the 11th Plenary Session in May 1996 that such a Report should be made. The current Report summarises the work of the Body in 1998.

2.  1998 was a momentous year for British-Irish affairs. Two years of multi-party talks culminated in the conclusion of the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday, 10 April, which was then ratified by referendums on 22 May in both jurisdictions. Elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly were held on 25 June, and David Trimble MP and Seamus Mallon MP were elected First Minister designate and Deputy First Minister designate of the embryo Executive Committee of the Assembly.

3.  It was almost inevitable, however, that the activities of the Body should get off to a slow start, given that there had been general elections and changes of government in both jurisdictions during 1997 and given that the work of the Body was carried out against the background of a rapidly-changing political scene in Northern Ireland.

4.  In accordance with the Rules of the Body, three Plenary Sessions were held in1998.

  • from 30 to 31 March in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan;

  • on 15 May in Dublin Castle; and

  • from 22 to 23 September in the Royal York Hotel, York.

Fifteenth Plenary

5.  At the Plenary in Ballyconnell in March, the Body was addressed by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern TD. His speech is set out in full in the Report of Debates for the Session. The main debate on the first day of the Session was an informal discussion of how the Body was likely to develop if, as was hoped, the inter-party talks were going to come to a successful conclusion-which would inevitably entail the establishment of intergovernmental institutions with a parliamentary dimension. The Plenary also agreed to amend the Rules so as to provide for five Associates to be attached to each Committee, to receive documents and to attend in the absence of full Members of the Committee in question, with the right to vote and be counted in the quorum. The Body also took note of the Second Annual Report, for 1997.

6.  On the second day, the Body held a wide-ranging debate on the progress of the multi-party talks-which at that point were reaching a critical stage. The text of the Body's Resolution, which was agreed unanimously, is as follows:

That the Body records its deepest appreciation of the commitment and hard work of all those involved, including the independent Chairmen, in the multi-party Talks which are now in their concluding and most critical stage; urges the participants to take, in a spirit of reconciliation and generosity, the final steps to a just, comprehensive and balanced settlement within the three strands of the present Talks; expresses its appreciation for the continuing goodwill and support internationally for such a settlement; recognises the need for all parties to continue to adhere to the principles of democracy and non-violence which have underlain the talks; and looks forward to a successful outcome to the Talks and the support of the people in the referenda North and South.

Sixteenth Plenary

7.  The Sixteenth Plenary, in Dublin, was an Extraordinary Meeting of the Body convened as a result of the successful conclusion of the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday, 10 April. For the first time in the history of the Body it was addressed by Ministers from both jurisdictions: Mr David Andrews TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, and Mr Paul Murphy MP, Minister for Political Development in the Northern Ireland Office. The text of the Body's Resolution, which was agreed by 26 votes to 1, is as follows:

That the Body, recalling the unanimous approval of its motion on the multi-party Talks at its recent 15th Plenary Session in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, welcomes the historic Agreement reached in the multi-party negotiations, congratulates all the participants in the Talks on reaching agreement, and looks forward to its endorsement by the people in the referenda, North and South, and to its successful implementation.

8.  The Sixteenth Plenary also saw a procedural innovation which, while new to the Body, is a well-established feature of proceedings both in Dublin and Westminster: the closure, which was moved in order to enable the Body to vote on the draft Resolution before it while the majority of Members were still present at the meeting.

Seventeenth Plenary

9.  By the time the Seventeenth Plenary took place in York, the Assembly Elections had been held and negotiations were proceeding on the establishment of the Executive. The Plenary met under the shadow of the tragic events at Omagh, where a car-bombing resulted in the greatest loss of life of any terrorist incident in Northern Ireland in recent history and the beginning of the debate on the Political Motion was marked by a minute's silence in memory both of the victims of the Omagh bombing and of all acts of violence.

10.  The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right honourable Dr Mo Mowlam MP, addressed the Assembly and answered oral questions from Members, following which the Body debated the current political situation and unanimously agreed the following Resolution:

That the Body welcomes the approval of the Belfast Agreement by majorities of 71 per cent in Northern Ireland and 94 per cent in the Republic in the two referendums, which thereby mandated the two Governments fully to implement the Agreement; is pleased that parties supporting the Agreement gained a majority of seats in the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly and strongly believes that the implementation of the Agreement will help to bring about a new era of peace, stability and cooperation; expresses its revulsion at the atrocity committed in Omagh; commends the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach on their positive response in the immediate aftermath of the Omagh atrocity and notes the initiative, taken by both Governments, which was endorsed by large majorities in both Parliaments; and utterly repudiates and condemns any continuation of acts of violence from whatever source.

11.  The Body took note of two Reports:

  • the Report of the Committee on Economic and Social Affairs [Doc. 58] on matters relating to the Road and Rail Links on the Island of Ireland, and

  • the Report of the Committee on International and European Affairs [Doc. 59] on matters relating to International and European Union Involvement with the Peace Process.

Both Reports were subsequently forwarded to the two Governments for their observations, and responses are awaited.

12.  At the following day's sitting the Body debated its future, in the light of developments foreshadowed in the Belfast Agreement, using as a basis for the debate a paper entitled The Future of the Body [Doc. 60] which had been prepared under the authority of the Steering Committee. In the course of that debate, a consensus emerged for setting up a Working Group on the Future of the Body, and the Steering Committee subsequently established a small Working Group to explore the options.

13.  At the end of that debate (which concluded with the Plenary resolving to take note of the Paper), the Body was addressed briefly by three guests; Conseiller Laurie Morgan of Guernsey, Mr Speaker Noel Cringle of Tynwald, Isle of Man, and Senator Pierre Horsfall of Jersey had been invited as observers subsequent to the proposal in the Belfast Agreement that a Council should be established to bring together the two sovereign Governments, the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales, and the three Island Governments.

Steering Committee

14.  The Members of the Steering Committee during the year were Mr Michael O'Kennedy TD and Mr David Winnick MP, Co-Chairmen, and Mr Charles Flanagan TD, Mr Michael Mates MP, Mr Kevin McNamara MP, and Dr Rory O'Hanlon TD, Vice-Chairmen. The Committee met on five occasions; a sixth meeting had been scheduled, but it was decided that the business intended for that meeting could equally well be transacted by correspondence and by contacts between the Clerks.

15.  Mr O'Kennedy and Mr Peter Temple-Morris also represented the Body at the dedication in November of the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines, in Belgium, in memory of all those from both jurisdictions who served and died in the First World War. The dedication, which was the culmination of a project initiated by Mr Paddy Harte (a former Member of the Body) and Mr Glenn Barr, was held in the presence of HM the Queen, the President of Ireland and the King of the Belgians.

Committees

16.  As a result of the two General Elections in 1997, only two Committees were able to present Reports which were debated during the year: from Committee C on Road and Rail Links on the Island of Ireland, and from Committee B on International and European Union Involvement with the Peace Process. In view of the fast-changing nature of the political situation throughout 1998, Committee A (Political and Security Affairs) chose not to present any Report, preferring to maintain a watching brief on developments. The activities of the Committee D (Culture, Education and the Environment) were somewhat hampered by the fact that its initial inquiry, on the environmental effects of discharges from BNFL's nuclear reprocessing facility at Sellafield, became the subject of proceedings in the Irish courts, and therefore potentially sub judice in the sense in which that term is understood both in the Oireachtas and at Westminster.

Prospects for 1999

17.  It is expected that Committees B, C and D will all produce Reports during the course of the coming year: Committee B is looking at the consequences of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy for Northern Ireland and the border counties, Committee C is studying the future for small farms in the rural economy, and Committee D is about to conclude its inquiry into the development of integrated education, education for mutual understanding (EMU) and the development of teaching in the medium of Irish.

18.  As noted above, the Steering Committee has agreed to establish a small Working Group on the future of the Body, with the intention of presenting an oral Report to the Spring Plenary and a formal written Report to the Summer Plenary. But much depends on how the political situation progresses and the speed at which the provisions of the Belfast Agreement are implemented. 1999 is likely to be a year of consolidation for the Body, as the new institutions bed down.


 
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