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Speech by Dermot Ahern to the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, Killarney, (24 April 2006)

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Text: Dermot Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Dermot Ahern, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body Killarney, (24 April 2006)


"Joint Chairs, Fellow Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you in the scenic surroundings of Killarney, Co. Kerry.

I have very fond memories of my time as a member of the Body and as co-chair of this unique and valuable inter-parliamentary forum.

Of all the organisations I have been involved in over my political career the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body was one of the best for cutting through the barriers and myths both sides had about each other. I have seen at first hand how the open and frank discussions in the Body - both formal and informal - have helped to develop mutual understanding and good relations.

That is why I am delighted that the DUP joined you for a discussion earlier this afternoon. Dialogue is a vital part of developing trust and understanding. I know that the Body has long sought this dialogue. It is significant that the DUP joined you to-day and I would encourage more of this engagement.

I would like to pay tribute to your distinguished Co-Chairmen, Pat Carey TD and Paul Murphy MP. They both bring considerable experience and real commitment to their role.

I know that they, together with a number of other members, worked hard to develop to-day's engagement with the DUP. I hope that it can be built on further so that this Body becomes a forum for all political parties on these islands.

Ireland and Britain have a strong and multilayered relationship, reflecting our complex intertwined histories. To-day we have a close relationship which takes its strength from:

  • our shared economic interests - we remain major trading partners and have become major investors in each others economies
  • as neighbours and partners in the European Union we work closely together on a range of international issues and through our development aid programmes
  • the mobility of our peoples enriched by a vibrant cultural and sporting engagement, and
  • the shared imperative of working together to find a solution to the Northern Ireland issue

Devolution in Britain has, of course, opened up new and vibrant dimensions in the relationship. The Good Friday Agreement recognises the importance of the wider East/West dimension. It gives expression to this unique relationship via the British-Irish Council.

The Irish Government actively participates in the work of the Council. We value it as an institution for consultation and co-operation on a wide range of East/West matters.

It provides the Irish Government with a unique forum to engage - not just with London or Belfast - but with the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

As Governments and Administrations, large and small, we face many of the same social and economic challenges. On issues such as the environment, drugs and social inclusion we can learn from each other and develop opportunities to work together to mutual advantage. This is what we are doing in the BIC and I believe there is potential to do more.

The British-Irish Council is an essential part of the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish Government is committed to advancing the work of the Council. We hope that in the very near future we will see the Northern Ireland Executive taking its place again at the BIC table.

We see a dynamic and fully functioning East/West strand as an important component in the development of comprehensive and balanced relationships among all the people of these islands.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As fellow parliamentarians I know that you share with me a belief in the power of politics.

For too long now, the people of Northern Ireland have been denied active political representation in the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement.

For too long, Northern Ireland's politicians have had no role in important decisions affecting the daily lives of their constituents.

Eight years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and more than three years since the suspension of the institutions, it is now time that political power and responsibility are returned to a fully functioning Assembly and Executive.

It is time that politicians begin to do the work they were elected to do.

The Governments are united in our conviction that devolved partnership government, as enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, provides the best opportunity to create a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.

On 6 April in Armagh, the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair set out the Governments' joint strategy for bringing this opportunity to a reality and achieving a fully functioning Assembly and Executive in 2006.

Three weeks from today, on 15 May 2006, the Assembly will meet again - for the first time since suspension in October 2002. It will be asked to elect a First and Deputy First Minister and form an Executive within six weeks. However, should that not prove possible, we are prepared to give some additional but limited time - until 24 November - for the express purpose of implementing the Agreement and establishing the Executive.

We have now reached a point in the process where the parties must take difficult decisions. The deadline of 24 November is very real.

In putting forward our plan, we are exercising our responsibilities as governments to give direction and leadership.

Now it is up to the parties.

Partnership government means just that - the political parties in Northern Ireland working together in partnership and fulfilling their democratic contract with the electorate. Our clear and primary focus is on taking the necessary steps to achieving full restoration of the Assembly and the Executive this year.

Should we reach 25 November without the formation of an Executive, then the Governments are agreed that we will exercise our responsibilities to ensure that the Agreement is implemented to the maximum possible extent for the benefit of all communities. We will do so because we have a continuing responsibility to advance a process to which both governments are firmly committed, and which has been endorsed by the people of this island.

But our task today is not to conjure with failure. Rather it behoves all of us to recommit to doing everything possible to ensure successful restoration of the institutions.

Our primary focus is on making the Assembly and Executive work. Any alternatives would clearly be a poor second best for the people of Northern Ireland.

Our intentions and aspirations for 2006 could not be plainer. Our fundamental priority is the full implementation of the Agreement across its three Strands.

That means a fully-functioning Assembly, with a First Minister, Deputy First Minister and local Ministers in charge of Departments.

It means a North-South Ministerial Council functioning as envisaged in the Agreement.

It means optimal operation of the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

These are not dry institutional structures. They are the political framework within which politicians North, South, East and West can take forward real work on behalf of their people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we were in Armagh on 6 April the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair, with Peter Hain and myself, also met with a delegation of business leaders from Northern Ireland. They gave us a clear message that there needs to be a radical approach to the problems of the Northern Ireland economy. They want to replicate the South's economic success in the North. To do this they see real value in North/South co-operation to meet our shared economic challenges and opportunities.

The two Governments are convinced that North/South co-operation is delivering real benefits for the people of the island. Working together we have been looking at ways to develop a more prosperous and competitive all-island economy.

We are determined to get maximum benefit from the massive Euros 100bn spend on infrastructure development planned on the island over the next 10 years.

We have initiated a comprehensive study on the development of an all-island economy. It will examine opportunities for further co-operation in areas such as innovation, R&D, trade and investment promotion.

We are identifying ways to work together for the economic development of the North West.

In telecoms, energy, education, health we are developing co-operation which will deliver for ordinary people.

We cannot afford to miss these opportunities. The economic well being of all our people depends on it.

We want to see the North South Ministerial Council meeting again and doing its work for the benefit of all communities on the island. This is absolutely our preferred option.

But if we do not have an Executive by 24 November, the two Governments have been very clear they will take forward the work of North/South co-operation. It is our responsibility to do so. Our responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement and our responsibility to the people of Ireland.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have made huge strides forward since this time last year.

We have consistently argued the case for devolved Government and for the full implementation of the Agreement.

But while we can make the case and create the conditions for partnership government, the onus now is on the politicians in Northern Ireland to show leadership and courage and to make it happen once and for all.

The weeks ahead will be challenging for all of the parties. When they meet in the Assembly Chamber in Stormont three weeks from today, I hope all 108 Assembly Members will grasp this opportunity to reclaim their political relevance and make politics work for the people of Northern Ireland in 2006."


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