Andrews in decommissioning plea to both sides to North agreement


Both sides to the Belfast Agreement must weigh their positions on decommissioning against the value and significance of the agreement as a whole, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, told delegates.

This year had been momentous and an enormous year of achievements, particularly for the one issue that was close to his heart: peace on this island, peace and reconciliation between the traditions and a new agreement embracing the totality of relationships at whose core was Northern Ireland, he said.

The Minister said the agreement set out a course of action. There was no decommissioning precondition for entry to the executive but there was a clear obligation that decommissioning be resolved within a two-year time frame.

The republican movement prided itself on its respect for the interests of the Irish nation. Unionists prided themselves on realism and straight talking.

"For either side, to what point is it worth testing and straining all that we have achieved? Can Northern Ireland hope to achieve at one fell swoop absolute assurance either way?" he asked.

The agreement was not the property of the parties to it. It was the property of all the people of this island, North and South, nationalist and unionist. The parties charged with implementing and working it were guardians of it. It was their sacred trust to ensure that the will of the people prevailed, that the agreement in detail and in spirit was fully and comprehensively implemented.

The Minister paid tribute to the assistance of the Minister for State, Ms Liz O'Donnell. He said their partnership reflected the team spirit of the effective working relationship of the PDs and Fianna Fail in government.

On overseas aid, he said the Government had not committed steadily larger sums to aid to better our trade or to enhance our political status internationally. "We do it because it is the instinct and wish of the people to be generous, to understand human suffering and to respond as best we can. The Minister of State and I are in active discussions with colleagues about the level of our aid budget for next year." "I am deeply conscious that as Minister for Foreign Affairs I am following in the illustrious footsteps of that great Fianna Fail member and Minister, Frank Aiken," he said.

Delegates spoke to nine motions relating to foreign affairs. Mr Pat McAuliffe, Dun Laoghaire, spoke on motions that the Government ensure that membership of the UN remained a priority and that the ardfheis urged the Government to continue its commitment to Overseas Development Aid and welcomed the recent allocation of funds to humanitarian assistance and development programmes in the Third World.

He said the commitment of this country to the UN through its gardai and Army was unparalleled. They at the ardfheis should commit themselves to working for peace, justice and human rights. They should remain at the forefront of the UN peaceful fights for these rights. The motion on overseas aid was put down in the wake of announcements about funds.

"But ladies and gentlemen, that was before Hurricane O'Donnell. I deplore the fact that this Government, a Fianna Fail-led Government, have rescinded their commitment to achieve the target of 0.45 per cent of GNP by the year 2002."

They could analyse the figures. They could put whatever interpretation they wished on those figures, but the bottom line was they had set back the day when they would achieve the target of .45 per cent, he said. As a percentage of GNP they were taking a backward step.

"Our commitment to overseas aid remains and I would urge the Minister to look again," Mr McAuliffe said.

Ms Geraldine Wall, Dublin North East, on a motion calling for human rights to always remain a priority, said poverty was one of the most endemic abuses of human rights. Ireland had a responsibility to increase its share of development aid. She called on the Government to honour its commitment.

Mr Frank O'Neill, Cavan-Monaghan, speaking on a motion congratulating the Government on its handling of the Northern Ireland crisis, said the Six Counties were part of Ireland. Let them not forget that they had had 800 years of institutionalised violence in Northern Ireland.

He knew from living along the Border that it was not possible to have a meaningful ceasefire until there was a lasting settlement. "We need to get back to Fianna Fail, the Republican Party," he said. The 32 counties belonged to all Irish people and they could not be segregated. Living, working and being together - that was democracy. What was the opposite to democracy? - the disaster of Omagh. It was up to them to ensure that never happened again, Mr O'Neill said. The peace process and the ceasefire should never again be lost. Fianna Fail must not lose control, he said.

Mr O'Neill then called for a minute's silence for the victims of Omagh.

Mr Tom Kiernan, Dun Laoghaire, spoke on the situation in East Timor. He said it was not fashionable nowadays. If an issue was not for some economic benefit, nobody would do anything about it. In East Timor if people attended a meeting like the ardfheis, they would not be allowed to go home.

Mr Pat Finnerty, Waterford, spoke to a motion calling on the paramilitaries to return the bodies of the abducted for Christian burial. "There is a lot of talk about decommissioning but 14 people have been abducted and their families have no idea where they are," he said. There were people who knew where those bodies were. He was appealing to them to let the families know.

Mr Seamus Dunphy, Waterford, read out the names of the 14 disappeared. Ms Mary Lou McDonald, Dublin West, speaking on the reform of the RUC, said the RUC was composed exclusively of people from one tradition and they were utterly incapable of carrying out fair policing. There had been victims who had died at the hands of the RUC. There needed to be a root and branch change to the policing system.