Communique offers priceless chance `to recapture peace'

 

The following is an edited version of the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton's address to the Dail.

THE agreement reached in London today between Prime Minister Major and myself provides an historic opening for peace and reconciliation.

It provides, for the first time, a fixed date for all party negotiations where all the parties in Northern Ireland, nationalist and republican, unionists and loyalist, to get around the table with the two governments and negotiate a way out of the difficulties that have divided us and brought us into conflict for generations.

There is, therefore, now no vestige of argument for the continuation of IRA violence, just as there has never been any moral or political justification for it.

I call on the IRA to accept the will of the people on both sides of these islands, as so clearly expressed in recent days, to end the bombings and the shootings for once and for all.

Today's agreement gives everyone a chance to resolve their political differences by peaceful means.

We have an opportunity, in the intensive period of consultations which the Tanaiste will be starting on Monday, to receive an input from all Northern Ireland political parties as to how they think an elective process should work how negotiations should be conducted, and whether there is an advantage in a referendum to win popular endorsement for what we are doing.

I call on the unionist parties to respond generously to this process. For our part, we offer them generosity in a way in which it has never been previously offered. There can be no agreement with out them.

Any agreement to come into effect must be approved in referendum by a majority in Northern Ireland. The majority community in Northern Ireland has the least to fear, and potentially the most to gain, from all party negotiations.

In the period up to February 9th, when the IRA revoked its cessation of violence, a great deal of progress had been made. The two governments had, for the first time ever, provided in the Joint Framework Document an outline of what a comprehensive political agreement might involve in order to give impetus, focus and direction to all party negotiations.

The IRA's resumption of violence, with all its terrible consequences in terms of loss of life and grievous injury and suffering, was a major blow to our hopes for real progress towards a political settlement.

However, the two governments continued to work towards our shared objective of all party negotiations. We recognised that we have a duty to act in the interests of all those the vast majority of the peoples of these islands who put their trust and confidence in us and who look to us for political leadership.

The pace of political progress can never be dictated by those who against all morality and all logic seek to set the political agenda by violence.

The priority of the Government in the past two weeks has been the restoration of the IRA ceasefire, and the establishment of a specific date for all party negotiations on a settlement.

We have regarded the latter objective as desirable and necessary in its own right, and also as helpful to the reinstatement of peace.

The Joint Communique, which Prime Minister Major and I agreed, represents a further milestone in this ongoing work and provides an historic opening for the peace and reconciliation which we all seek.

The communique is designed to move the entire peace process forward decisively. It creates a priceless opportunity to recapture the peace and to anchor it politically.

For Sinn Fein and the IRA this is a moment in time which may not be available to them soon again if ever. All that has to happen for Sinn Fein to become a full participant in the negotiations is a restoration of the IRA cease fire of August 1994.

I know that every member of this House will join in the demand that the IRA should make Sinn Fein's participation possible and that they should make that decision now.

I say to them openly and frankly do not close this space for hope. Build on the opportunity inherent in it. Take the next vital step in building a lasting peace settlement by restoring the cease fire of August 1994.

That will then enable the two governments to resume full ministerial dialogue with Sinn Fein and make possible that party's full engagement in the process of negotiations.

The Irish and British governments have committed themselves irrevocably to the commencement of all party negotiations on June 10th. It is made equally clear that even in the absence of the cessation of violence both governments will continue to work in partnership with those parties which are exclusively committed to peaceful methods to secure a comprehensive negotiated settlement and will start negotiations with them on June 10th.

During the 10 day period beginning on Monday next, the two governments will conduct intensive multilateral consultations with the relevant Northern Ireland parties.

Neither violence nor the threat of violence will be allowed to influence the course of negotiations or preparations for them.

The Prime Minister and I reaffirmed our commitment to work for a lasting peace and a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the fundamental principles shared by our two governments and set out in the Downing Street Declaration and the Joint Framework Document.

Regarding participation in all party negotiations, both governments are agreed that Sinn Fein participation is dependent only on a restoration of the IRA ceasefire.

I regard it as being in all our interests that parties close to the loyalist paramilitaries, who have shown such discipline and courage in recent weeks, should be able to join with us in these negotiations.

It is through the confidence and the trust that can only be built by political dialogue that we will make decommissioning practically achievable. That is a challenge for everybody.

It is the intention of the British Prime Minister and myself that all our contacts and meetings will act as further steps on the road to the commencement of all party talks.

This morning's communique represents an historic opening. The journey down the rest of the road starts now.