Support for dialogue surest guarantee of peace - Ahern


The Taoiseach said in his New Year message that 1998 had been a wonderful year with the historic breakthrough of the Belfast Agreement, but also been a year of great tragedy with the horror of the Omagh bombing shattering many families.

Mr Ahern said the fantastic support of people, north and south, for an agreed Ireland of dialogue, mutual respect and common endeavour was the surest guarantee yet that we would succeed in making this an island of peace and prosperity for all.

One of the Government's priorities was to increase the weekly payment to elderly citizens to £100.

The Taoiseach welcomed Pope John Paul's World Day of Peace message, "which makes a strong linkage between the respect for human rights and genuine lasting peace." He agreed with the Pope that peace flourished when these rights were fully respected, but when they were violated it resulted in war.

"Given that the past year marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is fitting that this message should lay such emphasis on human rights as the primary basis of peace.

"This year also marked a new beginning in Ireland, one which is based on a solid human rights foundation, and the setting up of the Human Rights Commissions, North and South, will help to consolidate the peace which we all, as a people, have strived so hard to achieve," he said.

"In his message, Pope John Paul speaks of the steps taken in some regions towards the consolidation of peace and said `great credit must go to those courageous political leaders who are resolved to continue negotiations even when the situation seems impossible. I would like to apply these words directly to the parties and individuals who forged the Good Friday agreement last April," Mr Ahern said.

"I salute these men and women and I look forward to joining with them in the coming year to meet the many challenges of peace that lie ahead.

"One of the great challenges facing us is that of ensuring that the economic wealth we now enjoy is shared by all, and not just the few." Spreading the benefits of that economic well-being and coping with the inevitable changes and responsibilities which such wealth brings would be our key tasks, he said.

The Fine Gael leader, Mr John Bruton, said in his New Year message that during 1999 Fine Gael will work to make the Ireland of the new century one in which all our children will want to live and work. He said the party would work to mobilise votes in elections to force the Government to:

clear the worsening traffic jams by doubling the number of bus and train services available and halving fares through a dramatic increase in competition and efficiency;

treble child benefit payable for small children so as to help all mothers, not just the better off, with the cost of childcare;

enact laws to ban gazumping in house purchases;

enact an enforceable, effective and fair patient's charter to protect patients from long waits for operations and in hospital casualty departments.

The primary challenge facing the Labour Party was to ensure the union with Democratic Left succeeded in changing Irish politics, the leader of the Labour Party, Mr Ruairi Quinn, said in his New Year message.

He said Labour would offer the State a clear and dynamic political alternative. Its first task was to win seats in the local and European elections. "We can choose to use our economic prosperity for the benefit of all our citizens. We can choose to live up to our responsibilities as a newly affluent country in Europe and globally.

"We can either harness our resources and put them to use for all our citizens or they can be frittered away through the absence of long-term investment, planning and vision."

Mr Quinn criticised the Government's handling of the refugee issue. He said our continued refusal to accord the dignity of making a living to people seeking political asylum stood in stark contrast to how asylum-seekers were treated elsewhere.

He described the refusal of the Government to implement the Refugee Act, passed by the Oireachtas and supported by Fianna Fail and the PDs, as an "absolute disgrace".

Despite our record economic growth, the Government had shamefully allowed hospital waiting lists to grow and in the process had put people's lives in danger.