When I joined the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I suggested it carry out a detailed analysis on what is yet to be implemented in the Good Friday Agreement. One would think that would be common sense. Instead, we received a press release from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We sought a line-by-line and issue-by-issue analysis, equivalent to the Fresh Start Stormont House agreement. I ask that, as a courtesy to the joint committee, the Minister ask the Department to provide the committee with an actual line-by-line analysis of what needs to be done. We do not wish to force that request to a motion.
The two recent elections in Northern Ireland have had a radical effect on the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. The DUP vote was only 1,000 ahead of Sinn Féin, which had a dramatic effect on unionism.
I have a letter to the Attorney General from the solicitors for Raymond McCord, inviting the Government to be a party to a case in the High Court in Belfast in November. He is a unionist whose son was murdered by the UVF. The member of the UVF who ordered his murder was a paid informant of the RUC.
Mr. McCord is taking this case not because he wants to see a united Ireland – he does not – but because he wants to stop both sides using the issue for their own electoral gain. The case is seeking clarity from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as to how the Secretary of State would determine whether a referendum on unity would be called under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
The Government is invited to participate in the case, thereby fulfilling the constitutional obligations outlined by a former Attorney General, the late Rory Brady. Is the Government going to be a party to the case? The Office of the Chief State Solicitor has responded acknowledging the letter and initiative, but has not given a determination.
The UK elections, which were disastrously called by Theresa May, resulted in Northern Ireland being further polarised and the Tory Government relying on the DUP to stay in power and to survive. As a result, the Good Friday Agreement has been held hostage and direct rule cannot, unfortunately, be far away. If this continues, and given that Brexit is around the corner, the future for Northern Ireland is neither clear nor bright.
If the UK does not sign up to a single market or customs union, the only way Northern Ireland and the Border can remain open to people and goods is following a referendum, as allowed for under the Good Friday Agreement, which will allow the people of Northern Ireland to remain in the EU.
I happened to be in the Horse and Jockey in Tipperary during the Minister’s election campaign when Fine Gael voters voted. I glad to hear that the Minister won the majority of their support. I saw his poster which stated “Simon Coveney: Uniting Ireland”. I heard him speak about the issue on the radio. I have not heard him speak about it since. I know it is not a slogan.
The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement appointed me to compile a report on what needs to be done by the State in order to secure what was voted on by the people of Ireland, namely, the amendment to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and how to achieve that aim. The report was unanimously adopted by all members of the committee.
Other than the New Ireland Forum 33 years ago, I could not find any other report or analysis from any Department or the Oireachtas on achieving the main aim of the State. In the report I quoted Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys and his book, Countdown to Unity: Debating Irish Reunification, in which he discussed the political establishment not wanting to touch the issue of a united Ireland. He outlined the logic to this quite clearly. He said the reason they want a perpetual state of the status quo is because of the fear of a return to violence.
That is a legitimate concern. It is why I asked President Obama’s senior policy adviser on the National Security Council, Michael Ortiz, who is an expert on countering violent extremism, to write a report for our committee on what needs to be done in order to ensure that there no outbreak of violence in the run-up to a referendum. He said it is quite simple. We have to provide jobs and educational opportunities to the most disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland. That is why the committee recommended the establishment of a task force in respect of that issue.
Of the ten poorest regions in Northern Europe, nine are in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is one of them. The United Nations human development index ranks the Republic sixth in the world in terms of health, education and income. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service ranked Northern Ireland 44th on the same scale.
Dr. Kurt Hubner, of British Columbia University, in an analysis for the report I compiled said there would be a benefit to the whole island economy of €35.6 billion in the first eight years after reunification. Since the report was published and launched by the committee, I have met unionist politicians, religious leaders and senior paramilitaries members in the loyalist community. Many believe that there will be a referendum within the next ten years. They have concerns about that, as one can imagine.
As a result of the draft report, I was contacted by a senior member of the Ulster defence Regiment, UDR. Once upon a time it was the largest regiment in the British Army. I asked him to make a submission to the report, which he did.It has concerns about land ownership and whether people would be asked to return the land given during the Plantations in retribution for former members of the security forces who had been involved in collusion, about which the Minister spoke. It is also concerned about how the British identity would be protected and respected after reunification. These are legitimate and heartfelt concerns held by those communities and there is an obligation on the State to address them with generosity and a realistic solution. That is why one of the key recommendations made in the report I compiled is the establishment of a New Ireland Forum 2 to address all of these concerns and set out a vision for Ireland for the next 100 years to accommodate all people on the island. If the Minister truly believes in reunifying Ireland, as the slogan on his poster states, I hope he will establish New Ireland Forum 2. I hope he will put in place the policies needed to reunify the people of Ireland in peace and prosperity. He will be told by many in his party and the Government to keep the status quoand not to go near the main aim of achieving the State’s objective as outlined in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. I hope he will ignore those who do not want to see change and wish the status quoto continue. I hope he will listen instead to the advice of the person voted by the people as Irishman of the 20th century, T. K. Whitaker, who in November 1968, on the eve of the Troubles, gave advice to another Cork man, Mr. Jack Lynch, in a note:
We were, therefore, left with only one choice, a policy of seeking unity in Ireland between Irishmen. Of its nature this is a long-term policy, requiring patience, understanding and forbearance, and resolute resistance to emotionalism and opportunism. It is not the less patriotic for that.