This committee’s brief is the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Last year at the committee I asked if there was any chance somebody could give us an update on what was left to be implemented. One would imagine that the committee that has been given this role would have an outline of what needs to be implemented. For the Fresh Start agreement and the Stormont House Agreement – as the Minister referred to in his address – there is a comprehensive document compiled for Member every six months, line by line on what needs to be done. We have been in communication with the Minister and his predecessor to get a similar document for the members of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We got a four page document from the Department in regard to what remains to be implemented of the Good Friday Agreement. It is marked “confidential”. When one compares it to the documents compiled for the Fresh Start agreement or the Stormont House Agreement, it is not comprehensive enough. We had members of the Northern Ireland select committee from Westminster here. They asked us what is left to be implemented and we could not possibly tell them that this was all we have. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to the committee in this regard, especially with the 20th anniversary of the agreement coming up. Somebody is going to ask about what is left to be implemented but we do not have a comprehensive analysis that would enable us to answer that. I believe it should be done annually.
With regard to the Border, there is a lesson to be learned from where we are at this critical juncture – with the heads of Government meeting coming up – as to whether Ireland will allow the issues to proceed. The Irish Boundary Commission was set up as part of the treaty negotiations in 1921 to move it out of the political arena and to solve the immediate problem that Britain had. The lesson learned in that instance was if it is not solved when it needs to be solved it will never be solved. If we allow the negotiations to proceed to the trade element the Border issue will get lost in that and we will have a very bad border.
Amazingly enough, Members of Parliament, MPs, from the Westminster foreign affairs committee who were here last week told us they will keep the status quoand have zero tariffs. I had to tell them that if it is zero tariffs for us, it is zero tariffs for everybody and the rules of the World Trade Organization mean that Argentinian beef will be brought into Belfast at zero tariff and brought across the Border. That was news to them. That shows how much they know about our concerns and the issues around the Border.
On a recent “Spotlight” programme, the Taoiseach spoke about this issue and I addressed it in the Seanad when the Minister was there to discuss the North. The Taoiseach said he would not like us to get to a point where we are challenging and changing the constitutional position here on Northern Ireland on a 50% plus one basis. Mark Durkan, the former MP, said the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, would not have signed up to the Good Friday Agreement unless it was based on the democratic principle of 50% plus one. We know the people in the city of Derry had to march to get the right to vote, the same as any other person’s right. In my report, which the Minister spoke about, I quoted High Court judge, Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys, who said:
…the really fundamental reason, apart from legal considerations, why a minority or a dual consent could never act to prevent the reunification of the island of Ireland if a majority so wished, is that there is no corresponding provision at present permitting the nationalist and republican ‘minority’ to prevent Northern Ireland from remaining part of the United Kingdom. The test for a United Ireland could not in logic be different from the test for a United Kingdom.
While the Taoiseach said that 70% of people in Northern Ireland voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, in the unionist community it was only 56%. Dr. Wilson, in his address to us, said there are three main fears: unionist identity in a united Ireland; the issue of retribution against former members of the security forces, bearing in mind there are 300 unsolved murders involving former members of the security forces; and the issue of land ownership and if the return of land given during the Plantations of 1641 would be sought. I know the Minister finds that amazing and I find it amazing, but it is a concern. What is the Department doing to address the concerns of the unionist community?
We are asked why we are talking about a united Ireland. We talk about it because it is an issue. Brexit has brought it up, but ignoring it does not solve the problem. The lesson of Brexit is simple. A government does not hold a referendum and then tell everybody what the future looks like. We should be telling people if there is a referendum in five, ten, 15 or 20 years’ time this is what the future of Ireland would look like, this is how identities would be protected, how land ownership would look and that everyone’s land ownership title would be the same the day after as it was the day before.
The Minister’s posters said “Uniting Ireland” and in exactly six minutes’ time the Department will have been asked to respond to a letter about the case Raymond McCord is taking against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the issue of how a referendum would be triggered. The legal team gave the Minister until 3 p.m. today to respond and if he does not respond, it will go to the High Court to seek clarity on whether he will be a party to this case. The Secretary of State alone can decide how a referendum would be triggered. The former Attorney General, Mr. Brady, pointed out in 2007 that the State has a constitutional obligation to achieve a united Ireland. It is not an aim or an objective. It is an obligation. What are the State and the Department doing to try to achieve that aim in the way we all want it to be, which is peaceful, prosperous and through engagement and negotiation while addressing all the concerns of the past and, more importantly, those of the future?