Ó Caoláin - Independent Monitoring Commission undermines Good Friday Agreement
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described the Independent Monitoring Commission and the Agreement signed by the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and the British Ambassador Stewart Eldon as "undermining the Good Friday Agreement".
Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Monitoring Commission could not be independent. He stated:
"It will not and cannot be independent. Politically, it has been established as a sop to the Ulster Unionist Party dissidents - the very dissidents who have since been made politically irrelevant by the result of the Assembly election.
The Commission will, in effect, be a creature of the British government and will rely on information from British intelligence, the British army and the PSNI to fulfil its functions. This is the effect of the Bill and of the British legislation.
"If this Commission was composed entirely of Nelson Mandelas it could not be independent.
"This is a recipe for the continuation of the British and unionist serial collapsing of the institutions and postponement of democratic elections. As we speak, the Assembly remains in suspension by order of the British government, at the behest of unionism and despite the renewed democratic mandates secured at the recent Assembly elections." ENDS
Sinn Féin is totally opposed to this Bill. It is completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is in fact an enabling Bill for a British Act of Parliament which is itself not only outside the Good Friday Agreement but which undermines that Agreement. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act 2003 was not even referred to by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he spoke on this Bill in the Seanad.
I would guess that very few Members in this House have ever heard of this British legislation or are aware of its very serious implications for the peace process. Yet the Bill effectively endorses the British legislation and ratifies the Agreement between the Irish and British governments signed by Minister McDowell and the British Ambassador Stewart Eldon in Dublin on 25 November.
The British Act is a disgraceful piece of legislation and the Agreement signed by the Minister is a disgraceful Agreement which should never have been entered into by an Irish government. This party for one, as the representatives of republican opinion in this State, and as the representatives of the largest body of nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties, will not be accepting it as so many others here so regrettably seem willing to do without question.
This Dáil is being asked to rubber stamp this very serious piece of legislation with profound implications for the peace process on the very last day of the session and under a guillotine of all stages.
The very name of this Bill and of this Commission is a falsehood. It will not and cannot be independent. Politically it has been established as a sop to the Ulster Unionist Party dissidents, the very dissidents who have since been made politically irrelevant by the result of the Assembly election. The Commission will, in effect, be a creature of the British government and will rely on information from British intelligence, the British army and the PSNI to fulfil its functions. This is the effect of the Bill and of the British legislation.
I believe the McDowell/Eldon Agreement, this legislation and the British legislation, will be open to constitutional challenge as being in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It is often forgotten that as well as amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1998 the people in this jurisdiction amended Article 29 to say that the State may be bound by the Good Friday Agreement. It goes on to state that any institution 'established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland' notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution. That very important change in the Constitution was made on the basis of the Agreement as signed by the two governments and the institutions as set out in the Agreement. The McDowell/Eldon Agreement, as implemented by the British legislation and by this legislation, undermines the Good Friday Agreement on the basis of which the people voted to change Articles 2,3 and 29.
Strand One, Article 25 of the Good Friday Agreement provides that the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis may remove a minister from office. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act, the British equivalent of this legislation, allows the British Secretary of State unilaterally to remove a minister from office when a motion for exclusion cannot attract cross-community support. This is in clear breach of both the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. The British act goes further and allows the British Secretary of State to exclude someone from office in 'exceptional circumstances'.
The so-called Independent Monitoring Commission is designed to facilitate this undermining of the Agreement by the British government. It is totally unacceptable that an Irish government should be party to this through the McDowell/Eldon Agreement. The so-called independence of this Commission is glaringly exposed in Article 6 of McDowell/Eldon where it is laid down that the mechanism by which the Commission considers claims of misconduct by Ministers only involves the members of the Commission appointed by the British government.
This is a recipe for the continuation of the British and unionist serial collapsing of the institutions and postponement of democratic elections. As we speak the Assembly remains in suspension by order of the British government, at the behest of unionism and despite the renewed democratic mandates secured at the recent Assembly elections.
I do not intend to waste time addressing the detail of the functions of this Commission except to say that they are a sham. There is not even the pretence that the activities of the British government and its armed forces will be monitored in any way. They will face no sanctions, nor indeed will the Irish Government for any failures on its part.
I will not address the personnel of the Commission as established in shadow form, although I could say much about some of their backgrounds. Suffice to say that if this Commission was comprised entirely of Nelson Mandelas it could not be independent.
Article 5 of the McDowell/Eldon Agreement purports to address the issue of demilitarisation or 'normalisation' as it calls it. It is a legislative trick because it is entirely negated by Section 15. The Commission shall monitor any programme undertaken by the British only after the British decide they are going to undertake such a programme once they are 'satisfied with commitments that have been given on an end to paramilitary activity'. Otherwise the Commission can only monitor 'normalisation' at the request of the British government. So much for its so-called independence.
This Bill and this shabby Agreement come before us the very day the Irish government publishes its section of the Cory Report as the British continue their refusal to publish theirs. It comes the week after the Barron Report exposed their refusal to co-operate with the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Yet here we are being asked to establish a Commission which will rely on the same British military, police and intelligence services for information which it will supply to the British Secretary of State and which he may use to expel a minister without a cross-community vote in the Assembly.
The British refused to co-operate with Barron and cited national security interests. The McDowell/Eldon Agreement enshrines British national security interests in Article 13. It will not be the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission that will decide what those interests are. If the British say no to any request from the Commission on the basis of national security that will be the end of the matter.
The Irish Government has stated that it is against any renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. Yet this Bill and the British legislation rewrite the Agreement without any negotiation. I urge members to reject this Bill and the associated McDowell/Eldon Agreement.