Confused? You will be…

According to this Belfast Telegraph report there has been a u-turn by Sinn Féin on Hain’s the Preparation for Government Committee today [the Hansard record should be interesting reading – Ed]. Only one week after the Sinn Féin MLA Catríona Ruane declared that “Sinn Féin agrees with the content of the report but will not ratify it. We do not accept that the report be published or that it go forward to the Secretary of State, because it is not agreed.” – a statement that blocked the report, and a debate, because there was not consensus – today’s Telegraph article states that the report, on Rights; Safeguards; Equality Issues and Victims, will now be published and debated on Tuesday… but was it all really about something else entirely? Despite the adamant position taken by Catríona Ruane on 15th September

Ms Ruane: Sinn Féin has agreed the content of the report but will not ratify it, because reports are being used as the basis for talking-shop debates. We will not participate in that sham for all the reasons that we have outlined. It is obvious from Ian Paisley’s comments two days ago that the DUP has no notion of, or interest in, power sharing before 24 November. Therefore Sinn Féin will not ratify reports until it sees how they contribute to restoration.

If we are satisfied, at some point in the future, that the reports have such a contribution to make, we will revisit the matter. However, we are not prepared to take part in shams and at the moment will not support the report. We do not agree to its being published or to a motion going forward to the Secretary of State.

… the beginings of a row is evident in the earlier Hansard records.

On the 8th September Catríona Ruane made her first appearance on the Preparation for Government Committee and the SF delegation took issue with the minutes of the previous meeting on the 1st September.

Hansard 8th September

Mr Ferguson: It does not need to be addressed until later. The minutes suggest that there was all-party agreement to Nelson McCausland’s proposal; in fact there was not. My colleague, Philip McGuigan, stated that Sinn Féin did not support it. However, I am content to discuss the matter later.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): Do you wish to correct the minutes?

Mr Ferguson: No. Nevertheless, it is related.

Mr Attwood: There was consensus on the proposal, and Hansard will reflect that.

Mr Ferguson: If I had agreed to the proposal, I would not be suggesting otherwise.

Mr Attwood: Hansard will reflect that there was consensus on the proposal; no one objected to it. However, there was some toing and froing before consensus was achieved. The consensus was that some citizens of the Irish Republic might want to avail of a British passport, and that therefore the matter should be considered by the two Governments. There was no prescription in that consensus — there was merely an invitation for the two Governments to consider the proposal, and that is where consensus was achieved.

Ms Ruane: I did not attend the meeting, but Philip McGuigan stated that Sinn Féin did not support the proposal. However, we will raise the matter when we discuss the draft report, because we feel that that is an inaccuracy.[added emphasis]

Lord Morrow: Was it recorded in Hansard?

The Chairperson (Mr Molloy): We will make reference to Hansard now.

The Committee Clerk: In last week’s report, there was a discussion about whether the Republic of Ireland Act came into force in 1941 or 1949. Mr McCausland now says that there might have been a typographical error in his notes, which is why we have raised it again today. The correct date should be 1949.

The Chairman then discussed the proposal on passports and asked whether there was consensus. Mr McGuigan said that specific requirements and needs of the people in the North were made clear in the Good Friday Agreement. Then he said:

“On that basis Sinn Féin does not support the proposal.”

There was further discussion about referring the matter to the two Governments, which Mr Attwood raised, and Mr McGuigan then said:

“I made my comments based on the proposal before me. Sinn Féin is content for the two Governments to have consultations, but it is not a major impediment to restoration of the Executive.”

The Chairman then asked:

“Do we have consensus that the two Governments consider this issue?”

Members indicated assent.

Mr Attwood: That is precisely what I have just said.

Lord Morrow: Therefore there was consensus.

Mr Attwood: That is all there was consensus on. To reassure Sinn Féin, the proposal did not instruct the two Governments to go in a certain direction; it suggested that the two Governments consider an issue that the DUP felt may have some relevance for the citizens of the Irish Republic.[added emphasis]

Lord Morrow: The minutes simply state that it should be referred to the two Governments, and there was consensus on that.

Mr Attwood: That is not a threat to anyone around the table — Mr McGuigan acknowledged that at the previous meeting.

The discussion at that meeting moved between the Hansard record [a verbatim recording] and the official minutes [a summation of that recording] to the extent that at one point Sinn Féin’s Michael Ferguson challenged the Hansard record itself..

Ms Ruane: We are concerned, because we do not accept that there was consensus. The way in which the proposals were put caused confusion.

Lord Morrow: Which are you? Are you concerned or confused? Or is it a combination of the two?

Ms Ruane: We are concerned. There has been confusion written into it in the way in which the proposals have been minuted and —


May I finish?

Mr Nesbitt: Where is the confusion?

Ms Ruane: Three people have interrupted me.

Mr Ferguson: Hansard seems to be inaccurate.[added emphasis]

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): One member is to speak at a time, please. Otherwise, we will get nowhere in this meeting.

Lord Morrow: You are annoying the Chairman now.

Ms Ruane: Sorry, Chairperson. I clearly said that there is confusion over the proposals, the way in which the proposals were put, and in the reporting of what was said. In the light of that, we cannot accept that the draft minutes are an accurate reflection.

Lord Morrow: How do you know that?

Ms Ruane: I know from reading the draft minutes and the draft report. My party —


Is this an interrogation?

Lord Morrow: I am merely asking questions.

Mr Ferguson: There is clearly ambiguity in paragraph 48.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): I was half joking when I ordered tea, but I think that we need it.

Mr McNarry: I have not spoken, but I have sat here patiently for too long. We are discussing an item in the draft minutes. It is either accurate or it is not. It has been established that what is recorded in the draft minutes is not accurate. The Chairman should call for an amendment to paragraph 48 to be proposed. Two have been suggested. We should decide which reflects Hansard. Today’s Hansard will show that there is now no consensus. If Sinn Féin dislikes the proposal, the Committee will deal with it when it arises in the report, and we can make changes to it then.

And, after a little toing and froing there was a break taken to read Hansard privately. On resuming the issue was still not resolved

On resuming — 10.59 am

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): Do any members who have not attended before — Mr Ennis; Ms Ruane; there might be others — have any interests to declare?

Mr Ennis: I have no interests to declare.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): You are very welcome to the meeting.

Can we agree the minutes?

Mr Ferguson: No. Sinn Féin is not going to agree, primarily because Philip McGuigan’s comments, as recorded in the Hansard report, clearly reflect our objection on the passport issue. That being the case, why would we then feel that it would be OK for the two Governments to discuss something that we object to?

Mr Nesbitt: That is your logic.

Mr Ferguson: It is fairly clear to me.

Hansard was again referred to, and eventually, the Chairman ruled that the minute was accurate..

The Committee Clerk: Nelson McCausland proposed that British passports should be made available to citizens born in the Republic of Ireland after 1949. There was not consensus, and the proposal fell.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): Is everyone happy enough with that? What is the next part?

The Committee Clerk: He proposed that the matter be referred to the two Governments for consideration. There was consensus, and the proposal was agreed.

Mr Ferguson: It was not agreed.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): As regards the Hansard —

The Committee Clerk: That is what the Hansard report says.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): We do not have agreement on it.

Mr Nesbitt: Where does that leave us?

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): It leaves us with minutes that are not agreed.

The Committee Clerk: We have agreed that the proposal that British passports be made available did not have consensus. If the second part has not been agreed then it is not agreed, so it does not appear in the minutes.

Mr Poots: We are agreed that we put those particular portions of Hansard in the minutes, are we not?

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): That is why I have asked the Committee Clerk to reword that.

Mr McNarry: This is a very dangerous precedent.

Mr Nesbitt: Very dangerous.

Mr McNarry: I suggest that you should take advice on this, Chairman. The exercise that we engaged in this morning was just to agree the minutes — a relatively simple thing. Here we are at 11.05 am and we have not agreed them. We cannot just say that the minutes are not agreed. Unless you can give a direction now, Chairman, I respectfully suggest that you take advice. This will set a precedent for every issue. Any party could decide for political reasons — which I suspect is the case here — to change its mind at the next meeting and attempt to alter the minutes. If we cannot accept this, we cannot accept the whole minute.

Mr Poots: Chairman —

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): Naomi was first.

Mrs Long: I am very concerned about this. This is not a matter of something being implied; it is explicit. The Hansard report says that members indicated assent. Philip McGuigan said:

“I made my comments based on the proposal before me. Sinn Féin is content for the two Governments to have consultations, but it is not a major impediment to the restoration of the Executive.”

If Sinn Féin is saying now that it disagrees with Philip McGuigan, then that is an entirely different matter. Sinn Féin cannot dispute the accuracy of what is recorded.[added emphasis]

Mr Ferguson: My point is that paragraph 48 of the proposed draft report implies that Philip McGuigan also supported the notion of the passports. The confusion arises out of how that is interpreted. That is why we have a difficulty with it.

Mrs Long: We are only dealing with the minute.

Mr Ferguson: The logical conclusion of the minute is that we would support the notion of passports for —

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): All we are dealing with at this stage is the accuracy of the minute.

Mr Nesbitt: Sinn Féin cannot get away with that. We are not confused about what Sinn Féin is saying we are confused about. We have spent an hour and five minutes trying to decouple two dimensions: one, Sinn Féin does not agree with Irish citizens getting British passports; and, two, it did permit that to be suggested for consideration by the two Governments. There is no confusion; this point does need to be clarified.

It was suggested that we would be here for some time today. This quite simple matter should be clarified as a matter of priority and, if possible, before the meeting completes its business today.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): The minute is not agreed, so we will check the position on it. We also have a previous minute that was not agreed, and we need to look at it.

Lord Morrow: Therefore we are returning to it.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): We will return to it afterwards.

Mr Ford: At that point we did not have the benefit of Hansard. The Committee’s report on this strand will include a full Hansard of last week’s discussion, and so what was agreed will be absolutely clear. I said earlier, about a hundred years ago — well perhaps 45 minutes ago — that it was entirely open to Sinn Féin, when making recommendations in a report, to change its position. However, it simply cannot say that it did not say last week what it clearly did say.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): I do not think that we can get any further on this, so let us move on.

Mrs Long: It is difficult to see how we can make progress if people are in denial about what they said and if they are prepared to sit with the Hansard report — which is clearly an accurate reflection of what was said — in front of them yet say the opposite of what it contains. That places the whole Committee in a very precarious position. The lack of agreement on the minutes was the reason for bringing Hansard into proceedings of the Committee in the first place. That was done so that we would not get into these wrangles, and everyone else has accepted the accuracy of the Hansard report and the minutes ever since. Now, at the end of a lengthy process, we have people disputing the accuracy — not the content, which is for discussion under the report — but the accuracy of the record, and that is a substantive issue that we need to address. How we move on from this is not clear to me.[added emphasis]

Mr Nesbitt: Mr Ford said a moment ago that Sinn Féin could change its position when we deal with the report; however, I am not sure whether that can happen. The report is meant to be a record of the deliberations of this Committee.

Mr Ford: During discussion, any party is surely at liberty to change its position and to request that an amendment be made. The record of what happened last week is one thing; but surely any party is at liberty to say that it has changed its mind. My point is that no party is at liberty to say that it did not say something that it did say.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): I suggest that we reflect the minute as the Clerk read it out, and I rule that it is an accurate record of last week’s meeting.

Lord Morrow: It is an accurate record; that is what was agreed.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): The minute is accurate.

Mr Nesbitt: I did not say that people or parties could not change their positions; of course they can. However, does the substantive report that we put to the Assembly reflect what was agreed here?

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): We have decided that it is an accurate minute, with the amendment that we are using Hansard as an accurate account.

After a further brief discussion, the Committee met in private session for the rest of that day..

So that left the agreed minutes, from the 1st September, like this..

Nelson McCausland proposed that British passports should be made available to citizens born in the Republic of Ireland after 1949. There was not consensus and the proposal fell.

Nelson McCausland proposed that the matter be referred to the two Governments for consideration. There was consensus and the proposal was agreed’.

And the Hansard record from the 1st September?

Mr McCausland: If people are wondering whether there is concern about this matter, they need only look at the letters page of ‘The Irish Times’ to see that it has been raised by a number of correspondents. There is no doubt that it is a genuine issue.

We propose that British passports should be available for those born in the Republic of Ireland since 1941. Currently, they are available only if people apply for British citizenship, whereas Irish passports are available automatically and at no extra cost for those in Northern Ireland who view themselves as Irish. It is an equality issue.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Is that since or before 1941, Nelson?

Mr McCausland: Since 1941.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Is that sufficient explanation for members?

Mr McFarland: Is it 1949 or 1941?

Mr McCausland: Since 1941.

Mr McFarland: The Republic of Ireland Act came into force in 1949. Is there something else that brings this back to 1941?

Mr McCausland: It is my typing, or someone else’s typing.

Ms Lewsley: It is all coming out now.

Mr McCausland: I did not have my glasses yesterday; I could not see anything.

Mr McFarland: The Republic of Ireland seceded from the Commonwealth in 1949.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Are members happy with the explanation?

Mr Attwood: It is not for me to argue the DUP point, but it does smell of interference in the affairs of another country. Given that, I think that the height of what could be agreed is that the Committee could request that the Irish Government consider the matter.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Are you happy enough to amend the proposal?

Mr McCausland: No, it concerns British passports.

Lord Morrow: It is a matter for the UK Government, Chairman. It has nothing to do with the Dublin Government.

Mr Attwood: This is an inter-jurisdictional matter. I do not think that the British Government would act unilaterally. That is not the nature of the relationship or of the issue.

Lord Morrow: That is a way of saying no.

Mr Attwood: The matter should be referred to the British and Irish Governments, given that it is clearly —

Mr McCausland: It would be referred to the British Government, and they would presumably want to speak to others about the issue.

Mr Attwood: You are talking about people who live in the South, so some acknowledgement must be given to the Irish Government’s role in this. The British Government may well say that they cannot accept —

The Chairman (Mr Wells): I cannot see this being a major obstacle on 24 November.

Mr McFarland: We could support it in principle without identifying who should deal with it.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Does that have consensus?

Mr McGuigan: The specific requirements and needs of the people in the North — or the Six Counties — were made clear in the Good Friday Agreement, and they are different from those who live in the South. What came out of the Good Friday Agreement was necessary in relation to British and Irish citizenship for people in the South. On that basis Sinn Féin does not support the proposal.

Mr Attwood: That is why this matter should be referred to the two Governments for their consideration. If there were a demand or a perceived need, the Irish Government might look at the matter positively, especially in view of the new relationships and the new political environment that have existed since 1984 or 1985. I am surprised by Sinn Féin’s approach, because the nature of relationships was reworked with the Good Friday Agreement, as was the issue of identity, to some degree. Therefore that matter must be considered — not that one would want to be prescriptive about the outcome. There are people on this island who think that it is a matter that requires consideration. Should we not address their needs as well? I am surprised at the attitude of Sinn Féin. Can we agree that this matter should be referred to the appropriate Governments for their consideration?

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Would that gain consensus? Are members content that the matter be considered by the two Governments?

Mr McGuigan: I made my comments based on the proposal before me. Sinn Féin is content for the two Governments to have consultations, but it is not a major impediment to the restoration of the Executive and is not an issue in which the Executive or the Assembly should become engaged.

Mr McCausland: I will not be pedantic about the terminology. It is the principle that is important.

The Chairman (Mr Wells): Do we have consensus that the two Governments consider this issue?

Members indicated assent.

And after the meeting on the 8th September, which I started this post with, and where both the minutes and Hansard were challenged, the minutes successfully, the Hansard recording [not surprisingly – Ed] unsuccessfully.. we had the exasperating meeting of the 15th September – when SF blocked the Report and a debate in the assembly.

As mentioned earlier, I await the Hansard record of today’s meeting with bated breath…

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