Past, present and future at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Donegal

Security will be tight in the wake of the recent murderous attacks by renegade republicans when parliamentarians in these islands convene next week in Donegal for the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.There used to be a very heavy police profile at these events but it had been relaxed in recent years. Many long-standing members will recall the presence at a meeting in Adare of a courteous police officer called Jerry McCabe, who was murdered by republicans in 1996.

The Irish and British Co-Chairs, Niall Blaney, TD for Donegal, and Peter Hain MP will propose a motion condemning the murder of Sapper Patrick Azimkar, Sapper Mark Quinsey and Constable Stephen Carroll and conveying condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.

The motion also says that these killings were “intended to undermine the peace settlement endorsed in referenda by the people of the island, north and south” and “reiterates its full support for the democratic institutions and all those who work to build a better society in Northern Ireland.”

The Real IRA’s Omagh bombing of 1998 also figures prominently in the proceedings. The previous meeting of the Assembly in Newcastle, England heard impassioned pleas from many members, led by Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, for intelligence on the perpetrators of the atrocity to be released to lawyers acting for the families of the victims in a civil case in the High Court in Belfast.

Senior members, Michael Mates, a former Northern Ireland Security Minister and former Ulster Unionist security supremo Ken Maginnis, dissented because they feared that handing over such intelligence could compromise the methods of the security service.

Members will discuss the British Government’s response to the debate as well as the merits of John Ware’s Panorama programme and which conflict over the possibility that intelligence could have prevented the attack in which 29 people died.

The impact of the past will also be examined in a session with Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, Co-Chairs of the Consultative Group on the Past, whose controversial report suggested, amongst many other points, payments to relatives of all victims, including those in paramilitary groups.

The Assembly will have a question and answer session with Mary Couglan, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and Paul Murphy MP, Secretary of State for Wales and UK Minister with responsibility for the British-Irish Council. The Assembly is seeking a role in providing backbench scrutiny of the British-Irish Council.

Nigel Dodds, the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance and Personnel and Deputy Leader of the DUP, and Danny Kennedy, Deputy Leader of the UUP, will also address the Assembly and take questions.

This is only the second time in the 19 year history of the organisation that unionist representatives have attended after they dropped their long-standing boycott.

The Assembly has been given a new lease of life by becoming inclusive and needs to consider how to renew its role as it limbers up for its 20th anniversary next year.

The Assembly has 25 British and 25 Irish members drawn from the Upper and Lower Houses of both parliaments. In recent years membership has been extended, with representatives from the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Isle of Man and Channel Islands