16 February 2006

Northerners ‘unwelcome’

Daily Ireland

Ahern ‘buckles under pressure’ - Taoiseach capitulated to Fine Gael and Labour pressure and shelved plans to let North’s MPs take part in Oireachtas debates, claims Sinn Féin

by Senan Hogan

The Taoiseach has caved into opposition pressure and abandoned plans for an all-Ireland Oireachtas forum involving Northern MPs, Sinn Féin said yesterday.
Sinn Féin had called for the North’s 18 Westminster representatives to be allowed to take part in all-party debates on specific issues relevant to their constituencies.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party’s Dáil leader, yesterday said that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had capitulated on the issue as a result of pressure from Fine Gael and the Labour Party to shelve the proposals.
“This is a capitulation of the highest order and it undermines Mr Ahern’s ability to adequately stand up for the rights of all citizens on the island of Ireland,” he said.
Mr Ó Caoláin said Mr Ahern now wanted to water down his proposals to let MPs appear at Oireachtas committees. This limited MPs to the same billing as dozens of lobby groups, the Sinn Féin TD said.
Mr Ahern earlier told the Dáil that several political parties had difficulties with the original proposals, which had been recommended by the Oireachtas all-party committee on the constitution in 2003.
The Taoiseach denied that he was abandoning plans to let Northern MPs have a role in Oireachtas debates.
“I’ve listened to what everybody has said and I’ve taken account of the views of all the parties.
“I accept that several parties have reservations about the proposal so I’m currently considering those responses and have an opportunity to come back with a different proposal.
“It’s obvious that the House will not agree to anything other than Northern parties coming to the committee to make normal presentations and discuss issues in committee. That seems to be what the end point is, so I will come back with that suggestion,” said Mr Ahern.
Mr Ó Caoláin told the Dáil that Mr Ahern’s revelation alarmed him.
“I am disquieted, to say the least, that you are now considering something which is much less than the thrust of the committee’s recommendation – namely, an accommodation involving existing committees outside the Dáil chamber, which amounts to the same access that any lobby or interest group can avail of,” he said.
Mr Ó Caoláin said several communities – not just nationalists and republicans – in the North had been given the false hope that the proposal would become a reality.
“It is absolutely reprehensible that the Taoiseach now appears to have caved into the partitionist demands of Fine Gael and Labour.
“This is an appalling capitulation by the Taoiseach and raises serious questions about his integrity on this very important issue,” he said.
However, Mr Ahern said he hoped his amended proposals would be in line with the all-party committee report and consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.
“I’m not abandoning it and I don’t intend to. I have to take into account the views of the parties. I don’t intend to abandon it,” he told the Dáil.
Speaking at a small protest outside the Dáil after the Taoiseach’s remarks, Mr Ó Caoláin said the matter would be raised at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis in Dublin this weekend.

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