23 April 2006

Ahern hails ‘signficant’ DUP talks move


23/04/2006 - 21:00:21

The first-ever attendance of Democratic Unionist Party members at an Anglo-Irish institution set up under the Good Friday Agreement is very significant, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said today.

The high-powered DUP delegation at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body (BIIPB) convening tomorrow in Co Kerry will be led by deputy leader Peter Robinson and includes fellow MPs Iris Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson.

The presentation by the DUP is scheduled to last up to one hour at the Brehon Hotel in Killarney.

Speaking at Fianna Fail’s annual commemoration at Arbour Hill, Dublin of the Easter 1916 Rising, Mr Ahern said: “For many years we wanted to see unionist involvement.”

“The fact that we’re about to see that should be seen as very significant.”

“I welcome the decision of the DUP to engage with their peers and lay out their stall,” said Irish BIIPB co-chairman, Pat Carey TD. “I have no doubt that a lively debate will develop, and I look forward to a robust and constructive exchange of views”.

The twice-yearly BIIPB, which is chaired by former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy, is meeting over two days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern will also address the BIIPB’s 68 members tomorrow afternoon on behalf of the Government.

The BIIPB was established in 1990 as a link between the Irish and British governments.

It originally comprised 25 Irish and 25 British members drawn from the upper and lower houses of both parliaments.

In recent years the membership of the body has been extended, to include representatives from the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly – when convened – and the Isle of Man and Channel Islands.

Mr Murphy said of the DUP’s attendance: “It is very important. It has shown how barriers have broken down in recent years. I’m delighted that members can listen to their presentation and ask them questions afterwards.”

The Welsh politician said he expects goodwill to be shown towards the unionist party at the BIIPB.

“It will be a very significant day in British-Irish relations and in the way in which the body operates,” he said.

Mr Murphy refused to speculate on whether the DUP would agree to join the BIIPB in the near future.

“When they come and talk to us they will make their minds up,” he said. “It’s a first step.”

The BIIPB meets for the first time in Belfast at the end of the year, which Mr Murphy said would be another landmark development.

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