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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 790

Senator McKIERNAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the Senate of the government's reaction to the statement by the Irish Prime Minister, Mr Albert Reynolds, that the announcement by the Irish Republican Army of a complete cessation of military operations from midnight on 31 August 1994 represents an historic opportunity to take the gun out of Irish politics forever, a great opportunity to break free from the stagnation and demoralisation caused by the prolonged violence of the past five years, and that the long nightmare is coming to an end?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian government very warmly welcomes the announcement by the IRA of a complete cessation of military operations. I am sure that all Australians, especially the large Irish-Australian community led so ably in this place by Senator Jim McKiernan, see this as a major sign of hope. As the Irish government has said, this is an historic opportunity to take the gun out of Irish politics forever, and we certainly urge all parties to seize this opportunity to carry the peace process forward. We welcome the efforts and the determination of Prime Ministers Reynolds and Major in working for peace in Northern Ireland.

  Australia's own support for this process is longstanding, as has been shown most recently by our support for the December 1993 Anglo-Irish joint declaration and by Sir Ninian Stephens's chairmanship of the political talks on Northern Ireland. There is, of course, still a long way to go. We can well understand, given the carnage and despair of the last 25 years, the British government and the unionist communities being very cautious about the permanency of the cease-fire, being cautious about whether the IRA really is committed to taking the gun out of politics, to silencing the guns and stopping the bombs.

  But the bottom line remains that this is the best news to come out of the tragedy of Northern Ireland for 25 years. We all hope that all sides will give up violence once and for all and work out a lasting political settlement around the negotiating table. It is time to seize the moment and to give peace a chance.