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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 809

Senator McKIERNAN (3.43 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator McKiernan this day, relating to the recently announced ceasefire by the Irish Republican Army.

Yesterday in the Dail, the Irish parliament, in an historic speech, the Irish Prime Minister said:

A long nightmare is coming to an end, where the legacy of history went so tragically wrong. While the IRA like others must have responsibility for their actions, and those that have had terrible human consequences, it would be simplistic to make them solely responsible for the national disaster that has struck this island over the last 25 years, holding the whole country back and poisoning relations even further in the North of Ireland.

The foreign minister, Dick Spring, had this to say:

On this occasion our thoughts are first and foremost with the people of Northern Ireland. They have never known a society free from violence. For the first time we can realistically hope that that goal can be attained. There is a duty on all sides to avail of the opportunity which now opens up, and with patience, sensitivity and generosity to reach out for agreement, based on equal respect for the rights and aspirations of both traditions in Ireland and the need for both to have satisfactory expression and protection.

Mr Spring went on later to say:

There are always manifest risks and difficulties inherent in any new beginning. The task of construction and healing wounds after decades of violence is a daunting one that will test all our energies and skills. For the Republican movement, years of political isolation will not be an easy legacy to transcend. Permanent renunciation of violence, maintained and firmly adhered to, will open many doors. It will pave the way for truly inclusive negotiations and provide a historic opportunity to begin the work of healing the misunderstandings and antagonisms which have so damaged relationships on this island and between these islands over the centuries.

Mr Deputy President, you would be aware of my intimate interest in this. The town of my birth is only 10 miles from the border that divides not only the province of Ulster but the island of Ireland. So I have a great interest in what is happening on the other side of the world.

  In this chamber I would like to pay tribute to the people who have worked towards this historic declaration by the Irish Republican Army on 31 August. Of course, tribute must go to the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, and his foreign minister, Dick Spring, but equal tribute must be paid to the British Prime Minister, John Major, and his officials and ministers, in particular, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Peter Brooke. Tribute must also be paid to one of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland, Mr Gerry Adams, and also the leader of the Unionist Party, Mr Molyneaux, without whose cooperation this statement would not have been possible.

  If I was to single out an individual for tribute on this historic occasion, it would be the leader of the SDLP, the Social Democratic Labor Party in Northern Ireland, who is a member in Westminster and a member of the European Parliament, John Hume. John has worked tirelessly over a period of more than 25 years to see 31 August 1994 come to fruition. Hopefully, he will be a contender for a major international peace prize. It was Hume who brought Adams and others to the negotiating table. On a number of occasions he acted as an intermediary when there were blockages on both sides.

  I hope that the Australian government and the Australian people can make some contribution to the very difficult task that lies ahead in bringing peace to that troubled province and troubled island, perhaps by making a financial contribution to the Ireland Fund. I draw the attention of the Senate to a parliamentary delegation report of 1991. All sides of the parliament represented on that parliamentary delegation to Ireland recommended that a contribution could be made from this parliament.