A sudden u-turn by the 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on issue of representation for northerners in the Dublin parliament has shocked Sinn Féin.
Mr Ahern said it was “obvious” that the parties in the Dail would not agree to anything other than the current facility for northerners to make presentations to parliamentary committees. Unusually for the Taoiseach, he declared that the reservations of the opposition parties had to be taken into account.
Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he was deeply alarmed by Mr Ahern’s response to the proposal, which had been to establish a committee of the House to accommodate the participation of Northern MPs in specific debates with elected colleagues to address issues of common concern.
“This is the first indication of the Taoiseach’s intent not to proceed with this proposition.
“As somebody who had welcomed his endeavour to meet the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in that regard, I am, to say the least, disquieted that he is now considering not an alternative but something which is much less than the thrust of the committee’s recommendation, namely an accommodation involving existing committees outside the Dáil which amounts to the same access that any lobby or interest group can avail of.”
This, said Mr Ó Caoláin, fell short of the reasonable expectation that had been created within swathes of opinion north of the Border.
This was not confined to nationalism and republicanism and many of another tradition and background also viewed the proposition positively.
“It is absolutely reprehensible that the Taoiseach appears to have caved in to the partitionist demands of Fine Gael and Labour, who despite being signatories to the original All-Party recommendations, have decided, now the proposition could become a reality, to actively work against it. This is an appalling capitulation by the Taoiseach and raises serious questions about his integrity on this very important issue.”
Mr Ahern said he hoped his amended proposal would still be in line with the report of the committee which was endorsed by the House in May 2003 and would be consistent with the Belfast Agreement.
“Deputy Ó Caoláin has raised this issue over many years, but must accept that I must secure a consensus on the matter.
“I am trying to frame a proposal that sticks with those principles and I am not abandoning it. But I must take account of the views of the parties,” the Taoiseach said.