15 May 2003 Edition

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Ahern's commitment to Six-County representation welcomed

Sinn Féin group leader in Leinster House, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, on Tuesday welcomed as a "positive step forward" the comments made by the Taoiseach in the Dáil today in relation to northern representation in the Oireachtas. In those comments Bertie Ahern said "the Irish government is in favour of the rights of MEPs to attend and participate in committee debates on the EU and for Northern Ireland elected representatives to participate in debates on the Good Friday Agreeement and other relevant debates". The Taoiseach went on to say that all that was required was "agreement in the House".

Ahern was responding to a question from Ó Caoláin in which he asked the Taoiseach if he recognised "that following the unilateral suspension of the Assembly elections by the British government, people in the Six Counties have no democratic forum to which to send their representatives?" He also asked the Taoiseach what steps are being taken to pursue the recommendations of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution regarding access for elected MPs in the Six Counties' constituencies to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

"Since the undemocratic suspension of the Assembly, it is now more important than ever that the Irish government paves the way to allow Irish elected representatives access to an Irish elected forum," said Ó Caoláin. "I would call on the Taoiseach to follow through on the commitment he made today to pursue this issue with the urgency it requires.

"Following the report of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, I believe there is all-party support to introduce the necessary mechanisms and changes needed to make this a reality. I believe that all that is really required is the political will of the Taoiseach and in that I welcome the commitment he has given me today that he will 'take ownership of this matter'."

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