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Government Policy (Information)

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he is taking to propagate the Government's view of the Northern Ireland situation within the Irish-American community; how this is divided between formal and informal agencies; how much money is being spent; and what are the publications being produced.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that the Government's policy regarding Northern Ireland is adequately expounded in North America.

Her Majesty's representatives in the United States receive regular briefing on Northern Ireland, on general and specific issues. They are active in advising suitable British visitors on how they can help to propagate the facts and dispel misunderstanding. Hon. Members themselves and leading members of the local community are also briefed by my Department before visiting the United States.

We shall continue to give a high priority to such work, especially in those parts of the country where ignorance and misconception are most rife. I am conscious that, while the effort being put in is considerable, there is still a lot to be done. Questions about the operation of our overseas information services are a matter for my right hon. Friend, the Lord Privy Seal.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the people of the United States that he is confident about the success of his policies and convinced that Northern Ireland will always want to be, and will therefore always remain, part of the United Kingdom and that anyone in the United States who want to raise money for terrorist organisations in the North of Ireland is wasting his time and will be causing death, havoc and destruction among innocent people?

I am glad to hear what my hon. Friend has said. I have no doubt that it will be heard in the United States. If, with the approval of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, my hon. Friend is able to go to the United States, I hope that he will say that there. We wish to lose no opportunity of informing the Irish-American people of the true state of affairs in Northern Ireland, and wishes of the people there, and the evil that is done with money which, I fear, is subscribed, in many cases, in good faith.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not so much enemy propaganda as the appalling ignorance in America of the facts of Northern Ireland which is to blame? Is it not the case that the image of a colonialist regime backed by British troops, springs all too easily into American minds? Will he make certain that our information services in North America have all the resources and funds they need in order to give the facts?

I agree that ignorance persists at all levels in the Irish-American community and that there is an unfortunate tendency to offer advice from that rather shaky base. Of course, most Irish-American leaders are motivated by a genuine desire to see a peaceful resolution of the political situation in Northern Ireland. But there remains a great deal to be done at all levels in the Irish-American community. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point that my hon. Friend makes about the provision of the necessary funds.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that there is also appalling ignorance in many parts of the United Kingdom about what is happening in Northern Ireland? Will he not be too enthusiastic about having confidence in his own proposals for Northern Ireland? We have had troubles in Northern Ireland since 1968, if not since the inception of the State. Will he recognise that not all Americans are anti-British and that some Irish-Americans are very sincere, honest and concerned in trying to bring about a resolution of the conflict? It is unfair to try to discredit every Irish-American who tries to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many well-informed and well-disposed people in the United States. Unfortunately, there is ignorance there, too. I do not deny that there is ignorance in many other parts of the world. We must do our best to dispel it.