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Constitutional Future

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 8 May 1980

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16.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has now come to any conclusions about a form of devolution for Northern Ireland.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison).

In any devolution proposals will the Government give due consideration to the growing awareness of the need for cross-border co-operation with the Republic of Ireland on matters such as tourism, transport, industry, communications and sport?

Yes, Sir. There are a number of areas, of which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned several, where the interests of people north and south of the border are the same. That is why I believe that it is right to keep in close touch, as I do, with Ministers in the Government of the Republic, so that we can develop matters of common interest together, rather than in competition with each other.

Has the Secretary of State been informed of a recent one-sided broadcast on BBC 2 television, in which a Government politician, a supporter of the present Fianna Fail Government, claimed that a united Ireland was imminent? Will he take action over the question of devolution in Northern Ireland to put an end to the belief held by politicians in the Irish Republic that Ulster will fall into their hands like a ripe plum, because, in fact, the Ulster people will stand on their own if they are pushed out of the United Kingdom?

Happily, I am not responsible for the BBC. I did not see the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers, in which obviously opinions with which he does not agree with were expressed. I often find that I watch television programmes and hear views with which I do not agree. I do not think that anyone in the United Kingdom or in the Republic of Ireland believes that the unity of Ireland is imminent. The most recent formal expression of opinion which we have had—as little as seven years ago—was the border poll. Every indication that exists today is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As long as they do, they will.