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Republic Of Ireland (Discussions)

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 29 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

I met the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic on 31 March 1982. I outlined to Mr. Collins the Government's current thinking on constitutional proposals in Northern Ireland, and we discussed a range of other matters of mutual interest.

What are the Irish Government's views on the proposed Assembly? Does the Secretary of State agree that continued contact and co-operation between the two Governments on future developments in the Province would be very useful?

I think that it was a courtesy to inform the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs of our proposals. Mr. Collins made it clear to me that they did not meet the wishes of his Government, but that is a matter for him. My motive was to inform him of what we intended to propose in the White Paper.

As for other matters, I believe that the greatest possible co-operation between the Republic and ourselves is a very good thing, particularly in relation to security.

Despite the usefulness of co-operation, when my right hon. Friend next meets members of the Irish Government will he convey two messages to them? First, will he tell them that this House finds mischievous, and questions the motivation of, the Irish Government in condemning proposals for Northern Ireland before they are even published? Secondly, will he make it clear that if the Irish Government think that the House of the British Government intends to do a deal behind the backs of the Unionists in order to appease the Irish Government, they have another think coming?

The Irish Government will no doubt take note of my hon. Friend's statement. As far as I am concerned, it is the intention of the Government that no deal should be carried out behind anyone's back. I am well aware of the mistrust that has developed in the Province over the past few years. I have no intention of allowing that to be repeated.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there might conceivably be a shift in the Irish Government's view in the light of recent developments? What other areas of co-operation did he explore with the Irish Government in his discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs?

Obviously, we discussed security, which I have already mentioned. We also talked about certain economic matters. On that occasion we mentioned Kinsale gas as one of the matters in which we have a joint interest. I think that those were the only matters discussed with the Minister for Foreign Affairs at that time, but in previous meetings with former Foreign Ministers there was wide-ranging discussion on the economic benefits that could flow from closer co-operation in matters such as tourism and cross-border activities generally. On many items, however, we are in direct competition with the Republic. Therefore, the co-operation must be on major matters and not on individual items.

I agree that co-operation and close contact with the Irish Government are not just a good thing but are essential. However, was there discussion on and what was the Irish Government's view of the setting up of the parliamentary tier?

We were talking much more in terms of the parliamentary body. That resulted from the summit talks between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the former Taoiseach. There have been no further moves on any parliamentary body since the last Government of the Republic were in office. At the moment, the position is as stated in the last November's summit talks.