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Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the new Assembly; what initial programme of work he envisages being undertaken; and when it will first meet.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current position of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the working of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The first meeting of the newly elected Assembly took place on 11 November. The Assembly electe 1 the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) as its Presiding Officer and I congratulate him on his election to this important and responsible office. A Procedures Committee was then appointed by the Assembly under the chairmanship of the Presiding Officer. and I understand that it is due to report today. My ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and I loos forward to establishing an effective working relationship with the Assembly, especially through its six statutory Committees. As the House knows, I shall be meeting the Assembly on Tuesday 30 November to discuss security.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even those who, like me, view the Assembly with a degree of enthusiasm that is just about detectable under an electron microscope nevertheless welcome his decision to talk to the Assembly next week about security? Will my right hon. Friend be able to announce any tough new measures to the Assembly to deal with murder and terrorism, as some certainly seem to be needed?

I am grateful for the rather lukewarm support that my hon. Friend has given to the Assembly. I shall speak to the Assembly next Tuesday, with its permission, and I had better keep my remarks until then—.[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, all right, but I have nothing new to announce except the British Government's continal efforts to combat terrorism wherever we can.

What will the Secretary of State's attitude be towards those Assembly Members who have decided to boycott it? Will he have any talks with those Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that one of our criticisms of the constitutional proposals that he put before us was that there was no all-Irish dimension? Will he promise the House that once the elections in Ireland are over there will be talks with the new Government to see what can be done about future and further progress in Northern Ireland?

I have already had talks with the SDLP and would welcome further talks with it as and when it is convenient and right. All Members of the Assembly will have the opportunity to raise constituents' problems with Ministers, as requested and required. The question of wider talks with the new Government in the South will have to be considered when that Government have been formed. However. I hope that we shall be able to have good relations with whatever Government are set up.

Have not successive Governments urged supporters of the IRA to proceed not through the bullet, but through the ballot box? However strongly one opposes the IRA's methods and policies—and I certainly feel strongly about them—is it not curious to suggest that the fact that some of its supporters have been elected is in itself a criticism of the Assembly?

That certainly cannot be held to be a criticism of holding free elections. The more that we can hold free elections in Northern Ireland, the better it will be for the people of Northern Ireland and the more likely we are to turn people away from the Armalite rifle and towards the ballot box and true democracy.

Is it not a fact that, no matter how well intentioned the Government are, the minority community will have no part in the Assembly? Is it not also true that some of us, including myself, warned the Minister when discussions took place at the very beginning, that those pople would not take part because they had told us so? As a result of this ploy, is not the situation worse than it was before? Did not killings start immediately after the elections took place, when a degree of legitimacy had been given to the IRA because of the mass vote of the minority community for Sinn Fein?

I entirely refute the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Those who have studied Northern Ireland over the years know that the killings did not start after the elections. Regrettably, they have been going on for a very long time. We have always known that the SDLP would find it difficult to join the Assembly. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will do their best to encourage the SDLP to play a full part.

If my right hon. Friend's intention in the Northern Ireland Act was to restore a measure of local government to Northern Ireland, how long can he allow one minority party to stand in the way of the democratically expressed wishes of the vast majority of those living in the Province? Will he therefore reconsider his earlier answer about not amending the Act, at least in the near future, if that boycott continues?

Unless there is widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland for what we are seeking to do, and for devolved Government, there is no chance of creating the political stability that we all desire.

That is the basis upon which the Government set out the Northern Ireland Act, and that remains the position.