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Republic Of Ireland (Talks)

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 9 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any pains to hold discussions with the leaders of the Republic of Ireland.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next plans to meet representatives of the Irish Government to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland.

I meet representatives of the Irish Government from time to time but I have no firm plans for a meeting at present.

In view of the dismissive attitude of the Prime Minister to the Forum report, when she voiced the trilogy "out, out, out", will the Minister consider the extension of the friendly attitude which we are assured exists in Northern Ireland to the Republic in order that the political set-up in the whole of Ireland may be discussed? For instance, when talking about British justice, will he try to justify to the Prime Minister of the Republic just how the supergrass trials fit in in any way, or do any good whatsoever, to the political situation anywhere, especially in Northern Ireland?

I believe that peaceable citizens are now living in greater security in Northern Ireland because in the past people have been correctly, according to the courts, convicted of terrorist charges as a result of the evidence of their former accomplices. Therefore, I should have no difficulty in explaining to Irish Ministers, if I met them, or to Mrs. Ferraro or to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the system by which supergrass evidence in trials of this kind is tested by the court, and not before it comes to court, is correct.

Is the Secretary of State willing to comment on the merits of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier and its bearing on relationships between the two countries and on the problems of Northern Ireland? May I press him further? Is he aware that there is no possibility of such a tier being established unless he and the British Government positively discuss it with the Irish Government and set it up? The House of Commons has no mechanism for doing that on its own.

I must hold to the answer that I have given on this. If there is to be some new form of parliamentary arrangement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, its solidity, endurance and life will depend on that being a genuine parliamentary initiative. Governments can then facilitate and discuss it to the extent that Governments have to. But the impetus must come from Parliament.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that discussions with leaders in the Republic of Ireland are certainly not helped by Americans such as Mrs. Ferraro coming over to the Province and stirring up sectarian hatred for cheap political gain?

I do not want to be unjust to Mrs. Ferraro; she did not do that. She was rather careful in her comments. My criticism is that she did not spend long enough in the Province for her comments to be valid. It would be going too far to make the accusation that my hon. Friend makes.

Will the Secretary of State accept that it cannot and should not be beyond the wit of Her Majesty's Government to reach agreement at this historic time, following the report of the New Ireland Forum, to resolve with the Irish Republic the manifold problems that have separated us in the past? Will he give us an assurance that any discussions he is having with his counterparts in the Government of the Irish Republic are not being placed on the back burner and will be pressed vigorously and resolutely to an agreement?

The dialogue between ourselves and the Government of the Republic that was mentioned in the communiqué after the last Chequers summit is continuing, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we are putting the necessary energy and good will into that.