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Republic Of Ireland (Meetings)

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 9 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what meetings he has had with the Irish Government since their general election.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what subjects he discussed at his last meeting with representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

I met the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lenihan, on Monday. We had an informal discussion on a wide range of matters, including the future work of the conference. I look forward to working with Mr. Lenihan as co-chairman of the conference in the months ahead in the interests of both our countries. In addition, yesterday, under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, I had a valuable discussion with a distinguished delegation of Members of the Dail.

Has my right hon. Friend had any indication from the new Irish Government of the way in which they intend to implement the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Will he ask that Government to launch an energetic campaign to stamp out the terrorists who are engaged in gun-running across the border?

I certainly received full assurances, both in the meeting that I had with Mr. Lenihan, the Foreign Minister and Tanaiste, and with the Fianna Fail representatives whom I met yesterday with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It is also clear, from the statements of the Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, in the Dail, that the Irish Government accept the Anglo-Irish Agreement as an international, binding agreement that they will honour and implement. It was clear from my discussions with Mr. Lenihan, with whom I discussed a wide range of matters, that they recognise clearly — as is evident to hon. Members on both sides of the House—the damage that is done to the economy, and therefore to employment, throughout the island of Ireland by the scourge of terrorism. They are clearly determined to seek every constructive way in which to reduce and eventually eliminate terrorism from the island.

If the purpose of the so-called Anglo-Irish Agreement is to help to bring peace to Northern Ireland, how can the Secretary of State justify to the Irish Government — or to anyone else for that matter — the heavy, provocative police presence at the recent funeral ceremonies? Whatever the organisation to which deceased people may have belonged during their lives, would it not be in the best interests of all concerned to let people bury their dead in peace?

It would be the fervent wish of all responsible hon. Members that the dead, from whatever quarter, community, faction or element they come, should be buried in peace, with dignity and without any paramilitary displays. Over the years it has given enormous offence to see deliberate, provocative paramilitary demonstrations of that kind. If the hon. Gentleman remembers only the events in Belfast this week, I should remind him of the events in Londonderry two weeks ago when, contrary to the wishes of the family itself, and in flagrant breach of the standards and laws of the church, two gunmen with guns appeared out of the church and fired a volley over the coffin.

The reality is that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is faced with a difficult dilemma. It has a responsibility to uphold the law and it is entitled to expect full support from all corners of the community in fulfilling that duty. I know that the last thing that the RUC would want to do isto attend and police funerals of that kind. It would much rather have the confidence and knowledge that those funerals will be conducted in a thoroughly proper and law-abiding way, without deliberate provocation of that kind.

At his meeting with the Irish Foreign Minister on Monday, did my right hon. Friend express satisfaction at the extent to which the Anglo-Irish Agreement has been able to bring peace, stability and reconciliation to the Province? If it should become clear to my right hon. Friend that the agreement cannot achieve those objectives, which he and I share, will he propose some change?

My hon. Friend's views on the Anglo-Irish Agreement are well known to the House, which respects the principled stand that he has taken on it. I have never maintained that the Anglo-Irish Agreement could suddenly, in a short period of time, transform attitudes and prejudices that stretch over all the troubles and go hack over centuries. I challenge any hon. Member to disagree with my belief that we are more likely to succeed in making the life of both communities in Northern Ireland happier, more prosperous and more secure, not by hostility towards and distrust of the Government of the Republic, but by seeking to co-operate in a way that protects the legitimate interests of the majority. The agreement does that and it has been recognised by successive Irish Governments. Both major parties in the Dail have given the assurance that the agreement is a binding undertaking. The agreement protects the interests of the majority and recognises the legitimate concerns of the minority.

Why did the Secretary of State deliberately go out of his way on a previous occasion to inform the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that one of his predecessors in office had wished to proceed on an entirely different policy towards Northern Ireland? What was his motive in putting that on the record?

I think that I had better establish exactly what the point is that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Having done that, I shall be in a better position to answer his question.

Do the members of the Government of the Irish Republic still adhere to the view expressed by their leader before the general election, that the Anglo-Irish Agreement breaches the constitution of the Irish Republic? As that is a correct view, what do they propose to do about it?

I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's statement that it is a correct view, but that view has not been upheld by any court. My understanding is that that is not the view that is held. We accept the agreement in the spirit in which it was entered into by both sides. We accept also in good faith, and readily, the clear assurances that have been given by the new Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, and by Mr. Lenihan personally to me, that they accept the agreement as an international treaty that is binding on the Irish Government, that it is the practice of Irish Governments to honour international agreements and that they intend to honour it.

Will the Secretary of State raise with the Irish Foreign Minister the damnable cross-border mortar bomb attacks on British troops? Will he ask the Foreign Minister and the Taoiseach whether they are prepared to deploy units of the Irish army across the southern border, where terrorists are operating in relative safety and bombing British troops? If the Taoiseach and the Foreign Minister really believe in working with the right hon. Gentleman on a successful Anglo-Irish Agreement, will he put that to them and let that be their test?

As a previous holder of my office, the right hon. Gentleman is familiar with some of the problems that we face. He will know that, with the length of the border, it is extremely difficult to police or to patrol with security forces every inch or it. I am satisfied that we can look to the Irish Government to co-operate fully with us, and the same can he said of their security forces, the Garda and the army. I have discussed this matter with the new Irish Foreign Minister and I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that I shall he pursuing this matter further with him.

I thank my right lion. Friend for his balanced statement on the difficult problems that the Royal Ulster Constabulary faces in the policing of funerals. I am sure that will be widely appreciated.

When speaking to the Irish Foreign Minister, did my right hon. Friend tell him that it is his intention to impose on the men and women of the RUC discipline and complaints arrangements that the House has rejected for all other British police forces, and that do not and could not apply to the Garda south of the border?

We did not discuss that matter. It is an issue that will have to come before the House and I think that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not pursue that topic further this afternoon.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the reason why the IRA fires volleys of shots over coffins is to get a few moments of publicity and propaganda? Is it not rather counter-productive to create circumstances that present it with three days of worldwide propaganda and publicity as a result of the arrangements that were made to cover the incident over the past weekend?

The hon. Gentleman highlights part of the dilemma that the RUC faces. It would be a serious matter to allow unimpeded paramilitary displays at funerals. The answer lies in a responsible attitude and a clear recognition that the law must be observed. If the law is not observed, and if such organisations intend on every possible occasion to stage paramilitary displays, police action will inevitably be required, and that will raise problems for the RUC. However, I understand well the difficulties present when certain people have no inhibitions about using even a dead man as a propaganda weapon.

The Flags and Emblems (Displays) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 is shortly to be repealed. However, has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with Irish Ministers the deeply offensive misuse of the Irish tricolour, particularly at IRA funerals? Does he accept that most people find that a terribly offensive, obnoxious, cheap party political stunt by cowards who do considerable damage to the cause of unity in Ireland?

The Flags and Emblems (Displays) Act has been abolished. The legislation has passed through the House, and the Order in Council has now been made.

The tricolour aspect is clearly covered by the question whether it is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The RUC did not object to a tricolour being placed on the coffin. It is the paramilitary displays that give the greatest offence and are unacceptable.

As one of the specific matters referred to in the Anglo-Irish Agreement is the improvement of relations between the security forces and the community — and having regard to the events in the Ardoyne to which reference has been made, and which demonstrate that those relations require sensitivity and sense on the part of those under pressure—did the Secretary of State discuss with Mr. Lenihan what could be done within the framework of the agreement to improve those relations? Can he confirm a report in this week's Irish Post that the Dublin Government have asked for the Stalker case to be placed on the agenda of the Inter-Governmental Conference? If so, will he agree?

I am not aware of any such request. In any case, it is not possible for me to discuss the matter, because reports are now with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable. The matter is not within my domain, but it can be dealt with through the normal legal processes that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows extremely well.

It is no secret that the Irish Government believe that, in the interests of the minority and in the fight against terrorism, it is crucial to take every possible step to improve relations between the minority community and the security forces. A number of aspects of that are under discussion, and I can confirm that the Irish Government are concerned about the possible propaganda use that the IRA and other terrorists might make of the events of the past couple of days.